Every Friday we’ll take a break from topical posts and will post some random personal thoughts.
The Gay Marriage Debate: Winning, Losing or Dropping Out?
(Links to all four parts at the end of the article)
In Part I of this discussion I cited surveys affirming a shift in the public’s view of same sex marriage, a shift raising three questions that I hope to respond to each Friday for the next three weeks:
- Do we have a mandate to influence the culture?
- Is change an indicator of progress?
- Where do we go from here?
Let’s look at the first question today. But first, let me mention that last Friday I made a statement some of you were provoked with, a fact I respect and take to heart. That you take time to read my posts means so much; when you take further time to comment, whether positively or negatively, I’m blessed and grateful.
What moved some of you to e-mail me your strong disagreement was my remark “Marriage in America will be redefined, culturally and legally, to include homosexual coupling, and the redefinition will probably come sooner than later.” A few readers felt I was waving a white flag, surrendering the issue and demoralizing those who are still willing to fight for marriage. One said “You’re going to stop standing for marriage now, just when we need it the most?” Another pleaded with me not to give up; yet another encouraged me to “have more trust in God’s ability to turn things around.”
Duly and respectfully noted. God certainly can reverse cultural trends, trends we may deplore but can’t deny in light of the statistics and polls I mentioned last week. May He do so. But may we also not mistake wishful thinking for faith. To recognize the tide is not to surrender to it, but rather, to see its logical destination. I believe God can do a number of things without presuming He will do them, especially when free will and human nature come into play. So yes, I believe that, barring a miracle akin to the Red Sea’s parting, same sex marriage will be codified into American law. And yes, I believe that’s a codification we should resist, speak against, and pray about. No white flags here – believing something will happen needn’t cancel out ones commitment to object.
But should we object? Is legislating morality a worthy goal for believers? More to the point, does Scripture command, forbid, or ignore Christian political activism?
On this point, prioritizing rather than polarizing makes sense. Two commissions come to mind: The Great one and the Cultural one. The Great Commission is to preach the gospel to every living creature (Matt. 28:18–20) and ought not to be confused with what’s often called the Cultural Commission to be a Christ-like influence in all areas of life (Matt. 5:16;Phil. 2:14–15). We needn’t polarize the two, seeing them as opposites and choosing one over the other. Rather, we should prioritize, by seeing the distinction and importance of each.
The Great Commission’s importance is self-evident: humanity is dead and lost apart from Christ; the plan of salvation is made known through preaching; the Great Commission, therefore, is to preach the gospel. No controversy there.
The Cultural Commission, on the other hand, is a concept author Chuck Colson articulates as follows:
“God cares not only about redeeming souls but also about restoring his creation. He calls us to be agents not only of his saving grace but also of his common grace. Our job is not only to build up the church but also to build a society to the glory of God. As agents of God’s common grace, we are called to help sustain and renew his creation, to uphold the created institutions of family and society, to pursue science and scholarship, to create works of art and beauty, and to heal and help those suffering from the results of the Fall.” (Charles Colson and Nancy Pearcey, How Now Shall We Live. (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1999) xii.)
Choosing between these two commissions is like choosing between eating and breathing—both are required for life. Likewise, the church, when functioning properly, can’t help but express the gospel and exert its influence. Both are basic elements of the faith. And while we can rightfully fear the extreme of seeking political power at the expense of our own integrity, our faith should still be evident in all areas of life, including our work, appearance, manner of living, and the laws we support or resist. St. Augustine had it right:
“Those who are citizens of God’s kingdom are best equipped to be citizens of the kingdom of man.” (Jeffrey Myers, “Why We Need to Vote as Christians”)
Yet many biblical truths are not legally enforced, nor should they be. It’s not illegal to not be a Christian, for example, though Jesus clearly taught we must be born again. Selfishness is a sin, yet few of us want to see it punished by law. So not everything commended or condemned in scripture becomes a legal issue, leading to a relevant question: how do we decide which values to legislate?
Common sense and Scripture both point us toward Thomas Aquinas’s concept of the Common Good, which he described as “things protecting life, preserving the state, and promoting the peace.” (“Thomas Aquinas, Natural Law and the Common Good) Behaviors that don’t violate the common good are moral matters best left to conscience rather than law; matters that verifiably enhance or detract from the common good become legal matters. Sure, the interpretation of common good will fluctuate, sometimes imperfectly, but the concept still provides useful guidance to believers. By this definition of common good, same-sex marriage seems a matter that does, in fact, warrant concern and responsible action from believers.
If two consenting adults engage in homosexuality, it can be argued they’re not impeding the common good, the same being true of an adult man and woman engaged in sex before marriage. Paul’s remarks regarding immorality among unbelievers applies: “For what have I to do with judging outsiders? God judges those outside” (1 Cor. 5:12–13). Likewise, if same-sex couples make contractual arrangements regarding inheritance, hospital visitation, and property, few would object. I certainly wouldn’t.
But redefining marriage to include same-sex coupling raises questions of societal stability and the welfare of children, both of which speak directly to the common good. And if both are affected negatively by this proposed redefinition, then Christian resistance is called for.
Research indicates that monogamy literally stabilizes cultural life, and that heterosexual couples are far more likely to remain monogamous than homosexual ones. (For example, see “Refuting Points No One Is making” by Glenn T. Stanton and Kjerstein Oligney and Getting it Straight: What Research Shows About Homosexuality by Peter Sprigg and Timothy Dailey 2004 Family Research Council 96-120) Likewise, studies show children raised in a two-parent home by their biological mother and father fare better socially, academically, and emotionally than those raised in alternative arrangements. (Judith Wallerstein and Sandra Blakeslee, Second Chances: Men Women and Children a Decade After Divorce (New York: Ticknor and Fields, 1989)
If research consistently shows that children function best when raised by their two biological parents, and that monogamy is more likely among heterosexual than homosexual couples, and if both child welfare and cultural stability impact common good, then a redefinition of marriage warrants our response. That response may or may not be received; indeed, it can be vilified, and so can we when we give it. None of which should keep us from expressing a godly view of what He Himself has called good, and an objection to that good thing’s redefinition.
People can of course compare a seriously unhealthy heterosexual marriage—one featuring drug addiction, for example, or violence—to a relatively healthy same-sex relationship, and easily conclude that a child will fare better under the care of a stable homosexual couple than with an unstable heterosexual one. But pitting the worst-case scenario of one against the best-case scenario of the other hardly proves the point. One could also argue that a child is better off with a healthy single mother than with an abusive couple, but we’d still conclude that a two-parent home is still desirable as a standard.
Granted, some resist any advance in gay rights because of unwarranted prejudice against homosexuals rather than fact-based conviction. But it’s unfair and inaccurate to assume all who object to gay marriage do so out of blind prejudice, when, in fact, they’re simply basing their position on the reasonable premise that all citizens benefit when the traditional definition and function of the family stays intact. And to those who object that gay marriage confers a basic right on a minority at no expense to the majority, Dr. Judith Wallerstein’s comments on the divorce experiment are apt:
“We can learn a great deal by comparing these early days of the same-sex family experiment with the early days of a previous and national experiment with the family. We made radical changes in the family without realizing how it changes the experience of growing up. We embarked on a gigantic social experiment without any idea about how the next generation would be affected.” (Judith Wallerstein and Sandra Blakeslee, Second Chances: Men Women and Children a Decade After Divorce (New York: Ticknor and Fields, 1989)
(Part III: “Is Change an Indicator of Progress?” will post next Friday July 13)
Check Out the Entire Series, “The Gay Marriage Debate: Winning, Losing or Dropping Out?”