Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Religious Liberty, not Toleration

In the recent Supreme Court hearing of homosexual marriage, many have noted the threat gay marriage offers to religious liberty. R.J. Rushdoony recognized over thirty years ago the threat that homosexuals offered to religious liberty.

As an historian, Rushdoony was well versed in the history of religious liberty and religious toleration. Ironically, threats to religious liberty are not limited to pagans and secularists, as he notes. In his brief essay, Rushdoony references Isaac Backus, an 18th century baptist minister who lamented the loss of religious liberty under the State-supported religious denominations of his own day. Two anecdotes from Backus show that Christians were at least as severe as contemporary secular analogues:

These evils cleaved so close to the first fathers of Massachusetts, as to move them to imprison, whip and banish men, only for denying infant baptism, and refusing to join in worship that was supported by violent methods: yet the were so much blinded as to declare, That there was this vast difference between these proceedings and the coercive measures which were taken against themselves in England, viz. We compel men to "God's instructions"; they in England compelled to "mens inventions." 
In 1644 the court at Boston passed an act to punish men with banishment, if they opposed infant baptism; or departed from any of their congregations when it was going to be administered. 

The point is not that Christians are as bad as pagans and secularists (sometimes they are), but that if Christians, who are like minded in most areas, were willing to resort to such methods of enforcement over their differences, then one might expect pagans and secularists to have few qualms at using equal or more severe measures to ensure conformity to the legal requirements of today, should they shift in the direction of homosexual claims. No doubt earlier congregationalists and Presbyterians would have liked to stamp out Baptist "errors" and see all baptists embrace paedobaptism and presbyterian ecclesiology. But they would have seen Christian orthodoxy, defined in Nicene terms, perpetuated. No doubt present day pagans and secularists would like to stamp out Christian "errors" and see all Christians embrace homosexuality and homosexual marriage. But they also have no interest in seeing Christian orthodoxy, defined in Nicene terms, perpetuated. The only Christianity pagan and secularists are committed to see perpetuated is one thoroughly stripped of all but the most general moral ideals.

Another of Backus' observations seems perfectly suited to today's climate. Following upon his reference to the 1644 act in Boston, he notes:

And after they had acted upon this law, one of their chief magistrates observed, that such methods tended to make hypocrites. To which a noted minister replied, that if it did so, yet such were better than profane persons, because said he, "Hypocrites give God part of his due, the outward man, but the profane person giveth God neither outward nor inward man."

The same logic that would happily deny the necessity of wedding of inward and outward fidelity to God applies to the pagan and secular position on Christians who will be forced to comply to legislation that forces them to act against their conscience: what difference does it make whether Christians really accept homosexuality and its marriages as sanctioned by God? So long as they give their outward obedience, the due owed to homosexuals will have been paid in part, which is better than having it not paid at all.

Christians have been known to dig their own graves. We've been doing it since the times of Abraham, when we were but families, and not yet a nation among nations, nor yet a nation of all nations. But thanks be to God who is able to resurrect from the dead.

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