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.

RACHE

It’s not a very satisfying revenge, but an authoritative proofer nixed my favorite phrase in a little paragraph I just wrote for my current project at BJU Press, one focused on biblical worldview and the CFR metanarrative. This phrase must see the light of day—or, well…, the murky light of an obscure blog! See if you can guess which phrase it was…

You can only know a pole is bent if you have some idea of what it looked like when it was straight. And that’s why the Creation, Fall, Redemption metanarrative of Scripture is so important. It tells us that every created thing was originally good, and it gives us guidance as to what that good looked like (what we’ve called “creational norms”). This guidance is something other prominent worldviews out there fail to give.

Here are just two examples:

  • Classic secularism (see Government unit) steadfastly refuses to describe what the ideal world would look like (what the pole looks like when it isn’t bent). They point out that different cultures and religions disagree over the shape of the perfect world, and if you try to claim that your view is right, someone else will just come along and offer a different opinion. Then you’ll have a fight on your hands. Better not to talk about the pole.
  • In philosophical materialism, matter is all that exists. Who can say which states of matter are “good” and which are “bad”? They’re just there. They’re just obeying physical laws; they’re not guided by any intelligence. Birthday parties happen, genocide happens. The Big Bang giveth and the Big Bang taketh away. Blessed be the Bang.

But the Bible gives us the power to make moral judgments, in part because it tells us that the world has a structure, and a good one. It isn’t just churchy, religious stuff that can be good (that’s the way other religions tend to view the world). No, the New Testament says that “everything created by God is good” (1 Tim. 4:4). Mere stuff can be good. Not neutral. Good.

Homosexuality and Worldview

making gay okayI’ve spent the last year and a half immersed in understanding the Christian worldview and explaining it to twelfth graders. The last few days I’ve done a lot of writing on homosexuality (after many years of reading on the topic in articles and books), and I just came across this quote in a review of Making Gay Okay: How Rationalizing Homosexual Behavior is Changing Everything. I believe this is profoundly true, and an extremely important insight:

At bottom in the debate over same-sex “marriage” are two opposing views of reality. On one side you have a vision of reality where nature “is teleologically ordered to ends that inhere in their essence and make them what they are” (xi). On the other is the view that things in themselves do not have a “teleologically ordered” purpose but rather can be made what they are by an act of the will. Thus, as Reilly astutely observes, the same-sex “marriage” debate is about more than just marriage. “Since the meaning of our lives is dependent upon the Nature of reality, it too hangs in the balance” (xii).

“Two opposing views of reality”? Isn’t that a little extreme? Am I just trying to inflate the importance of my view in order to rally the flagging faithful? No—I don’t expect the faithful to care much about this argument. But I still think it’s important.

after virtueOne of the most difficult books I ever got through was Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue. What kept me going was a desire to see the best of human attempts to ground human morality. Having battled through, and having taken extensive notes, I believe a re-read would be much easier, because he really does make one big point. And that point is similar to the quotes you read above. The Enlightenment project failed to give us a consistent basis for morality, so we must recover, MacIntyre says, the (Aristotelian) view that everything, even cultural institutions, has a “teleology,” a built-in purpose or end point. Life is a quest to discern the best telos for any cultural practice and then use that telos to generate the virtues necessary to achieve it. MacIntyre thinks this approach to morality will deliver

a rationally and morally defensible standpoint from which to judge and to act—and in terms of which to evaluate various rival and heterogeneous moral schemes which compete for our allegiance. (xviii)

But though MacIntyre converted to Catholicism around the publishing of After Virtue (which was published by Notre Dame University Press), I searched his book in vain for a distinctively Christian grounding for morality—or some other ultimate point of view from which to evaluate rival moral schemes. I came up empty-handed. Lots of genuine insights just floating around (MacIntyre is excessively smart and occasionally hilarious), that’s all. He argued (pp. 218–219) that people cannot know their telos from the beginning. They have to discover it. And all cultures are in the same boat:

A living tradition … is an historically extended, socially embodied argument, and an argument precisely in part about the goods which constitute that tradition. (222)

I don’t see any signs that such intercultural arguments are arriving at a consensus, do you? Whose justice is truly fair then? Which rationality is reasonable? I haven’t read MacIntyre’s book purporting to tackle those questions. Perhaps he succeeds there.

Here’s my answer to the problem of ultimate moral grounding: without an Absolute Triune Person, there’s no such thing. But if He creates—and tells us that His creation was “very good,” and appeals to that creation throughout His written revelation as a standard by which we judge the way things ought to be (1 Cor. 11:1ff.; Matt. 19:4)—then anything found to be creational is therefore normative. Though there was a fall to mess things up (including our capacity to judge what’s truly creational and what’s fallen), there can be and is a natural law. There is a teleological order, too, because God in His grace (according to Scripture) has decreed an end for His creation: grace restores nature; it will all be redeemed. We’re not on a quest for a telos. We know it. It’s union with the divine in a New Earth.

To say “It doesn’t matter what I do with my body” is to say, “I define reality in my world; I choose my telos under no authority but my own.” You cannot practice or defend homosexuality and have a Christian worldview; you’ll be denying clear (I persist in saying it’s clear) divine revelation to the contrary in both your Bible and your body. Indeed, if you won’t read your Bible, read your body: God has instituted a created order which we twist at our peril.* Pro-gay Christians are giving up more than at first appears—and that’s saying something.

*I love all practicing homosexuals, and a few in particular. I always feel the need to add this disclaimer: I want to retain the right to love a gay family member, say, while disagreeing with their most cherished beliefs—just as they want the freedom to do with me. Acceptance of my worldview will necessarily eliminate some or all of the things they hold most dear. All I’m saying is that, mutatis mutandis, asking me to change my view on the morality of homosexual acts will do the same for me. I don’t want a culture war, but clearly this is why we have one. No, the sky did not fall when the SCOTUS declined to hear those cases on gay marriage recently. But it creaked horribly.

The Declaration of Independence Proves to Be An Illusion

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Satan led humankind into covenant disobedience. He tempted humankind to reject the rule of Yahweh and to issue their “declaration of independence” from their Creator. The consequences are devastating. When communion with the Creator of life is broken, death inevitably results. Life is no longer whole but broken. Personal, interpersonal and social breakdowns abound because life is severed from its source. Moreover, the declaration of independence proves to be an illusion. Rather than finding autonomy, we find that we are still servants—bound to a despot who rules over a kingdom of slaves.

—Walsh and Middleton, The Transforming Vision, 70.

George Marsden on Point of View

71weanT3+QL._SL1500_I’ve been thinking a good deal about what George Marsden wrote—in a book I have thoroughly enjoyed (two chapters to go and I’m really eager to see what he says in the final one):

Let me say a word about point of view. One of the conventions of the mid-twentieth century was that authors and teachers normally did not identify their points of view but spoke as though they were neutral observers speaking on the basis of universal reason. Such practices reflected standards that went back to the eighteenth-century enlightenment, in which one was to hold forth on most topics on the basis of objective standards rather than from the point of view of one’s particular faith….

In recent decades there has been greater recognition that, although there are common standards for rational discourse, arguments, and evidence, there is no one standard, underlying set of assumptions, including beliefs about the ultimate nature of reality and values, that all rational educated people can somehow be presumed to share. So, although many still follow the old convention of posing as though one were objective, it has become more acceptable these days to help out the reader or listener by identifying one’s fundamental viewpoint from the outset.

My own point of view has been shaped most basically by my commitments as an Augustinian Christian. Those commitments involve a recognition that people differ in their fundamental loves and first principles, and that these loves and first principles act as lenses through which they see everything else. At the same time, all humans, as fellow creatures of God, share many beliefs in common and can communicate through common standards of rational discourse. Furthermore , even though I am an Augustinian Christian, I am also shaped in part by many other beliefs and commitments that have been common in America in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. One of my goals in life has been to understand such characteristic American beliefs and to critically and constructively relate them to my religious beliefs. This book is an instance of that project. Much of it is about understanding a fascinating moment of the American experience, but that account leads to critical analysis and reflection on the question of the place that religion should have in that culture.

I hope that readers who hold other points of view, whether secular or religious, can nonetheless learn from what I present here. Although I write from a specific point of view, I do not differ from other writers or public intellectuals in that respect; I differ only in that I identify my viewpoint more explicitly than some of these other writers do.

George Marsden, The Twilight of the American Enlightenment: The 1950s and the Crisis of Liberal Belief. Basic Books. Kindle Edition.

I’m not sure I’d want to speak of “common standards of rational discourse” shared by believers and unbelievers. As Steven D. Smith has shown, secularism provides a standard that public discourse cannot live up to, a baseline standard that excludes Marsden’s point of view—in what sense are the two sharing common standards?

By God’s common grace, I think they do, but only because it’s impossible to completely ignore the created order we all have to live in. There’s no denying that Christians and non-Christians do communicate, do often understand one another. One of the most eloquent statements of the gospel I’ve ever read came from an openly unbelieving academic. He understands the message of the gospel; he just doesn’t receive it.

What really grabbed me about Marsden’s comments was his life project of intellectual self-examination. Because of the Spirit, because of the Bible, because of the created order providing general revelation, I believe that truly true knowledge is possible in this world. So is confidence. Despite all the legitimate postmodern insights into the social construction of reality, despite my belief in not just my finitude but my fallenness, I can know truth.