Friday, July 03, 2015

Justice and Love: Christian Democracy

Writing the majority opinion in the Obergefell decision, Justice Kennedy concluded that "marriage embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, sacrifice and family," and that, in marriage, two people "become something greater than they once were."

Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee called the ruling "unjust" because it contravenes the wills of voters in certain states. Perhaps Huckabee doesn't recall how the first Republican President campaigned on the principle that human rights aren't up for vote.  Regardless, Huckabee went on to cite Martin Luther King, Jr.'s call in the "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" to resist "unjust" laws.

In his "letter," really a scholarly essay, King addresses fellow clergymen who thought his challenges to Jim Crow ordinances recklessly provocative.  Citing ancient church fathers Augustine and Aquinas, King writes that an unjust law is no law at all. To judge a law's "justness," King uses, not votes, not even the Bible, but human dignity as the measure, writing, "Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust." Because King goes on to specify laws that deny common rights to a class of citizens, I wonder if Huckabee has read King's "letter." (I'm not alone. See "Mike Huckabee Should Read..." at The Daily Kos.

To "uplift" a human personality is one definition of "love." That's how Christian psychologist M. Scott Peck wrote of love in The Road Less Traveled, as one's exertion to encourage and assist in the growth of another.  This definition of "love," focused on action instead of feeling, is most practical for covering Jesus' strongest mandates to "love your neighbor as yourself" and to "love your enemy."  Justice Kennedy's emphasis on love's power to make individuals "something greater than themselves" shows his use of "love" to be compatible.  King advises breaking laws in a "loving" manner, eschewing violence, refusing to be baited into anger, accepting the consequences.  In another context, he wrote how this loving resistance would, in Peck's terms, assist in the growth of his opponents:

Do to us what you will and we will still love you.... But be assured that we'll wear you down by our capacity to suffer, and one day we will win our freedom. We will not only win freedom for ourselves; we will [so] appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory. (King, Christmas sermon, December 1967)

King, by imagining love for an individual opponent expanded to encompass a society, anticipates the use made of the word "justice" by the Center for Public Justice (, an evangelical Christian think tank that influenced my thinking back when it and I were young, around 1980.  One of their publications argued from Scripture that "justice" is to society what "love" is to the individual, and both are God's mandate. 

For CPJ, a truly Christian democracy in America would reject our Founders' blithe faith, which was never a faith in the Apostle's Creed, but faith in "reason."  From George Washington to The Federalist Papers, our founders trusted that reasonable legislators could in any case reach agreement on what constituted "the common good."  But the CPJ recognizes that "reasonable" people of good will often start from different premises, both cultural and religious. To require the individual Roman Catholic, Native American, Jew, Muslim, atheist, or Evangelical Christian to set aside their worldviews when making political choices is unloving; to run politics in such a way that people of the dominant worldview needn't take into account voices in the minority is unjust.

Here's a succinct statement of purpose from an essay called "What distinguishes the Center for Public Justice?":
No nation or state may claim to have instituted God's rule in a way that justifies casting out or treating unfairly citizens who disagree with the government-established faith. On biblical terms we believe that God's purposes revealed in and through Jesus Christ call for neither church-governed societies nor governments that give a privileged public place to Christians. Rather, a Christian-democratic approach recognizes that God through Christ is upholding and renewing human responsibility on earth, including the responsibility to govern. And since ...Christ did not call his disciples to try to establish God's kingdom by force, human governance requires the just and equal treatment of all citizens. (Link to this essay at the CPJ website)

On the issue at hand, even reasonable Christians of good will disagree.  (See the web site Religious Tolerance for an even-handed survey of Bible-based responses to homosexuality.)   In fact, I disagree with the position on same-sex marriage outlined at CPJ's web site.

Although the CPJ reaches a different conclusion than I do, their approach is nonetheless the best way to ensure a truly democratic society.  As my friend philosophy professor Susan Rouse points out, "There's a lot more to being a democratic society than voting.  Even Stalin was re-elected."  In a nutshell, here's the CPJ's critique and their answer:
Politics [in the US today] often amounts to little more than interest-group competition among diverse groups, each seeking its own goals. Too little attention is given to the soundness of public institutions, to the art of long-term constitutional statecraft, and to the common good of the republic as a whole. ...The Center believes that the public good of the American commonwealth, which is shared by all citizens, can flourish only when governed by standards that transcend interest-group competition. (link)
I'm so often put off by the ugly competition among the parties in America.   Now that I've re-discovered the CPJ, I'll look to them for some level-headed, long-range, loving responses to the issues of the day.  

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