Below is an editorial which appeared in the Charlotte Observer on Sunday, April 22 2012 written by S. Donald Fortson, professor of Church History at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte. I have reproduced the editorial in full with my response in red.
Debunking the arguments against N.C.’s Amendment One
By S. Donald Fortson
Special to the Observer
Posted: Sunday, Apr. 22, 2012
The Amendment One vote on May 8 has a very sobering historical context which has brought the issue of gay marriage to the political doorstep of North Carolina.
Yes, indeed, the historical context is sobering. It’s 2012 and we are still discriminating against U.S. citizens. And the Christians are leading the way for discrimination. It’s sobering because this is not the first time the Christians have led the way on mistreating people.
Our nation’s recent political history has witnessed eight state legislatures legalizing gay marriage without consulting its citizens.
The U.S. political history is such that concern for minorities is foundational to our country. Mr. Fortson needs to learn some constitutional history. I suggest he start with reading James Madison, the chief architect of our constitution, who was concerned about the tyrannies of the majority, particularly religious majority tyrannies. Here are some excerpts from The Federalist Papers:
“It is in vain to say that enlightened statesmen will be able to adjust these clashing interests, and render them all subservient to the public good. Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm. . . the CAUSES of faction cannot be removed, and that relief is only to be sought in the means of controlling its EFFECTS. . . To secure the public good and private rights against such a faction, and at the same time to preserve the spirit and the form of popular government, is then the great object to which our inquired are directed.
The majority must be “unable to concert and carry into effect schemes of oppression.”
“In politics as in religion, it is equally absurd to aim at making proselytes by fire and sword. Heresies in either can rarely be cured by persecution.” (The Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, James Madison)
In 30 states citizens have voted to preserve traditional marriage, but several judges have attempted to overturn the will of the people on what many consider specious constitutional grounds. Given this reality, it is only fair that North Carolinians have the same opportunity as other states to decide an issue that has significant repercussions for our communities.
Mr. Fortson talks about traditional marriage. In the Old Testament “traditional marriage” is polygamous. For a person who is a history professor Fortson is very selective in his use of history.
It is claimed that gay marriage is the moral equivalent of the civil rights movement in an earlier generation. Many African-Americans see no connection whatever between skin color and sexual orientation. The jury is still out on homosexuality; there is no verifiable gay gene nor are all psychologists in agreement on the complex causes behind gender identity.
A heterosexual gene has not been identified either. So can we use that to discriminate against heterosexuals?
Equating a “right” to gay marriage with historic civil rights legislation is without factual merit and is offensive to many black Americans.
Gay people do not choose their sexual orientation. The jury is not out. Millions of lives lived in misery by gays trying unsuccessfully to be heterosexual because of fear of rejection by God, family and society is proof enough. The jury is not out. The verdict is in.
Another notion, often aimed at religious folk, is that those who oppose gay marriage are undermining the separation of church and state. There appears to be some amnesia about our colonial past and the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which has consistently garnered unwavering support from all religious communities in America.
Unfortunately, the First amendment has not garnered unwavering support from all religious communities. Mr. Fortson needs to read The Myth of Religious Freedom by David Sehat.
People of all faith traditions owe their beloved religious liberty to this “wall of separation,” as Thomas Jefferson called it. The freedom to worship God according to one’s conscience is one of the most cherished values of all American citizens. The Constitution is not perfect, but the Founding Fathers got that one right. Religious persons have no interest in breaking down that wall – in fact some would like to add a few more bricks to the wall!
Once again, Mr. Fortson needs to read The Myth of Religious Freedom. People like Mr. Fortson want their freedoms and rights, but don’t care about the freedoms and rights of all. Mr. Fortson confuses freedom to worship with freedom to impose one’s religious values on others. He also fails to understand that coercive faith is not faith at all. It’s just bad manners.
The Bible is not unclear on this topic
It has been interesting to observe public discussions about what the Bible says about gay marriage. This is appropriate in the light of our national history, since the Bible has been considered an ethical authority by Americans for centuries.
Very misleading statement. Some colonists/Americans were not Christians and had no interest in establishing a Christian nation. “According to one recent estimate, only 17 percent of Americans claimed to be church members in 1776, and, though it showed remarkable growth over the first half of the nineteenth century, membership reached only 34 percent by 1850. Even if those figures are low, a considerable number of voters paid little attention to clergymen’s political views, and others voiced outright hostility.” (Frank Lambert The Founding Fathers and the Place of Religion in America) Furthermore, the Christians who were here and are here vary greatly in their interpretation of the Bible. Fortson writes about the ethical authority of the Bible as if all Christians past and present would agree with his view of the Bible.
Our deist Founding Fathers believed the Bible was a moral reference point for the republic and common sense dictated that public morality would be essential for sustaining the nation.
“Our deist Founding Fathers” is very misleading. George Washington, while making various religious statements, was not a church go-er. Thomas Jefferson was highly critical of Christians like Fortson. Read Jefferson’s Bible, which is presented to all U.S. Senators when they are sworn in, and see the liberal he was. Jefferson cut out much out of the New Testament and denied Jesus’ divinity. Jefferson predicted the day would come when all citizens would be Unitarians. Jefferson followed the thinking of John Leland, a Baptist: “Let every man speak freely without fear, maintain the principles he believes, worship according to his own faith, either one God, three Gods, no God, or twenty Gods: and let government protect him in so doing.” (Frank Lambert, The Founding Fathers and the Place of Religion.) Jefferson was roundly condemned by the Fortson Christians of his day for his theology and that he never attended worship during a residence of several years in New York and Philadelphia. (Frank Lambert, The Founding Fathers and the Place of Religion in America.) Not exactly the deist Founding Father Fortson is imagining.
James Madison, the chief architect of the constitution, as illustrated above, was extremely concerned about theological tyrannies. And old Ben Franklin, be careful about making him out to be a fundamentalist. Our Founding Fathers made sure we had a godless constitution. They did recognize religious people could greatly benefit the country, but they also knew of their potential harm.
There is a long history behind understanding biblical texts and what one discovers is that there has never been any diversity of interpreting biblical teaching on homosexuality until the last few decades. The suggestion that the Bible is unclear on this topic has no historical veracity.
The early church is more diverse than Dr. Fortson would have you believe. See Bart Ehrman’s Lost Christianities. Conservatives diminish the diversity of the early church by calling those with whom they disagree heretics. Dr. Fortson knows about Origen and St. Augustine and the great diversity of biblical interpretation throughout the church’s history. Read Origen and you will see how different biblical interpretation was in Origin’s lifetime than in the present. Dr. Fortson and conservative Christians act as if their way of interpreting the Bible is the only way the Bible has been interpreted by “true” Christians.
That there has never been any diversity of biblical teaching until the last few decades is a regrettable statement. Ask Dr. Fortson how many gay Christians were included in the discussion over the centuries. Fortson privileges the voices of those in religious power as if they are the only voices.
It is true that homophoboic and sexist heterosexuals have historically dominated biblical interpretation. That doesn’t make it right. Thankfully, that is changing. It is true that the Bible has two verses which condemn same sex intercourse. Other verses which some claim to condemn same sex intercourse are debatable. Regardless, what Fortson fails to admit is that both the New Testament and the Old Testament contain homoerotic texts. See the work of Theodore Jennings, Jr.
A sound modern theological method does not depend solely on a Bible which is culturally conditioned. Until recently there was not much diversity of interpretation on the role of women in the church. The Bible is filled with patriarchal and sexist statements. Does Dr. Fortson want us to keep women subservient and second class because that’s the majority witness of the Bible? I wonder if Dr. Fortson’s wife talks in church which Paul clearly prohibits (1 Corinthians 14:34-35).
Some argue that Amendment One is unnecessary because gay marriage is already illegal in North Carolina. This is true, but sadly the people have lost confidence in their government to maintain that position. Recent history informs us that neither legislatures nor judges can be relied upon to uphold the will of the American people on this issue. This is a tragic state of affairs in American politics, but unfortunately this is where we are at this point in time, and citizens should exercise their democratic rights on May 8.
Sadly, Dr. Fortson is a U.S. citizen in the majority who wants to discriminate against a minority. Sadly and tragically, Dr. Fortson is a church history professor who is not honest about the Bible, not honest about the history of Biblical interpretation, and is wrong about God and about gays. In years to come his children and grandchildren will look back on his statements and will be ashamed of his efforts. Dr. Fortson is on the wrong side of history. Even worse, his position is immoral and unChristian.