Those who move in Christian circles can hardly fail to have become aware of the Coalition for Marriage, a pressure group seeking to prevent the government from giving legal sanction to homosexual marriages. I imagine even if you don't move in such circles, you will have heard rumblings in the media. I have to say, I find the Coalition off-putting. It is partly the slightly shrill tone with which they pronounce their warnings, and partly it is the sorts of arguments they use - the argument from tradition, the slippery slope argument (and I quote: "If marriage is redefined once, what is to stop it being redefined to allow polygamy?"), and the 'rest of us' argument ("Same sex couples may choose to have a civil partnership but no-one has the right to redefine marriage for the rest of us"). These are not good arguments. But the whole thing has got me thinking more about what I think.
Firstly, I don't think government or anyone else can define or re-define marriage. Human sexuality is not something which is given to us to define. It takes its definition from creation, and ultimately from the gospel. I do not uphold 'traditional' sexuality or morality, or 'traditional' definitions of marriage, but I will hold to gospel definitions. The Biblical witness makes it plain that marriage derives its existence and its meaning from the union of Christ with his Church; moreover, it is clear to me, on the basis of this witness that only lifelong, monogamous, heterosexual marriage devoted to Christ's service or celibacy devoted to Christ's service adequately point to this spiritual union of Christ and Church - the former as a picture of what the union is like, the latter as a symbol of the over-riding importance of the union. That is where my definition of marriage comes from.
Secondly, because this definition is rooted in the gospel, I do not and cannot expect people who do not believe the gospel to accept it. I don't think it is wise for Christians to fall back on arguments from sociology or tradition in order to support their view of marriage, which if it is of value at all is derived not from tradition or sociology but from Christ. That will make it harder for us to make the public case, but then I wonder whether that is my job as a disciple. Is there any way to make the case for marriage other than preaching the gospel of Christ?
Thirdly, I find myself looking to draw a line between issues where I can believe a thing to be wrong, but not want to legislate, and issues where I think we must campaign for legislation. For example, I think it is desperately wrong, hugely damaging, and ultimately leading to hellfire to blaspheme. I do not think, however, that anyone should legislate against blasphemy (and such antiquated laws as remain should be repealed). On the other hand, abortion - I think we should do everything possible to make this illegal in almost all situations. The difference is that if I campaign for legislation against blasphemy, I am really only campaigning for my right to live in unoffended, unchallenged comfort; whereas if I campaign against abortion, I am campaigning for the right of another human being to live. Where does the marriage campaign fall? Do I think the government's plan are ill-advised, ungodly, and ultimately a reflection of sin rampant in our society? Sure I do. But is it the sort of thing that we ought to be campaigning against, or the sort of thing that should prompt us to preach Christ and his grace, and to pray much more? I think I incline toward the latter, although the issue is certainly complex.
Fourthly, I think we Christians need to be ready to suffer on this front, and we need to be ready to do it well. The race analogy keeps cropping up - saying that gay people shouldn't be allowed to marry is like saying that black people shouldn't be allowed to ride in the front of the bus. As a Christian, I can't accept the analogy; Biblical anthropology stands against it. But I can understand where it comes from, and it has a certain rational (and a great emotional) force. We will be hated for what we say, or at least what we say will be hated. How we react will matter. Here is a question: what rights of gay people and couples could we stick up for? How could we try to bless people whose lifestyles and choices we reject?
Fifthly, we are equipped with three ultimate weapons which will make a difference in this situation, and they are all prayers: agnus dei, kyrie eleison, and maranatha!