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SCOTUS and Moral Authority

I don’t want to come across as overly simplistic, but the debate in our society over homosexuality, transgenderism, and same-sex marriage is first and fundamentally about moral authority. Continue reading . . .

I don’t want to come across as overly simplistic, but the debate in our society over homosexuality, transgenderism, and same-sex marriage is first and fundamentally about moral authority. Everyone has a moral authority, even people who by our judgment are extremely immoral. Everyone makes choices about right and wrong based upon it. For us as Christians our moral authority is the Bible. We believe there is one and only one God who has revealed himself and his will in the Bible.

Therefore, the issue is not whether morality will be reflected in our laws and imposed on our society, but which morality. Let me illustrate. Although I disagree with Luke Timothy Johnson of Emory University, I have great respect for his honesty. He is an accomplished NT scholar but denies many of the teachings of the Scriptures. Not long ago he acknowledged that he and his liberal seminary colleagues “do, in fact, reject the straightforward commands of Scripture, and appeal instead to another authority when we declare that same-sex unions can be holy and good. . . . We are fully aware of the weight of scriptural evidence pointing away from our position, yet place our trust in the power of the living God to reveal as powerfully through personal experience and testimony as through written texts.”

Dr. William Loader agrees with Johnson. Loader is perhaps the most prominent expert on ancient and biblical views of sexuality. He will be the first to tell you, and has done so in his books, that the Bible nowhere supports or endorses homosexual behavior and same-sex marriage as a legitimate moral option. And yet you would think that Loader had every reason in the world to conclude otherwise, given the fact that he is a vocal advocate of same-sex marriage who applauds it in our world.

What Johnson and Loader are saying is that anyone who knows anything about the Bible must in the final analysis acknowledge that it is unequivocally opposed to any and all same-sex intimacy.

But Johnson and Loader are equally clear that they have chosen to reject the teaching of Scripture, concluding that it is wrong. On what basis do they do this? Johnson in particular does it on the basis of what he calls “personal experience and testimony,” by which he means his own personal subjective feelings and preferences together with the “testimony” of others who claim that same-sex marriages are good and holy and loving and acceptable. So, in rejecting one moral authority, the Bible, Johnson and others embrace yet another: self. Now, there is a great deal that goes into what I call “self”. But make no mistake: Self decides what is right and wrong. Self decides what is good and evil. What makes me feel comfortable decides what is good and evil. What serves my best interests as determined by me alone is the criterion for differentiating between good and evil.

Diarmaid MacCulloch, Professor of History at Oxford University, who is himself a homosexual, says in his book, The Reformation: “This is an issue of biblical authority. Despite much well-intentioned theological fancy footwork to the contrary, it is difficult to see the Bible as expressing anything else but disapproval of homosexual activity, let alone having any conception of homosexual identity. The only alternatives are either to cleave to patterns of life and assumptions set out in the Bible, or say that in this, as in much else, the Bible is simply wrong” (681).

So the bottom line, again, is not whether you construct your beliefs and make choices based on a moral authority. The bottom line is to which moral authority you give ultimate allegiance: the Creator or the Creature. People such as Johnson, Loader, MacCulloch, and the majority of Justices on SCOTUS have chosen the creature.

The decision by the 5 justices who comprised the majority had little if anything to do with the Constitution of the United States. It had everything to do with their belief that individual autonomy, i.e., “self”, is the final arbiter when it comes to sexual morality. In our society the prevalent presupposition is that all of us are under one moral obligation: be yourself, especially when it comes to sexual identity and practice. Be yourself, whatever your “self” chooses and desires and is pleased to be. Any suppression of strong sexual desires leads to psychological damage. Everyone should simply be left alone to live as freely and in accordance with their chosen sense of “self” as they see fit.

The Court extended this so-called “right” to “self” determination to marriage. In doing so they redefined marriage itself, and they did so based on the idea that each person ought to have the legal right to define marriage however he or she sees fit. I do hope you can see where this will eventually lead. I’m not an alarmist or a prophet, but it doesn’t take either one to recognize what’s coming next. What you must recognize is that everyone (except the criminally insane) puts limitations on marriage and sexual behavior. At least for now. If “marriage” can be defined in whatever way “self” wants to define it, what if five “selves,” let’s say two men and three women, decide that they ought to have the “freedom” and “dignity” to be married. Who are you to deny them this right, this freedom, the same so-called “dignity” that is afforded to that one man and one woman who are married? And who are you to deny two other “selves”, in this case a 21-year-old young lady and her 41-year-old biological father, from getting married? On what moral authority do you deny them their freely chosen way to live and love? Why can’t any number of so-called “loving” people form a marriage? Why couldn’t five men marry one another?

And what about two other “selves,” in this case a man and a goat or a woman and a dog? You may think I’m wandering into impossible extremes, but who are you to deny such people their chosen path of sexual expression and love? You don’t think there are people like that in our society? If you don’t, you’re living with your head in the sand. Consider this comment by Gavin Ortlund:

“If people have a ‘right’ to marry whomever they love, should two 15-year-olds be able to get married? Is opposition to cousin marriage a form of genetic and sexual discrimination? These examples are not scare tactics. They are real issues being debated. But the more basic point is this: we all define marriage in ways that exclude people, and it is not necessarily the result of discrimination or bigotry to do so” (Gavin Ortlund).

I cite but one recent example. Immediately following the SCOTUS decision a trio of persons in Montana applied for a wedding license. According to Nathan Collier, who wants to marry a second wife, “It’s about marriage equality.” On what grounds will Mr. Collier be denied his request?

Simply put, the “legal” and “moral reasoning” that gave those five Justices the authority to legalize same-sex marriages can just as easily and eventually will give another Court, somewhere in the future, the authority to legalize polygamy and incest and bestiality. After all, what strikes you as repugnant and immoral strikes people who engage in such behavior as loving and liberating. And without a transcendent moral authority, the Bible, to render its verdict on such behavior, “self” will render its verdict. And you know what that verdict is.

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