So Bob, You Want to Marry Steve?
Not long ago Bill O'Reilly opined that those who would contend for traditional heterosexual marriage must do so without using Scripture. Apparently he got a lot of push back from his right flank. I happen to agree with O'Reilly. As I wrote in a previous hub, "Yes, the Gospel is Offensive... but Christians?", if a public position is worthy of consideration it can be proposed and defended on its own merits, not by resorting to the Bible which is eschewed by most of our fellow-citizens.
The Bible is useful for showing folks how to be reconciled to God and then follow Him faithfully. It was never intended to shape public policy directly in a pluralistic society. Daniel did not quote Scripture in Nebuchadnezzer's court. Instead, he humbly demonstrated in his own life God's greatness and the validity of his Word. Christians today must have the courage and discipline to think through the issues from God's perspective indeed, but then argue their positions on their own merits. To resort to Scripture is the easy and lazy way to go about it. Not only is it ineffective; it invites ridicule from those who don't accept the Bible as God's Word. Suppose that Keith Ellison, first Muslim to be elected to Congress, were to quote the Qur'an to promote his positions. How much impact would that have on non-Muslim members?
Please don't get me wrong. It's not the truth of the Bible that I'm questioning. It's the use of it that I'm challenging. There are biblical assertions that we certainly would not know by mere human observation. Truths such as the Trinity, salvation by grace through faith in Christ, the atonement, the work of the Holy Spirit are revealed. On the other hand laws such as respect for parents and prohibitions against murder, adultery, theft and perjury may be observed by all humanity and can be defended on their own merits. The Scriptures themselves speak of these as the law of God written on human hearts. (Romans 2:15)
So what about same-sex marriage?
For Christians who seek to live according to God's Word, this is a no-brainer. The Scriptures define marriage as an intimate union between a man and a woman by which God exhibits his own love for his people. Further, in that union both the man and the woman find personal fulfillment, albeit in different ways. Finally, by that union the human race is propagated. Conversely, there are clear prohibitions against any intimate union other than this one, which would include same-sex unions. You'll find a full, yet manageable, exposition of the topic in the April 6,2013 issue of World Magazine. The subject is continued in the April 20 issue as well.
For God's people this is sufficient to settle the issue. As long as we keep our convictions personal and private, nobody minds. But loyalty to our Lord calls us to contend for mercy and justice, the good and the right in the public arena as well.
In the public square
Christians have one voice among many. How are we to contend for what we believe is good while others promote contrary positions?
- We make every effort to demonstrate the truth of our convictions in our own lives. How can we expect the world to take us seriously on same-sex marriage when our own heterosexual marriages are in disarray, yes, even among Christians. God's people need to be intentional and energetic in shaping their families to display the gospel, promote justice and mercy and be models for the broader society. That's no small order. But progress can be made by God's grace and in fellowship with his people.
- We listen intently to those who oppose us. In our opinion they are wrong, but each still bears the image of God, acknowledged or not. That alone merits our respect and love. Listen for not only the "what?" but the "why?" The "why?" will show you longings and motivations which perhaps we can affirm. Don't all of us long to be accepted and understood and valued? That's a feature of God's image we share with the opposition.
- We then gently show how the opposition's proposed solutions don't really meet those desires, despite the loud claims from activists and the media that they do.
Obvious, as opposed to Biblically revealed
While our own convictions are firmly rooted in the Scriptures, we commend them to the world on their own merits, trusting God to bring about what He wills. Here are some obvious reasons for avoiding same-sex marriage.
- Same-sex marriage is arbitrary. When asked why a same sex couple wants to marry, the usual answer is that they love each other and want the same societal and legal standing as heterosexual couples have. OK, suppose we agree. Laws are enacted and societal mores adjusted to approve same-sex marriages. Twenty years down the road some find themselves loving not one but two people. The trend gathers steam until there's a call to recognize triplicate marriages as normal. Two husbands might provide a very nice income to their common wife and multiple kids. Or two wives might satisfy an especially virile man. And it need not stop there. Why not group marital arrangements? You might object that this is far-fetched. Twenty years ago it seemed far-fetched to have same-sex couples wanting to marry. So if individual feelings and personal desires are all that shape a relationship there's no end to the variety available. I don't think that would make for a stable anything.
- Same sex marriage, if practiced by all, would destroy the human race. In the mid-nineteenth century there was a community numbering about 5000 known as the Shakers. They believed in strict celibacy. Their growth had come through conversions indenturing children and adopting orphans. But as of December 2009 there were only three Shakers left. It seems to me that any position that, if practiced consistently, leads to the demise of the group must be wrong. Isn't that rather obvious?
- Same sex marriage does not have the thousands of years long record of providing societal stability held by heterosexual marriage. At the Supreme Court, Justice Anthony Kennedy wondered aloud about the effect of same-sex marriage on children: "We have years of information to weigh against 2000 years of history or more." Shouldn't that give us all some pause?
The marriage that almost wasn't
Several years ago a new pastor came to town from out of state. Not long after assuming his duties he was called upon to perform a wedding ceremony. All went well until it was discovered that he hadn't gotten a Virginia licence to perform weddings. By then it was too late. I happened to be around and happily agreed to rise at the appointed time to put the vows to the couple and pronounce them husband and wife "according to the ordinance of God and the law of the Commonwealth of Virginia." And they lived happily ever after.
Ever since then I've been pondering why the government is involved at all in regulating marriage. A little research shows that it wasn't until the 16th century that European governments began to require the state's endorsement to marry. In America common law marriages were fully recognized until the mid-nineteenth century. In the 1920s many states required licenses in order to prevent mixed marriages. By the 1950s the government was using it's power to require marriage licences to distribute Social Security benefits. Now it's common for the governments, insurance companies and retirement plans (to name a few) to give married couples a favored status. Thus the understandable pressure for governmental endorsement of same-sex marriages.
What if the state got out of the marriage business altogether? What if private enterprises developed policies for individuals regardless of marital status? Marriage would return to a contract between families and individuals with the endorsement of their religious community or none at all, as the case may be. This is not to endorse same-sex marriage. It's to recognize that marriage is not the government's business. Same-sex couples may call their union whatever they want confident that, since public policy no longer favors heterosexual marriages, they would not be at a disadvantage.
Others have thought more deeply and precisely than I on this. I commend Jeffry R. Fisher whose piece I find very thought provoking and persuasive.
© 2013 Frank P. Crane