This is the fifth installment of a six-part series, a first for Church and Culture, on what is arguably the most pressing and divisive moral issue which faces our culture. Rather than follow our normal Monday/Thursday postings, these will be posted every day for six straight days.
A few housekeeping matters:
*Feel free to engage each post individually, but please realize it’s a six-part series.
*As always, keep all comments civil. Anything lacking in civility will be removed.
*Though a six-part series, I am under no illusions that this is a comprehensive treatment of such a very complex subject.
*If you are just joining this conversation, you would be well-served to read the other blogs.
The most divisive and contentious issue of our day is no longer abortion; it is gay marriage.
According to the Bible, a homosexual union is in direct contradiction to God's original design in creation. So even if you do have a loving, monogamous relationship with someone of the same sex, it's still a violation of God's design for that relationship to be between a man and a woman in the context of marriage.
But some would say that regardless of where you might stand morally, that gay marriage should be endorsed as a fundamental civil right. Even further, that any pledge of love and commitment between two people can only be a positive move, even if you do not support the lifestyle.
Barney Frank, a gay congressman, once said, “I don’t understand how it hurts anybody else if two people want to be legally...responsible for each other.”
But as many have pointed out, that misses the point. Consider the reflections of David Coolidge of the Institute on Religion and Public Life who observes that there are two world views at hand.
The first can be called the “Complementarity” model. This assumes that the universe was created with an objective moral order, and that the two sexes are part of that order, and that marriage is the fundamental social institution by which we unite our lives in family and kinship relationships.
This is a model that is virtually universal in traditional societies.
What is being proposed, Coolidge argues, is the “Choice” model.
This worldview assumes that the individuals create their own truths and their own values. Sexuality has no intrinsic purpose – it’s just an opportunity for pleasure, intimacy. Family structure is as pliable as Play-Doh, and any form is acceptable.
Under this view, the right to marry is no more than the right to participate in state-defined benefits.
The choice between the two views is clear, and so is the impact on our world. If we go with the Choice model, then we are saying there is no objective moral order, and marriage is no more than a human invention - ours to change, redefine, even to discard.
In other words, the legalization of homosexual marriage will quickly erode any sense of the traditional family in our culture. The words “husband” and “wife” and “mother” and “father” would quickly lose their meaning. God’s roles, rooted in creation itself, would be abandoned. In fact, the State Department recently announced that the words “mother” and “father” are being removed from U.S. Passport applications and replaced with gender neutral terminology.
Further, it will open the floodgates to increased redefinitions.
Already there are lawsuits wanting to build off of the idea of gay marriage to justify polygamy and many other alternatives to one-man/one-woman unions.
This isn’t about civil rights, which is something that I am quite passionate about. Civil rights refer to the struggle to overcome discrimination based on unchangeable physical characteristics, such as skin color or ethnic heritage. This is why linking gay marriage and interracial marriage is an insult to those who have fought so hard for civil rights. Being black or white, Hispanic or Asian is not like pursuing a homosexual lifestyle.
And it’s not simply about a loving commitment.
There are countless ways to be lovingly committed outside of marriage, and outside of a homosexual relationship. Marriage is defined by God, and it is not open for reinterpretation on the basis of our sexual desires.
This is the dominant view among Christians, including Roman Catholics and evangelical Protestants. It is also the view of Muslim, Mormon, and Orthodox Jewish leaders.
Yes, same-sex marriage is now legal in six states. Last February the Attorney General announced that the Justice Department would no longer defend the full constitutionality of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act. Specifically, section 3, which says that in interpreting federal law, “the word ‘marriage’ means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife.”
All the more reason to stand firm on biblical truth.
And yes, as Christians, to vote our conscience on the matter. It is our right, and our responsibility. This is not about condemning potential civil unions, or denying the most basic of protections and benefits to employees. It is not about wanting to criminalize homosexuality so that it results in punishment or imprisonment.
It’s about standing for the nature of marriage as established by God.
After all, Jesus called us to be the salt of the earth.
In Jesus' day, salt was one of the most useful and important elements you could possess, but not for the purpose of adding flavor to food. The main use of salt was as a preservative to keep food from rotting. Without refrigerators or freezers, canned goods or packaging, salt was used to keep food from spoiling. If you had a piece of meat that you couldn’t eat right away, you would take some salt and rub it into the meat, which would prevent the meat from going bad. This makes Jesus’ metaphor a powerful one. As John Stott writes,
The notion is not that the world is tasteless and that Christians can make it less insipid...but that it is putrefying. It cannot stop itself from going bad. Only salt introduced from outside can do this. The church...is set in the world...as salt to arrest – or at least to hinder – the process of social decay...God intends the most powerful of all restraints within sinful society to be his own redeemed, regenerate and righteous people.
Stott continues by noting the obvious – namely, that this influence is conditional. Meaning that for salt to be effective, it must retain its ‘salt-ness.’ “For effectiveness the Christian must retain his Christlikeness, as salt must retain its salt-ness,” Stott observes. “The influence of Christians in and on society depends on their being distinct, not identical.”
Even further, this difference must be applied to what is, in fact, decaying. Unless the salt penetrates the culture, the decay cannot be arrested.
So yes, Christians should stand for biblical truth.
Even when it comes to gay marriage. Perhaps particularly so.
As Timothy George has observed,
“At stake in the debate is the very nature of marriage itself. Thinking biblically does not allow us to regard marriage as merely prudential or preferential (I like strawberry, you like pistachio), but as a covenantal union of one man and one woman established by God for a purpose that transcends itself. Marriage is not a "right" to be defended or exploited but rather a union of one man and one woman offering their lives to one another in service to the human community.”
Sounds like a good use of salt to me.
James Emery White
Homosexuality, Part 6: Going Forward
On Coolidge’s views, see article in Crisis magazine, as cited by Charles Colson, Christianity Today, October 28, 1996 “Why Not Gay Marriage?”
“High court could make gay marriage a 2012 issue”, Tom Curry. Read online.
“A Tipping Point for Gay Marriage?,” Los Angeles Times. Read online.
Stott, John R. W. Christian Counter Culture (InterVarsity Press).
Timothy George’s comments in “What is the Gospel Response to the Prop. 8 Decision?”, Christianity Today. Read online.
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About Dr. James Emery White
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina; President of Serious Times, a ministry which explores the intersection of faith and culture (www.serioustimes.org); and ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture on the Charlotte campus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Dr. White holds the B.S., M.Div. and Ph.D. degrees, along with additional work at Vanderbilt University and Oxford University. He is the author of over a dozen books.
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