I just came across this piece by Rod Dreher explaining why “gay marriage is not just a social revolution but a cosmological one” and had to post an excerpt. It explores the subject of marriage as a worldview issue—something I discussed in my post this morning:
Rieff, who died in 2006, was an unbeliever, but he understood that religion is the key to understanding any culture. For Rieff, the essence of any and every culture can be identified by what it forbids. Each imposes a series of moral demands on its members, for the sake of serving communal purposes, and helps them cope with these demands. A culture requires a cultus—a sense of sacred order, a cosmology that roots these moral demands within a metaphysical framework….
Paul’s teachings on sexual purity and marriage were adopted as liberating in the pornographic, sexually exploitive Greco-Roman culture of the time—exploitive especially of slaves and women, whose value to pagan males lay chiefly in their ability to produce children and provide sexual pleasure. Christianity, as articulated by Paul, worked a cultural revolution, restraining and channeling male eros, elevating the status of both women and of the human body, and infusing marriage—and marital sexuality—with love.
Christian marriage, Ruden writes, was “as different from anything before or since as the command to turn the other cheek.” The point is not that Christianity was only, or primarily, about redefining and revaluing sexuality, but that within a Christian anthropology sex takes on a new and different meaning, one that mandated a radical change of behavior and cultural norms. In Christianity, what people do with their sexuality cannot be separated from what the human person is….
[A]s Rieff recognizes, Christianity did establish a way to harness the sexual instinct, embed it within a community, and direct it in positive ways.
What makes our own era different from the past, says Rieff, is that we have ceased to believe in the Christian cultural framework, yet we have made it impossible to believe in any other that does what culture must do: restrain individual passions and channel them creatively toward communal purposes.
Rather, in the modern era, we have inverted the role of culture. Instead of teaching us what we must deprive ourselves of to be civilized, we have a society that tells us we find meaning and purpose in releasing ourselves from the old prohibitions.
How this came to be is a complicated story involving the rise of humanism, the advent of the Enlightenment, and the coming of modernity. As philosopher Charles Taylor writes in his magisterial religious and cultural history A Secular Age, “The entire ethical stance of moderns supposes and follows on from the death of God (and of course, of the meaningful cosmos).” To be modern is to believe in one’s individual desires as the locus of authority and self-definition….
[F]reedom and authenticity were to be found not in sexual withholding (the Christian view) but in sexual expression and assertion. That is how the modern American claims his freedom.
To Rieff, ours is a particular kind of “revolutionary epoch” because the revolution cannot by its nature be institutionalized. Because it denies the possibility of communal knowledge of binding truths transcending the individual, the revolution cannot establish a stable social order….
Our post-Christian culture, then, is an “anti-culture.” We are compelled by the logic of modernity and the myth of individual freedom to continue tearing away the last vestiges of the old order, convinced that true happiness and harmony will be ours once all limits have been nullified.
His article is sobering. When our culture lost the Christian view of the human person and each person became his own authority, we started down a dangerous road—one that ultimately won’t be able to sustain culture itself. The important thing to note here is that we can’t patch this up by convincing people to accept a man/woman view of marriage. The problem is much, much deeper than that.
As apologists, we preach Christ to the world because He is worthy, and we love Him, and we hope to help others see Him clearly enough to love Him. Rod Dreher’s article is a reminder that we should never be tempted to think that working to effect social change is more important than calling people to Christ and helping them understand our place in His world. For where He who is the True, the Good, and the Beautiful goes, truth, goodness, and beauty follow.
We don’t realize how much Christianity changed our civilization. And we don’t realize how much we’ll lose once we walk away from it.
In a recent Twitter conversation, I was told that opposing same-sex marriage is, by definition, bigotry:
[Y]ou are bigoted on this issue; of that I am sure. You might not be a bigot in any other part of ur life but on this you are.
I’m sure because you spell it out when you fight against equal rights for gays. Your fight makes me sure.
Leaving aside the arguments for why this issue is not about equal rights, this is what I wish our opponents would grasp: Our objection to same-sex marriage is not about a difference between homosexuals and heterosexuals. If we were saying that homosexuals were lesser people unworthy of rights, then one might have an argument for this being an example of bigotry. But the case we’re making isn’t about a difference between homosexuals and heterosexuals (it’s not even about whether or not homosexuality is morally wrong); it’s about the difference between men and women.
We…have a system that is demanding conformity, uniformity and discipline — it’s not just about marriage law, to be honest. It’s really about something much bigger — crushing the belief that the sexes are distinct in deep and meaningful ways that contribute to human flourishing. Obviously marriage law plays a role here — recent court rulings have asserted that the sexes are interchangeable when it comes to marriage. That’s only possible if they’re not distinct in deep and meaningful ways. But the push to change marriage laws is just one part of a larger project to change our understanding of sexual distinctions. See, for example, the 50 genders of Facebook….
The drive to redefine marriage depends on denying the differences between the sexes, and yet these are the very differences that brought about the need for marriage in the first place:
[T]here’s precisely one bodily system for which each of us only has half of the system. It’s the one that involves sex between one man and one woman. It’s with respect to that system that the unit is the mated pair. In that system, it’s not just a relationship that is the union of minds, wills or important friendships. It’s the literal union of bodies. In sexual congress, in intercourse between a man and a woman, you are literally coordinated to a single bodily end.
In every other respect we as humans act as individual organisms except when it comes to intercourse between men and women — then we work together as one flesh. Coordination toward that end — even when procreation is not achieved — makes the unity here. This is what marriage law was about. Not two friends building a house together. Or two people doing other sexual activities together. It was about the sexual union of men and women and a refusal to lie about what that union and that union alone produces: the propagation of humanity. This is the only way to make sense of marriage laws throughout all time and human history. Believing in this truth is not something that is wrong, and should be a firing offense. It’s not something that’s wrong, but should be protected speech. It’s actually something that’s right. It’s right regardless of how many people say otherwise. If you doubt the truth of this reality, consider your own existence, which we know is due to one man and one woman getting together. Consider the significance of what this means for all of humanity, that we all share this.
It’s not unreasonable or bigoted to treat the unique joining of sexually complementary partners uniquely. But in order to see that this is a reasonable understanding that isn’t motivated by hate, one must first acknowledge the differences between women and men. Conversely, in order to hide its reasonableness, one must first erase those differences in people’s minds. Watch for this happening (e.g., with Facebook, see above), and make the connection.
I would say that perhaps we need to start our arguments farther back in the chain of reasoning, at the point our culture used to take for granted—the objective, unchanged-by-wishful-thinking differences between the sexes, but I actually don’t think that’s far back enough.
No, this goes back farther than that, for the questions involved here (whether gender is assigned or a matter of choice, whether there’s such a thing as male nature and female nature, whether an institution like marriage is something we recognize or create, whether the good of society lies in conforming itself to a predetermined purpose or a new vision, whether human nature is something in particular or a sea of possibilities bound only by what we can imagine for ourselves) all depend on whether we are here because of God or because of chance. In the end, it comes back to the most basic of all worldview differences: theism vs. non-theism.
So in a way, the people who accuse us of basing our position on religion are right, though it’s not in the way they think. That is, we’re against redefining marriage not mainly because we think homosexual behavior is wrong, but because we think human nature (including each person’s gender and the way that relates to marriage) is something fixed that we were given, not something endlessly changing and malleable that we can create for ourselves. (Not that one needs to believe in God to observe that human nature is unchanging. History is on our side on this one.)
Since we don't think we have the power to defy reality and mold ourselves and natural institutions like the family into something radically new, we therefore conclude that attempts to force such a change will lead to suffering throughout our society.
Today's challenge comes from a question we received on Twitter:
Shouldn't American Christians retreat from the gay marriage issue? It's unwinnable.
What do you think? There are several facets of this challenge that you can address: Should we stop fighting for a man/woman definition of marriage? Is the issue unwinnable? If so, does the fact that an issue is unwinnable mean there's no value in presenting our argument? What purpose might God have for our continuing to argue for what's right when the issue is unwinnable? When might He prefer us to stop arguing? Is retreat in this situation even possible?
Tell us how you think this challenge should be answered in the comments below, and then check back on Thursday to hear Alan's response.
How is this affecting our LGBT brothers and sisters?
At this point, I'll bypass the myriad of problems with her piece, to focus on a single question that she asks: "Does the loud and passionate protestation about same-sex marriage draw others to Christ?" Of course, Christians who oppose SSM are not merely protesting, rather they're reasoning about a significant moral and public policy issue. But does Howerton think that if Christians just quiet down a bit, stop arguing with each other, and agree to disagree, this will satisfy the secular culture? That's the sense you get from progressives, that if we just play nice enough and keep our views to ourselves, then the world will start liking Jesus and the church again.
People like Howerton are too polite, trying to find some magical mythical middle ground on the issue. There isn’t one. There’s the inclusive, tolerant, accepting side…and there’s the side most evangelicals are on...
...you do have to recognize that Christianity as a whole is part of the problem here, not the solution, and it’s up to individual Christians to take action if they want to save the church. Howerton asks “How can we find unity in this division?” and it’s the wrong question. Forget unity. Those anti-gay Christians aren’t going to budge. What you need to do is leave them behind and find community among people who don’t use their faith as a shield against common sense and decency...
...For my gay and lesbian friends’ sake, if they’re Christian, I want them to be able to find a church where they’re accepted instead of merely tolerated.
There you have it. Secularists won't be satisfied until Christians abandon conservative churches and unequivocally accept everything LGBT. Everything. No matter how well-intentioned the call for Christians to stop fighting the culture on this issue, it won't be enough. Only full 100% approval of homosexuality and SSM will do. That's the price the church will have to pay to satisfy the culture. Are progressives like Howerton ready to capitulate to this demand? If yes, that's fine, they're entitled to their view, but I just want them to be up front and tell us, so that it's clear they don't really think there's a middle ground either.
At Stand to Reason, we usually focus on the publicly accessible, non-religious reasons to oppose changing the definition of marriage, as there’s no need to appeal to the Bible in order to make a good case. But the question “Why do Christians care how an organization that self-identifies as Christian views marriage?” and “Is this something worth dividing over?” requires an answer from within Christian doctrine.
In a post titled “Why Is This Issue Different?” Kevin DeYoung gives four reasons why a disagreement between self-professed Christians on this issue is different from a disagreement on a theological issue such as the mode of baptism. Here’s one of those reasons:
Homosexual behavior is so repeatedly and clearly forbidden in Scripture that to encourage homosexuality calls into question the role of Scripture in the life of the denomination that accepts such blatantly unbiblical teaching. The order of creation informs us that God’s plan for sexuality is one woman and one man (Genesis 2). This order is reaffirmed by Jesus (Matthew 19) and Paul (Ephesians 5). The Old Testament law forbade homosexual behavior (Leviticus 18, 20). Paul reiterates this prohibition by using the same Greek construction in 1 Corinthians 6 and 1 Timothy 1. Paul condemns same sex behavior (among many other sins) in Romans 1. Jude in his epistle links sexual immorality and the “unnatural desire” present in Sodom and Gomorrah.
The evidence is so overwhelming that Luke Timothy Johnson, New Testament scholar and advocate of legitimizing homosexual behavior, argues rather candidly: “I think it important to state clearly that we do, in fact, reject the straightforward commands of Scripture, and appeal instead to another authority when we declare that same-sex unions can be holy and good. And what exactly is that authority? We appeal explicitly to the weight of our own experience and the experience thousands of others have witnessed to, which tells us that to claim our own sexual orientation is in fact to accept the way in which God has created us.” At its root, support for homosexual behavior is not simply a different interpretation of Scripture; it is a rejection of Scripture itself.
There are certainly some today who argue that the Bible does not prohibit homosexual activity between committed partners. For a response to their arguments, I recommend a refutation from James White, which can be found here (along with more links you may find helpful).
Of course, homosexuality isn’t the only sin in the world. But I know of no Christian leader or Christian community promoting theft or championing idolatry as a special blessing from God. It is not an overstatement to say solemnizing same-sex intercourse is in danger of leading people to hell. The same is not true when it comes to sorting out the millennium. In tolerating the doctrine which affirms homosexual behavior, we are tolerating a doctrine which leads people farther from God, not closer. This is not the mission Jesus gave us when he told us to teach the nations all that he has commanded.
World Vision has announced a reversal in their decision to allow same-sex marriages in their employee conduct policy:
Today, the World Vision U.S. board publicly reversed its recent decision to change our employment conduct policy. The board acknowledged they made a mistake and chose to revert to our longstanding conduct policy requiring sexual abstinence for all single employees and faithfulness within the Biblical covenant of marriage between a man and a woman.
We are writing to you our trusted partners and Christian leaders who have come to us in the spirit of Matthew 18 to express your concern in love and conviction. You share our desire to come together in the Body of Christ around our mission to serve the poorest of the poor. We have listened to you and want to say thank you and to humbly ask for your forgiveness.
In our board’s effort to unite around the church’s shared mission to serve the poor in the name of Christ, we failed to be consistent with World Vision U.S.’s commitment to the traditional understanding of Biblical marriage and our own Statement of Faith, which says, “We believe the Bible to be the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God.” And we also failed to seek enough counsel from our own Christian partners. As a result, we made a change to our conduct policy that was not consistent with our Statement of Faith and our commitment to the sanctity of marriage.
We are brokenhearted over the pain and confusion we have caused many of our friends, who saw this decision as a reversal of our strong commitment to Biblical authority. We ask that you understand that this was never the board’s intent. We are asking for your continued support. We commit to you that we will continue to listen to the wise counsel of Christian brothers and sisters, and we will reach out to key partners in the weeks ahead.
While World Vision U.S. stands firmly on the biblical view of marriage, we strongly affirm that all people, regardless of their sexual orientation, are created by God and are to be loved and treated with dignity and respect....