Sexual Identity: legal Issues: Enslaved Freedom
In today’s America it’s pretty much an accepted dictum that true freedom is being able to choose whatever it is we desire. And when it comes to sexuality and gay rights, this is especially the case. If a man desires to be with another man, true freedom is being able to do so without any restraints, be they legal or cultural. The irony in this is that historically and classically, true freedom has always been defined by the ability to act contrary to desire.
Presupposed first is that our desires are not always good and right. Therefore, and second, to make a necessary choice based upon that desire is not freedom but enslavement. Drug addiction tells us something of this concept. Drug addicts always choose their desired drug, and are therefore enslaved (addicted) to drugs. And, oh how wonderful it is when they find real freedom by being able to say no to a desire that may be with them the rest of their lives.
This example of the drug addict is helpful in thinking through the relationship between desire, choice, and freedom. As our classical western culture has traditionally understood things, always choosing what you desire doesn’t make a man free, it makes him a slave. This concept applies to society as well. A society that allows unbridled libertine choices based upon its citizens desires is not a truly free society.
The American founders knew this well when they argued that the essence of a country’s real liberty lies in its citizens’ ability to restrain their choices and desires. That is, a people bound by their ethics and moral convictions will provide more opportunity for better choices and freer living. This truth was seen even more clearly in the contrast provided by the French Revolution that championed unbridled liberty, wherein citizens were no longer shackled by the ethics of the Ancién Regime and were free to live as they desired. It was a moral revolution, which ultimately led France to the Reign of Terror.
Today, virtue is contested in the name of freedom and vice is celebrated, and the ability to choose whatever we desire is championed as real liberty. In the past though, our legal structures were set up to protect religious liberty, precisely because it was in the rich soil of the church that virtuous citizens could grow to produce and maintain a free society. True societal freedom rested upon right ethics, which could only be groomed and maintained from a context of religious freedom.
So there is a sad irony when today’s legal structures are set up to allow more freedom from ethical constraints, all in a desire to pursue more freedom of conscience by limiting religious liberty. It is a false freedom resting upon poor ethics, which diminishes religious freedom and ultimately erodes a society's freedom. It is a freedom that enslaves.
We would do well to remember that true freedom is the ability to not act on every desire. And a truly free society is one that does not give license to every desire. From the moment a society does, they are well on their way to being enslaved by vice.
The Christian worldview knows this well as we rest heavily upon the truth spoken by the prophet Jeremiah that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick” (Jeremiah 17:9). Not all desires are right desires. And this has profound consequences for how we think about choice and desire. Here the apostle Paul applies this truth when he tells us that “if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?” (Romans 6:16) In other words, if you’re consistently choosing what you desire, you are showing that you are enslaved to that desire.
When it comes to the topic of gay rights, the argument is that a person’s desire should legitimize their choice. Of course, that can’t be a blanket statement. As many Christian’s have been arguing for years, there is a very real slippery slope in this and you will end up finding underneath your blanket many scenarios you are not quite comfortable defending. For instance, no one using this argument would want to legitimize a man’s desire for his child, or his pet, or whatever other shocking “slippery-slope” argument you can think up.
We have to agree though that there is such a thing as a “wrong desire”, even between two or more consenting adults (see our shocking slippery-slope examples above). And we shouldn’t be comfortable with wanting to let society (mob rule) be the ultimate arbitrator between right and wrong desires. So we’ve got to ask the question: is it really wise for us as a country to pass more laws which allows for more choices based upon a broader range of desires just because more people are expressing their particular desires at this time? Where do the laws stop? Who finally gets to say “no, that’s an illegitimate desire.”
For the Christian those questions have been clearly answered in God’s inspired revelation. Some things that we desire are good and others are not. But even more so, for the Christian believer God has actually given us freedom from slavishly obeying our corrupt and sinful desires. In fact, a believer in Christ has been given radically new desires, desires which mirror the character of God himself. When this is allowed to happen on a large scale it is there where we can find the seeds of societal and cultural freedom; men and women able to live together in a moral, charitable, loving and selfless way.
My simple contention is that a society that allows more people to pursue freely their worship of God in Christ is a society that is at a foundational level providing true liberty for all its citizens. Oh, that Christians would be praying to that end. Oh, that all of America would be working to that end whether they are Christian or not. Their real freedom is at stake.
Stephen Unthank (MDiv, Capital Bible Seminary) serves at Greenbelt Baptist Church in Greenbelt, MD, just outside of Washington, DC. He lives in Maryland with his wife, Maricel and their two children, Ambrose and Lilou.