Now that we are in the thick of the political season, we are beginning to see the inevitable, and emotionally-charged, debates about the key moral issues of our day—homosexual marriage, abortion, etc. But, as soon as any group speaks out against these practices, the mainstream media, right on cue, is quick to chide them for forcing their morality onto others. The days of using morality as a political weapon are over, we are told. The “moral majority” of the 1980’s (Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, et al.) has lost and we need to move beyond such self-righteous posturing.
But, is the age of the “moral majority” really over? I would suggest that it is not. Certainly the era of the Christian Coalition led by Falwell and Robertson is over. But, something remarkable has happened since then. A new morality majority has emerged—but this time it is on the left. Now the very groups that once chided Falwell and Robertson for appealing to morality, are doing it themselves as they defend practices like homosexual marriage. To deny same-sex couples the right to marry is now described as “wrong” and “evil” and “bigoted” and “mean” and “hateful.” When you hear such language from advocates of homosexual marriage it is clear they are not just on a political crusade, they are on a moral crusade. In their mind, they are overturning evil and injustice in the world.
The problem with this whole scenario is that Christians are slow to recognize what is happening. It hasn’t dawned on us that we are losing more than a political argument. We are losing a moral argument. In this battle, we have lost the moral high ground.
But, there is a way forward. Although it is ironic that those advocating sexual promiscuity are doing so on moral grounds (just think about that for a moment), it presents a clear opportunity for Christians to make their case for the truth of biblical Christianity. Two considerations:
1. We need to point out the inconsistency of this new morality. For years, Christians have been critiqued for imposing their morality on others and for bringing their own moral proclivities into the public sphere. Morals are private, we are told. Keep them out of politics. But, here is where the inconsistency of the left needs to be pointed out. Contrary to their own rules of engagement, they have made moral arguments for practices like homosexual marriage time and time again. Indeed, these are aggressive arguments that make sweeping condemnations of all who might disagree. And often the condemnations are followed by lawsuits, boycotts, and protests against business or individuals who express a differing view.
Of course, this inconsistency has been routinely missed by the media and by cultural and political leaders. This new moral majority is not called “self-righteous” (as was the old moral majority in the 1980’s). But, this should come as no surprise. The new morality gets a pass for one simple reason. It fits with what most people already believe.
2.We need to challenge the intellectual foundation for this new morality. Whenever issues like homosexual marriage are debated in the public sphere, Christians have made a bit of a tactical mistake. We have focused our time on the merits of each moral position (whether such a practice helps or hurts a society), and have not asked where morals come from in the first place. On what grounds does this new moral majority declare homosexual marriage to be “good”? And where do they get concepts of “good” and “evil” and “right” and “wrong”? On why should we even care about issues of “fairness” and “equality”?
Christians have answers to these questions. We believe that moral absolutes are grounded in the very character of God himself and revealed in his Word. Indeed, we would argue that without a theistic worldview, there would be no basis for any morals at all. One cannot make moral claims with just any old worldview. One needs a worldview that can provide a coherent reason for why something is really wrong or really right.
It is here that the advocates of the new morality run into some problems. Are they really willing to invoke God as the basis for their sweeping moral agenda? Doubtful. For one, the left has worked quite diligently to get God out of every public venue, from the pledge of allegiance to public prayer. Moreover, the DNC has just taken “God” out of its 2012 platform. So, it would be shocking, to say the least, if suddenly they invoked God as the basis for their new moral claims.
But, the problem is bigger than this. Even if they did invoke God as a basis for supporting practices like homosexual marriage, where could they turn to show that God has declared his support for such a practice? Certainly, the major theistic religions—Christianity, Judaism, Islam—all explicitly condemn such a practice. One would almost have to create a new theistic religion out of nothing, in order to find a “god” who is willing to support this particular behavior.
I suppose the new moral majority could forge ahead with their moral crusade without any appeal to God. But, an atheistic worldview provides no basis for moral norms. If there is no God, then why does it matter what a person does to another person? There is nothing “moral” about our actions under such circumstances. They are just actions. In fact, it was this realization that led C.S. Lewis to abandon his atheism: “My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust?. . . Consequently, atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning” (Mere Christianity, 42).
In the end, the new moral majority finds itself in an awkward, and intellectually indefensible position. They need a transcendent God in order for moral norms to exist, yet they are working at every turn against God’s role in the public sphere. Moreover, they are advocating a behavior (e.g., homosexual marriage) that is rejected by every major theistic religion.
In all of this, Paul’s description in Romans 1 rings true: “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but became futile in their thinking” (Rom 1:21).