When the citizens of California voted in favor of Proposition 8 it was only a matter of time before this would be overturned. At that time I told many people that I think it is a waste of our time to fight over this issue as Christians. As much as many Christians do not want to hear this it seems to me that this is a fight that the traditionalist will not win. In my opinion it is not even something with which we should waste our time. Why use aggression when we can use subversion?
Why do we waste thousands upon millions of dollars trying to preserve something that we are going to see disappear if not in this generation for sure by the next one? The church has not been called to save society. We are to be an alternative society. If the state allows abortion this does not change whether or not we as Christians should accept it as moral. I think the same should be said about same-gender marriages.
In Europe there is a distinction between religious and civil weddings. Many pastors in the United States want to preserve their role as ambassadors of the state in the act of marriage. This is not useful. As I told so many several months ago we should resolve to live as the church rather than trying to make the state the church.
As a Christian I see nothing wrong with going to the courthouse or city hall to do a civil ceremony prior to going to the church for a ceremony/sacrament before God and the people of God. The civil is for the benefits given by our nation to married people. The religious is for the commitment vowed between a man and his wife, God, and fellow believers.
I am glad to see that there are many who think this way including D.A. Carson! In a recent article on The Gospel Coalition Blog four pastors were asked by Collin Hanson whether or not we should begin considering separating Christian and civil weddings. Three said that this is likely the way to go; one said we cannot separate Christian and civil weddings. I agree with the three against the one.
As I understand it the judge ruled that churches do not have to honor civil marriages. Even if the day comes when this is about to change all we have to do is continue to perform marriages like communion or our worship gatherings. We do not have to submit these ceremonies to state authority. We do not have to let culture define things for us. We do not have to waste our time fighting an endless war. We have only been called to be the people of God. We have not been called to ask all of society to behave like we are to behave.
On a final note, we as Christians have a lot problems that need to be addressed as relates to marriage that we should give our attention toward. For one, our own high rate of divorce and infidelity. It is my opinion that if this changed it would be more of a witness to an unbelieving world that if we marched out of a court house with a judge ruling in our favor.
Thanks Brian, I look forward to reading through the TGC and Carson articles. As you can imagine this topic comes up quite often in the very Republican Republic of Texas, glad to hear other voices on the issue.
I couldn’t agree more.
I made an off-hand comment yesterday about marriage being a role of the state, not the church and was jumped by a reader (who I went to seminary with) because he interpreted my comment to mean that the church has nothing to say about marriage.
Jon: You’re welcome. I will clarify that Carson talks about the principle of civil and ecclesiastical issues in the context of divorce but Hanson noted that he has long been an advocate to distinguishing the two. Enjoy the articles!
Craig: I was hesitant to write on the subject at all because I know this can be a heated issue for many people. Hopefully it will remain peaceful here!
I completely and wholeheartedly agree! Further, this was the experience of the Orthodox Church under persecution, and the distinction remains in place in many places of the former Soviet bloc, and the world hasn’t come to an end. Of course, faith communities without have a sacramental view of marriage of some sort will have a hard time making sense of why a church ceremony is necessary at all, and much less how it is the real marriage, especially if their experience is riddle with individualisms all of kinds — but I believe even these could successfully make the case that witnessing to a civil union before the Magistrate belongs to the sphere of Caesar, while marriage is only within the church and in the sphere of God.
Maybe this will drive many to rethink the value of marriage as a church ceremony?! We can only hope.
I loved this line; “The church has not been called to save society. We are to be an alternative society.” Great post!
I agree with you that the church has not been called to save society, but I don’t think that means we withdraw from participating in democracy in order to promote justice. The OT is quite clear that God wants justice. In fact, that’s the purpose of government. And in a democracy, you and I are the government. While we cannot save society, we can help make it a just society. Christianity only stands to be hindered if immorality increases. When same-sex marriage is legalized, same-sex relationships become normalized, and it becomes “wrong” to speak out against homosexuality. After all, if society recognizes no distinction between homosex and heterosex, then those who do are the bad guys. We’re already seeing it happen, and it will only get worse as society continues to fall prey to these advances. Should Christians sit by and do nothing while the enemies of God enshrine evil practices into law? Should we do nothing while innocent children are being killed? If one side of the voting block doesn’t participate in the public debate/vote, then the other side will win by default. Christians have a long history of sitting on their hands while the enemies of God take over.
Will same-sex marriage eventually be the law of the land? Probably so. Will abortion continue to be legal for many years to come? Probably so. But neither has to be. Social reform comes slow sometimes, but it’s worth it. Ask Wilberforce.
You characterized the push-back against those who want to legalize same-sex marriage and abortion as “aggression.” I fail to see how. It is simply people participating in democracy. If anything, the aggressors are those who are seeking to change the laws. The traditionalists are simply trying to defend the nation against these immoral advancements.
You wrote, “We have only been called to be the people of God. We have not been called to ask all of society to behave like we are to behave.” I agree to an extent, but where does this end? Even if my neighbor is not a Christian, that doesn’t mean his non-Christian behavior is good for society. And that’s why society has laws. Law is a moral enterprise on its face. Someone’s morality is going to be enshrined into law. For those who believe it’s right for a woman to be able to choose abortion, their morality will be enshrined into law unless those who see otherwise make their voices known. Someone’s morality will be enforced by law, so why not make it God’s? We don’t have to take up swords. We simply have to go to a voting booth and do our civic duty.
Jason: I am not saying we should withdraw from participation. I am saying we ought to be wise. Like Jesus said–wise as serpents and harmless as doves. If we spend hundreds of hours and millions of dollars on this “cause” knowing (1) we will not win and (2) that even if we did “win” we wouldn’t prevent the actual sinful activity in any meaningful way this is not wise. Again, we can do much more in this situation by actually being a community of people who participate in the covenant of marriage as intended.
In addition, we are a “Democracy” but are we really? In California we have twice said we do not want to acknowledge “same-sex marriage” only to have it overthrown. I have seen many Christians come back with heads hung low because of an expensive fight lost. If that energy and money went to the many things the church is actually good at doing we may bring actual change to the world around us.
I will not touch abortion at the moment but I will say that those who are moving toward this new adoption trend will do more in the long run as Christians than those who go to Washington D.C. each year to protest Roe v. Wade. Even if we overturned Roe v. Wade there is no guarantee we stop abortion but if over time we begin adopting we may do two things: (1) bring confidence to mothers-to-be that going through with the pregnancy may be a good thing because the child may have a home and (2) “create” a majority years down the road because so many more children we raised in loving Christian homes acknowledging they are alive because loving Christians adopted. In the same way we are not going to stop homosexuality but we can focus on actually doing this marriage thing as it was intended!
If you don’t think it is “aggression” asked the many burnt out pastors and Christian leaders who found the Prop. 8 rallies defeating. I know of many who said in the end it was not worth it because they were hated for something that had little to do with the core of the gospel and in the meantime no one would listen to the message that they really wanted to proclaim. Again, in this situation being the church is key.
On the flip side I agree to an extent that we need to do our best to help maintain a good society. But this fight is a waste of time. If same-sex couples are allowed to get “married” (so-called) there will not be wars in the streets. We did what we could by going to the voting booth and we are learning that doesn’t mean much. Now it is time to rethink our values.
Let me enter only to say two things –
Great post, Brian.
And, we do not live in a Democracy where the will of the people decide things.
Thank you and I agree.
Wait, so what if “our society” or “the nation” (i.e., the world) changes its standards so much that it becomes “wrong” and illegal to confess God’s truth? Are we really that scared of persecution and martyrdom?
Whose the question directed to? I’m a bit lost!
Great post. Christians are called to follow Christ, not to control the rest of society.
Oh, my apologies! That was in response to Jason’s comment.
I thought so but I wasn’t sure.
pretty much agree with your post brian
I know I’m responding extremely late, but I’ve been extremely busy!
Who says we will not win? I’m not saying we will, but if you admit defeat before the fight, then it is just a self-fulfilling prophecy. If people like Wilberforce could turn back the tide on a millennia-old practice that undergirded society, then surely we could turn back the tide on an issue that has never been the norm in our society.
It doesn’t take marching and necessarily spending lots of money and time. What it will take is the people of God proclaiming, explaining, and persuading others of their viewpoint.
The fight against same-sex marriage is not a fight to stop gay people from having sex, so talk about our inability to “prevent the actual sinful activity” misses the point. Marriage itself has nothing to do with sex in our society. What marriage does do, however, is send a cultural message about what kind of relationships society values. And if we recognize same-sex relationships as “marriage,” we send a message to society that there is no difference between heterosexuality and homosexuality. Both are deserving of society’s respect. Do you not think that will change how people view homosexuality, and how society will come to view those who do not see homosexuality as equal to heterosexuality?
Democracy doesn’t always work, but the fact remains that we are in a democracy (a republican democracy to be precise), and thus our vote counts. If we wanted, we could pass a constitutional amendment to bypass the whims of activist judges.
As for abortion and adoption, this isn’t a dichotomy. I agree, let’s adopt. But that doesn’t mean we do nothing about the fact that more than 1.2 million babies are being killed each year in this country. God is concerned about justice. That is the purpose of government. When our government is being unjust, it is a Christian concern. And in a country where the people are the government, they can do something about it. That doesn’t mean we stop preaching the Gospel and funding missions so that we spend all of our money and time fighting abortion. Again, it’s not an either-or, but a both-and.
I agree that we need to work on doing marriage the right way. That will be a huge improvement for society, and go a long way in our defense of marriage. But again, it’s not an either-or.
As for aggression, you were indicating that the aggression was coming from Christians who are fighting against same-sex marriage, but your comment about Christians at rallies shows my point: the aggression is from the other side against Christians.
Of course we will be hated if we are standing up for righteousness in an unrighteous world. John the Baptist wasn’t exactly liked, and yet he stood up against the unrighteousness of his government. Was taking your brother’s wife the center of his message? No, but he spoke out against it because that is what we are to do as followers of a righteous and just God. My point is that something doesn’t have to be at the core of the Gospel for us to be public and vocal about it. This is just as much our society as it is the non-religious man’s and homosexual man’s society. I’m not saying that we need to make our main message or main goal anti-homosexuality or anti-same-sex marriage. But we need to speak out against it nonetheless, and do what we can to persuade our neighbors, and when possible, affect our laws.
You said it is time to rethink our values. But if our values consist of not being concerned about injustice in the land, then I don’t think our values are Christian. God was highly concerned about governmental injustice in the OT, and I doubt that He has changed His mind over the last 2000 years. As Christians, we should be concerned about what God is concerned about. Lost souls is our first concern, but that doesn’t mean it is our only concern.
Even if we “won” such a fight it is my contention we will loose a whole lot more in the process. If we get pulled into a “Christianity v. Homosexuality” war it is inevitable that we will forget out purpose. This happens almost every time Christians dive into such political battles.
If it is about us continuing to proclaim our view of marriage then I am in agreement with you. I am against rallies and spending tons of money. I am against following the likes of James Dobson. You get the idea.
I do not see any point in worrying about how society thinks about relationships (at least to this degree) without first and foremost proclaiming the gospel of God’s love and grace in Jesus Christ. By fighting this political battle we do no such thing. The goal is not the Kingdom of God but the health of the United States. This is not a worthwhile goal in my opinion.
We are not (at all) in the same position as John the Baptist. We cannot chart this as Israel is a nation = United States is a nation. No, Israel was the people of God and our parallel is the church. We have the right to call the church to repentance on these matters (and we need to if the CoE, Anglican, Lutheran, and Presbyterian branches continue their slide) but I don’t see this as paralleled for our country. When Paul preached in the Roman Empire he did not first and foremost try to change the policies of the empire; he tried to change people. If we change people and this changes our country, fine. But to focus on saving the country is a useless endeavor.
You described homosexuality (and by extension, I presume, same-sex marriage) as a “political” battle. I’m not so sure I agree with your characterization. This is a moral issue that is being debated in the political arena, but it is a moral issue nonetheless, and thus it is a concern of the church. When the church takes a stand on moral issues unbelievers will not like it, but that’s because they are in moral rebellion against God. At best, our public stand against their immorality will simply arouse their hatred for God/the church, not create it.
I am somewhat on board with you regarding rallies. I am not opposed to them per se, but I do not see the value in them. You’ll never find me at a rally. What I do find valuable is being vocal with our neighbors and co-workers about our viewpoint, offering them reasons to adopt our point of view. I also find it valuable to translate our moral convictions into the voting booth when legislation touching on moral convictions are introduced into the political sphere. As I have said before, law is a moral enterprise on its face, and someone’s moral point of view will be legislated, so why shouldn’t it be our moral viewpoint?
Again, I agree that the church’s foremost focus is on proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but that is not our only purpose. It’s not an either-or decision that needs to be made. I also don’t think it’s a kingdom vs. the health of the U.S. issue. It’s an issue about justice in the world. Again, read the OT prophets. God was quite concerned about justice, even among non-believers. And when a nation became too immoral, it was destroyed.
John the Baptist was not speaking as a representative of the nation of Israel. He was speaking as a prophet of God to an unbeliever. So I do find a parallel. As for Paul, I don’t see a parallel per se. Paul was in quite a different situation than we are. Given the form of government in the Roman Empire, Paul could not do anything other than try to change one heart at a time. He could not affect policy. But in America, we are the government. We can affect policy. So I don’t see why we would not want to do so while we are simultaneously preaching the Gospel and trying to save souls.
Over the years we ought to have learned that not all moral issues being debated in the public arena are worth our time. I do not think homosexual marriages will corrupt our society much more than it is already corrupted. When we thought we could stop alcoholism via prohibition that was a great error. If we think we can stop sexual unfaithfulness by fighting to close down stripper joints we are misguided. If we think we are going to save the institute of marriage by fighting an essentially semantic battle it will prove unfruitful, in my opinion.
I think we need to ask two important questions: (1) What do we gain if we win? and (2) What do we lose if we don’t? I don’t think we gain much. As Christians we would gain more by restoring marriage to something we do better than the world. The accountability being amongst the people of God rather than the State which hardly cares if you get divorced. The State cares about marriage because of social contract convenience. We care about marriage because it is how God designed men and women to love, relate, and procreate.
If we lose do we lose that much? I am not sure that we do. I would like to know what you see the major fall out as being for society and the church.
As far as methodology is concerned it seems that we came at it from the same direction. I voted for Prop 8. I have watched the courts once again prove Democracy is a farce. It seems we took the same approach to the matter so I don’t think we disagree at the level of pragmatics.
I agree that not all moral issues are worth our time. I would even say that not all moral issues should/need to be legislated. But I do not think this battle is a waste of our time, nor do I think it is “an essentially semantic battle.” Let me talk about the semantic issue first.
If one supports government recognition of same-sex couples in the form of “civil unions,” then I would agree that the issue of same-sex marriage is largely (but not completely) a semantic battle. After all, if you are going to give them the same legal protections and responsibilities as married couples, why not just call it the same thing! That is not my perspective, however. I argue against any and all legal recognition/oversight of same-sex relationships. The same reasons I oppose same-sex marriage are the same reasons I oppose same-sex civil unions. So those in my camp are not arguing over who gets to use the word marriage to describe their legally recognized relationship, but who should have their relationships legally recognized. And that is no mere semantic difference.
I should also add that in some cases, semantics do matter. A case can be made for reserving the word “marriage” to refer to the union of sexual opposites since those relationships function differently in society than same-sex relationships. How so? The former procreate while the latter do not, and thus the former contribute to the continuation of society while the latter do not. Since there is a material difference, and socially significant difference, between the two types of relationships, calling them by different names is justifiable. To call two things that are not the same by the same name just brings confusion, not clarity.
Now, is this a waste of our time? What do we stand to gain or lose in this cultural/moral/political battle? What would the fallout be if we lost? I think we would feel the effects in two main areas:
#1 It would be the final nail in the coffin to disconnect the concept of procreation from marriage. For the first time in history, the institution of marriage would not be primarily about children, but about affirming adult relationships. Once the marriage-children connection is fully severed, and marriage becomes nothing more than affirming adult relationships, two things will happen. First, it will open the door for all sorts of “progressive” relationships to partake of the institution of marriage. Why? Because a rejection of sexual dimorphism as the basis of marriage leaves no principled basis on which to refuse to extend marriage to other types of relationships such as polyamorous and polygamous relationships. As Robert Gagnon writes, “There is…an obvious logical link between homosexuality…and polyamory. The principle of monogamy, restricting a sexual relationship to two persons at a time, is predicated on the…binary character of the sexes. Because there are essentially two and only two sexes, the presence of a male and female in a sexual relationship is necessary and sufficient for reconstituting a sexual whole, so far as the number of persons in the union is concerned. A third party is neither needed nor desirable. If society repeals a male-female prerequisite, there no longer remains any logical or nature-based reason for society to withhold approval from multiple-partner sexual unions, whether fashioned in the mold of traditional polygyny or in a form characterized by greater egalitarianism and/or bisexuality.” (“Why the Disagreement Over the Biblical Witness of Homosexual Practice?: A Response to Myers and Scazoni, What God Has Joined Together?”, pp. 40-1). If you dismiss the male-female requisite, and put in its place “love” and “commitment,” you destroy the basis for limiting relationships to two partners, and thus open the door to allow any combination of people/things to participate in the institution of marriage.
Secondly, it will reduce the number of people who marry after having children (look at Scandinavian countries), which will increase the number of children raised in single-parent homes since the dissolution rate of cohabitors with children is 3/4, compared to married couples who come in at 1/3 (http://www.smartmarriages.com/cohabit.html). A Norwegian study found that children born to cohabiting parents were 2.5x more likely to see their parents split than the children of married couples. A British study reported that ½ of cohabiting parents will split up by their child’s 5th b-day, compared to 1/12 of married parents (http://www.icna.org/family/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=70&Itemid=4). And the effects of parental separation on children, and hence society, are great. See some of the data I supply at http://www.onenesspentecostal.com/samesexparenting.htm.
#2 It will open the door to discrimination against Christians and others who have moral objections to same-sex marriage.
Look at what has happened in Massachusetts. Massresistance.org has chronicled some of the effects: (1) Adoption agencies must adopt children out to same-sex couples, causing Catholic Charities adoption agency to close their doors; (2) people in the wedding industry must serve same-sex couples if requested; (3) books promoting the acceptability of same-sex couples have been distributed in schools to grade-school children; (4) judges ruled that parents need not be notified when pro-gay material is going to be presented to their children, and they cannot opt their children out of such sessions; (5) justices of the peace cannot decline to perform a same-sex wedding.
I agree that the current state of our legal system is that the State could care less if people divorce. This is a historical anomaly, and undermines the entire reason for government involvement in regulating marriage in the first place. The purpose was to tie families together; to make it difficult for the relationships to dissolve so as to ensure that the children who are brought into the world by the couple are reared by that couple. By making it easy to divorce, the government has turned its regulation of marriage into a farce.
And I wholeheartedly agree that Christians can make a big impact for marriage by doing it better than the world. That’s something we need to focus on, but that does not exclude our work in the area of preserving the meaning of marriage in society at large. Indeed, it won’t be productive in the long run if we build the candle on one end only to let the other end burn through neglect.
Let me say that this is an impressive lists of statistics. If accurate it may affirm that there are some serious sociological challenges associated with same-sex marriage. Of course, statistics are an odd thing as anyone who channel surfs from FOX, to CNN, to MSNBC would know. Since this is not my hobby-horse I must confess that it is unlikely I will chase down the root of this data.
That being said, divorce in and of itself has had terrible consequences on society. I think the church should oppose it, and I think the church should do all we can to prevent it, but I don’t think the courts is the place. Likewise, again, I think the church should not compromise on the issue of same sex marriage but I don’t know that it is our role to fight the battle in the courts.
Where we depart is not at the level you are addressing but a much earlier premise. You feel that the church must fight wrong because it is wrong and use whatever power we have to do so. I say reality it a tad more messy. There are battles that will not further the primary mission of the church if we choose to fight them. For instance, if China invades our shores tomorrow I won’t pick up a gun. Yes, society will be in trouble. Yes, I think the American system is a better social construct that the Communism of China. Nevertheless, I think physical violence that can lead to killing is wrong and that as a disciple of Christ it would be against the primary virtues of the Kingdom of God to try to preserve society.
Likewise (and I understand you see this differently so do what you must do), I think that the approach to fighting for marriage that you support detracts from the witness of the gospel. I think it blurs into a power grab. I think it ignores our own hypocrisy in that we refuse to address marriage in our own circles while allowing the divorce rate of Christians to climb and climb. Every pastor I know that has rallied his church to fight gay marriage has seriously doubted that he made the right decision. Every church I know that has been dragged into this fight wondered allowed if they blew the opportunity to proclaim the gospel another way.
In the end they made enemies not because of the cross of Christ but because of a political battle that in the end does not change how Christians live and how Christian be in the world. I know many Christians will take up this cause year after year and I am under no illusion that this will ever change. That being said, to relativize the matter, it is not a task that I find worth the short time I have on earth to proclaim and live the Kingdom of God and I don’t blame anyone for thinking that there are other things worth our time and efforts.
We are completely aligned on the sociological problems associated with divorce-with-children, and the need to reverse the trend. But if we recognize this as a problem, and we recognize that same-sex marriage will only make it (parental dissolution) worse, then we need to promote both strong marriages and oppose same-sex marriage.
We disagree on pacifism, but I wont’ go there. J
We have different views on how the church’s involvement in the fight against same-sex marriage affects the attractiveness of the Gospel. I don’t doubt that it makes sinners mad at the church. But should we be surprised by this? Should that cause us to be silent on the issue? No. Most of those same people are also disgusted by the church’s stance against homosexuality. Should we be silent on that as well? We should expect for people whose heart is in rebellion against God to hate righteousness, and hate those who stand up for righteousness. Those people will not be any more inclined to become a Christian if we remain silent.
That’s not to say we have to make every issue out to be a big issue. Some issues are not as important. But I don’t think this is one of them, for reasons I already gave. So while I think we should be sensitive to how the church is perceived, and not give sinners more reasons than they need to hate us, I think the issue of sexuality and marriage is important enough to let them hate us (as they already do). Indeed, the world hates our message of sexual abstinence outside of marriage, but we proclaim it anyway because we know it to be true and important, especially for society.
The enemies made are not made because of a political battle, but because of a moral battle that has entered into the political arena. There’s a big difference. We’re not talking about political views such as “small government” versus “big government.” Indeed, it would be foolish for Christians to make such matters out to be church matters. But homosexuality, same-sex marriage, abortion, etc. are not mere political issues; they are moral issues. And that is precisely where the church needs to let its voice be heard.
I don’t think we are going to agree on this matter. I wish you the best of luck but I won’t be found fighting to preserve society next to you. The church must live it and if we live it we can pray the Holy Spirit brings the change.
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