The notion of forgoing a right for the sake of another or for the kingdom of God is an alien concept to us, and all the more so in a time in history that has promoted personal gratification as the highest good. In a speech at Harvard in 1978, Alexander Solzhenitsyn said:
“… people have been granted well-being to an extent their fathers and grandfathers could not even dream about; it has become possible to raise young people according to these ideals, preparing them for and summoning them toward physical bloom, happiness, the possession of material goods, money, and leisure, toward an almost unlimited freedom in the choice of pleasures. So who should now renounce all this, why and for the sake of what? …”
Another current running against the voluntary forfeiting of a right is the organization of modern culture around the model of the legal system, where almost every human movement of a citizen is circumscribed and codified by law, as Solzhenitsyn pointed out in that same speech:
“The limits of human rights and rightness are determined by a system of laws. … People in the West have acquired considerable skill in using, interpreting, and manipulating law. … Every conflict is solved according to the letter of the law and this is considered to be the ultimate solution. If one is right from a legal point of view, nothing more is required, nobody may mention that one could still not be entirely right, and urge self-restrain or a renunciation of these rights, call for sacrifice and selfless risk; this would simply sound absurd. Voluntary self-restraint is almost unheard of.”
And so, in a way that was no doubt psychologically unforeseen, the proliferation of laws to cover every possible human exchange has actually resulted in a kind of mental inflexibility in which it has become well nigh impossible to envision choice and moral options outside of the discussion of legal technicalities. And yet this is exactly the kind of thinking and choosing the Word of God enjoins us to:
“… Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not be defrauded?” (1 Corinthians 6:7).
The verse is lifted from the apostle Paul’s discussion of a situation in the church at Corinth in which a lawsuit is not only distasteful in itself but is potentially a horrible witness to outsiders that may hinder the progress of the gospel: Who will think Christians have anything to offer if they cannot even have peace among themselves without resorting to secular law courts?
I thought of Paul’s admonition today as a much overlooked perspective on the runaway train of same-sex marriage and parental rights for homosexuals, a debate that has up to now been focused almost exclusively on the rights of the homosexual. Might we not, on the basis of Paul’s reasoning, appeal to the homosexual with a very radical idea: Even if you, homosexual, believe you have a legal right to practice homosexuality and to even marry, would you consider—for the sake of the children who would have to be raised with two fathers and no mother, or two mothers and the forfeit of a father—choosing to “suffer wrong” and to “be defrauded”? Would you put away your desires for a greater good, and avoidance of harm?
When we regard our permissible choices from the alien perspective of its possible ramification on others, and from the radical concept of saying no to a cherished “right,” everything changes.