Challenges to traditional beliefs stir debate on Christian response

(Photo: Reuters / Jonathan Ernst)Orthodox Christian clergymen participate in the annual March for Life rally on the National Mall in Washington, January 25, 2013. The anti-abortion marchers on Friday marked the 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing abortion, and Pope Benedict expressed support for the demonstrators.

Recent days have been a microcosm of the debate churches, pastors and individual believers in the U.S. are having regarding how they should respond when traditional Christian beliefs are challenged in the public square.

At the forefront of the week's events has been the U.S. Supreme Court consideration of whether or not same-sex marriage should be legalized.

Justices have heard arguments concerning the Defense of Marriage Act enacted under Bill Clinton in 1996 and a more current law banning gay marriage in California.

Clinton has publicly recanted his signing of DOMA, but its supporters have hit back in its defense.

In addition, North Dakota passed strict abortion laws sure to produce a court challenge due to its conflict with Roe v. Wade.

This case made abortion legal in the United States four decades ago.

In another incident, a classroom exercise on a Florida university campus in which students were instructed to stomp on pieces of paper with "Jesus" written on them also provoked controversy.

A Mormon student in the class refused to participate in the exercise and was expelled from the class.

Ryan Rotela, a student at Florida Atlantic University, sought legal assistance when he was threatened with discipline by Florida Atlantic University.

Governor Rick Scott criticized the exercise and promised an investigation.

The school has since apologized and has indicated the student will not incur punishment. The professor involved, who is also a political activist, has been put on administrative leave.

The apology has not dimmed the criticism.

One pastor intends to lead a march from his church to the university in protest.

The same-sex marriage issue in particular has caused a reaction in the media.

Christianity Today published an article on Thursday discussing how churches and pastors should respond if gay marriage is determined to be the law of the land.

The authors encouraged pastors to choose a middle ground in their response.

They wrote that pastors should continue to teach truths of Christianity on the subject of marriage, but at the same time demonstrate love and compassion to those who disagree.

In North Dakota, one of the abortion measures passed this week is an amendment declaring that the unborn have "personhood".

The amendment will go before voters in the state next year.

Emphasizing the personhood of the unborn as a political strategy to pass abortion laws has been criticized by Roman Catholic bishops in the past.

They have said that the concept is too extreme for voters and will drag down pro-life candidates standing for election as well.

However, Catholic bishop David Kagan of Bismarck, N.D. praised the new laws.

He told the Catholic News Agency, "The protection of all human life from the moment of conception to natural death is the primary purpose of government".

"All persons, including elected officials, are obligated to unceasingly seek protection of this basic human right," he said.

Passionate reactions to the debate concerning moral issues currently confronting the U.S. have not been limited to the clergy.

Political commentator Pat Buchanan, a devout Catholic who served under President Richard Nixon and ran for the office himself, wrote a column Friday questioning whether America could still be considered a "good" country.

Buchanan said that America is so divided on moral issues that national unity may be a thing of the past.

He said that traditional Americans will not support a victory by those who advocate same-sex marriage. Buchanan wrote that it would "but simply be seen as another step in America's descent down a slippery slope to hell."

Millions of Americans, said Buchanan, believe "this society--which has eradicated Christianity from its public institutions and enshrined secularism in its place, which considers abortion a woman's right, which is blasé about 53 million unborn children destroyed since Roe, which puts homosexual liaisons on the same moral plane as matrimony - is a society that has lost its moral bearings and is rapidly losing its mind."

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