These remarks were delivered on Thursday June 11, 2013 in Laguna Nigel at the closing banquet of Alliance Defending Freedom’s Academy.
Thank you. And thank you for the privilege of addressing this group.
Thank you, Alliance Defending Freedom, for bringing us together this week—and for all of the work you do every week. Thank you Alan Sears for your vision and leadership.
Thank you, Alliance Defending Freedom, for your heroic work defending life, marriage, and liberty. During the past year it has been a blessing to work together on marriage. It’s been a source of encouragement. Thank you Austin Nimocks, Kellie Fiedorek, and Greg Scott for your friendship over the past year.
And what a year it’s been.
I was hired by The Heritage Foundation to do work on ethics and economics. It’s what my dissertation—which I still need to write—is about. But then the President “evolved.” And the Supreme Court granted cert. And I had this co-authored book coming out on marriage. A book that was supposed to be my last word on the topic—so I could write that unwritten dissertation—and move on to other issues.
But God had other plans.
In the past year Austin, Kellie and I have briefed over 50 members of Congress, hundreds of congressional staffers, and another couple hundred coalition partners in DC. This was the first time I ever spoke to a member of Congress. There were other “firsts.” During this past year I’ve lectured on college campuses for the first time. I’ve gone on TV for the first time. I’ve been called uneducated and un-American for the first time.
I learned something from these experiences: that the argument for marriage hasn’t been heard and rejected; it simply hasn’t been heard. Thanks to invitations from Blackstone Fellows and Federalist Society chapters, I’ve debated marriage at a couple dozen colleges and law schools. On almost every campus I visited, including elite law schools like Stanford and NYU, students came up to me afterwards to say that they had never heard a rational case for marriage. The Lefties would tell me that they respected the argument—and frequently weren’t sure why it was wrong, even when they continued to insist that it was wrong.
Christians would say that they always knew marriage was between a man and a woman, but never knew how to defend it as a policy and legal matter. That they knew what the Bible revealed and the Church taught, but lacked a vocabulary for articulating what God had written on the heart. Now they could better explain how faith and reason went together; how theology and philosophy, the Bible and social science all pointed to the same truth.
Unfortunately Justice Kennedy didn’t see it that way. Justice Kennedy’s opinion doesn’t change the truth about marriage or the Church’s obligation to witness to that truth.
But it does make it more difficult.
We should remember, though, that we’ve been here before.
Think of pro-lifers in February 1973, just weeks after Roe v. Wade. Public opinion was against them, by a margin of 2:1. With each passing day another pro-life public figure—Ted Kennedy, Jesse Jackson, Al Gore, Bill Clinton—evolved to embrace abortion on demand. The media kept insisting that all the young people were for abortion rights. Elites ridiculed pro-lifers as being on the wrong side of history. The pro-lifers were aging; their children, increasingly against them.
But courageous pro-lifers put their hand to the plow, and today we reap the fruits.
My generation is more pro-life than my parents’ generation. A majority of Americans identify as pro-life, more today than at any other point. More state laws have been passed protecting unborn babies in the past decade than in the previous 30 years combined.
Academics wrote the books and articles making the scientific and philosophical case for life. Statesmen like Henry Hyde, Ed Meese, and Ronald Reagan crafted the policy and used the bully pulpit to advance the culture of life. Activists and lawyers got together; coalitions were formed and strategies were devised. Witness to the truth was borne.
And the Christian community woke up—the Southern Baptists at the time, we sometimes forget, were in favor of abortion rights and supported Roe. Today they are at the forefront of the cause for life. This should caution us not to write off those who today might be on the wrong side of the marriage debate.
For everything the pro-life movement did needs to happen again, but on this new frontier.
And it needs to happen in all spheres of life. We’ve had discussion this week about how law is downstream from culture. That’s only half the truth. The upstream/downstream metaphor can be misleading. Culture shapes law, but so too does law shape culture. The law both reflects our values and teaches values—especially to younger generations. The better metaphor, I think, is that of two coasts connected by a tide, that comes in and out, that picks up and drops off on the shorelines. Law and culture reinforce each other, either for or against human dignity and human flourishing.
I majored in music at Princeton, and one thing I learned there is that culture is more important than culture war. My vocation no longer lies directly in the realm of culture, and that’s probably true for many of the lawyers in this room. Still, we need to encourage Christians to develop good art, good music, good film and television.
And in that task we should remember that piety is no substitute for competency.
We should be as concerned about what the FOX TV show Glee has done to corrupt a young generation as we are about anything the Court has done. But what is the Christian alternative to Glee? We need to encourage those with vocations in the artistic realm to continue their important work.
It’s not that we need fewer natural law philosophers, or appellate litigators; it’s that we need more of everything. Christians need to be at the forefront of everything. At one point Christians were shaping culture—because God became a man, not just a mind. The best literature, the best art, the best music—for over a thousand years—was all produced by Christians: Shakespeare, Dante and Chaucer; Palestrina, Bach and Beethoven. Who do we have today?
Christians should be at the forefront of every sphere of human life, embodying excellence in all that they do, bringing glory to God in every domain. Including law and philosophy.
There should be a dozen books like What Is Marriage. The only reason ADF passed it out this week is that there isn’t an alternative. It’s why businesspeople love monopolies: When there’s no competition, you’ve cornered the market. We need more—and better—books on marriage.
In short, there’s work for everyone, for artists and musicians, for pastors and theologians, for statesmen and lawyers, for scholars and activists.
And the three dissents in the DOMA case contain clues on where we go from here.
Justice Alito makes clear the actual constitutional status of marriage laws. Just as we didn’t accept Roe as a true interpretation of the Constitution on life, so too we should refuse to accept Windsor as the truth about the Constitution on marriage.
Chief Justice John Roberts emphasizes the limits of the majority’s opinion. He makes clear that neither the holding nor its logic requires redefining state marriage laws.
We need to champion this message. The other side is saying that Kennedy’s opinion reaches farther than it does. That’s not the truth. Roberts has given us marching orders on how to accurately describe this ruling.
But we should be clear-eyed about what’s coming next. That’s where Justice Scalia’s warning comes in: The Court will do whatever it thinks it can get away with.
Scalia writes to admonish us: The Court will be less likely to usurp the authority of citizens if it is clear that citizens are engaged in this democratic debate and care about the future of marriage.
Alito, Roberts, and Scalia, three keys to the future. As a good Trinitarian, let me use another trio, three key teachers of mine.
Hadley Arkes was my first teacher of political philosophy. As a young undergraduate, I sat in on a summer seminar on natural law Hadley led on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. We’ve had the pleasure of listening to him all this week. As hilarious and well-spoken as he is, his life speaks even better.
Hadley was convinced by the natural law of the moral truths that many of us here defend. And it was the Church’s witness to these truths that led him to Christ. Some argue that we should soften our stance on so-called controversial issues. That in order to be evangelists we need to be seeker friendly. They’re wrong. While we shouldn’t be bombastic or imprudent, it is precisely our countercultural witness to what St. Paul called the more excellent way that will bring people to Christ. By witnessing to the natural law, we can make our claims about the supernatural law—the law of Grace—all the more believable. For all law comes ultimately from the same divine guide.
Robbie George was my next teacher. I didn’t take any of Robbie’s courses when I was a student at Princeton, but I was his research assistant for two years after graduating. Here’s what I learned:
Bad philosophy needs to be answered by good philosophy. Bad science needs to be responded to with good science—this is true with the science of embryology and the social science of marriage. We cannot allow the other side to depict these debates as ones of faith against reason, of backward superstition against enlightened science. This takes work. We have to work twice as hard as our opponents. We have to understand their arguments better than they understand them themselves—so we can then explain, at the level of reason, where they’ve gone wrong.
But we can’t stop there. Here’s where my third teacher comes in. For two years I had the great fortune to work as an assistant editor at the journal First Things. These turned out to be the last two years of Fr. Richard John Neuhaus’s life. And Fr. Neuhaus taught me that while we have to respond to bad reason with good reason, we also have to build on that reason with revelation; that while nature and natural law are foundational, grace builds on and perfects nature. And Christ came to make us perfect.
Neuhaus’s life was one of witnessing to the truth of Christ. To what he called the high adventure of Christian discipleship. For Neuhaus, friendship with Jesus was—at the end of the day—the only thing that mattered. After all, the only way to live out the truth of the natural law is to know and love the natural law giver. The only way to find the courage, and the strength, and have the hope to fulfill our vocation in life is to rely on the grace of the one who called us to that vocation.
Fr. Neuhaus was a leader in the civil rights movement. He marched with Martin Luther King Jr. He protested the Vietnam War. And he was an early recruit to the pro-life movement. He saw it as the logical extension of his prior activism. He hoped that his liberal friends would see it the same way. But they caved. And they abandoned him. And a life which was set on a trajectory of liberal accolades and the applause of the elites took a new path.
The same may happen to many of us. Our friends in politics who have stood with us so far may start caving. It shouldn’t change what we do.
It may come sooner than we think. Scalia’s dissent issued another warning. In chiding Justice Kennedy he wrote: “It is one thing for a society to elect change; it is another for a court of law to impose change by adjudging those who oppose it hostis humani generis, enemies of the human race.”
Hostis humani generis. My Latin isn’t very good, but I did a little research into this phrase. It’s used in admiralty law to describe those outside the realm of legal protection. It was used to describe pirates, who could be dealt with as any nation saw fit.
It’s also the phrase that the pagans used in describing Christians. Hostis humani generis, enemies of the human race. John Henry Newman recounts Tacitus using this label to describe the early Church.
We don’t have it nearly as bad as they did. We don’t have it nearly as bad as Christians do today in the Middle East and so many other parts of the globe. But what is happening here in America matters because America matters.
America is the only country that is founded on a proposition, on a proposition about rights and liberties, not only of Americans but of all people. About rights that all people are endowed with by their Creator; about rights that governments are instituted to protect. If America—the last, best hope—can’t get this right, what does that mean for the rest of the world?
It isn’t surprising that we’re not getting it right. Part of the blame lies with us. If government doesn’t respect religious liberty and the rights of conscience, perhaps it’s because I don’t exercise my religious liberty as I ought, that I don’t follow my conscience as I should. If I don’t take my faith and conscience seriously, it’s no wonder that the government doesn’t either.
I’ve never killed anyone physically, but I know I have spiritually, emotionally, psychologically, when I am short-tempered with colleagues or belittle opponents. It isn’t surprising that the government fails to respect the dignity of life when I fail to respect it.
The same is true for marriage. Long before there was a debate about same-sex anything, far too many people bought into a liberal ideology about sexuality that makes a mess of marriage: Cohabitation, no-fault divorce, extra-marital sex, non-marital childbearing, massive consumption of pornography and the hook-up culture all contributed to the breakdown of our marriage culture. And Jesus tells us that these all begin with the silent, interior act of simply looking with lust.
At one point in American life, virtually every child was given the great gift of being raised to adulthood in the marital bond of the man and the woman—the mom and the dad—whose union gave them life. Today, that number is under 50 percent in some communities, and the consequences are tragic. Same-sex marriage didn’t cause this, but it does nothing to help it, and will only make things worse. Indeed, it will lock in the distorted view of marriage as an institution primarily concerned with adult romantic desires, and make the rebuilding of the marriage culture much more difficult.
After all, redefining marriage to make it simply about emotional companionship sends the signal that moms and dads are interchangeable. Redefining marriage directly undercuts the rational foundations for the marital norms of permanence, exclusivity and monogamy. It places the principle into law that if justice requires redefining marriage to include the same-sex couple, so too it could one day demand recognizing the “throuple” and quartet.
But the marriage debate is just one earthly battle, one among many that the people of God must wage. It is not ours to determine when we will succeed in it, or how. And ultimately, it is of secondary concern. For the only success of ultimate importance is holiness. The only real tragedy in life is not to have been a saint.
That success can be had—that tragedy avoided—whatever happens in law or culture. For holiness is not the world’s gift, but God’s; and what it calls for is faithful response. We give the other side a victory only if we fail to respond. Only if we spurn God’s calling to each of us. Only if we withdraw from the fight, out of indifference or despair.
God calls each of us by name, each to a unique path. There are as many different callings in this room as there are individual believers. And yet there is a common calling: a life of holiness and witnessing to the truth.
But if there is a call, then there is a choice in responding to it.
And if we heed God’s call, there will be naysayers. People will tell us that we’re deluded, that truth doesn’t exist, that God doesn’t exist—that we are on the wrong side of history. It’s the same thing that they told pro-lifers forty years ago.
But history isn’t a blind force. We aren’t passive observers. History will be shaped by the actions of people like you and me, by our response to God’s call. And so it is not history that will judge us. We know that we will be judged instead by the Lord of history. The same Lord who reversed history’s greatest evil when He rose from the grave the following Sunday.
That shows us once and for all that there is no right or wrong side of history, but only of truth. The world will not always want to hear the truth, but only the truth will set it free. We owe it to the world to share that freedom, God’s gift to us, in season and out, and always in love.
Alliance Defending Freedom is at the forefront of defending the truth in love. And they have had remarkable success in doing so.
But I will close with this: regardless of who calls us uneducated, or un-American, or enemies of the human race, regardless of the next bad Court decision, regardless of whatever the future may hold, God doesn’t ask us to be successful, He asks us to be faithful.
Thank you, Alliance Defending Freedom, for being faithful. May we all, in turn, do the same in our own callings.