Sometimes a Theocratic Notion

I was glad to read recently that popular moderate evangelical Tony Campolo recognizes what many others do not: That for better or worse, the Religious Right is here to stay for a very long time. (And as Bill Berkowitz has pointed out, he should know.) Then I read a subsequent Campolo essay about “homosexual marriage” and saw that his sensible essay about the durability of the Religious Right and his liberalism not withstanding, he is on the side of the Religious Right in a way that could matter profoundly for the future of religious pluralism and separation of church and state.

Writing at The Huffington Post, Campolo recently wrapped a distinctly theocratic idea in the language of apparent moderation and called it a compromise.

Let’s unwrap it and see what’s inside.

Campolo first offers a series of false premises:

President Bush once said that marriage is a sacred institution and should be reserved for the union of one man and one woman. If this is the case — and most Americans would agree with him on this — then I have to ask: Why is the government at all involved in marrying people? If marriage really is a sacred institution, then why is the government controlling it, especially in a nation that affirms separation of church and state?

Campolo suggests that because George W. Bush once said something, we should therefore treat it as true. And if we accept Bush’s truth, we should feel right about it because a popular majority is said to agree with him. Of course, just because a politician expresses a view on the sacred, that does not mean the view is either sacred or true. And we are left to wonder what strange thinking has gotten a hold of Campolo who identifies himself as both a Democrat and a liberal. (We find out all too soon.)

Quite independently, liberal columnist Leonard Pitts recently wrote about the meaning of polls showing that a majority of Americans now support same sex marriage. (What are we to make of the views of Bush and Campolo now? Is their notion of traditional marriage no longer sacred because a majority favors same sex marriage?) While Pitts is pleased with the progress, he averred:

“In extolling the fact that the majority now approves same sex marriage, do we not also tacitly accept the notion that the majority has the right to judge?”

Here in Massachusetts where the right of same sex couples to marry was first recognized by the state Supreme Judicial Court in 2003, the overwhelming majority of citizens opposed same sex marriage at the time. Now, the overwhelming majority supports it. What’s more major religious communities such as Unitarian Universalism and Reform Judaism before the decision, and the United Church of Christ — the largest protestant denomination in the Bay State — since the decision, view same sex marriage as sacred as heterosexual marriage. Majority or minority view — shall Campolo and Bush’s sense of the sacred trump what is sacred to such historic religious communities as these? Or should each religious organization be able to decide this for itself?

Pitts continued:

One shudders to think what sort of nation this would be if Lyndon Johnson, before signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or the Voting Rights Act of 1965, had first taken a poll of the American people.

We tend to regard America, proudly, as a nation where human rights are given. But that stance is actually at odds with the formulation famously propounded by one of the first Americans. Thomas Jefferson, who, after all, wrote that human rights are “unalienable” and that we are endowed with them from birth.

If you believe that, then you cannot buy into this notion of a nation where rights are magnanimously doled out to the minority on a timetable of the majority’s choosing. You and I cannot “give” rights. We can only acknowledge, respect and defend the rights human beings are born with.

Campolo continues:

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