Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Maine's "Divisive Institution"

Note:  Following is the October 16, 2010 Bangor Daily News editorial about the ministry I worked for, and led, up until last year.  After the editorial I've published a letter to the editor penned by a staff member at the Illinois Family Institute and submitted to the Bangor Daily News.

The Christian Civic League of Maine has been one of the more divisive institutions in state policy debates over the last 20 years. The league - which has re-branded itself the Maine Family Policy Council - has seen its role as drawing the line between right and wrong, between moral and immoral, between traditional and permissive. Drawing that line, by definition, divides people. And people on opposite sides of a line are more inclined to shout at each other than they are if gathered around a table.

The organization has done more than change its name. Its new executive director, Carroll Conley, who succeeded the controversial Michael Heath, wants the league to be less focused on attaching scarlet letters to some and more interested in sustaining Christians as they engage with civic life. That's a laudable goal, though not without its pitfalls.

There is an inherent conflict for faith-based groups that want to influence public policy. They believe the world would be a better place if more people lived the way Christians are called to live. That's a persuasive argument. But at the same time, the New Testament does not record instances of the early Christian church seeking to impose its precepts on the secular world.The league could be a beacon for those seeking a better way to live, both publicly and privately. It also could define its mission more in terms of what it favors, rather than what it opposes.

The league's most high-profile tussles have come over the expansion of gay rights and the effort to allow gay marriage in Maine. Rather than using its influence to block both, the league could instead work to provide practical supports to the very institution conservative Christians say is under attack by those who would legalize gay marriage. Too many marriages end in divorce, and too many parents never marry. Too many children are not getting the time, attention and nurturing they need. The league could push policymakers to make it easier for marriages and parents to succeed.

A piece called "The Future of the Pro-Family Movement" on the league's website suggests the organization is ready to change course:  "In order for the pro-family movement to flourish in the 21st century, it must offer a more all-encompassing message that can build new coalitions. This means refusing to demonize gay and lesbian people, but instead treating them with dignity and respect, and looking for areas of common ground where we might work together. This means not merely opposing abortion, but reaching out to women who are considering abortion and by partnering with other organizations and faith communities to help these women understand the alternatives to terminating a pregnancy."

As a mission statement, that deserves an amen.

Response by Laurie Higgins at the Illinois Family Institute

The recent editorial about the Christian Civic League of Maine includes a number of problematic ideas, the first of which is the implied criticism of the League for "drawing the line between right and wrong, between moral and immoral,” saying that “drawing that line, by definition, divides people." This criticism is problematic in that it fails to acknowledge that homosexual activists and those who support their unproven ontological and moral claims have also been "drawing the line between right and wrong" and “moral and immoral.”

And this is a silly criticism in that every person and every law draws a line between right and wrong. Any society that fails to draw a line between right and wrong cannot and should not for long exist.

Further, it fails to acknowledge that homosexual activists relentlessly engage in actions that divide people. They use public education, the courts, legislatures, and demagoguery to compel all of society to accept their radical belief that volitional homosexual acts are right and moral and to censor all dissenting moral claims.

The editorial asserts that "the New Testament does not record instances of the early Christian church seeking to impose its precepts on the secular world." It would have been helpful if the editors had briefly mentioned how very different the political context of the early church era was from our own. Do the editors believe that the "secular world of the early Christian church" was a constitutional Republic in which citizens governed themselves? Most Christians in the early church era were not Roman Citizens and had few legal rights.

In addition, early Christians did, indeed, publicly condemn many behaviors, including the popular spectacle of gladiator fighting.  I wonder if the editors believe that William Wilberforce was acting unethically when he engaged in the divisive act of trying to abolish slavery in England, which relied on his drawing a line between right and wrong and between a moral act and an immoral act?

Do the editors believe that in our political context all efforts to pass legislation constitute an inappropriate "imposition of precepts"?

Do the efforts of homosexual activists to jettison one of the central defining features of marriage constitute the “imposition” of their moral precepts?

Do the editors believe Martin Luther King Jr. was imposing his “precepts” on the secular world when he fought to end racial discrimination or when he said, “How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust?

A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God”?Are those Christians who attend churches that embrace "gay theology," which most certainly “draws a line between right and wrong,” imposing their precepts on the secular world?

Finally, the editorial suggests that "[The League] also could define its mission more in terms of what it favors, rather than what it opposes." I cannot answer for the League, but I will offer some positive ideas: I favor a constitutional amendment that restricts marriage to one man and one woman. I favor the government giving legal sanction to only one type of romantic/sexual relationship: sexually complementary relationships between two people who are not closely related by blood and are both of major age (that is to say, no civil unions). I favor placing children in adoptive families with a mother and a father. I favor public schools leaving all teaching, either implicit or explicit, about homosexuality and Gender Identity Disorder to families, synagogues, mosques, churches, and private organizations.

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