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FROM THE MOYERS FILES: Bill Moyers talks with Cal Thomas on NOW with Bill Moyers, July 16, 2004

MOYERS: A political rally and church. The fight has just begun. Next week, Republicans in the House will call up a bill to strip federal courts of jurisdiction over definitions of marriage.

Conservative Christians vowed a push for the Constitutional amendment until, pardon my French, hell freezes over. Right now, they're aiming their sights on state Constitutional amendments to outlaw same-sex marriage. They'll be on the ballot in at least nine, possibly a dozen states this year alone. That should turn out voters in swing states that could decide control of the White House, the Senate, and the House. America's holy war seems here to stay. Let's talk about this now with Cal Thomas.

Forty years ago this summer when I was a young man working in the '64 election, Cal Thomas was a younger man covering politics for NBC News.

He went on to write a syndicated column for 540 newspapers, which at my reckoning, gives him one of the biggest op-ed readerships in the country. He's also a commentator and analyst for Fox News. You'll find his columns and the titles of his books on the conservative Web site, TownHall.com. Welcome to NOW.

THOMAS: Bill, nice to see you again. You have aged well.

MOYERS: You are still aging well.

THOMAS: I thank you.

MOYERS: I ask you here because we do have a past. I know you are theologically and politically conservative. I know we share similar backgrounds. We read the same Bible. We pray to the same God. And I'm interested in your insight over how two people like us come to opposite conclusions about an issue like gays in American life.

THOMAS: Bill, I can't speak for your faith. I can only speak for mine. So, let me speak of mine. I began with the belief in an objectively existing God, who exists whether I believe he does or not who has laid down his law and his grace for all who would partake of it.

MOYERS: In the Bible, you mean?

THOMAS: In the scripture, yes. That, for example, he has not only in marriage, but he has shown us the way back to himself through salvation in his son Jesus Christ, who said, "I am the way, the truth and the life, and no man comes to the father but by me."

MOYERS: But I find nothing that Jesus said, nothing in the story of Jesus that would suggest that he empowers me to harm somebody who's not harming me.

THOMAS: Yeah. Well, look. There are two things at work here, and two different kingdoms. And they shouldn't be confused. Of course, the scripture, I believe, has to be taken in totality.

The apostle Paul spoke much about proper human relationships. But his message was to the people of God. It wasn't to the pagans. The Southern Baptist convention, of which you have been a part…

MOYERS: Which had its share of pagans.

THOMAS: Well, it's not the label of the outside, it's who you have on the inside. But it recently took a survey. And it found very interestingly that just as many evangelical Christians were divorcing as non-believers. So, I believe there's a lot to be done within the house of God before we, they, can go to the public and say, "You should be like we say, not necessarily as we do."

MOYERS: And you've written that in…

THOMAS: Yes, I have.

MOYERS: …your book. But the fact of the matter is, we don't live in a biblical society.

THOMAS: That's right.

MOYERS: We don't — two-thirds of the world — people don't read the Bible or believe in the Bible. It seems to me that the equal protection of the law, democracy, is what protects me from you and you from me. Would you like me to lead a movement to write my biblical views into the Constitution? Would you like to live in that democracy?

THOMAS: Well, somebody's gotta live under somebody's value system. Now, look.

MOYERS: That's what democracy's about, is the give and take.

THOMAS: Right, it is indeed, yes.

MOYERS: How, then, can we have a conversation about democracy, a really genuine, political dialogue, if you, or people like you, invoke Revelation and say this is the revealed truth and I can't compromise it?

THOMAS: Well, I'm not invoking anything of the kind.

MOYERS: You're talking about the Bible.

THOMAS: Well, because you brought it up. I'm going to speak what I believe to be the truth. And we're talking about implementing that. I wrote in a recent column that I believe this battle is over.

Homosexuality, abortion, divorce, drugs, pornography, the long list of cultural ills that are properly trumpeted as indications of decay by many of my brethren on the right are not the cause of our decadence. They're a reflection of it.

MOYERS: I've been married 50 years. I have three children. I don't see how my marriage is affected at all by the fact that a gay couple live down the street who love each other as intensely as I love my wife and I love my children. You've been married how long?

THOMAS: Thirty-eight years.

MOYERS: And four children.

THOMAS: Yes, and eight grandchildren.

MOYERS: Is your love for your wife and your children in any way intimidated, changed, or frustrated by the fact that a gay couple is living three blocks away?

THOMAS: It's not about me, Bill. And it's not about you. Let me quote the…

MOYERS: It's about the people who want to be left alone in their own…

THOMAS: Yeah, but everybody wants…

MOYERS: …pursuit of happiness.

THOMAS: Well, if they wanted to be left alone, that would be one thing. But they don't want to be left alone. They don't want the freedom to do whatever they do. And I'm for that. I'm not for the police breaking down the door.

They want cultural approval. They want the schools to approve. They want the law to approve. They want to be able to adopt children when children need…

MOYERS: That's true.

THOMAS: …a mother and father.

MOYERS: As citizens of the secular democracy, they want the equal protection of the law. That is not a religious reading of marriage.

THOMAS: My question is, if we allow this and promote it as legitimate marriage, what is next? And that is a legitimate question. And if you say, "Well, we can't go any further than this," according to what and according to whom?

MOYERS: But I honestly, of course, don't believe that's a Christian view. I honestly…

THOMAS: So, you would tolerate everything. Polygamy, bigamy?

MOYERS: No.

THOMAS: Well, why not?

MOYERS: I believe that you have to have civil codes that protect you from me and me from you.

THOMAS: But what if I disagree? What standard do we appeal to? That's the question we're dealing with.

MOYERS: The conservative columnist David Brooks wrote in the NEW YORK TIMES recently, "Conservatives shouldn't just allow gay marriage. We should insist on gay marriage. We should regard it as scandalous that two people could claim to love each other and not want to sanctify their love with marriage and fidelity."

"When liberals argue for gay marriage," he says, "they make it sound like a really good employee benefits plan, or they frame it as a civil rights issue like extending the right to vote. Marriage is not voting. It's going to be up to conservatives to make the important moral case for marriage, including gay marriage." I think that's a Christian position.

THOMAS: Well, I don't find that in the scripture, Bill. And I don't know what he means by moral.

MOYERS: But I don't find Jesus saying anything about…

THOMAS: Well, you know, as I said, you know, that you have to view the scripture in totality. Jesus said, "I haven't come to cancel the law, but to fulfill it." And if you look at the law…

MOYERS: The Old Testament?

THOMAS: The Old Testament law is what he fulfilled.

MOYERS: But it's the New Testament.

THOMAS: Well, it is. But his first miracle, as you well know, is performed at a wedding. And he quoted that verse that Senator Inhofe quoted on the Senate floor. "A man shall leave his father and mother and cleave unto his wife. And the two shall become one flesh." That's…

MOYERS: Then divorce would be impermissible. Because if they cleave to each other, they shouldn't be allowed to uncleave.

THOMAS: Well, he was asked about this as well. And he said Moses allowed you to divorce because of the hardness of your heart. But Jesus, except for adultery and abandonment prohibited divorce. Now, the fact that many are doing it doesn't legitimize it.

MOYERS: Not long ago, I interviewed the Reverend James Forbes, the senior minister at Riverside Memorial Church, the historic church here in New York. Let me play you a small excerpt from that interview with Jim Forbes.

[BEGIN VIDEO CLIP]
FORBES: I think that the God who understands that out of the created order that I have, there's some gay people and there's some straight people, and then there are some that are in between, bisexual and, you know. I think the God that Jesus reveals to me would prefer that special attention be given to the child that was different, especially if that difference had occasioned rejection, humiliation, and ostracism.
[END VIDEO CLIP]

MOYERS: Do you accept that he's speaking from a deep Christian conviction?

THOMAS: I noticed he said twice, "I think, I think." I don't say that. It's not what I think. It's what God says. And that's the difference. Ostracism, wrong. Bigotry, wrong.

Hate, wrong. No one should hate or beat or discriminate in the sense of barring them from housing or whatever, anyone for anything that I can think of. But there's a big difference here. What we're being asked to accept is something that is against not only thousands of years of history, a lot of common sense, biblical truth, and societal values. Overwhelming numbers of the American people believe that homosexual, same-sex marriage is wrong. They don't hate gays. Sure, there are a few who do, and they are wrong to do so.

MOYERS: But when you and I were in Washington in 1964, many states still prohibited interracial marriages.

THOMAS: Yes, well that's different.

MOYERS: Our ideas and insights about human beings change. And the extension of enfranchisement of rights is part of what the battle of democracy's all about. And…

THOMAS: Race and behavior are two different things. I've met many former homosexuals. I've never met a former African-American, unless you count Michael Jackson.

MOYERS: Let me come back to this. You are telling me, and I hear you saying that my opinions about homosexuality are based upon the Bible, the old Hebrew and the New Testament. Are we to accept a religious reading of the law for our governance?

THOMAS: Well, obviously not, or we would be a lot better in a lot of areas. I'm just telling you what I believe to be true. I am also telling you that I believe the battle is over. I believe that the gay rights people are going to win this battle. And I believe we're going to have same-sex marriage in America.

And I believe it's going to get a lot worse. I also believe there's going to be more terrorism. I believe there's going to be more divorce. I believe there's going to be more man's inhumanity to man.

MOYERS: Not because of gay marriage.

THOMAS: No. It's all part of the same package. Paul talks about this eloquently in the New Testament and his letters, that the world will grow worse. People will believe whatever they wish to hear. Jesus said many will come in my name, false gods, false prophets, telling you things that are not of God, have nothing to do with them. This is the prophecy of the end times. Now, the end times may be 1,000 or a million years. But we are not going to fix a corrupt and a passing away world.

MOYERS: But in the meantime, as a citizen of a democracy that is…

THOMAS: Republic.

MOYERS: Of an America that is based upon everyone's being treated equally under the law, aren't you glad that we have that Constitution which protects me from imposing my religious views on you?

THOMAS: I'm glad we have a Constitution. I just wish the federal judges would honor it.

MOYERS: That's back to the old argument that it's the judges.

THOMAS: I'm a strict constructionist on the Bible and the Constitution.

MOYERS: But once upon a time, judges said blacks are property. Judges said interracial marriage is wrong.

THOMAS: We had a standard to which we could appeal then. As Garry Wills wrote about Abraham Lincoln and his referral to the principles that Thomas Jefferson laid down in the Declaration of Independence about all being created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, the rights come from God, not from federal judges.

This is what the founders, even though many were deists, were not evangelical Christians, believed that rights had to come from outside of men and women to whom we would be accountable to this God, or we were all left to debate our own destiny and ends. Now, if you are saying, or if people who believe as you are saying, that we cannot have no boundaries, that we can't have no standard to which we can appeal that is immutable for all time, then we might as well eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow, we die. There is no right or wrong.

MOYERS: No, I disagree with that. I'm…

THOMAS: Well, on what basis?

MOYERS: I believe that one can arrive at a ethical point of view in life by simply reasoning what is the highest standard of all said by the person you follow.

THOMAS: What if it's different tomorrow, though, Bill?

MOYERS: It's not different.

THOMAS: But what if it is?

MOYERS: But it's not different if you follow the rule, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." I don't think there's a higher standard. Do you?

THOMAS: No, I don't. But of course, that's part of a greater package. You just can't rip that out of context and say, "Well, we're gonna allow everything to happen, because I don't wanna make that person upset."

MOYERS: Some would say that's what theological conservatives do when they take just this little bit of scripture and that little bit of scripture…

THOMAS: I agree with that.

MOYERS: …and sculpt together a theology…

THOMAS: Yes. I agree with that.

MOYERS: …that discriminates against anybody.

THOMAS: That's right.

MOYERS: I appreciate very much your joining us. We will never agree. We'll never settle this. But in a democracy, I hope we can keep discussing it in a civil way.

THOMAS: Thanks, Bill. You do it better than anybody.

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