What’s a Christian Response to the New Marriage Culture?

After the Obergfell decision this past year, Christians have tried to cope with a new definition of marriage. What does this new definition mean for church Marriage Retreats? for childcare? or for conversations in youth groups about sexual intercourse?

IMG_3731So many questions have risen since June 26, 2015, when the Supreme Court verdict was released. If two men can be legally married, then why not two men and a woman (bi-sexual marriage)? Why is the number two sacred in marriage? Why not three women? Why not one man and four women who consent? The questions erupt more quickly than do convincing replies.

While the culture rakes through the labyrinth of questions, Christians have an unparalleled opportunity to preach the truth to a world increasingly used and discarded by the sexual revolution. Whatever the law does, the gospel keeps converting sinners by the grace and power of God.

That is essentially the point of a chapter Chris Morgan and I wrote in a new book titled, Ministry in the New Marriage Culture (B & H 2015). The book contains chapters on childcare, youth groups, preaching, counseling, and many other topics. Our chapter pleads for Christians to stay focused on the main thing: Christ and His gospel. I’ll leave you with a quote from the chapter and a link to The Gospel Coalition’s post from our chapter in the book:

The more we’re marked by unity, holiness, and love, the more our lives can ably paint the picture of how life ought to be, and the more our countercultural kingdom community can effect change in one another and in the broader society as salt and light (Matt. 5:3–16).

These gospel realities ground our confidence in all situ­ations. And these realities ground our confidence in a secular age because Christ has defeated the biggest challenge—sin and death (1 Cor. 15). Everything else pales in comparison.

Read the Gospel Coalition post here.

What Are Your Thoughts About the Future for Christians in America?

As usual, Wanda’s café was crowded during the lunch hour, so my student and I decided to head outdoors under the breezeway to enjoy our fresh-grilled meals, which, in my case, included a side order of crispy fries sprinkled with that patented bay seasoning lightly coating them, giving them a salty, spicy kick to accompany the ham and melted Swiss on ciabatta—Sorry! I digress…

WandasSign Conversation PersecutionAs we enjoyed our meals outside, in the cool of the shade, Jordan and I spoke—as best we could envision it—of the future of Christianity in America. Neither of us felt any hint of an Eeyore complex, where we lived under a cloud of gloomy expectations; yet we invariably returned again and again to the concept of Christian suffering. Regardless of where our topic began—he was asking me questions related to a research project he was conducting—we always came full circle back to the idea that the future of Christianity in the next half century would be markedly different from that of its recent past. The future of Christianity in America includes increased marginalization and, most likely, increased persecution.

This sentiment is one that is “felt” or “sensed” at the grassroots level in evangelical churches because Christians are feeling isolated and silenced at work.  However, it still is not fully on the radar of Christian academics. Increasingly, as a result of the Supreme Court DOMA decision last summer, academics are realizing that conflict over the sinfulness of homosexual behavior is on the horizon. Dr. Mohler made the point plainly this past week with his post, “No Third Way.” His message in that post was that churches will be forced to decide one way or the other on the acceptableness (or sinfulness) of homosexual practice. There will be no third way of holding firmly to the truth of Scripture while also keeping in step with the cultural norms of sexual practice.

Still, even with prominent evangelicals beginning to notice the clash ahead, I think that too few scholars are paying attention to persecution itself. I have presented a paper on the topic at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) in the past. And, Lord willing, I may do so again this November. ETS is the largest annual gathering of evangelical scholars in the U.S. Even if my paper is accepted, it will represent only the slightest exposure in the overall scheme of Christian academic research.

At the ETS annual meeting, there will be about 700 papers presented. There will not be even 7 papers at ETS which discuss persecution in the New Testament. There will be dozens of papers discussing the biblical doctrine of inerrancy and authority (as there ought to be). There will be dozens more discussing the doctrine of ecclesiology (and rightly so). But there will also be a great many papers dealing with esoteric, navel-gazing topics which amount to nothing more than “straw,” as Thomas Aquinas put it.

Meanwhile, Meriam Ibrahim is likely to be killed in Sudan for maintaining her faith in Christ. Asia Bibi has been separated from her husband and children for 1,250 days, locked in a Pakistani prison with the death sentence hanging over her head. Christians in Eritrea are confined in metal cargo containers, being allowed so little room that they cannot even lie down for sleeping.  Christ’s sheep are being slaughtered by the wolves of the world, and we’re mired in conversations about how Christians might best care for whales.

–I’m not opposed to whale care. I love whales. I paid a hefty sum of money at Newport Beach so my family and I could see these massive creatures. They truly are an awesome feature in the splendor of God’s creation. They are living beings and, thus, warrant our proper stewardship of them. Yet, they are not people. They are not human beings created in the image of God, and, more importantly, they are not the threatened and oppressed church of God which was purchased by Him at the cost of His own blood!

I expect that more and more Christians in America will soon be wrestling with what it means to lose a job on account of Christian faith. More and more, we will be faced with needy Christians in our churches—Christian teachers who get fired because of Christian convictions. Christian churches that are smaller, poorer, and, likely, pastored by a bi-vocational minister.

We all need to be thinking and speaking soberly about what persecution means. Why does persecution happen to the righteous? Why do all of the China Christians persecutedNew Testament writers (with the possible exception of Jude) think that persecution is a topic which they need to address in their sacred writings? How should Christians respond to suffering on account of Christ? What do the blessings—which Jesus, Peter, John, and James reference—mean for those who suffer for the sake of righteousness? Christian scholars can help us answer these soon-to-be pertinent questions.

In the face of an ever-intensifying fury against Christ and His church, there is an urgent need for writing and thinking about persecution and pastoral ministry.  I think now is the time to focus on such work.

Christians are losing their freedoms at a record pace all over the world. They are on the verge of being extinct throughout the Middle East. And we all—I, too—have been guilty of a little too much whale-watching.  We need to focus more attention where Christ is intensely at work—caring for his abused Bride and suffering Body, loving His Church.

If Jordan and I had any foresight at all, then a new day for Christianity is rising quickly in the west. Fading like a distant dream is the vision of a moral majority. In its place is a moral—and persecuted—minority.  The future of Christianity will look less and less like the evangelicalism of 1994 and more and more like that found in Acts 14 and Hebrews 10 and 1 Corinthians 15 and Revelation 12.

“Do not be deceived. Anyone who desires to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).

I’m curious. Do you agree with me and Jordan? Is there a growing sense of persecution increasing in the U.S.? Does this seem right to you?

How Have We Kissed the Son?

Psalm 2 famously states, “Kiss the son, lest he be angry and you perish in the way” (2:12, NKJV).  But there is more than one way to kiss the son.

Luke 22 tells the story of Jesus’s arrest. Jesus was handed over to his captors by a kiss from Judas Iscariot: “Jesus said to him, ‘Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?’”

The irony of such a kiss is captured by Michael Card in his song, “Why?”

What Kind of Kiss World Vision PersecutionWhy did it have to be a friend
Who chose to betray the Lord
Why did he use a kiss to show them
That’s not what a kiss is for

Only a friend can betray a friend
A stranger has nothing to gain
And only a friend comes close enough
To ever cause so much pain…

Card goes further in the song to explain that the world cannot offer a true kiss, just as the world cannot truly crown Christ as king. Christ’s demands of allegiance are too great. His love is too pure,

Because in this life that we live

For all who seek to love

A thorn is all the world has to give.

Christ offers himself in love. The world crowns his love with thorns. Judas Iscariot indeed did kiss the Son, yet he perished in the way. The kiss of Psalm 2 was never meant to be merely a kiss. A kiss of genuine affection and devotion was the one intended by the psalm.

A kiss of mere lip service is never enough, as though the action itself were all that was demanded. Spurgeon reminds us to be on guard “when the world puts on a loving face, for it will, if possible, betray me as it did my Master, with a kiss. Whenever a man is about to stab religion, he usually professes very great reverence for it.”

Our kiss must stand the trials of time. When pressure builds to affirm same sex marriage, will we still offer our affectionate embrace of God’s Son, or, as with World Vision, will we seek favor with donors or those wielding political clout? When we are called hateful bigots because we think homosexuality is sinful, will we still kiss the Son?  When we are ostracized, outcast, and persecuted, will our kiss endure?

We must kiss the son, but not like Judas.

Why Give a Definition of Christian Persecution?

Tryon Edwards, great grandson of Jonathan Edwards, once said,

Most controversies would soon be ended, if those engaged in them would first accurately define their terms, and then adhere to their definitions.

Edwards was perhaps too optimistic about the end of controversy, but he was right to note the power of definitions to bring clarity and, perhaps, unity. Definitions are important things. A trip to the local reference section of a library or bookstore proves beyond doubt that we think definitions are important things.

Christian persecution definitionConsider the prevalence of English dictionaries. There are dictionaries for synonyms, dictionaries for war terms, for business terms, legal terms, theological terms, psychological terms. A seemingly endless stream of dictionaries flows from the ocean of words which break upon the pages of our literature and, thus, land upon our minds, enabling and empowering our thoughts. Our thoughts ride and move upon the surf of words.

But words do not always come as docile tides bathing a white sand shore. Words break upon our ears and often crash into our minds challenging our very existence. As the existentialist Sartre declared, “Words are loaded pistols.” And that is often true. Defining words can be a dangerous game because words are the means by which reality takes its shape.  Consider, for example, how the Nazis defined treason and loyalty. And consider the implications for Germany and the world.

In our own culture, consider how important it is to define the word person. It has become a deadly word for babies developing in the womb because they have been excluded by definition from the semantic range of the word person. So, you see, subtle changes in the definition of words can have cataclysmic long term effects for us. Definitions are exceedingly important.

Two particular words Christians must define in our own day are marriage and persecution. The first is necessary because the word is being redefined.  The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) has fallen on notoriously difficult times, and marriage is now successfully being redefined to include same sex unions. In fact, as I’ve noted in prior posts, the new definition of marriage demands no boundaries on the basis of avoiding all discrimination. A recent federal case in Utah may now allow group marriages (read about it here).

Because marriage is now redefined, Christians will be tested on whether or not they believe what they have been saying about their own definition.  Do we as Christians believe God’s monogamous design for heterosexual marriage? Will Christians stand on these convictions? What if group marriages, gay marriages, or even bestial marriages become matters of civil rights? Will Christians remain steadfast in their biblical convictions? Will we pay the price in persecution? What if churches will lose their tax exempt status as a result of monogamous marriage commitments? What if pastors are convicted of civil rights crimes—or hate crimes—and sent to jail for refusing to marry a small group of lovers?

Persecution will likely flow from the deluge of court decisions against traditional marriage. Thus, Christians ought to start defining persecution so we understand what and why we are suffering.  Persecution means many things to many different people. I read an article recently which stated that wild birds were being persecuted in northern England.  Whatever the journalist covering birdcrime in Great Britain meant by his use of the word persecuted, the Christian must understand it much differently. Both Christians and birds of prey can be hunted and threatened with extinction, but Christians alone are human beings created in the image of God and charged with witnessing to His glory. Birds are not people and, thus, not created in God’s image.  Persecuting birds is not the same as persecuting Christians. But Christians will be persecuted. Thus, persecution is a concept which needs to be properly defined. Here is a good, biblical definition of persecution:

Persecution is a retaliatory action against the revelation of the righteousness of God in Christ which is represented or proclaimed by the followers of Jesus Christ. 

The definition is helpful for Christians so we can test ourselves (as Peter commands) to make sure our suffering happens because of Christ and His righteousness, not because of our own stupidity, arrogance, or offensive behavior. The definition is also helpful so we can experience the full joy of the blessings of Christ (Matthew 5:10-12). Finally, the definition is important because we will likely be facing persecution of a more intense nature than at any time in America’s history.

Here we return to Edwards’s point. Definitions do provide clarity and can lead to unity. Often, however, the clarity itself leads to controversy.  Such controversy by no means argues for de-emphasizing the need for definitions. Rather, the controversy serves further to clarify where to stand, when to stand, and how to stand. And if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything. If you do stand for something as a Christian, you will face persecution. Define your terms so you will know why you suffer.

And as you suffer, remember the words of your great Shepherd: “Blessed are you.”  Learn from this Shepherd the definition of being blessed—even when you cannot be united on account of the words you have learned to define.

Fairness Is Not Justice: Three Simple Reasons to Reject Fairness

Justice not FairnessOnce upon a time, our laws were based on justice: “With liberty and justice for all.”  Now, it seems there is a sense of “fairness” encroaching upon our liberty and overtaking justice for all.  Many folks equate one term with the other, thinking that fairness and justice are equally compelling concepts of liberty, but they are not. Here are three important reasons to seek justice in our laws, not fairness.

First, fairness is not a fixed concept. Justice is. Fairness rises and falls with the political fortunes of special interests. Instead of being one fixed, eternal truth to which all attain, fairness is a roaming gnome of special rights given to certain classes of individuals.

Fairness grabs rights for Hispanics (but not Asians?).  Fairness snatches rights for Muslims (but not Hindus?)—for gays and lesbians (but not the celibate or the polygamists?).  Fairness is not fixed in anything eternal.  Think of it in terms of a family.

One child has a birthday party and gets gifts from mom and dad. Another child in the family screams “That’s not fair!” Well, in a sense it is not fair for two equal siblings to be treated differently.  Yet, when the matter is considered from a broader perspective—that of justice—it becomes plain that the parents are perfectly just to give gifts to their children when and how they desire.  No injustice has occurred, even though one child believes his fairness has been violated. Justice fixes truth in institutions and in eternal reality. Fairness fluctuates with the feelings and infatuations of child-like adults. It is not fixed.

Second, fairness is not blind; justice is. As stated above, fairness singles out sub-classes of humanity for particular justice not fairness attention.  By definition, it is not blind. It sees color. It sees sexual preference. It sees—and envies—what others possess.  Fairness cannot maintain unity because it sees too much; it offers preferences too conveniently.

When the United States Supreme Court building was completed in 1935, it featured a prominent engraving to justice across its façade: “Equal Justice Under Law.”  And so, America has historically been a place which sought to call all people equally to the one eternal standard of Justice. Fairness was nowhere etched in Supreme Court stones (and for good reason). Justice is blind; fairness is not.

Finally, Fairness is just not just. I know this sounds circular, but the point must not be missed. Justice is real; it is rooted in an eternal God whose ways are right.  Just as moral law comes from the moral lawgiver, so, too, justice ultimately abides in the one who Himself is just.  Justice is an eternal, divine order to which we all should attain.

Fairness, on the other hand, is a very petulant human standard which we must all exceed. We must be willing to forego our own peevish demands of personal affluence and, instead, call our fellow Americans to uphold justice.

Justice is discovered from within reality.  Fairness is imposed by force on humanity.  Fairness must be imposed by might, not by what is right. It is a political power play, not an eternal truth display.  So, please, let us return to equal justice for all under the law. Exchanging justice for fairness is more foolish than a child offering to trade his family for a shiny, new penny. It’s a sad exchange.

Why Marriage Must Remain Traditional

A few days ago, I reluctantly re-entered the gay marriage debate. Believe me, I don’t enjoy this debate. I feel the brunt of all the “hate” language it saddles me with, and I am burdened by the weight of the discrimination label, as though I am in the camp of George Wallace, the Democrat governor who stood in the schoolhouse door at the University of Alabama in 1963, preventing blacks from entering college.  I am not in Wallace’s camp and neither are those who wish to preserve traditional marriage. Of course it would be easier to capitulate, to give up the fight and not say anything, just going along with a comfortable life indifferent to the plight of those who are born into America after I die, but where is the value in that approach?

Why speak to the issue?  Trust me, even if I were anti-gay, being anti-gay would not be sufficient reason to speak. I am not anti-gay. I do not count gay persons as inferior to myself. I count them—and all people—as my equals because we all stand equally as sinners before God in need of grace.  I believe—as the Declaration of Independence asserts—that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” It is on this basis—and for this reason—that I feel compelled to plead with folks to uphold the traditional definition of marriage.  The issue is NOT “gay vs. anti-gay.”  The issue is NOT one of “bigotry vs. civil rights.”  The issue is not even a political one, in the sense of it being “conservative vs. liberal.”  The issue comes down simply to Tyranny vs. Liberty, and  I hope always to be on the side of liberty.

I have attempted to make this case before, and I was then accused of being “hung up” on fighting against gays. So, again, I repeat that I am not anti-gay.  I am anti-tyranny, or, as I prefer to say it, I am pro-liberty.  I am for freedom in the truest sense of that word. I am for the belief that all of us have certain unalienable rights which were granted to us as human beings not by our government but by our Creator, as the Declaration of Independence says.

Here is the issue. Biological nature (and biological nature’s God) has established male and female as the basis upon which humanity would multiply and prosper. Good governments serve nature (and nature’s God) by enacting laws which comport to natural laws, thus maintaining order for the benefit of humankind. The law in this case is not an imposition; it is a clarification of what is true by natural design. As such, the law serves as an affirmation of that which is best for ordering human society.

Heterosexual, monogamous marriage resulting in orderly reproduction is a true design of biological nature.  Though reproduction is not the only significant aspect of marriage, it is certainly a primary aspect of marriage.  A recent article in the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy states,

Marriage is valuable in itself, but its inherent orientation to the bearing and rearing of children contributes to its distinctive structure, including norms of monogamy and fidelity. This link to the welfare of children also helps explain why marriage is important to the common good and why the state should recognize and regulate it.  Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, Vol. 34, No. 1, pp. 245-287, Winter 2010

This view of marriage, which is known as the “Conjugal View,” is rooted in nature, in biology, and in the basic reality of creation and creaturely existence. It is not the property of American politics. It was not founded here. Its roots go back thousands of years prior to the establishment of the United States of America.  The oldest social law code extant (the Code of Ur Nammu) details penalties for adultery and affirms the conjugal view of marriage. Long before Republicans or Democrats, Conservatives or Liberals, were conceived, civilizations discovered in nature and codified in law the conjugal view of marriage.  Marriage, ultimately, is defined by nature itself for the orderly propagation of humanity.

This view of marriage has weathered other libertine tempests in American history, such as the 19th Century drive by the Mormon church advocating polygamy.  In its famous case deciding the fate of polygamy in America, the Court ruled in Reynolds v. United States (1878) that monogamous, heterosexual marriage provides the bedrock structure for societal harmony:

Marriage, while from its very nature a sacred obligation, is nevertheless, in most civilized nations, a civil contract, and usually regulated by law. Upon it society may be said to be built, and out of its fruits spring social relations and social obligations and duties, with which government is necessarily required to deal. In fact, according as monogamous or polygamous marriages are allowed, do we find the principles on which the government of the people, to a greater or less extent, rests.

The conjugal, biological view of marriage is foundational, and it is rooted in creation—not in government. What is being proposed by gay marriage advocates is an imposition of an alternate reality—a revised reality—which is not rooted in biological nature but, rather, is rooted in political power. Because the state can alter the definition, therefore, the state should alter the definition: This proposition appears to be the heartbeat which pumps lifeblood to the gay marriage movement.

This proposition—that the state can alter the definition of marriage and thus it should—is a proposition untenable in the history of our nation.  When a different minority position gained political steam in the 19th Century and desired a revision to the definition of marriage, the Court took refuge in the conjugal view rooted in biological nature and said, “No,” to the proposed redefinition.  Believing in heterosexual, monogamous marriage as the ideal upon which society would continue to prosper, the court had no other choice. The stakes were too high to decide any other way of ordering society.

Now, the situation is radically different.  The movement toward gay marriage is fueled with a post-Civil-Rights passion that has moved beyond asking what is ordered for society in nature. This movement is asking instead for the government to revise a natural order definition and replace it with a state-imposed one.  In other words, this movement is not appealing to a natural and unalienable right resting on the beneficence of nature’s God. Instead, this movement is asking for a government-bestowed right.  If rights and privileges are not determined by nature and nature’s God, then who determines them? The government.

In the short term, there is great appeal to having the government determine rights rather than having nature’s God determine them.  If the government is on your side, then, of course, you will have a vested interest in that government bestowing a previously restricted right upon you (thereby gaining you as a member of its political voting block).  But beware. Surfing this self-serving wave of government control may prove in the end to be no day at the beach.  If government really does possess the power to grant what once were thought unalienable rights, then government has the power to take away those (and other) rights as the political climate (and voting block) changes. When government overtakes nature’s God in determining basic human rights, liberty is lost. Freedom is a mirage of the government’s making.

Here is tyranny.  If the government can go against biological nature and prescribe rights to groups of citizens without recourse to a reality outside of itself, then government has become god. Government not only will give rights to some, it will take rights from others. Not only will the government make laws consistent with its revised reality; it will also—of necessity—enforce those laws for the sake of maintaining its ability to control reality (=oppression).  Reality itself will become what the government mandates.

In response to the recent decision by the legislature in New York to adopt gay marriage, George Weigel—precisely on this point of losing liberty—states,

The argument over marriage will and must continue, because it touches first principles of democratic governance — and because resistance to the agenda of the gay-marriage lobby is a necessary act of resistance against the dictatorship of relativism, in which coercive state power is used to impose on all of society a relativistic ethic of personal willfulness.

Weigel is making the point that the definition of marriage rests upon foundational elements of nature and precedes America itself, while the proposed revision is driven by small group wielding a big stick of political momentum against history, tradition, and nature, imposing a new reality which appeals to none of these foundational elements and is the mere product of government power. In taking its stand on power rather than nature, this revised definition does not continue the legacy of civil liberty; it trumps it with raw government power.

Weigel says,

Legally enforced segregation involved the same kind of coercive state power that the proponents of gay marriage now wish to deploy on behalf of their cause. Something natural and obvious — “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal” — was being denied by the state in its efforts to maintain segregated public facilities and to deny full citizenship rights to African Americans. Once the American people came to see that these arrangements, however hallowed by custom (and prejudice), were, in fact, unnatural and not obvious, the law was changed.

What the gay lobby proposes in the matter of marriage is precisely the opposite of this.

The revisionist definition wants to go back to the era preceding civil rights and impose by government authority an unnatural definition of marriage.  What this means is that the debate over the definition of marriage is not really a debate about marriage at all; it is a debate over who controls us: Nature and nature’s God or government and the ruling class.  The difference between these two governors is the difference between Freedom and Tyranny.

I understand that the short-term promise of accepting gay marriage makes it appear that freedom is at stake, and indeed it is.  But the freedom that is at stake is not the freedom of an underprivileged class being denied an unalienable right; the freedom at stake is the freedom for all Americans.  Will Americans be free to believe and live by unalienable rights guaranteed by their creator, or will we be subjected to the tyranny of a ruling class which offers us rights based on our political cooperation.  The stakes could not be higher for all of us.

I do not plead against gay Americans in this battle. I plead for them. It seems for now that accepting the premise that the government grants you your rights is going to yield in more rights for gay Americans (namely, the “right” to marry), but, in the end, political powers ebb and flow. Times change. In most cases, governments have not been overly generous toward gays, lesbians, bi-sexual, and transgendered persons. When government becomes god, only the governors prosper. Everyone else suffers.

Must Gay Marriage Bells Ring

There is a growing consensus among the cultural commentariat that gay marriage is inevitable: Given time, a majority of Americans will embrace gay marriage as the norm. This position is not the sole property of liberals. There is no small number of conservatives parroting the same meme (as this post illustrates). The argument rests on poll data and demographic research which have supposedly proven that 60% or more of young people approve of gay marriage now. Thus, when they become the next generation of voters, they will invariably alter the course of American history by jettisoning the discriminatory bonds of traditional wedding bands.

The weight this argument carries among supposedly enlightened people astounds me. Polls and research data are unable to predict who will be elected president in November (only 6 months away), yet similar opinion polls are supposed infallible when it comes to their predicting the demise of the western marriage tradition over the next 20 years? Really? Monogamous, heterosexual marriage is doomed because polling data shows that most young people now accept gay marriage?

If Americans young and old are still able to be persuaded about which party they will support in November elections (and advertising costs suggest they are), then how can we extrapolate the current polling data on youth to remain unchanged over the next two decades? I wonder if any who are reading this article ever changed their attitudes on social issues between the ages of 18 and 38. I personally know a great number of Americans (myself included) whose attitude toward abortion changed in that two decade transition from high school student to middle school parent.

Proponents of traditional marriage need not throw in the towel just yet. Rich Lowry has posted a nice piece demonstrating the folly of accepting the defeat of marriage prematurely. As Lowry points out, there was a time that the Equal Rights Amendment appeared inevitable, a time in which gun control appeared a certainty, and a time when it seemed likely that abortion opponents would wither and die away.  Tidal waves of appearances often crash against the rocks of reality to surprising results.  For this reason, I would agree with Rich Lowry: Gay Marriage Is Not Inevitable.

A Marriage Proposal

First, I would like to thank Meredithancret for a cordial and spirited debate. We obviously disagree, but she has been respectful and has engaged in dialogue on the subject of gay marriage—a subject most consider too controversial to discuss.  I appreciate the fact that there has been actual dialogue, even if there is disagreement.  Thanks, Meredith. You can check out her blog here.

Second, I hope to address some of the concerns which have been voiced.  In fact, Meredith asked a very direct question which is at the heart of the debate concerning marriage.  It is too bad that others aren’t asking the same question.  She asked, “What is marriage?”

Historically, there have been 3 different answers posited in reply to this question.  The answers are as follows: Biological union, legal contract recognition, or beneficial economic arrangement.  Of these 3 options, I would say that I have been arguing for the first, while Meredith has been arguing for the second.  Why do I argue for marriage as a biological union? On the basis of reality.  I assert that the reality of humanity argues unambiguously for heterosexual marriage.

By this statement, I mean to say that heterosexual marriage is built into creation.  You may prefer to think of creation as the 19th Century followers of the Enlightenment did—as Nature (with a capital N).  Or, in your current progressive milieu, you may prefer nature (without the capital N).  Or you may have progressed already so far that you prefer to refer to reality in the laughable (yet often accepted) language of mother nature.  In former days, some would have used the terms, common sense.

Whatever you call it, it argues for heterosexual marriage. I mean to argue for heterosexual marriage from the perspective of easily recognizable reality.  When a man leaves his father and mother and joins himself to a wife, the two become a new family unit.  The very natural outcome of the new couple’s coitus is, of course, children.  Hence, humanity progresses through the process of a man and woman leaving two families to start another family.  Nothing is more natural.  Humanity itself is furthered by this conjugal union, a fact which ought to please the evolutionists among us.

In this sense, then, cultures and societies are built upon the biological, conjugal relations of a man and a woman forming a family unit.  Contrary to what has been asserted, this notion is not the recent invention of the modern church.  It has been around since the original couple, Adam and Eve (thus the Matthew 19 reference).

Now, before anyone gets his hackles out of whack, allow me to say that I do believe in Adam and Eve as the original parents.  Evolutionists may or may not have a name for the original progenitors of humanity—I don’t know.  Regardless, there was an original male and female joined together to continue the human race.  Historically—even without reference to Adam and Eve—cultures and societies have been built around the conjugal union of a man and his wife.

We have records from the earliest civilization on record—ancient Sumer—which demonstrate that marriage was indeed between a man and a woman.  The custom was very much like that of Israel in the Old Testament.  The husband offered a bridal price for the woman he desired to marry.  After paying the bridal price to her father, the groom was able to take his bride out of her family home and into his home, where the two became a new family unit, recognized by their government as a new family unit.

No one here is asserting that the norm has been perfect, ubiquitous, or without anomalies and exceptions.  History includes polygamy and homosexuality.  Nevertheless, the enduring reality of heterosexual marriage as a foundational institution endures today as a vital aspect of humanity.  It is reality—even after New York.  It is such an obvious, foundational element of humanity that heterosexual marriage will endure beyond the most recent assaults against it.  Just as marriage endured as a lasting human institution through the political attempts of the 19th Century polygamists, so, too, will heterosexual marriage persevere through the 21st Century assaults of the same-sex marriage proponents.  And the reason heterosexual marriage will endure is that it is a fundamental reality of humankind rooted in biological union.

Against this plain reality, an alternate definition is being proposed by Meredith, namely, that marriage does not mean anything except what society decides for itself that marriage means.  Any attempt to establish marriage as inherently meaningful is so unreasonable that it could only come from religion.  If it comes from religion, then it must be dismissed because there can be no religious influence in matters of state control.  [I might be misunderstanding Meredith’s argument here, but this is the way I read it].  Therefore, marriage can only be given the definition of a social construct: Whatever society decides is right.

Against this, I would say that the ancient Sumerians weren’t “religious” if by religious we mean from a Judeo-Christian worldview.  Nevertheless, they recognized the value for society of the marriage between a man and a woman.  The Sumerians did not invent or define marriage, they recognized it as an inherent, biologically-based reality of the human condition.  To make it something less is to make marriage meaningless.  The notion that marriage is nothing more than what society decides is not pragmatically workable.

If this were the case, then marriage might just as well mean that 2 sisters living in an apartment together could call themselves married and, thus, enjoy the societal benefits of being married.  Why not?  What could possibly prevent these 2 consenting adults from being married?  Why should society discriminate against them just because they never found a man or another woman outside of their own family?  Why are these 2 sisters an acceptable target for the narrow-minded bigotry of restricting marriage to hetero/homosexual marriage?

Just as easily as society deems two men to be legally, contractually married, so, too, could society deem three men to be so or four men and two women.  Why not allow families to define themselves instead of having government define families?  Thus, the Manson Family would be every bit as legitimate as my family according to this definition.  Or else, on what basis would society exclude [discriminate against?] these adults wanting to enjoy the benefits of marriage?  On what basis would you exclude an adult daughter from marrying her father, especially after her mother passed away?  Could a woman enjoy the benefits of being married to her dog?  On what basis would that be excluded?  If marriage is self-defined, then its definition would have a limitless range.  In short, if marriage has no inherent meaning, then it has no meaning at all.

Viewing marriage as a mere social construct is untenable.  I suspect that Meredith and others would not care if the definitions changed and morphed into any number of carnal contortions.  Yet, that fact does not mean they don’t care about the definition of marriage.   In fact, if marriage were a mere social construct, then there would be no effort from gay activists to redefine it.

Consider it this way:  To all who would like to argue for the right of the state to define marriage anyway the state (or the majority of society) wishes it to be, I have this simple question for you to answer.  Why are you unwilling to accept the definition the states (majority of society) have already embraced?  About 60 % of the United States have constitutional amendments defining marriage exclusively between a man and a woman.  The question is already settled.  The states have defined marriage in the exact way they want it defined.  Why seek to overturn this definition?  On what grounds? You cannot answer that question without recourse to higher reality.  You believe in the inherent value of things apart from social constructs, you just don’t want to admit it.

A Little Monday Controversy

I know I shouldn’t wade into the New York controversy on a Monday morning, but I do think it is worth considering the question, “What is marriage?”  The successful effort of late in New York has redefined marriage to mean something that it has not meant before.  The state has changed the reality of what we know as marriage.

Obviously, I would object to a redefinition on “religious” grounds (see Romans 1:18ff).  But this issue is not necessarily a “religious” issue.  It is a “reality” issue.  George Weigel has a thoughtful explanation of what the decision in New York means in terms of the power of the state to impose its own reality on the citizenry.  Please give his column a thoughtful read without the emotional, knee-jerk thoughtlessness of many comments I have read lately by gay rights advocates who believe gay marriage is a civil rights issue. The issue is not a civil rights issue (for reasons Weigel explains).  The issue is one of dismantling reality into an alternate image desired by political power.

The issue is an attempt to redefine reality.  Such a redefinition does not enlarge us, it diminishes us by disconnecting us from the rails of reality.  A train does not become more free by jumping off its tracks–even if the field it enters promises to be vast and expansive and full of riches.  Marriage has been defined and is defined a certain way.  Pretending it can be another might make some feel better about themselves for a short season, but it will do nothing to protect and preserve humanity.

Reality is what it is, and no state–not even New York–has the authority to alter it.  Sadly, what I believe will follow in New York is a whole new set of freedoms lost in an attempt to maintain this new unreality.  Religious freedom will be the first freedom to go.  Freedom of speech will be second.  The state will have to control its newfangled reality by force because it will not be able to rely on what is self-evidently obvious any longer.  So, the state will have to force religious charities to act according to its legalized unreality.  Then, the state will force its citizenry not to speak against its brave new order of legislated reality. That is what I think this decision means from a political perspective.  That is why, sociologically speaking, I oppose New York’s new law.

Read Weigel’s piece. I think he explains it well from a non-sectarian perspective.

Court rejects D.C. same-sex marriage case – UPI.com

Court rejects D.C. same-sex marriage case – UPI.com.

I am not yet sure what exactly this decision by the Supreme Court means.  I am trying to find information and do a little more research on it.  My first response was a disappointed shock, as in, “Why have John Roberts as Chief Justice if he is unconcerned about important social issues such as the definition of marriage?”

However, as I have thought about the matter a little more, I have begun to suspect that there are mitigating circumstances here, particularly because the case is centered in Washington, D.C.  The case ends up being about the legality of a referendum as much as it is about the state of gay marriage.  While it is possible–even in D. C.–that a referendum would support traditional marriage (as happened in California), it is still not necessarily the case that Bishop Harry Jackson’s appeal for a referendum is legally clear.  Thus, the SCOTUS would be wise not to wade into a district legal matter.

I am not sure.  If anyone has better information, please let us know about it.  I hope to follow up with a better response to the news that Justice Roberts chose not to review this case.  Washington, D. C., has been granting marriage licenses since 2009 by vote of the city council.

Surprising Development

New York surprises again.  This time, the Democrat majority in the state senate failed to pass a measure supporting gay marriage in the Empire State.  Baptist Press has this story which tells of the tears and theology behind the political intrigue.  I personally am surprised by this move because I was one of those who assumed the worst concerning the redefinition of marriage in America.

This failure to redefine marriage is a good thing not because “our side” won a victory.  Such pettiness would miss the point altogether.  Marriage is such a valuable institution for a stable society.  Similar battles were waged (ironically enough) in the 19th Century by Mormons and others who sought to redefine marriage, but we had the wisdom to withstand such devastating temptations.  I am glad that the New York Senate had the same wisdom today.  All the nation (and especially New York) will benefit from this decision.

Maine Event 2

Congratulations for marriage and families in Maine.  Gay marriage was defeated (repealed actually) in Maine yesterday by popular vote.  As this article points out, the Maine event is significant for 2 reasons. 

First, the vote in Maine marks the first occasion on which gay marriage was being overturned after having been put in place by a legislature.  In California, for instance, the courts had imposed gay marriage.  In Maine, the law was rightfully passed by the legislature, but rejected by the people.

Second, this marks a significant statement in that every time the matter has come for a vote, gay marriage has lost.  In 31 states elections have been held, and all 31 times gay marriage has been defeated.  It seems clear that Americans do not desire to redefine marriage and family; the traditional order is preferred.

Today’s Maine Event

There is a big vote in Maine today concerning the nature of marriage.  If the measure fails, then Maine will have become the first state to actually vote in gay marriage.  As you know the other states had gay marriage more or less imposed on them by judicial fiat.  This story from Baptist Press offers a glimmer of hope in that a media frenzy has followed the harrassment case of a Maine social worker who spoke out in favor of traditional marriage.  The Alliance Defense Fund is taking his case, and the outcome of the vote may well be tilted by this single event.  The Maine event is one to watch today.

For the Record

Pastor Rick Warren has recently said that the gay marriage issue is “not his agenda.”  In a sense, of course, he is right.  The gospel itself is the agenda of the Christian, including pastors.  However, humanity is also our concern.  And, the church is called to be the pillar and foundation of truth (1 Tim 3:15). 

To quote Pastor Warren, “There are about two percent of Americans [who] are homosexual or gay/lesbian people. We should not let two percent of the population determine to change a definition of marriage that has been supported by every single culture and every single religion for 5,000 years.”
To quote Pastor Warren again, “This is not even just a Christian issue — it’s a humanitarian and human issue that God created marriage for the purpose of family, love, and procreation.”

I would add further that marriage and family is the foundational social institution upon which a culture should build.  Something must hold, or else the culture disintegrates into chaos.  If the meaning of marriage is undone, then the culture itself is undone.  Nothing which binds society together can hold any longer because the foundation itself has faltered.

It does not matter how nice the brick looks on the outside of a house once the foundation has cracked.  When the foundation is lost, the house will fall.  Once the institution of marriage is undone, the culture will no longer have a societal “ideal” for which to work and on which to build.  Marriage and family will mean anything (bigamy, polygamy, polyandry…).  In other words, there will be nothing at the foundational level.  No ideal, thus no order.

Is such a disintegration the concern of a purpose driven pastor?  I suppose that depends on the purpose of the pastor.  It seems to me that the earlier Rick Warren makes some good sense that the later Rick Warren ought not to have disavowed.  Why is it that poverty is an acceptable part of the Saddleback gospel agenda but honoring marriage is not?  Why would fighting AIDS be on the agenda but honoring family would not?  Fighting AIDS and poverty, like standing up for marriage and family, has to do with loving mankind and speaking of that which is ordained by God for Man’s flourishing. 

There is no hate in such speaking up for humankind.  Just as fighting AIDS is not an act of condemnation toward homosexuals, so, too, is standing for marriage not an act of condemnation toward homosexuals.  Both fights are engaged for the well-being of humankind, to maximize the flourishing of Man.

No Mob Veto

America is proud of her freedom, but freedom must always have its limits.  California voters recently decided (again) that gays ought not be provided the same marital status as heterosexual couples.  They are (or at least should be) free to determine such things.  Since the passage of Proposition 8, Californians have been given a hard dose of reality.  The truth is, no one believes in unrestrained freedom.  Those in favor of gay marriage have demonstrated zero tolerance for any who disagree.  They have sought to terrorize and intimidate all opposition.  They have especially targeted the Mormon church.  Now, a group called “No Mob Veto” has decided to take action.  Good for them.  It’s about time people take a stand.  You can view the ad and petition here.