Monday, March 12, 2012

Marriage, etc.

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!


  1. Interesting thoughts Mr Blanche. I’ve been pondering this somewhat myself lately. I think a lot of what you say I agree with. I would disagree with the idea of the state legislating who is allowed to marry and who isn’t, and I would also disagree with the Church attempting to impose our religious morality on people who do not share our religion.

    In addition though, your link to your older post ‘Biblical anthropology’ got me thinking further. In that post you say “we are not what we should be, and that we must be changed”. However, I think this is phrased in a way that blurs the boundaries between the spiritual and the physical. I would phrase it ‘we are not HOW we should be”, which I would suggest is slightly more accurate, in that I understand that God wishes to change how our spiritual relationship is with him, not ‘what’ we are. For instance He does not seek to change every gentile into a Jew, even though in a spiritual sense that is the case (He wants everyone to enjoy the same relationship with Him as His chosen people). But physically our ethnicity is his creation and he wants us to enjoy its goodness, while being brought back into a right relationship with Him.

    Similarly if someone is born homosexual, I’m not sure that God seeks to ‘heal’ them of this (and anecdotal evidence suggests He never does – at least I’ve never heard of anyone while hearing of many who have remained gay despite many decades of prayer and struggle), just as if a person is born with any other difference to the ‘norm’. If someone is born hermaphrodite, or with ambiguous genitalia, are they defective and need changing by God into a proper man or woman before they are allowed to fall in love with someone of the ‘opposite’ sex? I would argue that this is not fully addressed in your post, as you primarily refer to homosexuality as a ‘lifestyle choice’. However, I know I never chose to be heterosexual. Homosexuals make the point that they never had a choice either – this is how they are.

    1. Hi Mike, thanks for the comment. I had a few thoughts by way of reply...

      The first, pretty minor, thing is that I'm wary of this phrase: "I would also disagree with the Church attempting to impose our religious morality on people who do not share our religion". I think I know what you mean by it, but personally I would avoid using language like 'religious morality', because in culture generally the word 'religious' is used to mean 'something that is just your opinion, by faith, with no reason involved'. However, because our religious beliefs are ultimately beliefs about matters of fact - they are true or false - the morality which springs from them is either right or wrong. For those who are more enthusiastic for the Coalition than I am, it is not because they want to push their unfounded opinions on others: it's because they believe it to be true that God has created people to work one way and not another, and because they are created that way it will be best for them to work that way. I agree with that; I just think that sometimes we have to let people do things that are objectively wrong.

      Secondly, I'm massively happy to blur the line between physical and spiritual; in fact, I do not believe in the line, and I don't think the Biblical authors do either. We could talk about that at some point.

      Thirdly, the point I was making in the other post was exactly that my experience and knowledge of myself may be wrong. If God made me, he knows me better than myself; that means that however convinced I may be that I just 'am' a certain way, if God says otherwise then his voice trumps my conviction every day of the week. If human existence is founded in the gospel - ultimately in the person of Christ - then the gospel gets to tell us what we are like and what we ought to be like, right down to the fundamentals. I think that goes for sexuality as much as anything else.

      Come back at me if you want to explore further...

  2. Hi Dan. Thanks for this, it helpfully expressed some ideas I had been thinking about on this theme. A few questions/ thoughts however.
    1) Isn’t part of the issue that this is not simply about the private rights of individuals to do what they want (where you rightly want to be liberal), but about a public institution, marriage. Since civil partnerships already grant all the legal rights of marriage, what is being demanded is not simply “fairness” but that everyone treat homosexual unions as identical with heterosexual ones. And if that is the goal, then given the way the adoption agency issue went, it does seem very likely we’ll soon get churches prosecuted for discrimination for refusing to allow such ceremonies on their premises.
    2) Slippery slope arguments which speak of a spectrum and want to stop something at one point along the spectrum simply to stop the “slide” rather than because it is wrong are weak. But there are points where to lose the argument is to open the door to a range of other things, because the very moral framework or process of reasoning involved in making that decision is a shift. I would suggest that the middle of the last century saw such a shift, as existentialist morality came in- what is right is what allows a value-creating conscious human to be authentic in their own decision making, and the only evil is to inhibit another value-creating conscious human to make their own choices. The key turning point was divorce on demand and abortion on demand. It is inconsistent to be for these and against homosexual marriage.
    3) While preaching the gospel of Christ is always our chief concern, and we must be honest about our Gospel motivations in these debates, your position does seem to mean that we Christians can only seek to change society when a majority of the country are converted. In a democracy, if Christians are a minority, and they see a great evil, they should surely seek to create a consensus against that evil, even if the arguments that persuade others to the cause are not gospel ones, and even granted that the chief evil is a world rejecting God.

    Sorry- too long.

    1. Hi Josh - good points, let me respond to each...
      1. Yes, it probably is going that way. But the church has survived in cultures where non-Christian definitions of marriage were prevalent before; I dare say we'll get by.
      2. Again, yes - I'm not sure this is such a turning point. It's interesting that even some of the Christian organisations briefing on this use the argument that civil partnerships ought to be enough for gay couples - which seems to implicitly say we already lost the battle, and this is just a rearguard action. It's been a long time since the basis of morality shifted away from even a broadly Scriptural basis in our culture.
      3. I think Christians should work against evil in society, no matter how small and lacking in influence the church is. I am not sure that this is the way to go about doing it, though; I wonder if our attempts to legislate about marriage basically represent an admission that we've failed to teach and live a fruitful and beautiful picture of marriage in front of pagan society, and failed to support the non-Christian world in its struggle with relationships. Might that be a better way..?

      And having said all this, I'm still not totally sure I won't sign the petition...

    2. Those are very helpful. I think we need to remember it is not either or. It may be that we live and teach a beautiful model of marriage and seek laws that are for the common good as we see that.