© 2015 Robert Osburn
Dear International Student Friends Who So Enrich Our Lives:
Over the past 30 years, thousands of international students and visiting scholars like you have brightened our lives and challenged our thinking. Some of you have become followers of Jesus Christ, others not, but all of you agree that the exhilarating freedom to choose whom and what to believe is one of America’s great virtues. I am sorry to tell that this freedom, which you so richly and justifiably cherish, is now at risk.
What casts a pall over America’s prospects is not per se the recent decision by the US Supreme Court that same-sex marriage must be the law in all 50 American states. What really imperils America’s prospects is the fact that, in doing so, America’s most esteemed judicial body attacked the very foundation for American freedoms. That foundation is called the “natural law” by political philosophers.
Let me explain. Referenced in Romans 2:14-15 (a biblical text), natural law is the self-evident truth about how life must be lived. It is affirmed through most religious and philosophical traditions and is called the tao by C.S. Lewis. Because of natural law, it’s almost universally self-evident that men and women are physically designed, if not also emotionally and cognitively wired, to complement each other. When men and women enter monogamous opposite-sex marriages, they create the rich context where children are born and cultivated morally so that they can perpetuate or help to create ordered, harmonious societies. This is a core proposition of natural law. The successful advocates of same-sex marriage have discarded the natural law and instead re-defined the nature of marriage as love between two people.
Now, here’s the key point: Because of the very same natural law, America’s founders in 1776 penned these immortal words when they declared independence from Great Britain: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” In other words, America founders were saying that you (even as a foreign citizen) and every American are equal in inherent dignity and that we should be free to thrive without coercion. This conclusion flows from natural law, just as man-woman marriage does likewise. The former mandates freedom, the latter prescribes how to perpetuate society. When we lose the capacity to appreciate what the natural law teaches about how to perpetuate society (through opposite-sex marriage), what will keep us from eventually losing the capacity to seek freedom and dignity for all human beings?
“ Aren’t you exaggerating?” you ask. “After all, many other natural laws are ignored, and society as we know it doesn’t come to an end!” Perhaps so, but what is unique about this phenomenon of same-sex marriage is that many advocates for gay rights are aggressively threatening the rights of religious groups and those who run religious organizations. Even the American government’s top lawyer (the solicitor general who argues the government’s cases before the Supreme Court) implied that religious rights may need to be subordinated to gay rights. That religious freedom—that is, the right to obey another and higher law out of good conscience, and a right considered the original and most foundational freedom inscribed in America’s First Amendment—can be curtailed for gay marriage, is more grievous than you can imagine. If that freedom is lost, other freedoms, such as freedom of speech and association, are seriously at risk.
Another question: “Aren’t you disguising your intense dislike for gays and lesbians behind rhetoric about American freedom?” I don’t blame you for asking the question, and I know that it takes a lot of courage to ask that question so directly (to someone whom you respect). Most of those, like me, who reject the legitimacy of the ruling on same-sex marriage, bear no malice whatsoever for gay and lesbian people and their allies. Just as Susan and I have over the years welcomed many openly gay students into our home—and usually thoroughly enjoyed their company—most American followers of Christ share a similar love for their gay friends and neighbors. It is the natural law principle of equal human dignity, as well as the joy of knowing other human beings, that compels us. We are called to love all our neighbors, even if we disagree with their behavior. Furthermore, we are all sinners, and so we find, along with gays, level ground at the foot of the Cross of Christ. What we simply cannot do, however, is to celebrate or honor what seems so contrary to natural and biblical law (see, e.g., Romans 1:18-32).
Not only will freedom be imperiled, but we can expect much greater cultural conflict within the USA in years to come. Just as the Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling in favor of abortion rights led to deep divisions in the USA over what many Christians consider murder, the most recent ruling will only enhance this cultural conflict. Furthermore, if you are a follower of Christ and choose to stay in America after graduation, you may encounter steadily increasing pressure to hide your refusal to honor gay marriages and to celebrate “gay pride.” In countless ways your biblical ethic may run head-on into the new American ethic that will call you “evil” for disagreeing with the gay lifestyle.
Unfortunately, this letter about my beloved homeland is both a lament and a word of warning: The America in which you study—and where some of you will be tempted to stay after you graduate—is at risk of imperiling religious freedom, the most foundational of our freedoms. The loss of that freedom could erode slowly, but surely, the other American freedoms you cherish.
Somberly, but also hopefully in Christ,
Bob Osburn, PhD