Al Mohler does not like the Respect for Marriage Act. In fact, he believes it is an offense to the “moral order” of creation.
The Respect for Marriage Act is a federal bill that passed the Senate this week and currently awaits likely ratification in the House. The bill would codify protections for same-sex and interracial marriage nationwide.
Mohler, a leading voice within Southern Baptist conservatism, has written and spoken about the Respect for Marriage Act repeatedly.
He began a Nov. 30 briefing by discussing how shocking it is to see the moral change in Republican support for same-sex marriage rights since the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996. The earlier legislation, which espoused more conservative ideals about marriage, passed 85-14 in the Senate, with overwhelming support from both parties. Now, the Respect for Marriage Act (which intends to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act) has been passed by the Senate with a vote of 61-36, with 12 Republican senators and all Democratic senators voting in favor of the bill.
‘A radical act’
Mohler wonders what is wrong with these 12 Republican senators.
He cited Sen. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wy., who justified her support for the bill by emphasizing the difference between the biblical definition of marriage and the secular definition of marriage. She argued it is OK to redefine marriage in terms of secular law while personally affirming what one believes is biblical.
Mohler thinks it is a “radical moral act” to make this distinction and that marriage has been “unhitched” from “any consistent meaning” he claims it has had for millennia.
He predicts this distinction will lead those who hold to a “biblical understanding of marriage as having to defend the right to hold to that understanding of marriage” in opposition to “a very aggressive secular culture.” He believes Christians will one day “have no right to walk out in public” and proclaim beliefs that same-sex marriage is wrong.
A strong majority of Americans currently supports same-sex marriage, according to multiple polls, and white evangelical Christians are the primary holdout on that view.
‘Love is love’
Mohler then moved on to the common “love is love” language used by LGBTQ rights activists to discuss their support of same-sex marriage, quoting Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and President Joe Biden.
Schumer noted that all married couples should have “the proper protections under federal law” and that the Respect for Marriage Act provides this for same-sex couples. He also said all Americans, no matter whom they love, “deserve dignity and equal treatment under the law.”
Mohler not only disagrees, he also believes Schumer disagrees with his own statement. Mohler referenced polygamy as an example, saying there are some forms of marriage that Schumer “would have nonetheless no reluctance to condemn.”
Of Schumer, Mohler concludes: “Every sane person knows what was said isn’t actually believed.”
“You ought to have the courage to tell the American people you mean that, no boundaries whatsoever, no definitional requirements whatsoever, love is love.”
Biden’s statement that “love is love” and that “Americans should have the right to marry the person they love” also angers Mohler. He responded: “Mr. President, I don’t believe you actually mean that. Or if you do mean that, you ought to have the courage to tell the American people you mean that, no boundaries whatsoever, no definitional requirements whatsoever, love is love.”
What Mohler was trying to say here is that, by slightly altering the definition of marriage from meaning two people, one man with one woman (as he says God created it), to meaning two people of either gender, he fears the American government has left open the door for marriage to mean anything, with no constraints.
Marriage is still between two people
However, according to what is outlined within the new legislation itself, there are still legal provisions that define what a marriage can and cannot be, and the standards that make a marriage legal for a same-sex couple are no different than for a heterosexual couple.
The bill’s Section 7 (a) states fully: “For the purposes of any federal law, rule or regulation in which marital status is a factor, an individual shall be considered married if that individual’s marriage is between two individuals and is valid in the state where the marriage was entered into or, in the case of a marriage entered into outside any state, if the marriage is between two individuals and is valid in the place where entered into and the marriage could have been entered into in a state.”
Thus, the bill clearly states that marriage is only between two people, not between three or four people and not between people and farm animals, as other critics have charged.
Mohler does not stop there. He continued by quoting Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who believes LGBTQ families deserve “the same stability and dignity that all marriages are entitled to.”
On this statement, Mohler fundamentally disagrees. He believes any political effort to “dignify” same-sex marriages will be unsuccessful because “you cannot dignify what is prohibited by Scripture.”
And Mohler argues that, although the government may affirm same-sex marriages as equal to heterosexual marriages, “the moral order resists that.” He does not explain what this “moral order” is, but readers may presume he is repeating previous claims about gender and marriage being rooted in a literal reading of the creation accounts in Genesis.
Religious liberty fears
He then warned Christian institutions, saying religious liberty is not protected by this bill, expressing his fear that Christian businesses, schools and institutions will “face a great deal of opposition” as culture redefines marriage.
He elaborates on these fears in an earlier article titled “The Parable of David French,” in which he claimed the “language assuring that no religious congregation will be required to perform same-sex ceremonies” contained in the bill is inadequate and that the tax-exempt status of churches that oppose same-sex marriage will be threatened.
In this, he echoed the statements of other evangelical conservatives who insist they will be persecuted for believing and teaching that biblical marriage is only between one man and one woman.
“The bill has no power to revoke tax-exempt status from entities or persons otherwise eligible.”
Constitutional law experts disagree with these dire predictions, however. The bill has no power to revoke tax-exempt status from entities or persons otherwise eligible. The bill also specifies that only entities of the government are accountable for providing services to same-sex couples for the purpose of marriage and that religious institutions are not required to do so if it violates their beliefs.
Also, Section 2 (2) of the legislation recognizes the “diverse beliefs about the role of gender in marriage” held by “reasonable and sincere people based on decent and honorable religious or philosophical premises.” The bill states that “Congress affirms that such people and their diverse beliefs are due their proper respect.”
Later in the bill, Section 6 is titled “No Impact on Religious Liberty and Conscience.”
There, Section 6 (a) states that nothing in the act or any amendment made by the act “shall be construed to diminish or abrogate a religious liberty or conscience protection otherwise available to an individual or organization under the Constitution of the United States or Federal law.”
Also, Section 6 (b) states that, as is consistent with the First Amendment, “nonprofit religious organizations” and “nonprofit entities whose principal purpose is the study, practice or advancement of religion, and any employee of such an organization, shall not be required to provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods or privileges for the solemnization or celebration of a marriage.”
Constitutional law experts cite these and other evidence to say the bill actually protects religious institutions that oppose same-sex marriage.
Is this about Dominion theology?
So why did Mohler so adamantly assert that evangelicals should be concerned with this new bill and that the conservative moral shift surrounding same-sex marriage is dangerous for the future of American Christianity?
The answer could be found in a subsection of Dominion Theology called Christian Reconstructionism.
Dominion Theology is a belief system based upon the notion that upon creation, God gave Adam dominion over nature. Dominionists interpret this to mean that Christians today should have authority, or dominion, over the world. Typically, they believe in doing so by taking charge of the government and other major institutions.
There are multiple ways in which Dominionists set out to do this.
“The goal for Christian Reconstructionists is to facilitate a society that is obedient to God’s law through the government’s imposition of Christian values on all people.”
For Christian Reconstructionists, this is done through the formulation of secular laws that are based upon the religious laws found in the Bible, emphasizing those in the Old Testament. The goal for Christian Reconstructionists is to facilitate a society that is obedient to God’s law through the government’s imposition of Christian values on all people.
Typically, religious freedom offers Christian individuals the right to have whatever values they believe are spiritually or philosophically right for them, protected by federal law. The same is true for all other religious individuals in nations with religious freedom.
In the Dominionist model, however, there is no true “religious freedom” since citizens must adhere to God’s laws to avoid legal punishment.
Longing for a theocracy
The reason Christian Reconstructionists believe bills like the Respect for Marriage Act are a threat to evangelicalism is simple: They do not codify Christian beliefs into law, so Christian values cannot be forcibly imposed on all Americans.
This Christian Reconstructionist model, in which Christian values are codified into law, would create a theocracy. A non-Christian example of this model in action is the Islamic State currently in power over Iran, which enforces Muslim dress codes and lifestyles for all citizens and severely punishes dissenters.
Christian Reconstructionists also believe judgment and punishment from God onto society will occur until all people are convinced to adopt these laws. Once they do, Christians will have dominion over all society, and the millennium of end-time world peace will be initiated. This comes from the Dominionist belief in postmillenial theology, in which Jesus will return only if Christians take charge of the world and use their power to bring about peace.
Could this be what Mohler means when he referenced the “moral order” in his briefing?
What’s wrong with this?
Christian Reconstructionism is problematic for multiple reasons.
First, there are many different types of evangelical Christians, and they often do not agree on what “God’s law” really is, aside from a select few points. In fact, it is not even a stretch to say each individual Christian interprets the Scriptures differently based on personal denomination, experience and life outlook. There is not one consistent “message” that defines Christian values because Christians themselves are very diverse. How would we know which values to codify into law and which ones to leave up to individuals?
“Codifying Christian values into the law for the sake of converting all Americans to Christianity is unconstitutional.”
Second, our Constitution guarantees that every American has religious freedom. That means every American has the choice to practice, or not practice, whatever version of their ascribed religious identity they like. The government has no power to enforce any one religion onto citizens because that violates our freedom of religion. So, codifying Christian values into the law for the sake of converting all Americans to Christianity is unconstitutional.
Third, is being a Christian really a choice if the law requires us to convert? Consider again the Islamic State in Iran. Certainly, there are many Muslim women and men living there who are suffering under the violent conditions of their government. However, there also are likely some people who do not believe in Islam but are forced to act like they do to avoid punishment. If we create laws that punish citizens for disobeying God’s law, what will exist is an America in which people pretend to be Christians for the sake of avoiding punishment.
When we consider the consequences of a theocratic government, the Respect for Marriage Act providing legal rights and protections in the secular world for same-sex couples and maintaining religious freedom for institutions that hold differing values seem less like a threat to evangelicals, and more like a balance between LGBTQ rights and religious liberty.
Mallory Challis is a senior at Wingate University and serves this semester as BNG’s Clemons Fellow.