A Deeper Notion of Marriage

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What is supposed to be so harmful about gay marriage? What turns out to be the main reason Christians should want to safeguard the term 'marriage' has to do with the biblical concept of marriage, and it's something almost no one I've been reading on the topic mentions. It's no wonder that Andrew Sullivan can't find any argument for why Christians are so opposed to gay marriage. The main biblical reason never shows up on his radar.

Note: Because I had originally posted the extended entry as its own self-contained file, some of the main entry above gets repeated in what follows.

What is supposed to be so harmful about gay marriage? Will it lead to more immorality in other areas? Will it make gay people more immoral than they already are? Will it lead to immorality among children? Will it lead to a greater likelihood of the children of gay couples turning out gay? Advocates of gay marriage have trouble understanding how legalizing marriage between two people of the same sex would do any of these things. If it did any of them, then it wouldn't be a significant enough difference to justify the discriminatory practice of allowing men to marry women but not women to marry women and allowing women to marry men but not allowing men to marry men. (They also happen to think there's nothing wrong with being gay, having gay relationships, or having gay sex, which affects their evaluation of some of these supposed consequences anyway.)

I won't quibble with the details of these arguments. If there's anything to these, I don't think it's worth spending the time debating them. It shouldn't be the primary issue for Christians. What turns out to be the main reason Christians should want to safeguard the term 'marriage' has to do with the biblical concept of marriage, and it's something almost no one I've been reading on the topic mentions. It's no wonder that Andrew Sullivan can't find any argument for why Christians are so opposed to gay marriage. The main biblical reason never shows up on his radar.

The real reason is something a secularist wouldn't agree with. I'm not offering an argument for this view. What I'm giving is an explanation for what it is Christians want to protect when they say these things and why Christians see this as a good thing. The primary reason has to do with God's intent in creation. As Christians see it, God created male and female to complement each other and to demonstrate some deeper spiritual truths. When God has created humans on the sixth day, Genesis says that God created humanity, both male and female, in his image. It's possible to read that as each fully in God's image, and maybe that's one level of what's going on, but what seems to be going on (especially given what follows in the second creation account with its greater specificity of the completion of creation with both male and female in existence) is that God's image in humanity consists of both male and female somehow.

What does this amount to? One element is that a married couple reflects Christ and the church. Paul calls this a mystery in Ephesians 5, something not fully revealed in Genesis but now known through Christ. A husband is to reflect Christ's self-sacrificing servant model of leadership, giving himself for his wife as Christ gave himself for the church (see Philippians 4 for how serious a charge this is: Christ, in very nature God, gave up any right to be treated equal with God but became a man and allowed his rebellious creation to kill him). A wife is to reflect the church's willing submission to the servant leadership of Christ seeking its best interests by doing likewise with her husband. When both do this, it's an amazing picture of Christ and the church. This is part of how God created us as male and female.

Another element is the reflection of the relationship between Father and Son within the Trinity. Paul in I Corinthians 11 gives an analogy between a husband's headship of his wife, Christ's headship of every man, and God's headship of Christ. The first two follow from the Ephesians passage, but the third one really adds something. The male-female relationship is somehow modeled on the relationship between the Father and the Son. It reflects the unity and multiplicity of God, an incredible reality. The sex differences of two becoming one is written into the design of male and female. [One caveat with this point is that it doesn't put male and female on different levels. Clear statements in scripture put the Father and Son on different levels, and every statement of Christ's submission is that it's voluntary and not compelled. Christ's final submission to God at the end of all things (I Corinthians 15:27-28) reveals that he can be equal with God and yet exist in a hierarchical role. Role differences don't mean difference in level of equality before God, because God has such role distinctions within his own triune self.] The point is that marriage is the gender diversity God created coming together in one, uniting spiritually in serving God together, uniting physically in sexual knowing of each other, and (ideally) two-becoming-one genetically through producing offspring.

A third biblical element of marriage not captured in the secular notion assumed by gay marriage advocates is that it's assumed to be until death. The only exception in the scriptures is unfaithfulness, and I'm fairly confident that that's a concession to those whose spouse refuses to repent and basically abandons the family. The most common cases of unfaithfulness aren't like this, and so Hillary Clinton's commitment to her husband is the biblical way. The recent Britney Spears incident shows how far we've strayed from this idea in our popular concept of what marriage is.

So what should a Christian say about the recent political events? One thing that's clear is that a Christian shouldn't expect someone who doesn't believe all this to agree that marriage is defined in terms of these features. Since the United States government is a secular government, as it has always been, it should not be expected to build all this into the definition of marriage. (To those who think this was ever a Christian nation, I should remind you that George Washington went to his grave denying the resurrection of Christ, Thomas Jefferson edited his Bible to leave out what he didn't like, and Ben Franklin rejected Christian morality in favor of secularized ethics. It's true that Christians principles guided the founders, but that doesn't mean it was ever a Christian nation, which is an oxymoron to begin with given the biblical command for believers to be in the world but not of it.) Then why am I writing all this? I want those in support of gay rights in the area of marriage to understand what the theological principles are that so move Christians to be against allowing the term 'marriage' to apply to a same-sex couple. It need have nothing to do with thinking gay marriage will harm children. It need have nothing to do with denying gay couples health care benefits. It certainly doesn't need to stem from any desires of ill will toward gay people.

Yet it does explain the Christian's desire to retain a definition of marriage like that in the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act. This concept of marriage is important for Christian theology, and if the ordinary usage of the term 'marriage' gets any further from the Christian concept of marriage I wonder if we would have to coin a new term for that concept. It's already far enough from it that it's difficult to make any of the points I've made without this lengthy an exposition. Perhaps we need to continue in the direction of the notion of covenant marriage that a few southern states have made as legal options (basically a marriage with no legal option for no-fault divorce). But then if we start to dissociate a religious notion of marriage from the secular unions like many marriages today, why should we prevent gay couples from this secular union? It's true that Christians will still see homosexual sex and homosexual relationships as morally wrong and as violating God's plan for sex and relationships. Does that mean Christians who want to separate marriage as a holy union should oppose gay unions as a legal option even if they're secular? Just because you have theological reasons to oppose someone's actions doesn't mean you should make that behavior illegal, or we would have to advocate laws against lust, coveting in general, adultery, greed, malice, and all sorts of other things that no Christian really wants to make illegal.

At this point I'm just having a hard time figuring out why these secular unions, currently being called civil unions, should be so vehemently opposed by Christians. It doesn't serve the gospel, since it demonstrates a desire to make side issues central rather than focusing on the gospel first. It even hurts the gospel by showing that Christians like to fume about everyone else's sins rather than calling everyone to resist the sins that so tempt us all. Public repentance and acknowledgment of imperfection is far preferable to ranting about other people's particular sins, which just sounds like self-righteousness and is justly condemned by Jesus in Matthew 23. I call Christians to stop the venomous rhetoric and examine yourselves. Are you ready to criticize America for its role in furthering the sins that you yourself fall prey to? Are you ready to acknowledge that God's wrath against the United States will come just as much from the secular values the church has bought into, including those loud-mouthed critics of homosexuality? Are you ready to acknowledge that God may well intend to bring gay people in large numbers to salvation in Christ but not until Christians reach out to them in love rather than having to point out their sins all the time instead of just focusing on the general state of sin that's true of us all apart from Christ? To do that, it may take a good deal more listening, a lot more welcoming, and a lot less pursuit of legal goals that prevent gay couples from caring for those close to them and therefore offending them with issues not central to the basic gospel message.

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Perhaps civil unions will actually strengthen marriage.

From a secular standpoint, it would appear that many marriages are really in effect civil unions. In order to be married, there are currently no requirements that the involved parties agree to follow the requirements outlined in the bible. Over the past 40 years there have been many attacks on "traditional marriage" with one of the earliest examples being in California with Ronald Reagan's support of no-fault divorce laws.

It would appear that as a country, we have been secularizing marriage and moving to recognize it from a legal status only. This is just another step toward equal protection under the law. Perhaps all relationships under the law that are now known as marriage, should instead be civil unions or the like.

At this point Christians (and other religions) could reclaim marriage. When you say "I'm married," it would carry with it a weight that it doesn't have to it now. You would be proclaiming to the whole world that "I take it seriously" from not only a secular standpoint, but also from a religious one as well.

I can understand how frightening that this could be to more conservative Christians because of the fear (justifiably so in their case) of a possible future verbal equivalency of civil unions to that of marriage. A gay couple that says "I'm married." If Christians can be half as successful in co-opting the english language to influence popular culture in the same way that gay activists have in the past, they'll be able to be successfull in re-redefining marriage. Just look at the word "queer." It went from being a derrogatory put-down against gays until they began using it themselves. They took command of the word, and now it's actually went from a negative to a neutral descriptive word, and finally in some still rare cases, a positive word. "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" comes to mind.

I believe that we all can learn from each other, even if we don't agree with each others. To me, open-mindedness and integrity aren't mutually exclusive. It is not saying "I agree to blow whichever way the wind does," but saying that "I can learn from everybody to further justify my position"

Just some thoughts.

Yes, I've expressed similar thoughts in other posts, but you seem to be coming from the opposite direction with the same idea. I was thinking that marriage had been devalued, and therefore Christians might as well apply the neutered term to gay unions because it doesn't in fact have any connotations beyond that anymore. I wasn't advocating this, but I was lamenting that it wouldn't do any further damage. People have talked about how homosexual marriage would undermine marriage, which just doesn't make sense anymore. The causal direction is the other way. Marriage has been undermined by a general trend in society, and that trend has led to proposals for gay marriage.

What Christians need to do is to teach what biblical marriage is, and if a secular government allows 'marriage' to be applied to gay unions, then that's harder without a new word to call traditional marriage, but it's not impossible. It would be easier if the civil union route ends up solidifying, because then 'marriage' at least has that last aspect of being between a man and a woman, though it still misses most of what's essential to marriage.

What you're proposing is to get rid of any legal recognition of marriage and to reserve that term only for those who attach it to themselves specifically for religious reasons (or something like that). Then it would actually mean something again to be married. This would mean Christians conceding civil unions to the government to allow them to allow gay couples to enter into them, which most evangelicals refuse to do but I think will actually help. The only problem will be that some churches will end up marrying gay couples anyway. The only reason they don't now is because it's illegal. That's why I haven't enthusiastically supported this proposal, because its intent is to separate marriage as a religious matter between men and women but to allow gay couples to have legal unions. I would expect it to do far more of the latter but far less of the former, in the long run anyway.

You make some good point here. However, it seems to me that there are reasons for opposing gay marriage that are that go beyond just protecting a Christian definition. It seems to me that the main reason that gay activists are pushing for this is really related to its symbolic value. If they get the right to marry same sex partners, then they will have succeeded in getting the government (and society - implictly) to declare that homosexuality is normal. Not only that, they will also have the force of law behind coercing Christians into treating it as though it were normal. And given how gay activists have acted, this will follow on hard and heavy. The question is, how will this impact the freedom of Christians to express their beliefs?

Anyway, good post. I gave an additional theological view on this that you might want to look at here.

Ok. Here are some thoughts that have come to mind, as I read your blogs here and there. These are going to be a little random. And also, I havent read the responses yet, so some of what I might write might be redundant. I'll do that soon enough.

Why oppose same-sex marraige(SSM) if it is a secular thing and something that stands in contradistinction to and apart from religious heterosexual marraige ?

1. The Formation of Evil Structures:

Well, even if SSM were a completely secular thing, it should still be opposed because Scriptures teach that we ought to be opposed to formation of evil structures - religious or secular, "which are designed from the outset to do evil". (I'm getting some help from Bruce Ware here.)

Two passages to look at are: Psalm 94:20-23 or Isaiah 10:1-4

2. The Nature of the Law :

Law's develop in the following manner: Law B builds on Law A, and Law C builds on Law B and so on and so forth. Hence, we see lawyers in the courtroom, arguing "Your honor, according to Hartung vs. Saufley in 1979 ..." Hartung vs. Saufley becomes a precedent for the next law to be enacted.

If a SSM law were to be enacted, what would be the consequences ??? What other and futher law could be built atop the SSM law ?

Thought trajectory: I think it will lead to hate crime legislation being enacted against those who speak against homosexual behavior.

--- I know one of your response to this has been "Well. Abortion has been law since 67' and no one speaking against it are jailed."

Its not the same thing. I will get back to you later on this however.

Finally a question on your comment that:
"It doesn�t serve the gospel, since it demonstrates a desire to make side issues central rather than focusing on the gospel first."

What would be an example of an issue that is not a side issue, that christians ought to spend more time on and that would involve focusing on the Gospel first ?

If the only kind of opposition you have in mind is to express disapproval (and not to do so incessantly and at a higher rate with respect to other things you disapprove of than the Bible does with respect to those other things), then I don't have any problem with opposing it.

Every political issue is a side issue when it comes to the gospel. That's part of what I've been arguing. Politics is something Christians can speak to. I don't have a problem with Christians teaching what the Bible says to those who care to listen to what the Bible says. I don't have problems with Christians giving reasons for views that Christians happen to hold, as long as they're good reasons. Giving the kind of shoddy reasoning common in this discussion and others (cloning comes to mind) is a good way to make Christians look stupid. I don't mind Christians using their own views as the basis of their vote, whether as a citizen or as a member of Congress.

What annoys me the most here is that it isn't people who have made any effort to make themselves available to be in the lives of people who are gay to show them love who are saying these things. It's people whose only public contact with gay people is the message that is heard as seeing gay people as lesser beings. I'm not going to join up with such a movement, because it's not a Christian movement. Treating any political issue as if it's urgent for every Christian to insist that people who disagree change their mind when we haven't placed the same priority on the gospel does a disservice to the gospel. Did the early church form public protests to forbid any of the things they taught each other not to do? Any Christian in a position in government has an obligation to rule justly, but I just don't see the church's place in making public statements about anything other than the gospel itself.

One problem I have is when people start talking as if this one amendment is what stands between a good society and an evil one, as if there's a combat situation between Christians and anyone who opposes it, as if it's even morally ok to wait until the last step away from a biblical notion of marriage is about to be taken and then to complain that people are just now about to do something that will move from a 100% biblical view of marriage to one that has nothing left of the biblical notion.

On the slippery slope issue, I have a principled resistance to all such arguments. I don't ever think it's a good idea to give in to sloppy thinking and those who won't carefully draw the proper distinctions. That's what slippery slope arguments do, though. They say that it may well be that there's nothing wrong with A, but A may lead people to do B, and B may lead people to do C, where C is something we do think there's something wrong with. If there's really nothing wrong with A, then that shouldn't stop us from doing A and then arguing that A doesn't justify C. If there is something wrong with A, then we shouldn't use a slippery slope argument as if A is ok.

The real problem here is that marraige is the one institution that eliminates the lines between church and state. Marraige is both a civil contract and a religious covenant, although it really should be one or the other. Either it is a civil contract, and therefore should be a right extended to all Americans, regardless of gender, or it is a religious covenant, in which case the government has no right to interfere. By banning gay marraige, the government is effectively imposing a state religion on the American public. There are those religions that do not oppose gay marraige, but their rights are also being infringed by the proposed ban. We really need to get the White House out of people's bedrooms, and reinstate the separation of church and state.

I agree with your main argument in many ways. It really seems to be repeating things I've already said. I do take issue with the last couple sentences, though. I don't see how a religion's rights are at all infringed by a ban on all civil recognition of marriage, and therefore it's not an infringement of a religion's rights not to recognize a smaller set of religious marriages. The government gives privileges to people who enter into what it classifies as marriage, but that doesn't stop any religion from calling whatever it wants marriage.

I don't think the government is imposing any religion on anyone either. What it's doing is not giving any man the rights unmarried women have to call a union between him and another man a government-recognized marriage, and it's not giving any woman the rights unmarried men have to enter into civil marriage with a woman. I didn't see anything religious in that statement, and I've seen lots of arguments (that I disagree with) arguing for doing that that have nothing to do with religion. It is not imposing religion at all. It's imposing a view about what the government should do and it's being done through the most democratic manner possible.

As for the White House, I haven't seen anything coming from the Bush Administration that affects in any way at all what anyone does in their bedroom unless that act is already illegal, e.g. rape. What people do in their bedrooms is, in terms of the laws of the United States and any proposed policy supported by Bush, completely unrelated to the issue of marriage.

As for separation of church and state, remember that the Constitution doesn't say anything about that. What it says is that the government can't have any laws setting up a state religion, and no one in the mainstream of American politics has done that or advocated it, and it says that the government can't infringe on any religion, and no one has done that on this issue (though it's at least debatable that the ACLU has been advocating that for many years with other issues, and state universities have done it with religious groups on campus).

I agree with your conclusion that marriage should be a religious matter and civil unions be a legal matter. I've had enough of society's corruption of marriage through seeing it as a mere legal agreement that can be broken on a whim. The gay marriage issue would be so much less important if we did that, but I know it's not going to happen any time soon.

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