A June Surprise? President Obama and Same-Sex Marriage

Is President Obama about to endorse same-sex marriage? The possibility was the subject of open speculation on the front page of Sunday’s edition of The New York Times. Reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg quoted an unnamed Democratic strategist close to the White House, who said that the President’s advisers are considering the political costs, if any, of such an action.

When President Obama ran for office in 2008, he stated that he was opposed to same-sex marriage, but he ran as an ardent supporter of the homosexual community. This week, he will host a $1,250-a-plate “Gala for the Gay Community” in New York City. Stolberg also reports that the President will host a gay pride reception at the White House on June 29. The issue of same-sex marriage will inevitably be discussed, especially given the fact that the New York legislature may be poised to legalize same-sex marriage as early as this week.

Interestingly, Stolberg cites the fact that while Obama, as a candidate, ran as one opposed to same-sex marriage, “he may have been for same-sex marriage before he was against it.”

She writes: “In 1996, as a candidate for the State Senate in Illinois, Mr. Obama responded to a questionnaire from a gay newspaper. ‘I favor legalizing same-sex marriages,’ Mr. Obama wrote, ‘and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages.'”

President Obama has already called and worked for the repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and has instructed his Attorney General not to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court. Same-sex marriage seems like the logical next step, given the President’s record.

Nevertheless, an open endorsement of same-sex marriage by an incumbent President of the United States would be a very significant and troubling development. If he were to do so, President Obama would not only repudiate his former position(s), he would push this nation toward the unraveling of civilization’s most central institution — marriage.

The unnamed Democratic strategist said that President Obama “is clearly a president who is interested in making big historical changes . . . I think this issue has moved into that context for him.”

The realm of politics is as corrupted by sin as is any other dimension of creation and human culture. Here is a prime example of that fact. With this article, the White House is moving forward in gauging the political costs of such a move. The very fact that this article appeared in a Sunday edition of The New York Times indicates that the White House is well down the road of endorsing same-sex marriage. If this strategist is right, President Obama sees himself as the leader who can make “big historical changes.” Well, this one is big, indeed.

Such a move would represent nothing less than a moral revolution. Furthermore, the one who makes such a move would be nothing less than a moral revolutionary.

The Myth of the Genderless Baby

Back in the nineteenth century, the British people were introduced to a fairy tale about “water babies” through a story written by Rev. Charles Kingsley. The water babies entered folklore, and generations of British children imagined the water babies and their story.

Now, out of Canada comes another strange story, but this one is not a fairy tale. Two Canadian parents have ignited a firestorm over their determination to raise their third child as a “genderless” baby.

As reporter Jayme Poisson reports, “The neighbors know [Kathy] Witterick and her husband, David Stocker, are raising a genderless baby. But they don’t pretend to understand it.”

Well, the neighbors might take these parents at their word, but the very idea of a genderless baby is nonsense. This is not a baby with ambiguous genitalia, a defect that occurs in a very small percentage of births. The parents admit that this baby has a clear biological sex, but they do not want that to become the child’s identity. They want the child to make that determination at a later date.

To no real surprise, these parents classify themselves on the political and ideological left. Their two older children are both boys, but the parents encourage the boys to act and dress in unconventional ways. So much so, that as the reporter informs us, many who see them assume they are girls.

The new baby, named Storm, is dressed and presented in a manner that makes no clear gender statement. Only the parents, the two older boys, and a close family friend know the truth about the child’s biological sex.

As Poisson reports:

“When the baby comes out, even the people who love you the most and know you so intimately, the first question they ask is, ‘Is it a girl or a boy?’” says Witterick, bouncing Storm, dressed in a red-fleece jumper, on her lap at the kitchen table.

“If you really want to get to know someone, you don’t ask what’s between their legs,” says Stocker.

Well, actually, you do — not in the crass and crude way that Mr. Stoker puts it, but in the virtually universal way that people ask of a baby: Is it a boy or a girl?

The controversy surrounding Storm is a sign of our times. Our rebellion against the Creator has now reached the point that we will deny the fact that our identity is not just our own personal project, but is first of all established in the Creator’s intention — and part of that intention is the fact that we are male or female.

Storm’s parents clearly believe that our personal identity is our own personal project. They lament even the fact that parents make so many decisions for their children. “It’s obnoxious,” Stoker says.

Well, the decision about gender is not something made by parents, but by God. At this point, the Christian worldview and the worldview of secularism run into direct collision. Nevertheless, the objective reality of the child’s gender will eventually become a public issue, regardless of the parents’ intentions. As even they recognize, at some point in the future, decisions about such things as which bathroom the child will use will force the issue.

The major issue at stake in this controversy is the objective reality of sex and gender. We are, in fact, what our genitals tell us we are. This is not because we are genitally determined, but because we were created by a holy God, whose plans and purposes for us are, inescapably, tied to our gender.

Gender is not merely a socially constructed reality. When the Southern Baptist Convention modified its confession of faith, The Baptist Faith & Message, in 2000, it added language that defined gender as “part of the goodness of God’s creation.”

Some observers wondered why that language is important. Now, you know.

Screen Test: The Danger of Digital Fixation

When it comes to the dangers of the digital age, most parents worry about what is on the screen of the computer. Recent research indicates that the screen itself just might be a very real danger.

Writing in The New York Times, physician Perri Klass warns that many parents are unaware of the risks posed by the digital screen. She tells of parents who tell the pediatrician that their child cannot have attention problems because he can watch a digital screen for hours on end. The child may have attention issues elsewhere, but not in front of a screen.

Dr. Klass writes:

In fact, a child’s ability to stay focused on a screen, though not anywhere else, is actually characteristic of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. There are complex behavioral and neurological connections linking screens and attention, and many experts believe that these children do spend more time playing video games and watching television than their peers.

Dr. Christopher Lucas of the New York University School of Medicine explains that the kind of attention demanded by the digital screen is very different from that required, for example, by a classroom or a book. The child in the classroom has to pay attention without immediate reward and learn to maintain that attention. When reading, a child has to supply the reward by means of imagination.

But, when focused on a digital screen, the child’s attention is rewarded by “frequent intermittent rewards” in the form of hormones released into the brain. The child may grow dependent on these rewards and lose the ability to maintain attentiveness without the pleasurable charges to the brain.

Dr. Klass admits that the research is not yet able to answer the question of which comes first — the dependence on the screen or the lack of attentiveness. Either way, the close association of the digital screen and the attention crisis is well documented.

This does not mean that parents should throw the computer (and other digital devices) out of the house, but it is a wake-up call that Christian parents should note with particular concern. For Christians the issue cannot be merely academic success in the classroom. We must be concerned with the means of grace that make for godliness in the life of the believer. The Christian should be a student of the Scriptures, and this requires the discipline of attentive reading. Attentive worship is another necessary discipline of the Christian life.

Are we creating a generation that cannot worship or read without the need for a dopamine release?

This research is important for us all. The digital revolution has brought wonders and opened new worlds. There is so much to celebrate and appreciate. At the same time, there are real dangers in these new technologies, especially for children. Parents must set and maintain boundaries for their children . . . and for themselves.

The Terrorist and His Porn Stash

The news that a huge stash of digital pornography had been discovered on the computers taken from Osama bin Laden’s compound was big news, but it should not have been a big surprise. As Scott Shane of The New York Times reports, the discovery “could fuel accusations of hypocrisy against the founder of Al Qaeda, who was 54 and lived with three wives at the time of his death.”

Well, he would hardly be the first married man caught with a porn stash, but in this case, Osama bin Laden had repeatedly accused the United States of immorality, with specific reference to pornography and sexualized images.

In 2002, bin Laden released a ‘Letter to the American People,” in which he attacked American sexual mores. In his words:

Your nation exploits women like consumer products or advertising tools, calling upon customers to purchase them. . . . You plaster your naked daughters across billboards in order to sell a product without any shame. You have brainwashed your daughters into believing they are liberated by wearing revealing clothes, yet in reality all they have liberated is your sexual desire.”

There is considerable truth in his criticism of America’s sinfully-sexualized and pornography-drenched culture, of course. Americans should be humiliated that we are known for such cultural exports to other nations. And yet, it turns out that the terrorists who denounce America for its depravity allow themselves pornography — and sexual entertainments.

At least some of those directly involved in the September 11, 2001 attacks had visited sexually explicit entertainment services just days before the murderous events.

What are we to think of this? Hypocrisy is nothing new, and we are prone to revel in it when seen in others. But there are larger lessons. For one thing, those who commit themselves to asceticism and denial in order to earn or supposedly deserve God’s mercy and favor almost always allow themselves some sinful enjoyments. As a recent study of dieters revealed, those who put themselves on a rigorous food diet often allow themselves other satisfactions — an expensive new dress, a few more hours of television . . . or worse.

Christians are called to holiness, not to asceticism for the sake of asceticism. The Gospel reminds us that we do not deserve our salvation and that there is nothing we can do to deserve it. Bin Laden and his associates must have been convinced that Allah would forgive them their sexual sins because of their faithfulness in carrying out acts of terrorism in the name of Islam.

Christians had better see this as a warning lest we allow ourselves the same kind of rationalization.The porn stash in Abbottabad is not only a symbol of Osama bin Laden’s hypocrisy — it is also a warning to us all.

The Trial that Still Must Come — The Death of Osama bin Laden and the Limits of Human Justice

As is always the case, we are left with a sense that a higher court is still needed. Christians know that Osama bin Laden escaped the reach of full human justice and a trial for his crimes, but he will not escape the judgment that is to come. Bin Laden will not escape his trial before the court of God. Until then, sober satisfaction must be enough for those still in the land of the living.

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Nero in Beijing — The Communist Party Declares War on Christians

The news out of China grows worse as reports of the arrest, detention, harassment, and beatings of Christians come from across China. The most publicized case thus far is the repeated oppression against a Beijing congregation that has led to numerous arrests and a crackdown within China’s capital.

In a very important editorial statement, The Wall Street Journal‘s editorial board set the record straight. “Religious persecution is always abhorrent, but in this case it’s also a political blunder,” the paper stated.


The incident is a microcosm of the wider problems caused by China’s crackdown. Beijing insists it wants to promote a harmonious and stable society. Yet by arresting prominent activists for no apparent reason, the security forces are doing the opposite: Those who were once content to live quietly with the Party’s restrictions on free expression are now compelled to speak out.

Observers warn that China is sending the signal that it will not allow the eruption of protests like those that have spread throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

There is more to it, of course. Central to this crackdown is the paranoia of the Communist Party. One of the hallmarks of democratic societies is the existence of thriving “mediating institutions” between the individual and the brute power of the state. In the United States, these mediating institutions include everything from the PTA to your local church and the neighborhood reading club.

One dimension of the Communist Party’s idolatry is that it allows no mediating institutions between its power and the individual. It greatly fears these organizations, especially the church.

One reason — Christians in China now outnumber members of the Communist Party.

China’s strategy was detailed by the paper’s editorial:

This may come as a surprise to some in the West. Until recently, Beijing had played a skillful game of applying the screws just enough to keep everybody in line while easing state control over most aspects of people’s lives, including employment, choice of a spouse, housing, religion and even the ability to criticize the government in limited terms. International human rights advocates had to admit that most Chinese enjoyed greater freedom than ever before, and many foreigners downplayed arrests of dissidents as aberrations against a general trend of liberalization.

In other words, “those who doubted the Communist Party’s sincerity were right all along.”

A Warning of Intimidations to Come

The defense of the Defense of Marriage Act [DOMA] got a little more complicated yesterday as the law firm that the House of Representatives had hired to defend the law withdrew from the case. As The New York Times stated bluntly, the firm dropped the case “amid pressure from gay rights groups.”

The Atlanta-based firm, King & Spalding, had agreed to take the case, and one of its lawyers, Paul D. Clement, was to lead the legal effort to defend the constitutionality of DOMA, which defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman in terms of federal recognition. The law also prevents any state from being forced to grant legal recognition to a same-sex marriage performed in another state.

Robert D. Hays, Jr., chairman of King & Spalding, released a statement in which he said: “In reviewing this assignment further, I determined that the process used for vetting this engagement was inadequate. … Ultimately I am responsible for any mistakes that occurred and apologize for the challenges this may have created.”

Clement, a former solicitor general of the United States under President George W. Bush, immediately resigned from King & Spalding and will continue to represent the House of Representatives in the case.

As The New York Times reported, Clement said: “I resign out of the firmly held belief that a representation should not be abandoned because the client’s legal position is extremely unpopular in certain quarters. … Defending unpopular clients is what lawyers do. I recognized from the outset that this statute implicates very sensitive issues that prompt strong views on both sides. But having undertaken the representation, I believe there is no honorable course for me but to complete it.”

Gay rights groups hailed the law firm’s decision. Activist groups such as the Human Rights Campaign had lobbied King & Spalding to drop the case. The Weekly Standard obtained copies of emails sent by the Human Rights Campaign to supporters that read, in part: “Later that day we announced the elements of our campaign to show King & Spalding’ hypocrisy for taking on Defense of DOMA while touting their pro-gay policies – including their 95% score on HRC’s Corporate Equality Index. … In the meantime we also contacted many of the firm’s clients, LGBT student groups at top law schools and used social media to inform the public about K&S’s wrongheaded decision.”

The success of the group’s efforts to intimidate King & Spalding serves as a warning of things to come. This is the kind of intimidation that will be used against any organization or institution — or law firm — that takes a controversial case and opposes the agenda of the gay rights movement. Watch and be warned.

We should also take special note of the statement by Paul Clement. He defended his commitment to defend DOMA and the U.S. House of Representatives by stating, “Defending unpopular clients is what lawyers do.”

So, now DOMA and the House of Representatives fall under the category of “unpopular clients” despite the fact that DOMA was passed by the overwhelming vote of both houses of Congress and was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996. That statement underlines the moral revolution happening in our midst and indicates what groups like the Human Rights Campaign are certain is the direction of history. Armed with that confidence, intimidation is now the order of their day.

“God’s True Vision of the Way Things Ought to Be?” — It’s Not Really About Same-Sex Marriage

The Douglas Boulevard Christian Church in Louisville has voted to stop performing legal marriages in light of Kentucky’s constitutional amendment outlawing same-sex marriages. As Peter Smith of The Courier-Journal [Louisville] reported:

Douglass Boulevard Christian Church made the unanimous vote Sunday [April 7, 2011]. The Rev. Derek Penwell, senior minister of the church, said it’s unjust that heterosexual but not homosexual couples can benefit from marital rights involving inheritance, adoption, hospital visits and filing joint tax returns, saving thousands in annual taxes. Our congregation believes it is unfair to provide different services and benefits to heterosexual couples than we can provide to gay and lesbian couples,” said a church associate minister, the Rev. Ryan Kemp-Pappan.

This argument has been encountered elsewhere, but Douglas Boulevard Christian Church, affiliated with the Disciples of Christ, now becomes one of the first congregations in Kentucky to take such a step.

The news article also reports that the church now draws about 80-120 worshipers weekly. In 2008, it declared itself an “open and affirming” congregation, accepting persons without regard to sexual orientation.

According to the report, “The church plans to continue offering religious marriage ceremonies for gay and straight couples, but the latter will need to get a separate ceremony through a justice of the peace to get legal recognition.”

The Christian Church of Kentucky, which numbers about 35,000 members, does not ordain non-celibate homosexuals, but the national denomination has no policy on ministers performing same-sex unions.

One key fact from the article in The Courier-Journal: The church hosts about eight to ten weddings per year, “most of them involving nonmembers.”

For many years, I have driven by this church in its present location. The congregation was once much larger, with many families attending. This article indicates that the congregation has followed the trajectory of liberal Protestantism right down to the dwindling numbers of both worshipers and weddings from within the congregation.

In the news article, no theological argument is offered — only a protest of the denial of same-sex marriage in Kentucky. Nevertheless, on the church’s Web page, Senior Minister Derek Penwell offered his account of how he changed his mind on homosexuality and same-sex marriage.

He writes:

But beyond what I take to be the inadequacies of a static view of biblical interpretation that seeks to match the brown shoes of scripture with the often black tuxedos of context, the thing I found most persuasive in changing my theological views of homosexuality was my contact with my brothers and sisters who are gay and lesbian.

To his credit, Rev. Penwell does not deny that the Bible condemns all homosexual behaviors as sin. Instead, he employs a trajectory hermeneutic that argues that new contexts require fundamentally different ways of understanding even what the Bible clearly addresses.

In his words:

In other words, I thought that maybe the Holy Spirit is in the process of revealing to us God’s true vision of the way things ought to be with respect to homosexuality.  If this is the case, then we need not necessarily say that God has changed (though my colleagues who are Process theologians probably wouldn’t object to this description), but that the world has changed sufficiently to be able to receive the fullness of God’s truth on this issue.

So, his argument is that the Holy Spirit may now be “revealing to us God’s true vision of the ways things ought to be with respect to homosexuality” — a vision very different from that actually found in the Bible.

And thus, the fundamental divide over biblical authority and interpretation is laid bare for all to see. The real issue is not same-sex marriage or even sexuality. The fundamental issue is the authority and interpretation of the Bible.

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