I’ve put together a bunch of helpful resources from Christian leaders on how the church can and ought to respond to the redefinition of marriage which, at this point, is imminent no matter what happens with SCOTUS, Prop 8, or DOMA. There’s a ton here, but it demonstrates the broad agreement amongst orthodox Christians on this topic. I hope that anyone in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage will read this to try and understand our case more sympathetically. I also hope that millennial Christians inclined to supporting the redefinition of marriage will read some of these posts and recognize that there are sound reasons for opposing same-sex marriage.
It is true, of course, that we ought not coerce people to believe or practice our religion. That is a truth we know by natural law, that the dignity of the human person calls us to uphold the religious liberty of all persons, such that their freedom of will and self-determination are respected.2 But our obligation not to impose our religious beliefs on others does not entail that we should not support civil legislation that upholds the traditional definition and institution of marriage.
That is because we can know both what marriage is, and what is right and wrong regarding marriage through the same natural law by which we know that our religious beliefs should not be imposed on others. (See the article by Sherif Girgis, Robert George, and Ryan Anderson, titled “What is Marriage?.”) Natural law is not based on or derived from divine revelation, and is therefore not based on religion. Our grasp of the natural law can be improved or diminished by the communities in which our moral understanding takes shape. And religion can illumine or distort our perception of the natural law in certain respects and to varying degrees. But even so, we know natural law through the rational capacity we have as human persons. So seeking to conform civil law to the natural law is not necessarily imposing religious beliefs on anyone, even if a truth belonging to the natural law is also believed and taught within one or more religions.
No matter which way the US Supreme Court rules in the “gay marriage” cases before it the international debate over the definition of marriage will continue because that debate is, at root, about matters beyond a civil court’s competence, things like the nature of human beings and the fundamental good of society. Because we Catholics are and will surely remain major participants in such a debate we should be clear among ourselves as to what our Church teaches in this area. I offer as a primer (I stress, primer) toward such better understanding my position on the following points.
When pastors are pressed for their opinions about same-sex marriage, they should affirm both the theological position that marriage is designed for the union of male and female, and the moral position that sexual relations outside of marital union transgress the generous will of God. Church leaders should realize same-sex couples reside everywhere. The 2010 federal census estimates there are 131,000 married same-sex couples and 514,000 unmarried same-sex couples.
Whether pastors also wish to take the legal position that America’s marriage laws should codify the Christian theology of marriage is another question. I have my own misgivings on that point. But I have no misgivings saying that the primary role of the church is to witness to the love of God in Jesus Christ.
When we exclude and ostracize, we only make it more difficult for these men and women to hear the call of the God who made them in his image and for his glory. Let the church confess, let the Spirit convict, and let Christ redeem.
David Flowers (making a very important point for us as we have this conversation) :
Progressive Christianity has much to say in response to pop-culture evangelicalism. Progressives like Rob Bell, Brian McLaren, Tony Campolo, Shane Claiborne, and many others need to be heard.
I can see and hear Jesus in these guys. I’ve benefited from them.
For example, I agree that the teachings of Jesus have been neglected and that doctrine (orthodoxy) has been emphasized over Christ-like living (orthopraxy). I believe that salvation begins in the here and now, that social justice is integral to discipleship, and that evangelicalism needs a more responsible biblical interpretive method.
I’m passionate about those things!
But I must say that I particularly take issue with how “progressives” have created a synthetic fog over a handful of biblical passages dealing with homosexuality, and seem to be using a “join-us-or-you’re-a-bigot” approach to responding to evangelicalism’s overall failure to love our gay neighbors.
Progressives appear to want nothing less than full support of the LGBTcommunity, meaning that you agree that homosexuality is an acceptable way of being human, and that Jesus would approve of gay “marriage” (going beyond civil unions to the church blessing the relationship), or you’re “homophobic” and an enemy of all that’s good.
Let’s be honest. If this is the way progressives are going to frame the issue, reflecting the typical polarities of hot-button issues within politics, they are only going to perpetuate the vitriolic climate in society—a climate they say that they lament. But I do wonder if they’re not being just as divisive and dishonest as the folks over at Westboro Baptist.
Is it “bigotry” to disagree with someone on a moral/religious issue? Is it “hate” to believe another person’s life choices are destructive to that person and to society? Is it “homophobic” to believe that homosexuality is a sin like adultery, greed, or idolatry, and oppose elevating it to normal human behavior, as if it were an obvious evolution of mankind? Is it “intolerant” to want to maintain laws (church & state) that support a historical, time-tested institution (heterosexual monogamous marriage) for the good of society?
As many of you know, all of this has been leveled at those who disagree in any way with the LGBT community and her “progressive” supporters. I see a constant stream of this stuff on social networking and online magazines, especially in light of Rob Bell’s recent affirmation of gay marriage.
This is the message I’m getting: You’re either a supporter of LGBT or you’re likely an intolerant bigot who hates gay people.
I think this is unfair and dishonest. It leaves no room for a third way of responding to the LGBT community and those in our local communities that have embraced a gay identity. It claims that in order to love your gay neighbor you must accept their lifestyle.
But we saw something very different yesterday. The justices—and not just the conservative ones—were the first notable culture leaders who asked sound, tough questions. A few examples:
Justice Kennedy and others illustrated the historical imbalance between natural marriage and this new proposal. Kennedy expressed that he thinks “there’s substance to the point that sociological information [on same-sex parenting] is new. We have five years of information to weight against two thousand years of history or more.”
Later, Kennedy remarked again:
The problem with the case is that you’re really asking, particularly because of the sociological evidence you cite, for us to go into uncharted waters, and you can play with that metaphor, there’s a wonderful destination, it is a cliff.
Justice Alito also brought the questioning back to Kennedy’s “going blind in uncharted waters” remark as he said to Solicitor General Donald Verrilli:
But what is your response to the argument which has already been mentioned about the need to be cautious in light of the newness of the concept of same-sex marriage? . . .
[Marriage is] thought to be a fundamental building block of society and its preservation essential for the preservation of society. Traditional marriage has been around for thousands of years. Same-sex marriage is very new. . . . You want us to step in and render a decision based on an assessment of the effects of this institution which is newer than cell phones or the Internet? I mean . . . we do not have the ability to see the future.”
These questions were never really answered.
2. The separation of church and state necessitates godless political debate. The idea that some of us are bringing religious ideas to the table and others aren’t is simply naïve. Everyone has a worldview and an ultimate cause to which they attribute reality and purpose. The purpose of the separation of church and state is to prohibit the state from mandating a sanctioned religion; the founding fathers weren’t falsely asserting that political debate must of necessity be of a secular, godless perspective; the constitution itself doesn’t operate from this perspective.
3. This is an issue of equality rather than definition. Everyone has an equal right to marriage, as it stands. Gay, black, tall, short – we have an equal right to pursue marriage as defined, between a man and a woman. No one has an inalienable right to “define” an institution; we all have the right to pursue the benefits of that institution if we choose.
4. Redefining marriage affects no one but the conjoining parties. This radically individualistic perspective on society is also naïve. No, a homosexual couple next door to me is not directly harming me. Nor is the child disobeying his parents down the street. Nor is the man looking at pornography three states away. However, to say “This isn’t harming anyone” is decidedly false. We live in a community; if we create a community where children disobey their parents, and men abandon healthy sexual lives to create a market for sex trafficking pornography, I am being affected, even if not directly. We aren’t autonomous beings – we live in community that affects each of our lives.
5. Democracy can be maintained while handing off decisions to nine unelected officials. Since when was this a good idea? Most Americans today agree the Supreme Court should not have decided Roe V. Wade. Do we really want to live in a country where nine unelected officials can make our most important decisions? Even if we’re for gay marriage, are we really for giving up the basic democratic structure of our country?
6. Our nation and generation is morally and intellectually superior to the historical, global consensus. On what basis are we asserting that every culture in history has wrongly defined marriage? This is what C.S. Lewis calls “chronological snobbery” – we assume, somehow, that because we are newer, we are better. Are we prepared to say every culture in history has had it wrong on this fundamental unit of societal health? On what basis?
An excellent read by Christopher Roberts on Wendell Berry’s views of SSM:
My previous article explains why codifying and legalizing a fictitious right deepens rather than resolves the absurdity. My analysis still holds—or fails, depending on your point of view—with Berry’s publication, because his argument has not substantially changed. My article also lamented that in making his case, Berry demonizes his opponents, categorically dismissing concerns about gay marriage as bigotry. He should know better than that, but, alas, his powers of imagination seem to falter on this point.
However, the new publication sharpens Berry’s argument in at least one respect that is worth discussing.
In the January talk, Berry had mentioned that marriage is so difficult today because of the “values and priorities of our capitalist system, in which every one of us is complicit.” His meaning seemed to be that our consumptive, technocratic economy facilitates atomization. Perhaps, especially for a reader already familiar with Berry’s work, we were meant to infer that our present sexual chaos is what we should expect in an economy that creates loneliness and cultivates appetite.
In the new Christian Century article, Berry confirms and sharpens this point, saying forthrightly “we are talking about a populace in which nearly everybody is needy, greedy, envious, angry and alone.” He also adds an allied but new point about the role of government in such a society:
The collapse of families and communities—so far, more or less disguisable as “mobility” or “growth” or “progress” or “liberation”—is in fact a social catastrophe. It leaves individuals subject to no requirements or restraints except those imposed by government.
In other words, because an inhumane economy has reorganized our way of life, our relationships and subsidiary institutions have become too weak to handle difficult moral questions at the pre-political level. Our communities, which might once have incentivized sexual sobriety, have become so anemic that we are more or less forced into the absurdity of asking government to make moral judgments and to invent so many “rights.”
Berry has been writing about the economy’s toll on our community and family for decades. He is an elder statesman of American literature, not to be dismissed lightly. For the sake of present discussion, and without conceding anything on the legal side of the question, I think we can agree that the fabric of American life is weaker than it should be. Our economy may have its benefits, but it would be obtuse to deny it also has costs.
We can argue some other time about the ratio of the costs and benefits in our economy, but, for now, I would like to encourage Christians to accept the wisdom on offer in Berry’s presentation. In recent decades, thanks to philosophers like Alasdair MacIntyre and theologians like Stanley Hauerwas, Aristotelian ethics have enjoyed a revival. Among other things, this perspective reminds us that Christian morality is not supposed to be a solo sport, and that virtue flourishes when we have virtuous friends. Wendell Berry, even if he is wrong about the law, is helpful because he is similarly wise with respect to individualism and community.
Here is what Berry fails to imagine, but what his analysis helps us to explain: chastity for gays and lesbians is possible, but, like any type of chastity, it requires profound community support, or else, in our culture, it feels like pointless loneliness. We must organize family and parish life so that “lay celibate” is not a synonym for “lonely.” All due honor to the various therapists and groups already doing good work, but if we are going to counsel continence in today’s America, it is not enough to offer private therapy and support groups in the church basement.
The pro-life movement has aggressive legal strategies, but, as some have observed, it has also matured to realize that a frightened teenager needs support in order to make virtuous choices. Pro-lifers also applaud generous parents who adopt in ways that render abortion moot. What is the equivalent hospitality that the Christians should learn to offer homosexuals? How can we befriend gays and lesbians with apparently intractable orientations? All of us struggle with chastity in one way or another at some stage in our lives, so how can we discover and express solidarity amongst the many ways of patiently cultivating chastity?
As I explain in my article, I think Wendell Berry is confused about the law. I also think he is wrong to dismiss his opponents so uncharitably. But we do not need to dismiss him in the same way. He can help us pose certain questions, questions that will, in the end, make our case stronger and our imaginations more humane.
Alastair Roberts has put together a good piece with a question and answer format:
Why should same-sex couples be denied rights in areas such as inheritance or visitation?
I do not believe that they should. However, there are ways to grant or secure such rights without redefining marriage. To redefine an institution as fundamental to human society as marriage for the sole purpose of addressing such problems is extreme overkill. More troubling, the suggestion that one not infrequently encounters that it would be a sufficient rationale for doing so betrays an alarmingly hollow view of what marriage actually stands for.
Jesus never said anything about same-sex marriages. Why should Christians speak on the subject?
As I have already remarked, many opponents of same-sex marriage believe that it is an impossible entity, so it should not surprise us that Jesus never spoke about it, just as he never spoke against women being fathers. Nevertheless, Jesus’ teaching does clearly stand against same-sex marriage. Jesus grounds the institution of marriage firmly in the created reality of sexual dimorphism:
And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.” – Matthew 19:4-6
Jesus’ argument against the Sadducees in Luke 20:34-38 is also illuminating on this front. N.T. Wright observes:
The logic of Luke’s version of Jesus’ riposte then depends for its force on two unstated assumptions: (a) that marriage is instituted to cope with the problem that people die; (b) angels do not die. The Levirate law, quite explicitly, had to do with continuing the family line when faced with death; Jesus in Luke’s version, not only declares that this law will be redundant in a world without death, but that marriage itself, even with one husband and one wife, will likewise be irrelevant in such a world. A key point, often unnoticed, is that the Sadducees’ question is not about the mutual affection and companionship of husband and wife, but about how to fulfil the command to have a child, that is, how in the future life the family line will be kept going. This is presumably based on the belief, going back to Genesis 1.28, that the main purpose of marriage was to be fruitful and multiply.
The purpose of marriage, both in Genesis 1 and 2 is about much more than companionship. It is framed by the concept of vocation: the vocation of humanity to be fruitful and multiply, to fill and subdue the earth, and Adam’s vocation to serve the earth, to guard and keep the garden, and to uphold its law. After the Fall, marriage is also framed by the reality of death and the need to survive and multiply in its face. Human companionship is wonderful and many of its benefits can be enjoyed in particular richness in the context of the lifelong bond of marriage. However, marriage serves ends beyond this and, for Scripture, the tasks of procreation and child-rearing are central. In the new creation, the human race will have finished these tasks and so marriage ceases too. Companionship isn’t as primary an end of marriage in biblical thought as it is within contemporary society, where, given the nature of our world and our economy, companionship with a spouse has to bear the sort of existential weight that were previously typically borne by thick relationships within a settled community.
Such a firm grounding of marriage upon both sexual dimorphism and procreation stands sharply opposed to same-sex marriage.
Why should Christians speak to this issue? First it should be stressed that Christian ethics should address matters of which Jesus never spoke. The fact that Jesus never explicitly condemned bestiality doesn’t make it permissible. We have explicit commands elsewhere in Scripture that address such things. We also have developed principles of justice that we can bring to bear upon realities that aren’t addressed in the biblical text.
The Christian teaching on subjects such as marriage, gender, and sexuality are extensive. Most of this teaching takes a positive form, filling out such realities as sexual dimorphism with meaning and purpose, rather than the negative form of prohibiting particular behaviours (although there is plenty of that too). One of the problems with the assumption that Jesus never spoke to the subject of same-sex marriage is that, rather than taking our bearings from close attention to the positive teaching, it presumes that our answers would only be found in the form of negative prohibitions. However, the positive statements that Jesus makes about marriage clearly reveal that he is speaking about something quite different from same-sex relationships.
Christians should also speak to the subject of same-sex marriage because we are members of society and have an interest in and duty to it. Marriage and the family that grows from it represent the fundamental institution of the original creation. It relates us to deep and transcendent dimensions of reality. It humanizes some of our most fundamental animal functions and orders them to personal and societal ends. It explores and articulates the meanings of the most basic created anthropological difference and relationship – that between a man and a woman. We should seek to guard this for the sake of the good of wider society and for generations to come.
Mollie Hemingway for. the. win.
Believing — by science, religion or otherwise — that all humans are made male and female and that the regeneration of humans requires the joining together of male and female is — as we all know — grounds for being openly derided, called names and generally marginalized. If you think the foundational unit of society is defined in terms of this reality, you’re basically the Ku Klux Klan. You might protest that you have reason, logic, science, tradition, or any number of things to appeal to. But we all know you’re really a bigot.
Mostly the media and other cultural elites know this. And they’re not afraid to point out that believing marriage is an institution based on sexual orientation like they do — as opposed to sexual complementarity — makes you a good person who believes incivil rights and other things on the side of angels. Not like those bad folks whose arguments can be dismissed without even so much as looking them over (do you give bigots the time of day? No you do not! Ignore them already!). Journalists at CNN and the Washington Post and the New York Times and NPR have all agreed — or at least pondered the approach as legitimate — these monsters don’t deserve fair treatment, inclusion in stories, or airing for their warnings.
Error has no rights, you know. The genders are 100% interchangeable and we will make sure you agree! Are we getting tired of this media treatment yet?
Anyway, bucking the groupthink is someone who should probably be sent to reeducation camp over the weekend. I don’t know where he got off thinking he could do this, but he got all skeptical about the value of this approach. In a newsroom! The gall!
John Kass is a traditional Christian at the Chicago Tribune and he has some questions regarding this debate:
Is it possible to be a traditional Christian or Muslim or Orthodox Jew — and hold to one’s faith on what constitutes marriage — and not be considered a bigot?
And is faith now a problem to be overcome, first marginalized by the state and then contained, so as not to get in the way of great changes to come?
No and yes. Can we go home now?
The Huffington Post’s Jon Ward is a thoughtful reporter and one who uncovers ghosts on his political beat with regularity. Earlier this week he wrote about thetension between evangelical morality and politics as it relates to changing marriage law to include same-sex couples.
Yesterday he wrote about something particularly fascinating. In the video above we see Piers Morgan and Suze Orman and Ryan Anderson. They’re debating the topic of marriage with Ryan T. Anderson. Their behavior is somewhat appalling but typical and represents a tension for those who do seek to define marriage in such a way as to include same-sex couples:
Piers Morgan’s CNN segment on Tuesday night was a vivid illustration of this tension. Morgan invited Ryan T. Anderson, a 31-year-old fellow from The Heritage Foundation, on his program to debate the issue. But Morgan did not have Anderson to sit at a table with him and Suze Orman, the 61-year-old financial guru, who is gay. Instead, Anderson was placed about 15 feet away from Morgan and Orman, among the audience, and had to debate from a distance.
The message, in both the language used by Morgan and Orman, and the physical placement of Anderson on the set, was clear: they thought him morally inferior. Evangelical leader Tim Keller talks about this dynamic — opponents of gay marriage being treated akin to bigoted groups such as white supremacists — in yesterday’s piece.