“Pro-Family” Ad Helps Explain Fear of Marriage Equality

In late March The Washington Post published a peculiar ad from the American Family Association (AFA) addressing the U.S. Supreme Court, which will soon issue a ruling on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage bans in a handful of states. The ad, in brief, demands that the Supreme Court uphold these marriage bans or else.

Click image to read the text of the ad.

Click image to read the text of the ad.

Think of the threatening tone as the AFA’s Hail Mary effort to salvage a victory, a victory seemingly harder to achieve for the AFA and its allies with each passing year. Paying attention to the ad’s threat, rather than focusing on its “smug certainty about marriage,” as one friend phrased it, helps turn our attention to why the AFA is making this threat now.

In short: the threat comes in response to the AFA’s changing place in the cultural landscape and its limited theological resources for dealing with this change.

Quoting from Genesis 1:27 and Matthew 19:5 as proof texts, the ad articulates a particular political theology that includes a precise definition of marriage as:

… neither manmade nor created by any law or Constitution. It was God’s plan and purpose for civilization from the beginning. He created man and woman as distinctly separate but inherently compatible; each unique yet sexually complementary—providing both the means for and the ideal relationship within which to raise children from that union.

For the AFA there is only one possible kind of marriage—and a fundamentally extra-legal one at that (i.e. marriage exists prior to “law or Constitution”). As Mary Ann Case has shown, this kind of singular model of marriage helps explain why many U.S. protestants worry so intensely about the state legalizing same-sex marriage. To change marriage law is, for these protestants, to change marital theology.

So the AFA works to make its theological vision of marriage compelling to the Supreme Court, not only through the much-discussed language of religious freedom, but by appeals to the rhetoric of democracy and, as the ad says, at “the expense of children, perhaps even civilization itself…”

While it isn’t difficult to challenge individual strands in this tangle of incohesive claims, it wouldn’t address the rhetorical force of the AFA’s argument, which is far more emotional or instinctive in nature. Something more profound—and troubling—is going on here beyond simply getting people to feel like children’s wellbeing and people’s religiosity are being trammeled upon.

The AFA, I would argue, understands the law and the courts as an extension of its religious speech. To change the law in ways that don’t conform to the AFA’s religious vision, therefore, is to change the AFA’s speech on its behalf and against its will.

In this context it’s worth considering the synchronized relationship of the U.S. government and the AFA’s version of Christianity as outlined in its philosophical statement [emphasis mine]:

The American Family Association believes that God has communicated absolute truth to mankind, and that all people are subject to the authority of God’s Word at all times. Therefore AFA believes that a culture based on biblical truth best serves the well-being of our nation and our families, in accordance with the vision of our founding documents . . .

In this formula, the founding documents of the U.S. government, including the Constitution, are in perfect harmony with the AFA’s reading of the Bible. If “biblical truth” accords with “the vision of our founding documents,” then violating that truth—by ruling against same-sex marriage bans, for example—must transgress the U.S. Constitution.

The AFA’s position here is an extreme example of H. Richard Niebuhr’s “Christ of culture” typology, about which he wrote: “the mores they associate with Christ have at least as little relation to the New Testament and as much connection with social custom as have those of their opponents [i.e. liberal Christians, also commonly ‘Christ of culture’ types but from a different cultural angle].”

The “Christ of culture” types, moreover, are not about to sit idly by while their vision of society fails to be enforced or realized. And this is where the real threat embedded in the ad emerges.

The AFA dangles what it sees as the Court’s worst fear before the justices. “[Legalizing same-sex marriages nationally] would not only risk another Roe v. Wade tear in our cultural fabric, but also effectively delegitimize the very power of the court itself to rule justly.”

That is, the Court rules justly when it rules in accord with Nature, which, in this case, equals marriage between two opposite sex people as instituted by God prior to human governments.

But in the end I read the AFA’s ad as an act of blustering bravado—as an act of desperation, not of strength. The AFA sees its culture and its Christ coming apart and they don’t know what else to do but desperately try to piece them together again like a sad humpty-dumpty.

  • GeniusPhx

    When the Puritans landed first in Boston Harbor they intended to create the ‘city on a hill’ (which was Boston) where only their version of faith was followed to the letter. It was the convert, move out, or be killed invasion of what we might call the christian taliban today. Their most famous executions were called the salem witch trials, but they committed mass murders all over Massachusetts of anyone not complying. The catholics did also, the slaughtering of american indians for not converting is legend. The first freedom to fall in new america was the freedom of religion.

    There were 32 documents used to write our secular constitution, none of them religious texts. Our laws were taken from common law, as it says in the bill of rights, not the Bible. 27% of christians believe the bible is the inerrant word of god, a minority of Americans for sure. Can’t allow them to run the country for the rest of us.

  • Frank Franklin

    Two people of the same sex can never make a marriage and homosexual behavior will always be sinful. No changing that ever.

  • Judith Maxfield

    NO, no, no. You are hiding YOUR discomfort behind religion, I guess, since you use the word sin. What is your problem? If you are a Christian, you are very mistaken over the why of St.Paul’s wording. Besides, he is not of the Gospel; he had earlier writings in letters that may agree with you if you are literal in your use of scripture. His views and interests were in how to live out the faith and he does not have the last word. Jesus does. As he traveled, his theology was taking shape in response to the local problems of each church. BTW: The accepted view of sin is generally the first sin, i.e. the original, is the alienation from God that one thinks they know better than God. There is where chaos and terror always start.

    Besides, there may be other reasons for why he wrote what he did 2000 years ago. The four Gospel books are our Covenant which is in Jesus who is our mirror of what God is like, and who at the last supper said to go and love each other as I have loved you so the world will know who you are. so that God may be glorified (paraphrased). The idea, and more importantly the experience of love in the Gospel is clear, no exclusions. That trumps all text.

    I have friends that visibly make it obviously clear they were born with physical attributes that do not fit our ideal of the norm. They too are beloved by God. Get over it.

  • Frank Franklin

    Oh stop you sound foolish.

  • Judith Maxfield

    Are you sure about Massachusetts “mass murders”? I’m not arguing that, I’ve never read of that happening and have read a lot of colonial history. I do know of the Salem trials and people being forced t leave the colony, as in the women Hutchinson when fled to Rhode Island. Will check on that.

  • Fired, Aren’t I

    Don’t feed the troll. Frank has a years-long history of posting (as various “Frank” usernames”) on this site on any article having to do with gays, the same comments again and again and again. Then he gets banned by admins when they catch up.

    He might be bored, mentally ill, whatever – but don’t engage him as it only derails conversation.

  • Judith Maxfield

    May I suggest doing a read go the Book of Job, ch. 38. Its very long. And, do some inward reflection on it?

    You seem very flip. I took the time to reply thoughtfully. Can you do the same? I’d like to know. You commentary adds nothing to illuminate your beliefs. Why do you bother?

  • Frank Franklin

    I have read Job many, many times.

    No need to be long winded when a short phrase sums it up. There is a problem with your “thought” so it doesn’t matter how long it took you to put it into words.

  • Frank Franklin

    Two people of the same sex can never make a marriage. Deleting these words won’t change a thing except prove how insecure your belief really is.

  • Frank Franklin

    And yet you follow me around under multiple names like a puppy.

  • Frank Franklin–Why do you say that? I know many same-sex couples who have “made marriages” that work and fit very well within our church community… OTOH, I know many different-sex couples whose marriages have failed. Making a marriage “work” depends far less on a couple’s gender identity or orientation and far more on compassion, shared values, and commitment…

  • Not being too judgmental, are we, Frank Franklin? On what interpretation of Jesus’ gospel do you base such hypocritical condemnation of others? You are certainly not going by The Book when you do this…

  • “Perfect love casts out fear…” It really does. I am saddened when I read such expressions of fear–even terror–from people who profess to believe in Jesus Christ, who gives us the power to “fear not” because He is always with us. In Him, we can conquer the fear that keeps us from loving or understanding those who differ from us in race, gender, behavior, skin color, income level, language, culture, or other superficial ways.

  • Frank Franklin

    Calling out false teaching is something we are called to do.

  • Frank Franklin

    See above.

  • DKeane123

    Why does Frank keep changing his name? Keep getting banned from sites?

  • Frank Franklin

    There is no love is supporting sinful behavior. That’s what hate looks like.

  • George M Melby

    I’m assuming the deleted post is from none other than Frank/Hooper/et al… a great number of false names. Pay him no heed… he is a verbal/oral pervert. Thank goodness he was banned… again! Your comments were spot on the mark! Thank you!

  • George M Melby

    Like most religious extremist freaks, he lives on persecution. Now THAT’S sick!

  • George M Melby

    Censors, we have a Freaky Frank turd that won’t flush completely!

  • Judith Maxfield

    Very interesting. However, for me it was an exercise to be kind rather than answer back in the same atitude as his. I think I made it bout 80% of the way. I have experience with the mentally ill, other disorders and disabilities and they do need kindness, (and to a point, we need to know where our boundaries are as well). Thank you for alerting me.

  • Jim Reed

    Opposing sinful behavior is how Christianity expresses hate. God is not opposed to sin. Things that hurt others are against the law. Things that are against the church teachings are called sin.

  • Fired, Aren’t I

    I’d say that’s the likely reason. Of course his pattern of comments, syntax, content, etc. would make it easy to point him out even if he DIDN’T put “Frank” in his name. Watch, I’ll do it with the unrelated topic of animal husbandry:

    “There is nothing good about encouraging 2 different-colored labrador retrievers to have puppies together. Encouraging their sin is not love but hate.”

    “2 different-colored labrador retrievers will never be able to have a true purebred litter of labrador retriever puppies. That is Truth.”

    “You can claim the puppies of labrador retrievers of different color coats are purebred, but God and the Kennel Society say otherwise.”

    “I see you haven’t read the guidelines in the Kennel Society.”

    “It must be very sad not to have the Truth on your side.”

    “See above.”

    “See above.”

  • GeniusPhx

    It happened in all the colonies with established religions. but earliest notable was the battles in st Augustine fla where purists/catholics/indians took turns executing each other over the occupation of the settlement late 1500’s. there is a list somewhere of 119 ppl hung at once to take a stand.

    http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/americas-true-history-of-religious-tolerance-61312684/?no-ist=

  • Judith Maxfield

    I was thinking of Mass. colony only, and Salem. The Catholic Church is a given. Guess I read to fast. Thanks.

  • GeniusPhx

    the people they hung as ‘witches’ in salem and surrounding towns, they say were actually heretics and atheists. some of the witch laws here:

  • whitemellon

    So sinful in your mind (old book) is sinful for all mankind. Pretty self righteous of you there Frankie.

  • Frank Franklin

    Such a foolish statement.

  • Jim Reed

    It is the essence of what we have been dealing with here. America is basically a Christian nation, but it has separation of church and state. The founding fathers could see some of the dangers, and they wrote into the constitution and Bill of Rights things to protect us from ever putting some of the Biblical 10 Commandments into our law. It would be against our law to enforce them. We need to be able to dishonor our father and mother. We can curse God when necessary. Nobody can watch us and control our behavior on the Sabbath, or Sunday. Christianity is full of things that we do not want to be a part of our nation. The church can call it sin, and we don’t have to pay any attention because those sins are not wrong, and not something that we can impose on others. They are just a control mechanism for the church, and church members can voluntarily submit to the church if they want. They just can’t apply their definition of sin to anyone else.

  • Frank Franklin

    Doubling down on a foolish position is, well, more foolish.

  • Jim Reed

    The essence of Christianity.

  • Frank Franklin

    See above.

  • Deist1737

    It seems the root cause of the problem is the mistaken belief that the Bible is the Word of God. The AFA’s letter makes this huge and false assumption and everything after that is based on this error. If we can get sincere Bible believing Christians (and sincere Hebrew Bible/OT believing Jews and sincere Quran believing Muslims and sincere Book of Mormon believing Mormons) to realize that God gave us innate reason and not religion, we could go a very long way in making a much more peaceful and progress creating society. Of course, this will take a revolution in religion to achieve. And this is exactly what the Deist Thomas Paine called for in The Age of Reason, The Complete Edition: a revolution in religion based on our innate God-given reason and Deism.

    Progress! Bob Johnson
    http://www.deism.com

  • Jim Reed

    Maybe God didn’t give us innate reason. Maybe all we have is whatever reason we could evolve.

  • Jim Reed

    Above is political stuff. Christianity will find no answers in politics.

  • Frank Franklin

    No above are my earlier words to you.

  • Jim Reed

    Oh, that.

  • Eric Thurman

    Repeating claims over and over and effing over again does not make those claims true. It is the rhetorical equivalent to sticking your fingers in your ears and yelling “na-nah, na-nah, na-nah, I can’t hear you!” Frankie my boy, you are nothing but a broken record. Or sounding brass and tinkling cymbal, if you prefer.

  • ” To change marriage law is, for these protestants (AFA), to change marital theology.” Yes, for Catholics too! We need a non-gendered marital theology, so this challenge to upgrade theology is a good one!

  • Frank Franklin

    Nothing you can say or do to change the truth that two people of the same sex can never make a marriage. Nothing.

  • Eric

    Thanks for demonstrating my point, Frankie No Facts. Yelling louder doesn’t prove anything, so why don’t you put your head back in the sand and leave the rest of us in the real world alone.

  • Deist1737

    I don’t think people evolve reason. It doesn’t seem people are involved in evolution at all other than by breeding animals and other life forms for their own purposes. Evolution seems to be one of the designs in Nature. The former leading Atheist who evolved into a Deist, Antony Flew ( http://deism.com/atheisttodeist.htm ) , did so primarily by seeing the evidence of intelligence at work in DNA code (by definition you can’t have code without intelligence).

    Progress! Bob Johnson
    http://www.deism.com

  • Jim Reed

    We control the evolution of domestic animals through breeding them. Other than that, every species has to take responsibility for their own evolution, and that includes us and our brains.

  • Jim Reed

    So you don’t believe in evolution?

  • Deist1737

    Personally, and I believe most Deists would agree, I believe evolution is a reality and that it is one of the Designer’s designs.

    Progress! Bob Johnson
    http://www.deism.com

  • Deist1737

    I agree we have to take responsibility for ourselves. But I don’t think we can decide to improve our evolution as that is a “natural” process, although we can decide to increase our knowledge.

    Progress! Bob Johnson
    http://www.deism.com

  • fiona64

    I hope that the SCOTUS will give the ravings of a known hate group all the weight they deserve … which is to say, none. http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/intelligence-files/groups/american-family-association

  • fiona64

    Yep. And it looks like it’s happened again.

  • Jim Reed

    I think most scientists would say believing evolution is the designer’s design is not believing in evolution, unless you believe the designer just bases everything on chance and doesn’t pay any attention to the process.

  • Jim Reed

    In nature it is not a process of thought or learning, but every species takes responsibility for their own evolution, even if they have no brains.

  • jimlefferts

    While the message that AFA placed in the Post clearly reveals and reflects the pomposity of their own particular worldview and their considered ‘philosophical statement’, the rest of the world should also be made aware of the day-to-day expression of that thinking as it is regularly expressed though the AFA communications network, AFR (American Family Radio). Steady as a drumbeat, their message is repeated constantly throughout the day, every day of the week. But there is no implied ‘threat’ in the language used here. The gloves come off. The most notable expression of this perspective comes from their most outspoken talk-show host, Bryan Fischer, via his daily mid-afternoon, 2 hour program, ‘Focal Point’. Fischer frequently begins his program with a ‘what-a-nice-guy-I-am’ statement, typically presented as:
    “…I am Bryan Fischer, your congenial, conviviable and amiable as always host; the program is Focal Point…”
    What follows however almost never substantiates that claim. A typical example, on Wednesday, April 15th, 2015. Ten minutes into his broadcast, Fischer presents the major purpose for his program, by way of a nauticical metaphor.
    “…Bryan Fischer is my name, you are on board the USS Focal Point. It is our warship where, on a daily basis, we assault, we bombard, we attack the fortresses, the strongholds of ignorance & deception & darkness that control the thinking and the minds of so many people. Our objective is to pull down these strongholds, to see them crumble to dust. Every lie, every high thing, every pretension that’s been raised up against th knowledge of God; we’re out to destroy them because they stand between people and the knowledge of God. It’s lies, deception that keeps them from knowing God, We want to take out the the lies, take them down. We want to crumble them to powder using the weapons of our warfare so that men may be set free. Our goal is to take captives, every mind in America. Every mind, and every thought in every mind, and bring them in captivity to the person of Jesus Christ. That is our objective. This is a warship; the commander is on the bridge, the Scriptures serve as our nautical charts, the Holy Spirit our navigator and I serve as your humble and cheerful 1st mate. …”
    This the real message that AFA wants to convey to America.

  • “Created man and woman as distinctly separate…”

    Hunh? I thought the women were made out of male rib. What Bible are those folks using?

    -dlj.

  • Jim Reed

    You can’t believe everything you read. You have to apply a little common sense.

  • Jim,

    I would say you were doing your best, were it not that I hesitate to publish horrible insults.

    -dlj.

  • Jim Reed

    It’s true, you can’t believe everything you read, and that applies double time to the Bible and other ancient scriptures. Religion likes to believe in the distant past, like Bible days, God was in closer contact w[th people and giving them divine guidance. If you go back far enough in history, you reach the time when God was actually walking among the first humans and giving them direct instruction in science and morality and every area of knowledge. If you apply some common sense, you can figure out that religious perspective is upside down. We actually know more about God today than they did back in Bible days. Somewhere along the line they just wrote it down as ancient history to make religion seem more plausible.

  • Jim,

    You insist that it’s true then? That *is* you doing your best?

    -dlj.

  • Jim Reed

    Religions often seem to have an issue with taking their ancient scriptures too seriously. This drags down their scientific understanding, and can have bad consequences when they also have political power. Just more to work through at RD.

  • Deist1737

    Hi Jim. As a Deist I see all the laws of physics and Nature as part of the Designer’s design. What appears to people as chance may not actually be chance but due to our lack of understanding seems like chance. This quote from Albert Einstein sums it up well: “I’m not an atheist, and I don’t think I can call myself a pantheist. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn’t know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God. We see the universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws but only dimly understand these laws. Our limited minds grasp the mysterious force that moves the constellations.” He was a very humble genius.

    Progress! Bob Johnson
    http://www.deism.com

  • Jim Reed

    In the past, humans saw creation and believed in the creator. Now we know, there is no creator. There is no designer, and not even any design, other than random chance working through evolution to duplicate what works. Deism seems to be trying to find a compromise with religion. That can only be a temporary state, and it will also eventually fall away.

  • Yes, Jim.
    Anything you say, Jim.

    -dlj.

  • Jim Reed

    Reading this article again, it is complicated when Christianity gets legally applied. The stakes are high over how the court sees details, and applies them. In today’s world I don’t see any way around all the complications. The different forces have to make their arguments, and the court that is in session at the time will have to make rulings, and everyone will need to accept or reject those rulings and live with it.

    At a deeper level, this is what Christianity is now about. A religion with no ultimate divine authority is going to get caught up in the process, and since God never judges the courts will decide. However they decide, Christianity sinks in the end because only God could hold it up, and God won’t do that.

    Christianity has to look to the courts for salvation when there is no where else to turn.

  • fiona64

    Conversion at gunpoint writ large.

  • Deist1737

    Hi Jim. I think you should qualify your statement with “I believe” since you don’t KNOW that everything is random. I believe it is nonsensical to believe all the laws of physics and Nature and the order, life and intelligence they produce happened without intelligence.

    Regarding Deism compromising with religion, I strongly disagree. I frequently hear from religious people who say Deism compromises with Atheism. Deism is simply the belief in God/The Supreme Intelligence based on the application of our reason on the laws and designs in Nature. Our reason tells us there is The Supreme Intelligence/God as well as tells us the claims of the “revealed” religions of miracles, raising the dead, etc. are nonsense. Deism has in common with religions belief in God. It also has in common with Atheism disbelief in the claims made by the “revealed” religions.

    Progress! Bob Johnson
    http://www.deism.com

  • Jim Reed

    I don’t know that your belief in the Diety could have any value. The principle of evolution is no design; what happens happens. What successfully duplicates ends up being what duplicates, and that might give the appearance of a design. But design of what? As soon as we get off of this planet (which might be in the next couple decades) we are on our way to becoming many different species. Freedom from earth level gravity will be a major force driving this. There is no design, no end point, and a very smeared out beginning. You might believe in a concept of God, but as soon as you apply some direction or force or anything else to this God, you are bound to be mistaken. You might as well just give up on the whole Deism concept because it doesn’t lead anywhere. It is just a way to try to find some kind of compromise with some of the other religions like Christianity, but they won’t want to have anything to do with it as you already know.

  • ron_goodman

    They have the right to believe whatever religious fairy tales they like, but not to enact them into civil law.

  • Deist1737

    Hi Jim. Obviously I disagree with you but respect your right to disagree with me. I would only give up on Deism if it was proven false. The bottom line difference between Atheists and Deists is Deists believe the Universe is intelligently designed and Atheists believe it just randomly came into existence. To me it makes much more sense to be a Deist. As mentioned before, Deism is not at all some kind of compromise with religions. I don’t care if the religious people, or Atheists and Agnostics, don’t want anything to do with Deism or not. As long as I believe Deism makes the most sense I will do all I can to promote it.

    Progress! Bob Johnson
    http://www.deism.com

  • Jim Reed

    And science keeps pushing back that concept of intelligent design. It just happened, and it can be understood how it happened. If you go back in time, deism had more aspects of nature to attribute to the intelligent design deity. As you move forward in time and science applies more of their work, deism fades out on everything they thought they had. I don’t see this as atheism vs deism. I see it as deism vs science.

  • Deist1737

    Hi Jim. I disagree with you. I’m not sure what you mean by earlier Deists attributing more aspects of Nature to God/The Supreme Intelligence. Can you give some examples?

    Deism faded out due primarily to the clergy and politicians who benefited from keeping people in ignorance of Deism. One great example of science causing an Atheist to leave Atheism for Deism is Antony Flew ( http://www.deism.com/atheisttodeist.htm ). I still see it as Deism vs Atheism and the “revealed”/hearsay religions.

    Progress! Bob Johnson
    http://www.deism.com

  • Jim Reed

    Maybe deism believes in the god of basically nothing. If god did not establish nature, then there is nothing to question about deism. Nature is a flow of an infinity of different natures that it came from to the infinity of natures that it will become. Deism is a religion that has no meaning.

  • seashell

    Great article with lots of nuances that are easy to overlook. In the conservative Evangelical mind, the founding documents of the United States are exactly compatible with their Christ of culture vision of how society should be ordered.

    Take David Barton of Wallbuilders fame. He’s been giving talks at Christian colleges all over the country and making claims that parts of the Constitution are taken verbatim from the Bible. Hence, where Article 2 says:

    No person except a natural born citizen, or a citizen of the United States, at the time of the adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the office of President.

    David Barton and the fundamentalist mind sees Deuteronomy 17:15:

    You shall surely set him king over you, whom the LORD your God shall choose: one from among your brethren shall you set king over you: you may not set a stranger over you, who is not your brother.

    And no one in the Christian infrastructure stands up to say WTF?, with the exception of a couple of Christian scholars.

    Mike Huckabee, wanna-be presidential candidate, would like all Americans to hear Barton’s message – even at gun point if necessary:

    I almost wish that there would be something like a simultaneous telecast and all Americans would be forced, forced — at gun point no less — to listen to every David Barton message. And I think our country would be better for it. I wish it’d happen.

  • David

    SPLC is the biggest hate group in the US today

  • fiona64

    You’re funny, David.