Such is the case with Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) who came out today in support of same-sex marriage after his son, Will, told him and his wife he was gay. According to various reports this morning, this has been an on-going conversation for about two years, and Portman says the Bible, among other things, was instrumental in helping him reverse his stance.
This is quite revealing and no doubt troubling. Why? Because it shows Portman’s career, and maybe more, was actually built on a faulty foundation, and all it took was an “earthquake” of sorts to shake him enough that it crumbled. Truly, Portman’s spongy spine proves the old adage — difficulties don’t make the man as much as they reveal the man.
Specifically, absolutes and authority are two of the fundamental issues Portman misunderstands and which are, apparently, “fault lines” in his thinking. And if you build a career, even a fiscally conservative one, on the fault lines that absolutes can change and you have the authority to do so, at some point, you will be exposed and revealed as one without either.
You see, absolutes are simply our highest-held values, those things we will not compromise. And in a culture of absolutes, one knows he or she doesn’t set the absolutes, but they are already set by God, the highest authority from which all other authority is derived. Our task, at its core, is to guard what God has given as non-negotiable truth by using correctly and humbly the authority he has granted to the civil institutions (i.e., government) and spiritual institutions (family and church).
Let me pause for an important observation and admission here: Not everyone believes the previous paragraph. Many lay no claim to the God of the Bible, and reject the truth of Scripture as our guiding light. For sure, we’ve seen an all-out war since at least the 1950’s on the ideals of biblical/Christian absolutes and authority.
But make no mistake – everyone does believe in absolutes. And everyone does believe in authority. The mere fact that so many have, in their opinion, removed themselves from underneath the Bible’s absolutes and authority and have set up their own system of both is, in and of itself, an expression of the very things they decry. No absolutes is an absolute; no authority is an authority. Why else would you or could you apparently attempt to remove God and his commandments if you didn’t believe you had the authority to do so, thus replacing them with your own? Relativism is an exercise in blind contradiction.
However, this doesn’t mean everything has to be guarded with a Fort Knox-type mentality. Some things actually are less-important than others. The Bible, for sure, contains issues on which we can disagree; no doubt there are areas in which a spectrum of belief can occur in a healthy manner. And in these grayer areas we can adjust and change our mind. But our role is not to decide, but rather simply declare, what God has already determined to be essential or non-essential. To do the former is to assume authority we were never given, and the only logical “next step” for those that do so is the false notion we determine the absolutes as well.
Now back to Portman. In reversing his stance, he shook his fist in the face of both of these fundamental tenants. Authority and absolutes above and beyond himself aren’t actually values to him at all. Rather, his own authority and absolutes matter most, and he will, apparently, change them to fit the situation as he deems best. From what we see today, when it could cost him, he’ll change.
The current giant Portman is wrestling with deals with sexual absolutes, which I unapologetically believe are set by the Bible. And lest you think I’m about to mount a soapbox against homosexuality, hear this — I believe the Bible sets the boundaries for all sexual behavior of men and women, and sexual activity with anyone outside of marriage, whether homosexual or heterosexual, is in direct contradiction to the Scriptures (1 Cor. 5). We may think this is a homosexual issue in particular. But it’s really a sexual issue in general — who has the right to set or change the rules about how we use our bodies in relation to one another?
One has to wonder, in reading of his reversal, what it would take for Sen. Portman to justify other sexual behaviors and “outside of the law” situations? In this case, it was his son that moved him to reconsider his views on the myth of same-sex mariage. Would he reconsider his views on other sexual situations, like adultery, for someone else’s son? Or perhaps rationalize polygamy for a close friend? This is the inherent flaw in relativism: at some point an authority has to set up an absolute, the very ideal relativists despise.
We’re back again to absolutes and authority. Which is why I believe Portman’s announcement is really just a window into Washington politics and American culture. That, by in large, we hate both authority and absolutes laid upon us, yet grasp for both in order to get our way. We raise our finger to test the wind, and whatever seems to be the most prominently accepted activity then becomes the accepted absolute. We deny the fundamental bedrock of civilization — absolute authority above us — while at the same time hoping we can twist it — absolute authority within us — for our own selfish purposes.
Herein lies something for us all to remember — that we really believe as conviction isn’t really tested until we are tempted to change it based on our circumstances. This is the pickle that sours many people to the current leadership of today, whether in the church or capitol. Politicians and preachers alike seem to lack consistent clarity regarding the core issues. In the end, the unwillingness to submissively declare God’s truth in kindness and boldness will eventually lead us to a sordid willingness to declare our own truth. At that point we are no longer fit to lead because we see ourselves more like a god than a servant.