Gay marriage 3 – the case against – Updated

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Editorial note: I experienced technical problems when this post went live on May 3, 2012. As a result, part of the original post was lost. I have recreated it to the best of my recollection. Sorry for the inconvenience. -Jeff 

This post is part three of a four part series on the issue of gay marriage prompted by the upcoming vote here in North Carolina on a constitutional amendment intending to define marriage as between a man and a woman. For my introductory post go here and for my post outlining a possible argument in favor of the state recognizing gay marriage go here.

Later this week I will post about my convictions on this matter. Oh…my lawyer asked me to direct your attention to my disclaimer.

Before we start…

In this post I will make an explicitly Christian case against allowing the state to recognize gay marriages and/or civil unions. Again, this is simply my attempt to think through the issue using my own presuppositions as a reformed evangelical Christian. I make no representation that this is the only, or even the best, way to think about the issue at hand.

Three arguments against gay marriage…

There are several justifications a reformed evangelical Christian could point to in order to object to the state’s recognition of gay marriage–I have chosen to limit myself to three of them.

  • The purpose of marriage limits it to between a man and a woman.

Procreation isn’t incidental to marriage, at least not in the traditional Christian understanding of the nature of marriage.

As I understand it, Christians may disagree about precisely how central procreation is to marriage, but almost all Christians agree that procreation is one of the essential purposes of the union of a man and a woman in Holy matrimony. Marriage, after all, is an English word derived from the Latin maritare (“to marry, to wed”), which is related to mater (mother) making explicit the connection between marrying and mothering.

As the 1662 Book of Common Prayer (Church of England) states:

“…the causes for which matrimony was ordained: First, It was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy Name.”

Most Christians would also agree that a marriage is not illegitimate where procreation has not taken place (either for medical reasons or by choice or where the children present in the family are not biological children).

So while childbearing and childrearing are central to marriage (indeed marriage is the normative state or relationship in which both take place) it does not the provide the exclusive rationale for or meaning of marriage. It has to be noted that absent technological intervention it is impossible for two men or two women to conceive a child. It is impossible for a man to bear and deliver a child.

This biological reality suggests that a homosexual relationship is not suitable for recognition as a marriage (since it cannot accomplish a constituent part of what a marriage is for). As a result it is not a relationship that ought to be recognized as a marriage by the state. There is, after all, absolutely no chance that the relationship can fulfill the command of God to “go forth and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it”

  • Christians are called to promote virtue in society.

For the sake of argument I will assume that Christians hold that homosexual behavior is incompatible with the witness of Scripture. It may not be the case that all Christians hold this view, but it certainly is the case that most reformed evangelical Christians do.

Many Christians believe that far from being an arbitrary and culturally-conditioned restriction, the Scripture’s prohibition is actually reflecting the purpose for which humanity was created. Violating that purpose involves pursuing something as good that is in reality less than good and, as such, is harmful or detrimental to us. Homosexual relationships fall into this category of behavior. In a society conditioned to believe that autonomy or freedom constitute the “best good,” this sort of claim is fairly shocking. Traditionally, however freedom has referred to the ability to choose good rather than to simply choose between “A” and “B” according to one’s appetites or desires.

Since its inception, the Christian community has lived into the counsel of the prophet Jeremiah who in the Old Testament told the Covenant community that it should: “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile…” (29:7, ESV). Although commonly believed to have been a sort of first century anti-establishment, anti-empire community, there is Biblical evidence that the early church engaged into blessing the city in a variety of ways including wealthy Christian benefactors (such as Erastus the “city treasurer” (ESV) of Corinth mentioned in Romans 16:23.

The Christian community has always understood that it has a duty to seek the common good and that seeking the common good comes about by aligning the laws of a nation with the principles upon which the law of God rests. It is for this reason that early Christians also cared for the poor and helped widow and orphan (a repeated refrain in the New Testament). By so doing they were aligning their culture and using their influence to be a redemptive force in culture. Clearly the outworking of this principle has not always been perfect. There have been grievous errors and mistakes, but in the whole the Christian faith has contributed positively to the human race.

It’s worth noting that we (in the west) often hold Christianity to a higher standard and are more quickly willing to critique it than other world religions. Obviously Christianity is the “closest” religion culturally for many of us. That is to say, we have had the most exposure to it over time and therefore have had a greater chance to form arguments against its influence than we have with other religions. Additionally, many of us are frankly ignorant of the cultural influence of other world religions on their cultures. We should be aware of this fact and that awareness should make is reconsider before making flippant and superficial critiques of Christian influence in our society. 

 

  • The nature of the law as acknowledging rather than creating rights.

Over the last two hundred years there has been an evolution in our understanding of the nature and purpose of the law. Traditionally, law has been understood as giving expression to rights that exist in nature and are discernible by an appeal to reason. These natural rights cannot be rescinded or rejected by governments or regimes–they include (most famously) the rights to life, liberty and property (John Locke).

Included in this list of inalienable rights is the right to marry. Proponents of same sex marriages appeal to this as a justification for allowing such unions: to deprive two citizens of the right to marry one another is a violation of an inalienable right. However, in reality, we limit natural rights–even marriage. Consanguinity laws limit the right of marriage by stopping persons related to one another from marrying each other. The minimum age for a marriage is also a factor that limits the right to marry. Consider also polygamy and polyandry–both limitations on the rights of people to enter into marriage with whom they choose. The right to marry is already limited to some degree so we cannot say that any limitation of the right is a moral wrong.

Further, we run into a definitional problem. The natural right of marriage refers only and exclusively to the union of a man and a woman. It has almost exclusively been recognized as such in western civilization. The natural law definition of marriage finds its first expression in Genesis with the marriage of Adam and Eve–a man and a woman brought together in order to be parents to the race of humanity.

Those in favor of limiting marriage to its traditional definition do so because they believe that calling a union of two people that cannot (in the absence of medical limitation) biologically produce children a marriage is the logical equivalent of calling a circle a square. It is impossible to consistently do it without causing greater and more essential problems.

At least in the case that I’ve outlined here, the Christian case against gay marriage rests heavily on associating the estate of marriage with childbirth and childrearing. As I mentioned in an earlier post, this association is now perhaps the weakest it has ever been (at least in the west).

These are my thoughts…what are yours?

Alone in the church

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Diane Paddington has an interesting post at The Well, online journal of Women in the Academy and Professions (an initiative of InterVarsity’s Graduate & Faculty Ministries). You can read it here.

Paddington names the reality for many professional women in the evangelical world: their gifts are often highly recognized in the workplace, but not in the church. A fin

Take a read and let me know what you think.

In life and in death…I am God’s

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Q. What is your only comfort in life and death?

A. That I, with body and soul, both in life and in death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Savior Jesus Christ; who with his precious blood has fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, wherefore by His Holy Spirit He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me heartily willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto Him.

Heidelberg Catechism, Q/A 1 (c. AD 1559)

I’ve probably written elsewhere on this blog that I believe this question and answer to the Heidelberg Catechism to be one of the finest pieces of creedal writing I have read. It’s perfection may be found in its precision and beauty of word choice, but also it’s comprehensiveness. In a single question and answer, one paragraph, almost the entirety of the Christian experience is summarized. Quite simply put: I am God’s.

I often turn to this section of the Catechism in times of trial and suffering. It came to mind again last night when I took the call that informed me of the death of my Grandmother. She was having what would have been a fairly routine surgery for someone like me, but at 90 years of age and with heart-issues she didn’t survive the surgery. Going into the procedure, I feared that this would be the case. But it’s reality as a possibility really only occurred to me fully when I actually got the call. With her death an entire generation of our family has come to an end. It’s a startling realization.

Yet, there is comfort in the truth of Scripture encapsulated so beautifully in the words of the Catechism: in life and in death we are, soul and body, God’s. 

Some ministers look on Creeds and Catechisms as a bother, an archive of what the Church used to believe. I emphatically do not adhere to that view. I find the Confessions of our Church (all of them) to reliable guides to what the Scripture reveals to us of God, of ourselves, and of the world into which we have been brought. The Confessions are the foundation, subject to the Scriptures, of the church and that we have for so long marginalized and ignored them is at least part of the reason that we are, in R R Reno’s words, a diminished choice.

Never let anyone tell you that Creeds, Confessions, and Catechisms get in the way of ministry. Nothing could be further from the truth–they are bedrock or better yet, the rich soil from which true ministry is nourished. 

Being a good father

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Nathan & Eliza, Thanksgiving 2011

In May 2012 Anna and I will celebrate nine years of marriage, which is hard to contemplate. But before we do, we will celebrate Nathan’s fourth birthday on April 29. I can think of few things that have shaped me more than becoming a husband and a father. Most of the other hugely formative things in my life were in place at my birth–my family of origin, my family’s faith, etc. The only comparable experience, where I can remember both a before and an after, is moving to the United States when I was 14.

It would be convenient for me to fit my reflections, especially on fatherhood, into what seems to be a cultural narrative that defines the experience of parenting for people of my race, educational level, and (dare I say) economic status. The reality is that being a father is one of the most challenging things I have undertaken. To be honest, this caught me by surprise. Incidentally, an irony of the way we prepare for becoming parents is that I spent almost 100% of my energy on preparing for the act of coaching during childbirth. I neglected to prepare much for status and role of being a father–a pretty big oversight.

One of the hardest lessons is that there is no such thing as a Platonic ideal of the good father (or mother, for that matter). There is no such thing as a good father only as being a good father for the children entrusted to one’s care.

This is a challenging lesson to learn because one of the most natural ways in which we learn how to parent is by following the subconscious example or model that we received through our own parents. Unfortunately, there are a thousand factors that distinguish my parents’ context as mother and father and my own–chiefly among them being the fact that Nathan and Eliza are not me as I was.

To be sure, there are many places in which their little characters (by no means fixed) resemble or echo my own as well as Anna’s, but they are unique–the combination of likenesses arranged in a way found in no other person sharing the same gene pool. This limits the value of copying our own parents or other parents who have children very different from our own.

For me this has meant something of an existential crisis over the last four years. I have gradually become aware that my children, especially my son Nathan, do not respond to the forces and the practices that I believe ought to easily conform them to my will. And perhaps I am learning that conforming them to my will is only necessary insofar as it leads to the development of good character and a healthy sense of self. A bully can get his own way, but the price is a damaged and humiliated child.

The existential crisis I wrote of is simply the crisis that comes from realizing that the answers you thought you had aren’t holding water. We sometimes experience this in matters of faith–in terms of concrete beliefs about who God is and how he has revealed Himself to us. More often those crises come through very tangible and concrete situations related to the living of our lives and carrying out of our vocation as Christians, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers.

God is meeting me in the midst of the challenge and inviting me to learn my children more deeply. Indeed, I feel like I now know Nathan quite intimately–how he thinks, what sets him off, how to manage and handle transitions. But the process of knowing has come with bruises–evenings of slumping into the couch and wondering why things can’t be just a little easier or why Nathan has such a strong will? The process of knowing has come through the mortification known only to parents who have to remove their son from the Thomas Table at Barnes and Noble by brute force because the thirty minutes allocated to transitioning him away from play were not long enough and a tantrum has begun. Believe me, you will never feel smaller than in an instant like this. And if it is possible to feel smaller, I hope I never experience it.

Despite the challenge and despite the struggles there is much joy and there is much grace. Yes, the learning curve is steep but the act of fathering has taught me a whole new level of death to self and giving of self that I doubt I personally could experience otherwise.

Waiting for God

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One of the often-overlooked obstacles to the healthy shared life of a congregation is our contemporary relationship with time. The project of being apprenticed to Jesus is one that requires time and community. It can’t happen alone and it can’t happen unintentionally or simply through sitting in a weekly worship service. Being sculpted into the likeness of Jesus requires intentional time with Jesus and time with other disciples as well.

The single biggest ingredient in spiritual formation (or discipleship), aside from the work of the Holy Spirit, is intention–a planned and deliberate approach to being available and open for God to work.

If you’re reading this and you’re anything other than a professionally spiritual person you’re probably thinking — right! In fact, many clergy are also struggling to maintain healthy spiritual disciplines at a staggering cost to the church in terms of the loss of spiritual vitality and effective ministry that is sustainable over the long term.

In honor of the lawyers, doctors, teachers, and other folk who haven’t, say, taken monastic vows, here’s a short list of things you can do to be more open to the Lord’s working in your life:

  1. Start small – if you’re currently praying and/or reading Scripture only once per week, try adding a short (5-10 minutes) to your day on one to two other days. You don’t go from praying once per week to praying for an hour daily–it takes time.
  2. Work it into your routine – the best time for me to pray is first thing in the morning. Find your best time and then schedule it into your daily routine. Don’t try to pray first thing in the morning if you’re a night owl!
  3. Cut the fat – if you look at your day with any degree of honesty, you’ll realize that along they way you make choices that fill time with less-than-best fillers. For me, it’s Facebook. I often follow discussions of denominational life with other ministers online. Often there’s encouragement, but often (to be honest) the things that are going on in our denomination are like a traffic accident–you can’t look away and it can take a huge amount of energy if you’re not careful. Cut Facebook, add time in Scripture or with your kids.
  4. Don’t expect a miracle – the spiritual disciplines are like eating. Occasionally you will have a gourmet meal, but most of the time you’re investing in normal time with God. It may be counterintuitive in an entertainment-focused culture, but God does his profoundest work in small, incremental change that takes place over time.