Five Reasons not to Sign the Evangelicals for Marriage Equality Petition

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It didn’t take a prophet to predict this. So I’m not handing in my cessationist credentials when I point out that I did in fact say this was coming: an organized group of evangelical Christians has come out with a legal argument for same-sex “marriage,” one which purposefully and explicitly leaves the morality question aside. “Evangelicals for Marriage Equality” stretches at least two of its titular words beyond the breaking point, “Evangelicals” (see the EME advisory board) and “Marriage.” But that doesn’t mean the position they’re promoting is necessarily wrong:

As Evangelicals for Marriage Equality, we believe you can be a devout, Bible-believing evangelical and support the right of same-sex couples to be recognized by the government as married. Our commitment to following Christ leads us to speak out for equal treatment under the law for others—whether or not they share our religious convictions….

In a religiously diverse society, no one religious perspective should determine who can and cannot be married.

As a position of political philosophy, this statement is unremarkable. This kind of logic can be heard in conservative Christian circles everywhere—both in defense of our own religious liberty and that of others. Many times I’ve heard American Christians say, “I don’t agree with so-and-so, but I’d die for his right to believe and practice it.” And I’ve never heard of a church excommunicating someone for his or her political philosophy. If you hold such a view, you may understandably look on with dismay as your co-religionists spend cultural capital on a battle they simply don’t need to fight. I flirted for a while with a similar line of reasoning, one that went something like this:

  • Every law instantiates some sort of moral perspective, a particular vision of the good (probably) not shared by all persons in the society.
  • I support religious freedom in America; I don’t wish for the government to be in the business of adjudicating theological disputes or of anointing certain religious groups with favored status—if only for the selfish and pragmatic reason that my group might not make the cut.
  • Support for homosexual marriage is, even for people who don’t view it so, an essentially religious perspective. Even apophatically, same-sex marriage proponents take definite stands on theological issues such as the validity of natural law.
  • So why should this particular religious(-ish) perspective be discriminated against? If I fail to protect the gay “religious” perspective, how can I expect to receive religious liberty myself?

But I don’t buy this line of reasoning now. Though I’ll confess that laying out “the biblical perspective” on government is not a simple task, and that good Christians can disagree on what constitutes the ideal form of government (and even if they agree, they will often still disagree on what policies or legislation best promote that form), I think the issue of same-sex marriage demonstrates that there’s something wrong in the way a lot of American Christians have been talking about government.

So I’m opposed to Evangelicals for Marriage Equality. Here are five reasons why, starting—ironically enough—with the same premise:

  1. Every law instantiates a moral vision. That’s true. Paul said so: “Rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad” (Rom. 13:3). And Christ’s kingdom doesn’t advance by the sword (the power of government). That’s true, too. Jesus said so (John 18:36). But there is no neutral moral vision somewhere between theocracy and anarchy that can accommodate everyone in perpetuity. By relinquishing the Christian moral vision for society, the EME adopts the ideological secularist vision of the good instead. That vision has filled the ideas of “liberty” and “equality” with moral content; they are not neutral slogans everybody should be able to agree on. The secularist response is typically that letting religion into the public square will create a bloodbath. But I say, the jury’s still out on secularism’s record. Give it time.
  2. Everybody has to live in the world God gave us. If Evangelicals for Toleration of Gravity Denial comes out with a statement saying, “Though we may (or may not) believe in gravity, we can’t insist on our particular view ruling the society,” I’m not going to float out of my office chair to sign on. I’m going to keep on saying, with my voice and with my vote, “Don’t go there, friends! You’ll only hurt yourself!” What alternative does love have? If laws enshrine morals, I hurt struggling people (like “Chris” in the comments here) when I tell them, “This is a valid alternative life path”—or even, “This isn’t the best moral choice, but I’m waiving my right to discourage you from choosing it outside the four walls of the church. Liberty and equality, man.”
  3. There are many other self-harming activities that the government need not restrain people from committing (over-eating, buying Britney Spears albums, listening to bloviating talk shows on the radio). I’ll admit to a certain ad-hoccery in my view. I’ll take what legal restraints against society-harming sin that I can get. But isn’t that what democracy gives us? The freedom for each interest group to jockey for influence? Why urge your voting bloc to give up its influence on one of the hottest issues shaping the society?
  4. The pro-gay-marriage side doesn’t seem to me to have any time in its mad rush to Equality to answer Ryan T. Anderson‘s simple request for definition: “If marriage isn’t for procreation, why limit it in any way at all?” Why not allow elderly spinsters who are not romantically attached but want the tax benefits accorded to the married to sign up? And what if there’s a third sister—or a brother? What is marriage, anyway? It would seem reasonable to me to request that they answer Anderson’s questions before my fellow evangelicals and I give them the go-ahead to get hitched. Anderson is perfectly correct to refuse to call same-sex unions “marriage.” (And note that Evangelicals for Marriage Equality, by using the word “marriage” in its title, is actually giving away the truth on this utterly key point. They’re not taking a neutral position. They allow for marriage to be something we define rather than something we discover.)
  5. We will have our legalized homosexual “marriage.” Everybody and their partner says it’s coming (even the circuit court judge who just ruled against SSM in four states). Full moral legitimacy will not come along with it, so the “Human Rights” campaign will not cease. The traditional Christian position will increasingly be seen as it already is among elites, as a backwards, bigoted, and intellectually bankrupt position. I do believe persecution will come, and a live-and-let-live political philosophy won’t stop it. We will be required, on pain of something (remember, I’m not a prophet), to toe the line. I often think, with a chill up my spine, of the closing lines of a Slate article from a while back, “Will Churches Be Forced To Conduct Gay Weddings?” (Subtitle: “Not a chance. That’s just the scare tactic conservative groups use to frighten voters.”)

    It’s just wrong to spook voters about gay rights by arguing that gay people are coming for their churches. It’s not gonna happen. Not just as a tactical matter, but also as a legal one. If that ever changes, it will be because we’re as united about the pernicious nature of anti-gay discrimination as we are about racial discrimination.

    “If that ever changes”?! Even in the two years since Slate’s Emily Bazelon wrote those words, that has changed. We’re not there yet, but in certain quarters, in certain influential subcultures, we’re there. And beyond there.

Increasingly, I’m coming to the conclusion that a government that doesn’t “Kiss the Son” isn’t supposed to work. Sin is a reproach to any people, even a people that thought they were a new Israel (look what happened to the old Israel). Idolatrous nations can’t stave off societal dissolution forever. Especially now that it has become an ideology and not merely an attempt to give parity to competing ideologies, secularism will fail. The principles of liberty and equality which were, at first, meant to keep any one group from imposing its moral vision on everyone else—these principles have themselves become a moral vision driven to impose itself on the society. As a Christian, I’m supposed to seek the good of the polis and to aim for a quiet and peaceable life. Giving in to the regnant ideology doesn’t seem to be a safe and loving way to go about that, for me or my “opponents” in the culture war.

I use the scare quotes because I just can’t feel hatred for these “enemies.” They’re spiritually blind and dead, Scripture says. That doesn’t mean they bear no blame for their sins; it only means that God’s grace is their only hope, as it is for me. And I think the pressure put on the Christian church by the gay rights lobby has had some healthy results: we’ve been forced to evaluate what the Bible really says about abiding sexual temptations. We’ve been made aware that mocking the limp-wristed isn’t funny; it’s hurtful and even damning. But for the good of the society, and the individuals in it tempted by homosexual desires, I can’t side with Evangelicals for Marriage Equality.

Author: Mark Ward

PhD in NT; theological writer for Faithlife; former high school Bible textbook author for BJU Press; husband; father; ultimate frisbee player; member of the body of Christ.

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