FMA: Opposing Voices in Christian Leadership

Liberal groups say FMA would disregard individual rights, Conservative groups say protecting marriage is a moral issue
( [email protected] ) Jun 05, 2004 01:10 PM EDT

On Wednesday, June 2, a group of Christian, Jewish and Sikh organizations issued an open letter to Congress, urging politicians to reject the proposed amendment to protect traditional marriage.

"We believe the federal marriage amendment reflects a fundamental disregard for individual civil rights and ignores differences among our nation's many religious traditions. It should be rejected," the letter, which was penned by the executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, read.

"It is not the task of our government and elected representatives to enshrine in our laws the religious point of view of any one faith," the letter stated. "Rather, our government should dedicate itself to protecting the rights of all citizens and all faiths."

"Our nation's founders adopted the First Amendment precisely because they foresaw the dangers posed by allowing government to have control over religious decisions," the letter continued. "The religious freedom protected by the First Amendment has allowed religious practice and pluralism to flourish."

Twenty-six organizations signed the letter, including the 2.3 million-member Episcopal Church USA, the Presbyterian Church USA and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America – All three of which are experiencing marked decline in financial support and membership. The Episcopal Church, among the most liberal Christian denominations, has nearly become an outcast from the 77-million-member worldwide Anglican Communion for the consecration of an open and active gay bishop last year. The PCUSA has also been struggling to keep its congregants under one voice – every year, the liberal factions try to overturn the ordination standards of the church, which prohibits active homosexuals from being on the clergy roster, and every year they are defeated by the majority of the Presbyterians who fight to uphold the current standards. In the ELCA, more and more rebellious parishes bring in active homosexual pastors in clear defiance of the national church law, and boldly publicize their actions.

Karen Vagley of the Lutheran Office of Governmental Affairs of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America said her group signed the letter because "we see this as a civil rights matter. Our social statements are clear: we do not discriminate."

Stan Hastey, executive director of the Alliance of Baptists, a denomination with 600,000 in total membership, said the amendment would deny same-sex couples the legal framework with which to provide for one another. "We oppose any effort either by the church or state to use the other for its own purposes," he said.

Others signing the letter were seven Jewish groups, led by the Union for Reform Judaism, two Quaker groups and three Sikh groups. The Unitarian Universalist Association – a self proclaimed ‘Christian’ group and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) have joined in the signing. All the signatories are considered liberal.

Meanwhile, larger Christian bodies, including the Roman Catholic Church, the 30-million member National Association of Evangelical and the 16-million member Southern Baptist Convention – the largest protestant Christian body in the U.S., made clear their support of the Federal Marriage Amendment.

"Our primary argument is that marriage is a foundational institution in society that should be protected," said Rev. Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals in Colorado Springs. Once marriage between a man and woman is protected, legislatures can do what they want to provide benefits for others in civil unions”

Richard Land, head of the Southern Baptist Convention's ethics and religious liberty commission, who said the government has had a traditional role in banning polygamy, incest or other practices generally rejected by society. "To say that this is an attempt to foist one religious viewpoint on everyone else is just nonsense," Land said. "This is a moral issue."

More than two hundred influential leaders from Christian ministries and denominations have applauded the President Bush for his proposed amendment, which would prohibit future issuances of gay “marriage” licenses and nullify all of the present gay “marriage” licenses.

The Senate version of the proposed amendment, introduced by Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., states: "Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution, nor the constitution of any state, shall be construed to require that marriage or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon any union other than the union of a man and a woman."

For the amendment to pass, it must have the support of 2/3 of both the Congress and the House, and must be ratified by ¾ of the states.