In 1831, a French aristocrat named Alexis de Tocqueville arrived in America and spent several years travelling and studying life in the communities of the new nation.
He produced a book called Democracy in America which Harvard professor of government Harvey Mansfield calls “at once the best book ever written on democracy and the best book ever written on America.”
Tocqueville looked at America with open eyes and saw its strengths and its flaws. He reported with honesty about the human damage caused by slavery. But he also saw the beginnings of a great country in which human potential could be realized through freedom. And he recognized the crucial role that morals and religion play in making this possible.
Tocqueville wrote, “There is no country in the world where the Christian religion retains a greater influence over the souls of men than in America…”
And he wrote, “Of the world’s countries, America is surely the one where the bond of marriage is most respected, and where they have conceived the highest and most just idea of conjugal happiness.”
As we know, today times are changing. Religion and the institutions of traditional marriage and family are being challenged and, rather than being seen as enablers of our freedom, are now regularly portrayed as obstacles to it.
Since same-sex marriage was legalized in Massachusetts ten years ago, it has become legal in 17 states and the District of Columbia and is now recognized by the federal government.
The onslaught continues where laws protecting traditional marriage in many states are being overturned by courts and lawsuits are now pending in 30 states.
Even the Bible belt has been penetrated and recently a judge in Arkansas struck down state law protecting traditional marriage.
Public opinion has changed dramatically in a relatively short period of time in favor of legal recognition of same-sex marriage and this is producing an impression that the battle is over. An article this week in National Journal headlined “Opposing same sex marriage is a waste of your time.”
According to the Pew Research Center, the percentage of Americans favoring legal same-sex marriage has increased to 54 percent today from 35 percent in 2001.
However, despite the argument that “gay rights” is today’s signature civil rights battle as racial equality was the civil rights battle of the 1960’s, blacks are generally not buying it.
According to the Pew survey, support for legal same sex marriage among black Protestants at 43 percent indicates that support has increased in this community, but remains far below the national average.
A coalition of 100 black pastors in Michigan now stands in vehement opposition to a federal district court ruling in March overturning a voter approved measure which amended the Michigan constitution in 2004 to define marriage as between one man and one woman.
The pastors, along with other Christian groups, are filing an amicus brief in support of the appeal of the court decision by Michigan attorney general Bill Schuette.
Blacks, on average, attend church with greater frequency than any other ethnic group in the country. And blacks take scripture seriously.
It is a no-brainer for many church-going blacks that discrimination because of race is very different from choices in sexual behavior.
Only 32 percent of Republicans, according to Pew, support same-sex marriage legalization. This issue, along with abortion, is not going away as a source of tension in the Republican Party.
Black pastors know first hand how moral relativism destroys communities. They are not about to buy into it.
Nor are Christian evangelicals who represent a meaningful portion of the Republican Party.
Although most blacks and Christian evangelicals have probably not read the words of Tocqueville, they appreciate the truths that he identified in 1835 about the importance of religious values to American freedom.
This fight is far from over.
Photo credit: chadstembridge (Creative Commons)