While Baptists have significant areas of disagreement with the Vatican, we share many of the same creedal and moral convictions. Furthermore, we are prudent to identify those areas of consensus and to collaborate with those who share our moral and ethical perspectives whenever we can do so without compromise.
Just this week (February 1, 2010), Pope Benedict XVI criticized British laws which offers special protection for homosexual behavior as a “violation of natural law.” Those who are knowledgeable of recent political battles for Supreme Court appointments are familiar with the hotly-contested debate about the issue of natural law. While our nation’s Founders were of one mind about the existence and authority of natural law and based their convictions about human rights and political authority upon the doctrine of natural law, many today reject the notion of any transcendent law, since that implies a Lawgiver and, consequently, would place mankind under the authority of that Divine Being. In the least case, natural law implies that “man is not the measure of all things,” that morality transcends cultural contexts, and that morals are not democratic. Our votes or opinion polls don’t turn error into truth or immorality into righteousness.
The Pope adroitly said to his British listeners, “Your country is well-known for its firm commitment to equality of opportunity for all members of society. Yet, as you have rightly pointed out, the effect of some of the legislation designed to achieve this goal has been to impose unjust limitations on the freedom of religious communities to act in accordance with their beliefs.”
There is no doubting that what the Pope said is true. Already in this country we in the church are feeling the pressure to soften our moral judgments about aberrant sexual behavior. Not only can one be penalized for making statements critical of homosexual activity in the public forum, we are told that there are movements afoot to restrict criticism of the homosexual lifestyle on the public airwaves via television and radio or even in the social media. In the name of “tolerance” or in the name of a supposed right of people to flaunt their sexual preferences, or under the rubric of “hate crimes” and “hate speech,” a special class and special privileges have been created for homosexuals for which there is no legal or constitutional precedent and, despite media disinformation, no scientific basis.
The Pope is not being uncharitable. Nor is he blind to the real world. He is aware that the Catholic priesthood itself has historically attracted men who struggled with issues of sexual deviancy. Those of us outside the Catholic Church have been critical of the Church’s slow response at times to claims of sexual abuses among the clergy. The official statements issued by the Vatican on these issues have been comforting, however, to those who expect nothing less than moral purity to be advocated by the man who speaks for the Church.
To those who question why the Pope bases his moral opinion upon “natural law” and not the Bible, the answer is really very simple. The Bible is the Scriptures for Christians (the Jews share much of our same Scriptures—or, I should say, we share much of their Scriptures). The Bible is our ultimate authority for doctrine and morals. “God said it; I believe it; and that settles it.” The Bible is truth; and when God speaks, the argument is over.
Yet much of our world does not accept the authority of Scripture. They are devoted to other religions, and a growing number of intellectuals and young students are committed to agnosticism or atheism. For them, there is no higher authority than the mind of man. Some would argue that the authority for morals or values is found in the consensus of the community or in the body politic.
Historically, however, many thinkers have understood that there are principles guiding human behavior that are self-evident. These moral and social principles have been recognized by pre-Christian philosophers as well as by Christian theologians, and they have been given the name “natural law.” Just as there are inviolable and universal physical laws governing our universe, and, as far as we can judge, there is no place in the universe where these laws are not in effect, likewise there are universal, culturally and historically transcendent moral laws that cannot be ignored or suspended without causing harm to the human race.
To repeat, our nation’s Founders accepted this doctrine of natural law and our Declaration of Independence is rooted in this philosophy.
To put it simply, just as philosophers and scientists don’t make the laws governing our universe, they simply discover them; likewise, we do not make the laws governing human behavior, we simply discover these laws as they were designed by the Lawgiver.
This article is not advocating natural law (although we could do it). I am simply applauding the Pope for speaking the truth about a hotly-contested issue. The Vatican is still right on the issue of abortion rights and we give three cheers for that stand. The Pope is also correct in saying that homosexual behavior is not moral behavior and that recent attempts in Britain and elsewhere to criminalize speech critical of homosexuals is a denial of the rights of free speech and the free exercise of religion.
© Alan Day
Alan Day (1948-2011): Dr. R. Alan Day was pastor of First Baptist Church, Edmond, for 25 years. He also previously pastored churches in Mississippi, Texas, and Louisiana. A prolific writer, Day is the author of two books, Lordship . . . What Does It Mean? and Family First, and a contributing author for Baptist Theologians. He served the Baptist Messenger as a columnist for several years, writing a weekly Baptist Doctrine series from 1999-2002, then an “I’m Glad You Asked” column in 2005.
Alan Day tragically passed away in February 2011 following a motorcycle accident.