Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Adventist Vote

I'd promised myself not to do any blogging until I had handed in my research paper on the International Criminal Court (due 2 June). However, after reading this editorial in the official Adventist magazine Adventist Review, my head is full of thoughts.

Roy Adams, associate editor of the Review, is using his position and editorship to encourage Adventists to vote against in a referendum to allow slot machines in the US state of Maryland. Roy Adams is far from being my hero, he is, after all, the author of this piece in the Adventist Review in 2003. Adams is nevertheless an influential figure in the Adventist church, both as associate editor of the Review but also through his authorship of several books.(1) Furthermore, according the this news story from Adventist News Network, the President of the General Conference of the Adventist church, Jan Paulsen, calls the suggestions "timely" and "appropriate."

The problem I have is not that Adams and Paulsen are speaking out against gambling, the church has made several statements concerning this issue over the years. Gambling does ruin lives and it saddens me every time I walk past the bookmaker that is located less than 100 meters from my front door. Neither do I object to Adventists, laypersons as well as ministers, advocating for or against certain political propositions, although I'm not certain I agree with Adams that gambling should be illegal.

What I object to is the church, or officials acting on behalf of the church, advocating specific political positions. The church can and should speak up on political issues concerning freedom of conscience and religion, but should not engage in, or become part of, the political discourse. Church members can and should be politically active, but not the church.

I have for a long time considered whether I should be a member of the Adventist church, now I think I should resign my membership. I maintain my belief in the core Adventist beliefs and seek the 'faith of Jesus,' but the church is becoming more like other evangelical churches that seek political influence and see themselves as moral guardians of society. I, however, cannot feel at home in a church that engages in politics.

- 24.05.2008, Update -
I've regretted writing the last paragraph since posting this entry late last night (at 03.00 AM). I'm not going to resign my membership of the Adventist church, and I shouldn't have suggested that disagreement with the church is a good reason to do so. The church is a fellowship of believers and what connects us is a belief in Jesus, not agreement over politics. I'll keep advocating that the church shouldn't engage in politics, but they are going to have to throw me out for me to leave.

(1) Including being the principle contributor to this quarter's bible studies guides.

Friday, May 16, 2008

What's in a word?

When it comes to the word 'marriage', apparently a lot. The ruling yesterday by the Supreme Court of California illustrates this.

In re Marriage Cases a 4-3 majority of California's highest court struck down two laws that limited marriages in California to heterosexual unions. The interesting point is that the majority acknowledged that the "current legislation did afford same-sex domestic partnerships most of the substantive elements embodied in the constitutional right to marry." The majority concluded, however, that "the current California statutes nonetheless must be viewed as potentially impinging upon a same-sex couple’s constitutional right to marry under the California Constitution."(1)

The majority held that the constitutional right to marry entailed the right to have ones "family relationship accorded dignity and respect equal to that accorded other officially recognized families." Reserving the term 'marriage' exclusively to heterosexual couples therefore "poses at least a serious risk of denying the family relationship of same-sex couples such equal dignity and respect."(2) As the majority held that laws based on sexual orientation should be reviewed under a 'strict scrutiny' standard,(3) the legislation was subjected to this higher standard of review and struck down.

I know very little about Californian law, and I really don't have any opinion about the decision. However, the premise of the above decision, and the general controversy over same-sex marriage in the US, does puzzle me. The issue being debated is not really substantive rights, but merely the use of the word 'marriage'.

When I compare the US debate over same-sex marriage to that in Denmark, I am struck by the differences. Denmark became, in 1989, the first country to give same-sex civil unions the same legal status as heterosexual marriage. Yet the question of recognising same-sex unions as marriages is not debated at all in Denmark. The reason for this lack of debate could derive from the linguistic differences between Danish and English. While the Danish word 'ægteskab' does equate to the English noun 'marriage', it does not, as in English, share the same basis as the verb 'marry', which in Danish is 'gifte'.(4) Also 'ægteskab' is normally used to describe individual marriages, not the institution of mariage per se. The lack of political controversy may therefore be related to lack of importance placed on the word 'ægteskab'. A change in the Danish law would in any case be cosmetic, as civil unions are de facto marriages.

All this makes me completely agnostic as whether homosexuals partnerships should legally be recognised as marriages. I believe same-sex couples should have the same substantive rights as heterosexual couples, and it makes no difference to me whether these unions are called marriage or not. Neither would I care if the union between my wife and myself is legally called a 'marriage','domestic partnership' or 'civil union.'

(1)In re Marriage Cases, at p.9, per Chief Justice George. For complete text of the decision see:
(2) Ibid. p.8-9.
(3) Ibid. p.10.
(4) As in 'gifte sig', 'blive gift' or 'gifte bort.' Also note that Danish has a different word for the act of marrying someone, i.e. 'vie'. Finally,'give/tage til ægte' also has the meaning of 'marry', but this is an old fashion expression similar to the English word 'espouse'

Thursday, May 08, 2008

The end justifies the means!

How else is one to understand British home secretary Jacqui Smith's speech today's on anti-social behaviour?

Labour, in trouble according to the opinion polls, is trying to outflank the Tories by being tough on anti-social behaviour. The government apparently wants the police to harass badly behaving youths. This is to be done by "openly filming them, knocking on their doors, following them on the estate and repeatedly searching them", in short making "their lives as uncomfortable as possible."

I find the proposals shocking. The British government essentially wants to use the power of the state to harass and intimidate teenagers. I'm also puzzled why the government wants to introduce such draconian measures at a time when crime rates continues to fall. The government claims that the methods works. But when has that been a good argument for policies that, in my opinion, are contrary to fundamental human rights? A deliberate policy of filming, harassing and intimidating surely amounts to a violation of the right to respect of private life in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

All this leads me to conclude that, in the minds of British politicians, British society has broken down. How else to explain the extreme mearues that British authorities have adopted to maintain order and reduce fear:

- Surveillance camera's on almost every street corner.
- Anti-Social Behaviour Orders that allow the authorities to punish offenders without recourse to the criminal law.
- Extensive police powers to stop, search and arrest persons under ever wider anti-terrorism legislation.
- A deliberate and systematic policy of police harassment.

How did Britain get to this point? Is social breakdown in Britain really that bad, and are there really no better ways to deal with the percieve social problems?