[[email protected]@180=Christians “can be Americans best when we’re not Americans first.” — Russell Moore]WASHINGTON (BP) — The U.S. Supreme Court’s legalization of same-sex marriage has given clarity to Christians of their “distinctiveness” in American life, Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore told an audience in the country’s capital.
As a guest for the July 1 edition of Politico’s Playbook Breakfast, Moore told interviewer Mike Allen he believes Christians “can be Americans best when we’re not Americans first, when we have a sense of understanding of who we are in terms of our distinctiveness. Now that time is here.”
American Christianity, “especially American Protestant Christianity in the Bible Belt, was too comfortable with being American,” said Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC). “I think for a long time there were a lot of American Christians who idealized some golden age in the past, the 1950s or the 1980s, which is not really a Christian vision of reality. Our vision of reality says that everything fell apart not with the counter-culture of the 1960s but with the Garden of Eden. So we have a more clarifying understanding of who we are and how to speak now.”
Moore told Allen and an audience of about 200, “When the church sees itself as a part of a moral majority or a silent majority, what happens is we stop emphasizing the things that are distinctively Christian in order to attempt to become more normal in whatever society in which we exist. That’s the reason why so much of Christian political activism over the last generation really hasn’t been theologically defined at all. It’s been in terms of values, in terms of traditional family values and principles.”
The Supreme Court’s June 26 decision, while grievous to Christians, gives them “the opportunity to reclaim the freakishness of Christianity that the New Testament tells us is what causes Christianity to thrive.”
Moore was one of four guests interviewed by Allen during the 96-minute session before an audience of reporters, media professionals and opinion influencers. Allen, Politico’s chief White House correspondent, conducts the breakfast interviews periodically as an outgrowth of Playbook, his popular daily briefing. Politico is a political journalism organization with online and print versions.
During the July 1 session, Allen gave Moore and another guest — same-sex marriage advocate Evan Wolfson — the opportunity to pose a question to each other. Moore asked Wolfson if he would use “the power of the state in order to coerce” religious institutions that oppose same-sex marriage “not to be true to their own convictions.”
Wolfson said he believes “the law should absolutely defend — as the First Amendment does — the freedom of religion and freedom of belief and freedom to preach. You and, of course, others like me are free to say and preach and put forward whatever we believe.
“But what we’re not free to do — either one of us — is to use the government as a weapon to impose our beliefs on others, and I really believe that our country in decade after decade has gotten that balance right,” said Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry. “We have figured out how to support and guard religious freedom while also supporting civil rights and nondiscrimination and the opportunity of every person to participate fully in society.”
Wolfson’s answer seemed to leave unclear his viewpoint on the freedom of institutions, as well as individuals, to exercise their religious beliefs regarding gay marriage in such areas as employment policies and wedding services.
Meanwhile, Wolfson asked Moore if he would be willing to dialogue, even if they disagree, to help “get to what’s important in the country and not be constantly divided with one another.”
They should dialogue with one another, Moore said. “That’s one of the things I have been doing for several years and hope to do more, but I think we have to do that coming to the table as who we are without either of us putting our convictions into a blind trust on these issues. So if we can have a good, reasonable, honest conversation where we can understand one another and agree to disagree, I think that’s good and healthy for American democracy.”
In his interview with Allen, Moore said marriage “will be back.”
A “booming expansion of marriage” may occur on the heels of the Supreme Court’s ruling, but it will not last, Moore said. The introduction of same-sex marriage in Europe has resulted in “a decline in marriage culture,” he said. “That has bad consequences, just as the divorce revolution did for children, for families, for society, for civilizations.”
Same-sex marriage will disappoint some who enter into it, Moore said. “They’re going to believe that this is going to fix all of their problems, and they’re going at the end of the day to say, ‘What is there other than this?’ And I think we’re going to need to have a church that still has the light lit to the old paths to be able to say, ‘There’s another way.'”
Christians and other defenders of biblical, traditional marriage must have “a long-term view,” he said. “This is not going to be settled by a presidential election or two or a congressional election or two. This is a generation-long argument that we have to make, and we have to be the sort of people who understand why the people who disagree with us disagree with us. We can’t just vent outrage at them.”
Wolfson told Allen “the work of our movement is far from over,” though the campaign for gay marriage is complete. A remaining goal is federal employment protections based on sexual orientation, Wolfson said. The same-sex marriage victory will help with other efforts, he said.
“[T]he marriage conversation, which has helped move hearts and minds and helped people understand who their gay neighbors and family members and co-workers are, has now only just arrived in earnest in many parts of the country where we still need to give people that chance to arise to fairness,” Wolfson said. “And so the marriage conversation will continue to be an engine of transformation that will help lift many other parts of the country as well.”
The entire Playbook Breakfast session is available online at http://www.politico.com/events/playbook-breakfast-on-president-obamas-historic-week/index.html.