Same-sex marriage makes perfect sense—if you buy North American culture's take on sex and marriage. More than four decades after the introduction of the Pill, hardly anyone now getting married remembers the time when pleasure, procreation, passion, companionship, and parenthood were all intimately knotted into a bundle called marriage. Without those connections, marriage has become an arena for mere self-fulfillment and sexual expression. Even the Ontario Court, in its June 10 affirmation of same-sex marriage, could describe marriage as only an expression of love and commitment. If that is all there is to marriage, why not grant the same legal benefits to committed same-sex couples as to married heterosexuals?
There is, however, an alternative view, rooted in the Bible, in history, in tradition, and in nature. And those of us who see marriage through those lenses can only think of "same-sex marriage" as we think of "fat-free sour cream"—a triumph of the modern, technologically blunted imagination.
The modern spirit has often been devoted to overcoming nature with technology. This has been a blessing when it has nearly wiped out some life-threatening diseases. Unfortunately, it has also synthesized inferior substitutes for real things, ranging from the invention of calorie-free sweeteners to the recent creation of embryos that were genetically both male and female.
That same modernist spirit is at work in the juggernaut that seems bent on normalizing same-sex marriage in North America. May God bless the resistance: First, Matt Daniels and the Alliance for Marriage for promoting the Federal Marriage Amendment. Second, Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R.-Colo.) and her 75 colleagues cosponsoring the Amendment in Congress. And third, commentators like Cal Thomas and Mona Charen for exposing the diabolical logic of the Supreme Court's recent Lawrence v. Texas decision. And Maggie Gallagher for elucidating the cultural consequence of legalizing same-sex marriage.
A Laboratory for Marriage
Still, the local church has a key role in recreating a biblical understanding of marriage in our society.
First, we must admit that the church's current record is dismal. Divorce statistics inside the church are indistinguishable from those outside.
Second, we need to repent for allowing the Zeitgeist of expressive individualism to permeate the way many of our churches relate to marriage, divorce, and remarriage.
Third, we need to restore the community context of marriage. A married couple is more than the sum of its parts. It is a thread in a community fabric. Societies are built out of people who are loyal to one another and who work and sacrifice for the common good. Expressive individualism is a poor foundation for a society, and marriages so conceived do not build loyalties or give us practice in sacrificial service. Marriages and families are schools for service.
Fourth, we need to recover the sense of human limitation inherent in marriage and family life. This is the beautiful biblical picture: a two-gendered, complementary couple improving on and channeling nature, but neither conquering it nor twisting it.
Modernism is about conquering nature, but marriage is about living with nature. Illness and irritating habits, economic reverses and recalcitrant children—these things give us practice in living with limits. Sing Me to Heaven is Margaret Kim Peterson's affecting memoir of building a marriage in the face of limitations. Knowing that her husband had a terminal illness from the beginning helped her to realize that marriage is not choosing a future; it is choosing a partner with whom to face the future. And to varying degrees, that always involves living with limits as "helpers suitable for each other."
Fifth, churches must help their members recover the link between marriage and procreation. In the 1970s, the evangelical subculture rightly affirmed the delights of marital sex through popular books like The Total Woman and Intended for Pleasure. ("Fundies in their undies!" joked church historian Martin Marty in response.) Unfortunately, even in the church, the procreative dimension of sex has been sidelined by economic pressures, cultural ideals, and technological fixes. Churches need to celebrate the fact that every marriage is procreative by design.
Sixth, churches must continue to help their members learn the practical skills associated with all of the challenges of married life. There is really no lack of resources: magazines like CT's sister publication Marriage Partnership, organizations like Marriage Savers and Marriage Encounter, cautionary studies like Judith Wallerstein's The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce, and inspirations like Mike Mason's classic Mystery of Marriage. While resources abound, focus is needed. The restoration of Christian marriage should be at the top of our congregational agendas.
A favorite anthem of early '70s counterculture was Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi." In a familiar refrain, she mourned the passing of unspoiled nature: "Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got till it's gone? They paved paradise and put up a parking lot."
When the states passed a rash of no-fault divorce laws in the '60s and '70s, few anticipated the disastrous impact on the economic and psychological well-being of women and children. When same-sex marriage is legalized, the unanticipated cultural impact and personal costs may likewise be enormous.
The truth about marriage is embedded in nature, and nature has a way of reasserting itself. Inevitably, the Big Yellow Taxi factor will come into play: People will long for what once was. The challenge to the church is to be a countercultural outpost, modeling marriage as it should be for the world. Those with an impoverished understanding of marriage will be able to grasp it only when they see the real thing.
It's time to start the revolution.
Copyright © 2003 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
In June, Christianity Today rounded up evangelical opinions on the Lawrence v. Texas decision and asked, "Does Lawrence v. Texas Signal the End of the American Family?"
In reaction to the case, Cal Thomas wrote, "Supreme Court ignores history, relies on whims of culture in sodomy ruling" and Mona Charen argued that "the Supreme Court makes a very poor legislature." In The Weekly Standard, Maggie Gallagher wrote about "What Marriage Is For."
Books mentioned in the editorial, including Sing Me to Heaven, Intended for Pleasure, The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce, and The Mystery of Marriage, are available at Chrisitanbook.com and other retailers.
Online you can read articles from Christianity Today sister publication Marriage Partnership.
Christianity Today articles on the Federal Marriage Amendment include:
The Marriage Battle Begins | Profamily and gay activists agree: Texas decision sets significant precedent. (August 11, 2003)
Ken Connor Resigns from Family Research Council | Former trial lawyer now considering Senate bid favors judicial strategy over Federal Marriage Amendment. (June 30, 2003)
Marriage in the Dock | Massachusetts case on gay marriage could set off chain reaction. (April 25, 2003)
Christian Conservatives Split on Federal Marriage Amendment | Law would protect marriage from courts, but legislatures could still extend marital benefits to same-sex unions. (June 20, 2002)
Defining Marriage | Conservatives advocate amendment to preserve traditional matrimony (October 1, 2001)
Other recent articles about same-sex marriage include:
Dispatch: Gay Rites Would Not Bless Ecumenism | Could also impair Anglican work overseas.
Canada Backs Gay Marriages | Conservatives say decision could put pressure on dissenting churches. (July 16, 2003)
Anglican Communion Frays | Bishops worldwide chastise Canadian bishop who approved gay unions. (July 9, 2003)
Why I Walked | Sometimes loving a denomination requires you to fight. (Jan. 3, 2003)
Mortified in Vancouver | A church's actions can be in conflict with its professed faith only so long before faithful Christians wonder how much hypocrisy they can stand. (July 30, 2002)
Anglican Diocese Endorses Same-Sex Unions | Traditionalists walk out, issue global call for outside intervention. (August 5, 2002)
Vancouver Anglicans Approve Same-Sex Unions | Conservatives walk out after synod vote to bless gay couples. (June 17, 2002)
Church Federation in the Netherlands Closes in on Blessing Same-Sex Unions | Three months after country recognized gay matrimony, proposal suggests distinguishing between "life unions" and marriage. (July 19, 2001)
For more CT articles on marriage, see our Sexuality and Gender archive.
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