Privately Wise But Publicly Foolish: The Ridiculous Case For Divided Morality
Last week the Respect for Marriage Act was passed by the Senate. While profoundly disappointing, it is not surprising. What is somewhat surprising is the case being made to support this. It is a case we have heard before.
In the 1980’s, Governor Mario Cuomo of New York made the case that a person could be personally and privately against abortion, but still be publicly and legally for it. That argument gained traction, and has been taken up by many politicians as well as private citizens. That same kind of argument is being tried in the newest morality flip flop of same-sex marriage. This is becoming more noticeable in the evangelical world. Is anyone shocked? The culture is running headlong toward this moral revolution, and many churches are realizing that the biblical morality they held to is starting to cost them too much. They are being called bad names, and no matter how much cool music they play or how much smoke they pump into the worship center, the cost of following Christ is starting to smart.
Enter the “privately against, publicly for” argument. This line of reason says that a person can remain against same-sex marriage personally, but still vote for it as a legal option for whoever else would want to do it. The thought is of not wanting to force religion on other people. Or according to David French, this is a win for plurality in America, allowing different people to do different things, and all are legally protected.
However, I would put this into the category of what Paul describes in Romans 1:22: “Professing to be wise, they became fools.” Those who believe that they can ride a morality fence like this are actually exposing themselves. They think they are wise for holding to a biblical morality for themselves and their church; they feel the wisdom around them like a warm blanket. But in reality, they are foolish, and their foolishness is being publicly displayed. Their public support of immorality proves their wisdom is not the warmth of the blanket of morality, but the burning sensation of the frostbite of compromise and cowardice. Whatever morality they think they are holding privately, they are not holding it rightly. They are holding it as conscience-soother, a local-acceptance tool, a shelter to run to when accused of error or a loop-hole for keeping a semblance of religion while pleasing constituents. Their so-called private wisdom is publicly seen as foolishness.
I want to confront this idea with one additional maneuver. If morality can be divided like this, then why not divide it the other way? Instead of saying “privately against but publicly for,” let’s turn it around and say, “privately for same-sex marriage but legally against it.” To be sure, no one says this. Why not? Because the problems rush to the surface.
- It is hypocritical. If you are for something, then why not allow others to be for it. Good for me but not for you is hypocritical.
- It is unjust. If you are going to keep doing something yourself, then why you would deprive others of it? It destroys equality.
- It is unworkable. Who gets to say something is for them but not others? Who makes that decision and upon what grounds?
- It is illogical. If something should not be legal for the general public, they forget they are a part of the public.
Dividing morality certainly would not work in this way. Therefore, why would people think that it works in the more commonly held way? The same kinds of problems exist.
Let’s explore those reasons. What are the reasons people are privately against same-sex marriage?
- It is not my sexual preference. This is actually the only reason that works for holding this divided morality stance. And the reason it works is because the moral element is gone. It is no longer about right and wrong, but like and dislike. If someone reduces the issue down to personal preference only, this position works because our country doesn’t legislate personal preferences. But if someone thinks this is only a preference issue, they are already morally bankrupt and far from - It takes fathers or mothers away from children
– Children need a mother and a father. They need a mother to receive nurturing care and to know what womanhood is supposed to be. They need a father to receive the strong stability of loving protection and direction and to know what manhood is supposed to be. Anything that takes mothers or fathers from children is a tragedy (including no-fault divorce), and should not be supported by society. Same-sex marriage takes away a father or a mother from children. If you are privately against this, you have to be publically against it as well. The welfare of children is a public interest and must be protected.
- It hinders the propagation of people – Same-sex marriage cannot produce children. Children are the future and a society that does not prize children and create children in a way where children thrive will not last. Yes, modern technology has made ways of artificial reproduction, but there are massive moral complications in these practices because there is a harm that comes to people through them. If you are privately against the hindering of propagation, you cannot be publically for it. Public allowance for the undermining of propagation is self-defeating.
- It breaks the design of God for human flourishing – The above points all flow out of the design that God created from the beginning. His design is for the good and flourishing of society. While we know that people will rebel against the design, you cannot support that rebellion or incentivize it. Yes, our laws allow people to be stupid and sinful, but laws that institutionalize, undergird and incentivize sin is the path of destroying a nation. No one can be privately against that but then publically support a highway to implosion.
- It breaks the display of the gospel within marriage. Finally, marriage is doing something that points to gospel realities. Marriage is a man laying down his life for his wife, and a wife following the lead of her husband. This is the most deep and profound truth that gets obscured when the natural order of man and woman is made just a preference. There is no way to privately embrace the gospel and then publicly say the gospel purposes of marriage don’t matter.
Privately against but publicly for is only an option for someone who loves public acceptance more than the truth. At best, this is a smoke screen of wisdom that is hiding cowardice. At worse, it is a deceptive lie that is seeking to please the most people and gain the most acceptance without regard for what is true. This is not an option for God’s people.