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Michael K. Erickson
Monday, June 24 2013

Prop 8 & Religion in the Public Square

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Americans have a long history of supporting public policies based on religious principles preached from the pulpits of its churches. But that fact is often obscured as an increasing chorus of voices denounces the participation of churches in the public square and deprecates the influence of religious teachings and principles in shaping public policy.

In the fall of 2008, I joined tens of thousands of other grassroots supporters in going door-to-door for California’s Proposition 8. I had never before joined a political campaign. For me, it was a matter of faith.

As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I believed, as a matter of religious principle, that “marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God.” And I supported Proposition 8 because it was consistent with that religious belief. I also felt sincerely that preserving man/woman marriage was sound public policy, but I could never deny that, at the heart of the matter, I was moved to action primarily because of religious faith. And I believe that was true for many who supported Proposition 8.  

Last year, a federal appeals court held Proposition 8 unconstitutional because, allegedly, it was “born of disapproval of gays and lesbians” based on “longstanding, sincerely held private beliefs”—in other words, religious beliefs.1 In a few days, the Supreme Court will decide its fate.

For those challenging its constitutionality, the issue is a simple matter of discrimination. They argue that defining marriage as between a man and a woman treats gays and lesbians unequally by denying them the “freedom to marry” the person they love just because that person is the same gender. From this viewpoint, gay marriage is the newest civil rights movement. This makes for compelling argument, especially when coupled with the none-too-subtle threat that those opposed will soon wind up on the “wrong side of history.”

What Sets This Push Apart

But something significant sets the modern push for gay marriage apart from civil rights movements of the past. Political advocacy for gay marriage did not grow out of religious conviction. That is not to say that, presently, religious believers do not support gay marriage—some certainly do. But no one suggests that the campaign for gay marriage originated in religious belief, that it was ever supported primarily by religious organizations, or that it was pushed to the forefront of American politics by the moral force of religious persuasion.

To the contrary, the opposite is true. From the beginning, opposition to the redefinition of marriage has been rooted in deeply held religious beliefs and championed primarily by religious organizations. That was certainly the case with California’s Proposition 8. Against a mountain of opposition from prominent state politicians, famous Hollywood entertainers, powerful public unions, and large and wealthy corporations, formal support for Proposition 8 came almost exclusively from religious organizations. Most recently, a bill to legalize gay marriage in Illinois was defeated, most commentators agree, because influential African-American ministers publicly opposed it.

The prominent participation of churches in opposing the redefinition of marriage has sparked a vigorous backlash against the role of religion in the public square. In the wake of Proposition 8, some have advocated revoking the tax-exempt status of churches that actively participated in the campaign. Among public policy discussions, Biblical and other religious teachings on marriage and family are rarely, if at all, welcomed. And frequently, America’s founding principle of freedom of religion is recast as freedom from religion, with spurious claims that any political activity rooted in religious belief illegitimately imposes such beliefs upon others.

Such trends turn upside down America’s legacy of religious freedom. In his recent speech upon accepting the Canterbury Medal, Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, began with “a truth that is increasingly challenged: Religious teachings and religious organizations are vital to our free society and therefore deserving of its special legal protection.” Among the reasons that religion is so vital, Elder Oaks observed: “Many of the most significant moral advances in Western society have been motivated by religious principles and persuaded to official adoption by pulpit preaching.” As three examples, he named (1) “the abolition of the slave trade in England,” (2) “the Emancipation Proclamation in this country”; and (3) “the Civil Rights movement of the last half-century.”2

Religious Principles Put an End to Slavery

How did religious principles preached over pulpits put an end to slavery and segregation? This short column could never suffice to answer that question, but here are brief vignettes into these three inspiring faith-based public-policy triumphs.

First, the abolition of the slave trade in England.

The movement to abolish slavery in England emerged from the evangelical revival of the 18th Century. Christian abolitionists “believed passionately in the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man.” The enduring symbol of their campaign was the engraved image of an enslaved African kneeling with his manacled hands outstretched and asking, “Am I not a man and a brother.”3

The popular movie Amazing Grace introduced many to William Wilberforce, the eloquent champion of abolition in the British Parliament. Unfortunately, it did little to introduce the audience to the driving force behind his life-long crusade against slavery—his Christian faith. A wealthy merchant’s son and the youngest Member of the House of Commons (at the age of twenty-one), Wilberforce had little reason to seek a life of devout Christian worship. Indeed, religious enthusiasm was then highly stigmatized among elite British society. But Wilberforce underwent what he would later call his “great change” upon sensing his own “great sinfulness” and “the unspeakable mercies of [his] God and Saviour.”4 Though he considered a life of solitary religious devotion, friends persuaded him not to leave public life following his conversion, and Wilberforce resolved to make abolishing the slave trade the first great object of his political life.


  1. Elder Oaks stated that “Many of the most significant moral advances in Western society have been motivated by religious principles and persuaded to official adoption by pulpit preaching" citing the slave trade, emancipation proclamation, and the civil rights movement. I agree. But it also needs to be stated the slave trade, the emancipation proclamation, and the civil rights movement were also supported on the basis of biblical principles. Brigham Young supported slavery as a biblical principle, that is why the Utah Territory permitted slavery. Biblical principles have both supported and opposed some of the most abhorrent behavior in human history.
  2. Excellent article...remember, it is expected through the corruption of the state of California and the nation's Supreme Court to approve homosexual/lesbian marriages. When this happens, it is the final line where God will be to act as He have done in past. Removal of the family unit is the end of that nation.
  3. A well written article. I did not know some of this history on overcoming slavery. Faith can move mountains and the hearts and minds of people!
  4. The majority of members of the Church let Socialism and Communism advance in this country and did nothing or even supported it. Government schools, Social Security, fiat money, the IRS are all Marxists doctrine as is the Gay agenda. Even the author says: "I had never before joined a political campaign." In other words the author was "lulled away into carnal security" about his liberty and his LDS political duty. Trying to stop a flood AFTER the rain starts is always too late. In 1965 AD President Benson in GC in warning members ONCE AGAIN stated: "[T]he Lord will not protect us unless we do our part. This devilish tactic of persuading people not to get concerned because the Lord will protect them no matter what they do is exposed by the Book of Mormon. Referring to the devil, it says, "And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, and they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well - and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell." (2 Nephi 28:21) "I like that word "carefully." In other words, don't shake them, you might awake them. But the Book of Mormon warns us that when we should see these murderous conspiracies in our midst that we should awake to our awful situation. Now why should we awake if the Lord is going to take care of us anyway?" The members waited too long. It is too late to save this country as the Gadianton Robbers are already in the judgments seats. As Benson warned in 1965 AD. "Brethren, if we had done our homework and were faithful, we could step forward at this time and help save this country. The fact that most of us are unprepared to do it is an indictment we will have to bear. The longer we wait, the heavier the chains, the deeper the blood, the more the persecution, and the less we can carry out our God-given mandate and world-wide mission." The Priesthood has not been faithful to liberty. The chains are already here. The blood is coming. It has to.
  5. Excellent comment by Wiikwajio...I agree with everything he said. The Second Coming of the Lord and 7 years Tribulation is much closer than many of us realize. God will not save this doomed USA while we, of all nations perform the largest number of abortions each year; when every day now there are increased reports of murder, blue and white collar crime, rampant immorality, greed and disrespect for others becoming all too common. Soon, this country will go the way of Sodom and Gomorrah...America will burn! (Sad to say.)
  6. Sad to say, We were given the Book of Mormon to tell us what would happen herein the USA, When you say: Soon, this country will go the way of Sodom and Gomorrah...America will burn! YOu are correct. We were commanded to act as a people and we refused to act and instead embraced the Communist Manifesto as our political religious doctrine instead of liberty. THe official unchanged position of the church is that you can not be a faithful member while lending aid, encouragement OR sympathy to socialism. 95% of Mormons in the USA have fully embraced on form of socialism or another.
  7. "Men may fail in this country, earthquakes may come, seas may heave beyond their bounds, there may be great drought, disaster, and hardship, but this nation, founded on principles laid down by men whom God raised up, will never fail. This is the cradle of humanity, where life on this earth began in the Garden of Eden. This is the place of the new Jerusalem. This is the place that the Lord said is favored above all other nations in all the world. This is the place where the Savior will come to His temple. This is the favored land in all the world. Yes, I repeat, men may fail, but this nation won’t fail. I have faith in America; you and I must have faith in America, if we understand the teachings of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We are living in a day when we must pay heed to these challenges. I plead with you not to preach pessimism. Preach that this is the greatest country in all the world. This is the favored land. This is the land of our forefathers. It is the nation that will stand despite whatever trials or crises it may yet have to pass through." -Harold B Lee ( Source: Ye Are the Light of the World 350-51 )
  8. The author fails to see the problem with his examples. The anti-slavery and pro-civil rights pushed by religious organizations all EXPANDED individual rights. prop 8 did the exact opposite. It TOOK AWAY the then extant rights of gays to be married. Since 1 Cor. 10:29 condemns using subjective morality to justify infringing on /limiting the rights and liberties of others (see also D&C 134:4), I find it odd that LDS and other Christians would support 8 because that is exactly what 8 does. Gays had the RIGHT/LIBERTY to marry prior to 8 and we Christians let our religious opinions prompt us to infringe upon the rights and liberties of others (D&C 134:4). We steadied the ark and sinned against man and God.
  9. I would like to see a sign placed on all LDS churches that reads. " all sinners welcome" All Gays and Lesbianism welcome! Sexual orientation should not bar one from going to church or entering into the celestial Kingdom!
  10. Kevin_JK, I would like to know how you can say that the gays EVER had an inherent right, especially through the Bible, to be married. Both the Old and New Testaments vehemently oppose such depravities. There is a God, He created mankind in His own image, and commanded us to multiply and replenish the earth. A male/male or female/female relationship is incapable of multiplying and therefore against the order of God. I was taught in biology that the primary object of every species is self-preservation. The primary object of same-sex relationship is the extinction of the human species.
  11. STEVE P---Thank you for the quote by Harold B. Lee, which puts everything into perspective. President Hinckley also repeatedly taught us to have a positive attitude, regardless of the world situation around us. Our Heavenly Father is still at the helm!
  12. Nadine, thanks for asking. There is nothing in scripture that approves of same-sex marriage. The scriptures are clear that it is a sin. The problem though, is that we are NOT talking about how the Church should treat same-sex marriage, but how our secular government should. My point regarding the scriptures that I quoted is that they show that it is contrary to scripture (the OFFICIAL doctrine of the Church) to use our religious beliefs as justification to infringe upon the rights of others. Gays in California DID have the right to marry prior to Prop. 8 and we LDS, along with other Christians, DID use our doctrinal beliefs regarding homosexuality, to justify infringing upon those rights that gays had to marry in California. We violated the scriptures. It's irrefutable. As far as heterosexual marriage being about reproduction, that may be true from a religious perspective, but we are talking about how our secular government should treat people. Government allows people to marry who have no chance of reproducing - the elderly, the sterilized, the infertile, death row prisoners, etc... it also allows marriage to those who refuse to have kids. This shows that government does NOT LEGALLY link marriage with child bearing. because of this, there is no reason/justification, from a secular standpoint, to deny gays marriage. This is especially true since gays often are raising kids that they adopted or that they had from a previous heterosexual relationship. Denying marriage to same-sex parents harms thier children since they are denied the benefits and protections that kids receive from their parents being married. As far as same-sex couples' object being about the destruction of the species, that is specious. Gays use artificial insemination and surrogacy to reproduce if they choose not to adopt. Since 97%-98% of the human population/species isn't gay, the species is in no way in danger. Gays marry for the same reason others marry (especially those unable to have kids)...for love, companionship, etc... We know that society is strengthened when people marry, with or without having kids. This applies to gays as well. Society is objectively improved and strengthened when all people are allowed and encouraged to marry.
  13. That anyone self-identifies as "gay" should be legally of no significance to public policy recognizing the need for there to be opposite-sex relationships contrasted with the irrelevance to the public interest of same-sex sexual relationships. Unless marriage is exclusively opposite-sex it serves no public interest;I am not a religious person and this is not a religious argument.

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