By Michael D. Peabody, Esq.
This election year, the California State Capitol has once again become a flashpoint in the ongoing culture war. Few topics fan the flames among voters more than the issue of gay rights. For the left, it is a civil rights issue where blatant discrimination and intolerance are the norm and the stakes couldn’t be higher – jobs and housing, but also the freedom to live without fear of violent attack. To the right, gay rights seem wildly anti-American, anti-God, and anti-biblical, and the movement is seen as destroying the traditional values that built America. The lines have been drawn, and the battle is raging.
This year, four bills impacting gay rights passed the legislature and landed on Governor Schwarzenegger’s desk. Despite heated rhetoric from both sides, the bills are more symbolic than substantive. As of this writing, the governor has signed one, vetoed one, and two are in limbo.
The two bills as yet unsigned are AB 606 and 1056. The first bill would add sexual orientation and gender identity to public school non-discrimination policies. The second bill, AB 1056, would allocate $250,000 for a pilot program in 10 schools to teach students tolerance, adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the usual bases of non-discrimination, such as race, religion and handicap. The Right is offended by the effort to teach children that the homosexual lifestyle is normal, and even more offended by the use of law to express moral approval for those who change gender identity. On the other hand, the Left is specifically working to use the law to remove the social stigma related to sexual orientation and gender identity.
The governor vetoed SB 1437. This would have required teachers and curriculum to refrain from reflecting “adversely” upon any of the protected groups based on their protected characteristics. Schwarzenegger defended his veto, claiming the bill was ambiguous and duplicated existing law.
SB 1441 requires all educational programs and institutions that receive state funding to comply with state non-discrimination policies, adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the list. Although there is a great deal of ambiguity in the statute as to how the bill’s provisions might be implemented, we opposed the bill because it adds a mandate for private and religious institutions as well as public ones – a mandate that could conflict with religious values. The Seventh-day Adventist Church State Council, the organization that monitors state and Federal legislation, urged the governor to veto SB 1441. Despite its advocacy, this bill was signed into law.
Interestingly, the loudest objections to the bill were heard from those organizations that are busy raising funds to fight the culture wars, and do not actually operate religious colleges or other institutions that would be impacted by the bill. Indeed, few private school organizations were active in opposing this bill. A possible reason for this is that the religious colleges and preschools that do receive some forms of state funds do not typically discriminate in the provision of services to students. Most colleges do not attempt to identify applicants on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, and few, if any, are not admitted on that basis. Rather, religious schools may enforce policies requiring that students adhere to biblical standards of sexual morality, including prohibition on sex before marriage, without regard to one’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
On Sept. 5, the culture warriors turned out in force for a rally at the State Capitol to demand the governor’s veto of these bills, and to express their outrage at the governor’s signing of SB 1441. They chanted: “Veto these bills or we will veto you!” while waving signs saying “Benedict Arnold” and demanding that he “Terminate Gay Rights.” This year’s crop of gay rights bills have not escaped the notice of Adventist church members, and several have called our offices, asking for more info rmation, or urging the church to become more active in this culture warfare.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church State Council, which serves the Pacific Union, carefully considers how to approach the hot cultural issues of the day. While culture warriors may chant the old adage about hating the sin and loving the sinner, such love is too rarely communicated through action. We all start out at the same place – sinners in need of the Savior. We may not fall prey to the same temptations, but we should never lose sight of the simple fact that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” This is the heart of the gospel.
Our primary legislative emphasis is to protect religious freedom, not to enforce public morals. Becoming a partisan in culture warfare would greatly undermine our effectiveness to defend the rights of conscience. Our reputation has been as a church that follows Christ’s example of caring for people as individuals, not demonizing people by group identification. We do our homework, carefully analyzing bills, and meeting personally with legislators and leaders to learn their concerns and ideas, and to share our own perspectives. In this way, we build bridges instead of walls, and are far more effective than we would be by joining mass demonstrations and shouting slogans.
While we share the concern that Americans must address serious moral and spiritual needs, political and legal changes can only lead so far. They can remove criminals from society, but cannot change hearts. A new life in Jesus Christ is the only solution to the nation’s sin problem. Cultural transformation can only come from genuine spiritual revival, not the other way around.
The Book of Revelation predicts that one day a spiritually powerless church will use a form of religion to secure secular legal and political power in order to impose oppressive policies and practices on all people. Today, we have a role in speaking truth to power, and that is to rise above the temptation to use political power to force our way forward, but instead follow the example of Christ as we advocate for truth in the capitol.
“He who was our example kept aloof from earthly governments. Not because He was indifferent to the woes of men, but because the remedy did not lie in merely human and external measures. To be efficient, the cure must reach men individually, and must regenerate the heart” (Desire of Ages, p. 509).
NOTE: Since this writing in late September, the governor has vetoed AB 606 and AB 1056. This article is published in the November 2006 issue of the Pacific Union Recorder.