Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Is Hawkins County an outlier or a microcosm of the Bible Belt?

Welcome to Tennessee ... unless you are gay

On Monday Morning the Hawkins County (TN) Commission resolved to ban same-sex marriage. The resolution passed 13-3 with three abstentions. The resolution has no legal effect. It is unconstitutional and illegal per se but those commissioners sent a powerful signal to the county's LGBT population. And it is not a love thy fellow man message. What, exactly, is the point of this symbolic resistance to what is the law of the land?

When one commissioner attempted to table the matter, the sponsor of the resolution, Commissioner B.D. Cradic, went into a lengthy biblical diatribe. Just a small sample:

The Bible plainly says that Adam said, ‘This is now boneofmy bones, and flesh of myflesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man, Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall be one flesh.’Take ye wives and beget sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and that you may be increased there, and be not diminished.
[…]
But there are certain things in the Bible that goes against nature itself. And this morning politics has butted itself into religion. I myself, I’ve got to vote my conscience and my heart because one day I’ll stand in front of God. You will too whether you realize it or not. Thank you.
One commissioner explained that he took an oath to support the constitution and that this resolution was unconstitutional. Cradic responds:
First of all, Romans 13:1 says we are (subject) to the higher powers. And first of all, my oath is when I got born again to serve God with all my soul, heart, strength and mind …
Another commissioner explained the Establishment Clause. That, too, was of no interest to the 13 people who voted for the resolution.

The bottom line is that, for all the flag waving and patriotism, scripture takes precedence. It is not what James Madison had in mind when he wrote the First Amendment. It seems pretty clear that he struck a balance between the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause.

This all goes back to the Calvinist roots of the Deep South. Eventually, around 1800, the South had what has been called the Second Great Awakening. Folks came to the conclusion that religion and God's Kingdom were under attack and that only a revitalized church could stem the tide of immorality. Sound familiar? There is nothing new in all of this.

What is at issue is clearly not religious belief, at least it should not be. People are entitled to believe what they wish. What is at issue is all the Kim Davis's and BD Cradics out there — as well as a florist and a couple of bakers. We must respect the belief while, at the same time, setting limits for its imposition. We neither seek nor require their approval. We will never get it. We do have a right, however, to ensure that people follow the law. If they do not like the laws their are mechanisms for changing them. Disobeying the law is not one of those mechanisms.

Personally, I think it's all a much of silly superstition. Yet I must remind myself that, as a society, we have respect for the religious beliefs of others. In return I expect respect for the law and, in this case, the United State Constitution.

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