Jesus is the blueprint for a new humanity

As Christians living in a sin-tainted world, we’re engaged in a struggle–a resistance if you will–against powers that are rebellious and estranged from their true King, Jesus. In Jesus we participate in his project of regaining mastery of the created order and moving it towards re-creation, a new creation that mirrors the values of God’s kingdom.

Jesus is doing this by the creation of a new humanity—the church.

When I refer to the church, I’m thinking of –in the words of the hymn “The Church’s One Foundation”—“elect from every nation, yet one o’er all the earth, her charter of salvation one faith, one life, one birth…”[1] In other words: the waters of baptism are thicker than the blood ties of ethnicity and nationality:

With Jesus’ resurrection, the new age has dawned. The new man has emerged from among the old humanity, whose life he had shared, whose pain and sin he had borne. For Paul, as throughout the Bible, sin and death were inextricably linked, so that Christ’s victory over the latter signaled his defeat over the former.[2] – N T Wright

[See also: Romans 5:12-21; 1 Corinthians 15:12-28]

Here is where we fit into the story.

As Christians, as part of this new humanity, we are God’s agents working to subvert the rule of sin and death in the empires of the present age. This vocation is an active one, especially if we consider Paul’s description of his apostolic mission in 2 Corinthians 10:4ff. as a paradigm for engagement in the world:

Though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.

Notice again the comprehensiveness of this vision: between Colossians 1 and 2 Corinthians 10 we see the interplay of spirit and flesh, heaven and earth, dominions and opinions; and through both, powers that are at work.

The hope of Colossians 1—our hope—is that Jesus is not one power amongst a pantheon of competing powers. Instead, he is above, beyond, before, and over these powers—they have no existence independent of him.

This Jesus has given himself to the world in love in order to make reconciliation possible—a returning of prodigal creation to its father that results in a new humanity, the church.

This passage demands our acknowledgement that there is no sphere of existence over which Jesus is not sovereign.[3] God’s rules, God’s values, aren’t legitimate in some places and illegitimate in other places—no, they are over all. As C. S. Lewis puts it, “There is no neutral ground in the universe: every square inch, every split second, is claimed by God and counter-claimed by Satan.”[4]

 

 

[1] “The Church’s One Foundation” available online at: https://www.hymnal.net/en/hymn/h/833? Accessed February 18, 2017.

[2] N. T. Wright, Colossians and Philemon, 74.

[3] Ibid., 79.

[4] See C. S. Lewis, “Christianity and Culture” in Christian Reflections, ed. W. Hooper (1967): 33.

Jesus, the church, and non-violence (Part 1)

I recently saw a movie that was powerful in the way it dealt with some of these issues. Steven Spielberg’s Munich is a retelling of the events of the 1972 Olympic Games held in Munich, Germany. It was during these games that members of Black September, a Palestinian terrorist organization, took hostage members of the Jewish Olympic team. One or two were killed during the initial hostage-taking when they resisted the terrorists.

Within 24 hours all of the hostages and all save three of the terrorists would be dead. Long story short, the German police attempted a rescue, which went badly wrong largely because it was poorly planned. When the hijackers realized the trap, they killed the hostages.

Within a month, the remaining captured terrorists were released after other members of Black September hijacked a Lufthansa airliner and demanded their release. They were released to Libya where they were treated like celebrities.

The movie itself deals with the Israeli response to the attacks. Golda Meir, the Israeli Prime Minister decided that the response ought to be swift and large enough in scope to serve as a deterrent to future attacks. Over the next several years Israeli assassination units killed dozens of high profile Palestinians and Arabs across Europe.

The movie follows the leader of one of these squads. It chronicles the toll that on-going vengeance took on one person. One man who killed to avenge the deaths of his fellow Israelis. By the end of the movie he is barely functioning in normal life as a result of the on-going stress and pressure of functioning covertly in a high stakes games of assassinations.

Interestingly, one scene frames the underlying conflict. The Mossad bomb-maker finally gives expression to his feeling that all of this killing is somehow in conflic with the values of Judaism. He notes that Jews are called to be holy and righteous. “We are not like the other nations.” Their actions as warriors seem to be in stark contrast with their values of Torah. A couple of scenes later, he is killed presumably by Palestinian terrorists who are now seeking the Israeli assassins. As Jesus said, “Those who live by the sword shall die by the sword.”

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The role of the Christian church in the world is to be a counter-culture, a new society that is based on the values of the kingdom and shaped by the teaching of Scripture and headed by Christ himself, a new Israel. It’s important to note that the role of the church and of the state is not the same. The function of the state is to restrain evil and to promote good.

Nowhere is the vision of this new counter-culture more compellingly communicated than in the Sermon on the Mount.

This is especially true when it comes to enemies and war. I’d like for us to explore these topics by looking at two passages of scripture from The Sermon on the Mount.

In Matthew 5:38-42 Jesus talks about retribution. Since Jesus doesn’t talk that much about war and since our enemies are mostly enemies since they’ve done something to us that we think is unjust, we’ll use this passage to think a little about how we respond to people who wrong us.

We will also look at Matthew 5:43-48 where Jesus talks about how we relate to our enemies. 

War and Violence: When to resist (Matthew 5:38-42)

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. (TNIV)

Jesus offers a response to the culture of the day (part 1). An “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” (v. 38) was a principle of limiting retribution to what is a just amount (the punishment must fit the crime). The purpose was to avoid the sort of blood feud that could embroil multiple communities in generations of senseless violence.[1] By the time Jesus spoke these words, it was common practice to impose financial sanctions rather than physical punishment.[2]

Jesus is speaking to Jews who have come to view him as Messiah. It seems that his words are aimed at reforming and renewing Jewish society through this new movement of Christ-followers. They are a grass-roots source of influence that will bring change about outside of the normal structures of power and influence.

Jesus was not opposing brutality or physical retribution since these weren’t the common responses to injustices in the ancient world of Jesus’ time. Instead, it seems that He is opposing the principle of insisting on legitimate retribution, specifically using legal means to settle a score with another individual.[3]

Jesus says, “do not resist…” (v. 39). This is wider, however, than simply insisting on not getting even. It is really, in the affirmative, a willingness to accept ill treatment and even to participate in it (by turning the other cheek, or giving your coat away, or walking a second mile). And it is not limited to simply physical nonviolence. Instead, what is said here also refers to the use of legal means to “resist” an unjust action.[4]

The cases in point are all cases in which an individual comes into contact with another individual who does something wrong or unjust. Jesus is not outlining responses to evil in the abstract. These are concrete responses to concrete examples of wrongdoing. As a result, they’re not really verses that are meant to be applied to society as a collective. Many Christians have traditionally made a distinction between the actions of individuals and the actions of the state. Elsewhere in the NT we are told that the state has the power of the sword. That power, however, is never vested in individuals.

Jesus was not attempting to reform the legal code, but is suggesting an attitude that is loose on rights and entitlements. As I mentioned before, it is an attempt at changing attitudes and subverting the dominant values of a society.

Concrete examples:

  1.  “…turn the other cheek” (v. 39b) A backhanded slap to the face was an expression of contempt and extreme abuse…punishable by a fine.[5] Jesus’ disciples are asked to accept the contempt and abuse without recourse to their legal rights in the situation.
  2. “…hand over your coat as well” (v. 40) The OT Law forbade the confiscation of the coat on humanitarian grounds (Ex 22:25-7). If it was taken as collateral, it had to be returned by sundown so its owner could sleep in it.
  3. “…go two miles” (v. 41) The reference is specifically to the practice of Roman soldiers commandeering local citizens to serve as porters to carry cargo, etc. Instead of telling his disciples to resist members of an occupying force, he tells them to do more than required. This would have been very controversial and set Jesus apart from the Zealots who attempted to drive Rome out of Israel.
  4. “…give to those who ask…” (v. 42) Matthew’s retelling has in mind a specific instance. The verb he uses refers to a single act. The principle is that we ought to place the needs of others before our own convenience or our own rights.

R. T. France notes, “A willingness to forgo ones personal rights, and to allow oneself to be insulted and imposed upon, is not incompatible with a firm stand for matters of principle and for the rights of others. Indeed the principle of just retribution is not so much abrogated here as bypassed, in favor of an attitude which refuses to insist on one’s rights, however legitimate.”[6]

There will be times when we as followers of Christ are entitled to use legal means to compel someone else to stop doing something to us that is wrong. However, Christ here suggests that we shouldn’t consider our entitlements and our legal rights as supreme. There will be times when we are called on essentially give up our rights in an instance and give to the other person something they don’t deserve. 

 


[1] R. T. France. Matthew. TNTC. 125

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid, 126.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Jonas, NTT, 239.

[6] Ibid.

Your guide to pastoral facial hair…

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Facebook is a treasure trove of graphics, many of them pretty crappy. However, this little gem stands out! It’s masterful–I can think of at least one person I currently know who approximates each of these, except perhaps the angry whiskers.

Which one’s your favorite?

 

Is missional the church’s Vietnam?

The Vietnam War was one of the most unpopular wars ever fought by the United States. It cost a lot of lives. It cost a lot of money. It ended unsatisfactorily. It never should have happened as it did. And while it might seem strange to point to Vietnam as a case study for mission in contemporary America, I think it’s apropos. The Vietnam War demonstrates what happens when leaders confuse tactical change with adaptive change. That is to say, the war in Vietnam turned out the way it did because its military leaders (with the prodding of their political leaders) tried over and over again to what they already knew how to do, only harder. If the church attempts simply to do what it’s already doing, only harder, don’t be surprised if the outcome is similar.

General William Westmoreland
General William Westmoreland

According to Thomas Ricks in his magnificent book, The Generals: American Military Command from World War II to Today (2012) the strategic failure in Vietnam took place because the senior military leader, Army General William “Westy” Westmoreland, had neither the intelligence nor the imagination to understand the type of war that he should have been fighting. 

He failed to grasp that anything other than the force on force warfare of World War II and, to a lesser extent, Korea could be effective in achieving the strategic aims of the United States in Vietnam. In his defense, it seems that successive administrations had failed to successfully define those aims.

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Marine General Victor Krulak

 

At the same time a different branch of the armed forces, the Marine Corps, was employing a remarkably different strategy. By the late sixties the Marine Corps had determined that a counter-insurgency strategy was the only option that would provide anything other than minimal results with a high price tag. They had learned this lesson both from French forces who fought in Indo China and the British campaign in Malaya. Writing in 1967 Marine Lt. General Victor Krulak wrote, “The Vietnamese people are the prize” rather than simply taking possession of territory or killing a certain number enemy combatants.

Westmoreland and other senior Army leaders failed to consult the French or the British in their planning. They derided the Marine Corps as avoiding the fight. As (Army) Maj General Harry Kinnard put it, “I did everything I could to drag them out and get them to fight….They wouldn’t play.”

The Army strategy in Vietnam was to envision it as a continuation of World War II only in a different place. This view is nicely summarized by one of Westmoreland’s commanders who said, “The solution in Vietnam is more bombs, more shells, more napalm…till the other side cracks and gives up.” The other side never cracked.

If the church insists that all we need to do is keep doing what we have been doing for the last fifty years, but harder or with better style, we will miss the great opportunity this present moment is giving us to move mission from the periphery of the life of the church to its very core.

Some authors who write on this topic suggest that almost all of our current ways of understanding and practicing being the church must be redefined or rejected. Sunday worship? Church buildings? Ordained clergy? All can be done away with according to these writers. The church can become a diffuse organic network of related Christ-followers spread throughout a city and living their lives in mission. This is a wonderful part of the story of being the church, but its just that–only a part of the story. 

We have the chance to rediscover the many resources and ways of worshipping practiced by the ancient (pre-modern) church that will prove to be indispensable as we navigate into our postmodern world.

 

If you’re a Christian, don’t be stupid

People can be stupid. Christians, unfortunately, are no different. Inside Higher Ed highlights a controversy embroiling Florida Atlantic University and centering around student reactions to the actions of a Deandre Poole, himself a Christian and a professor.

Here’s what happened according to the website:

The course at Florida Atlantic University was in intercultural communications, and the exercise involve[d] having students write “Jesus” on a piece of paper, and then asking them to step on it. When they hesitate, the instructor has an opening to discuss symbols and their meaning.

Are you following this? The point of the exercise is to demonstrate that the very letters J-E-S-U-S convey meaning and that in a culture influenced by Christianity, many will have some degree of moral dilemma in being told to step on a sheet of paper containing those letters. 

poole
Dr. Deandre Poole

There are other symbols that could have been used–flags, crosses, a Bible, etc. And the point of the exercise it to make students uncomfortable, good lessons often do. Yet, responses to the event by parties ranging from a student in the class, to politicians, and also to the university administration can really only be classified as stupid. Let me rephrase: responses have been ill-conceived and in some cases are inconsistent with the very values espoused. “This exercise is a bit sensitive, but really drives home the point that even though symbols are arbitrary, they take on very strong and emotional meanings. Have the students write the name JESUS in big letters on a piece of paper. Ask the students to stand up and put the paper on the floor in front of them with the name facing up. Ask the students to think about it for a moment. After a brief period of silence, instruct them to step on the paper. Most will hesitate. Ask why they can’t step on the paper. Discuss the importance of symbols in culture.”

Here’s a list:

  • The belligerent student. We don’t know if this student is a Christian or not. For the sake of argument, and because many will assume he is, let’s assume it to. According to reports here’s the student’s response:

After class, the student came up to him [Poole], and made that statement [“how dare you disrespect someone’s religion] again, this time hitting his balled fist into his other hand and saying that “he wanted to hit me.” While the student did not do so, Poole said he was alarmed and notified campus security and filed a report on the student.

  • The racists. Apparently this Christian professor has received death threats, some of which make reference to lynching (which makes me nauseated even to type):

He said he has received hate mail and death threats, some of them coming in forms particularly hurtful to an African American. “One of the threats said that I might find myself hanging from a tree,” he said.

  • The university. Get a spine already.

A statement released Sunday by the campus chapter of the United Faculty of Florida said that the university erred in banning a classroom practice because some had been offended.

This unhappy episode suggests, once again, that not only is our society dysfunctional in communicating across disagreements but also that many of our cultural institutions seem unable or unwilling to make decisions or support faculty who are the subject of public disagreement or uninformed outrage.

Our culture is infantile. We stamp our feet. We scream our disagreement. And what’s sad is that often it is people who claim the name of Christ who are the worst–not always to be sure. However, in a culture that is moving beyond its Christendom moorings, we should be sure that when the offensive person or cause is related to Christianity, it is natural that our culture will make that connection an emphasis in describing the event or person.

St. Peter provides wise counsel for Christians in our current moment when he writes,

…but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is within you; yet do it with gentleness and respect. – 1 Peter 3.16

That defense, I am sure, did not involve fists or shouts.

Why I cast a ballot but not a vote

Across social media platforms friends and acquaintances are urging one another to get out and exercise their democratic right to vote. Those who don’t vote, so the popular wisdom goes, have neither the right to complain nor the right to express a political opinion. What’s more, they cheapen the sacrifices of many women and men who have died in defense of our nation.

I see their point, and respect their opinion. However, this year I chose to do something I have never done in a presidential election since voting in my first one back in 1996. I chose to cast a ballot, but not a vote. In other words, I chose to not make a choice between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney (or a non-major candidate).

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Some of you may find this a curious choice. I wrote earlier about why I was considering not voting in the election this year. Read “The Obama Conundrum”).

I am not a political realist. I don’t care much for making a choice between candidates simply because there are only two feasible options. I don’t feel the need violate some of my deepest religious convictions.

I stand by what I wrote earlier.

If I vote for Barack Obama I am casting a ballot for one of the most pro-choice presidents. [Note: My theological belief that all humanity is created in the image of God leads me to value life. For this reason I am deeply skeptical of capital punishment, to the point of thinking there ought to be a moratorium on it. I am also deeply skeptical of war and have a hard time understanding the almost frivolous attitude of some politicians toward it.] A good society is not one that kills its unborn children. And while it may be good to help those in need, it’s also true that the government brings with it a profound ability to dehumanize those it seeks to help, simply by the scale of its operation. The government is also unable to make moral distinctions based on anything other than utilitarian concerns.

On the other hand, neither is a good society one that abandons those most vulnerable to ‘fate.’ The Republican party has become the party of economic liberalism. Taking their cue from Adam Smith’s philosophical reflections (which are predicated on a sub-Christian understanding of morals, by the way) the Republican party has come to espouse the individual as the supreme economic actor. There is no authority (or at least few) that may interfere with the economic actions of the individual. All that is require is mutual consent (analogous to cultural liberalism’s ethics above). A fair wage is what a person may command in the current market; a fair price is what the product will command. There is no moral calculus beyond this, and any effort to introduce one distorts the sovereign market.

That’s why I cast a ballot, but not a vote for the office of President of the United States.

Why I think Paul Ryan won the Vice Presidential Debate

Despite the fact that I said I wasn’t going to watch the Presidential debate several weeks ago, I decided to tune into the Vice Presidential debate last night. I have never heard Paul Ryan speak publicly and there’s only one debate for the veep candidates so I tuned in.

Based On what I’m hearing from friends who watched both, last night’s debate was significantly more lively than the first debate. I was pleased with how the debate was moderated–it seemed well managed and fair. I enjoyed the format, with its opportunity for interaction between the two candidates. All in all, it was a good debate.

In the end, I think Paul Ryan finished as the winner. It wasn’t the thumping that President Obama seems to have taken, but it was a loss. And I think it proved Ryan ready for the prime time despite protestations to the contrary from the left.

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In my view, there are five reasons that Ryan won, albeit a slight victory:

1. He was more the more presidential. The side-by-side shots of the two candidates showed a Ryan who was composed, under control, and ready with an appropriate response to each of Biden’s talking points. Contrast this with Joe Biden who unnerved me with his gargoylesque grin and his gesticulations and muttering. Remember, I’m a Brit, I prefer understated. If I didn’t, I’d be Italian.

2. He was respectful to his opponent. Obviously as the younger and less experienced candidate Ryan had to walk a tough line between challenging Biden and showing respect for a sitting Vice President and senior statesman. I think he was able to do that. He challenged where necessary, but always in controlled tones and with some degree of evidence to back it up. As I mentioned above, I found that Biden’s performance was distracting. He interrupted too much and his general incredulity was sophmorific.

3. He stayed on message, despite repeated interruptions. Here Ryan did quite well. He put his case before viewers and he didn’t get sidetracked.

4. He parried Biden’s attacks. I think this was especially evident around the 47% talking point. I think that Ryan’s quip: “I think you know what it’s like for things to not come out right…” was genius. Biden rejoinder, “but I always say what I think, and so does Mitt Romney” was an excellent reply, but was lost in the moment’s laughter.

5. Biden failed to respond well to several of Ryan’s key charges. Biden was really weak in national security, especially at the beginning where I think that he was on the ropes about the security in Benghazi and the failed to quash Ryan’s contention that unrest is spreading through the mid-East and the Obama administration is, in his view, not adequately managing the situation.

Polls suggest that viewers of the debate favor Ryan as the winner although the mainstream media seems to be more equivocal. In the end, I’m not sure what difference this will make but Ryan performed significantly better than I expected.

What did you think?

The Obama Conundrum

A young man came to my door on Sunday afternoon and asked me for whom I would vote. I told him, “If I was compelled to vote today I would probably vote for Barack Obama.” By compelled I meant that someone put a gun to my head and ordered me to vote.

He was puzzled.

There is an assumption by most Americans that voting is a cherished civic act–one purchased with the blood of many patriots. I don’t dispute this. However, as we enter the final 45 days of this election cycle, there are some Christians who, like me, are considering abstaining from casting a ballot.

It’s what I call the Obama conundrum.

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I find myself entering a presidential election where casting a vote for either of the two nominees could potentially violate my deepest theological convictions.

The two party system in the United States has been influenced or corrupted by liberalism–cultural and economic liberalism. Two parties–two expressions of the liberal impulse.

The Democratic party is the party of the cultural liberal. They espouse the rights and choices of the individual over against the received moral tradition. The individual is a self-contained moral system capable of making decisions about what constitutes the good life without reference to anything outside of itself (or perhaps his family).

If a woman does not wish to be pregnant she ought to be free to make the decision to terminate her child. If a man wishes to commit himself to another man and call it a marriage, he ought to be free to do that and the state should recognize it as such. The only moral calculus is the autonomy of the individual. In reality, it is both foolish and wrong to believe that human beings exist in a moral vacuum.

If I vote for Barack Obama I am casting a ballot for one of the most pro-choice presidents. [Note: My theological belief that all humanity is created in the image of God leads me to value life. For this reason I am deeply skeptical of capital punishment, to the point of thinking there ought to be a moratorium on it. I am also deeply skeptical of war and have a hard time understanding the almost frivolous attitude of some politicians toward it.] A good society is not one that kills its unborn children. And while it may be good to help those in need, it’s also true that the government brings with it a profound ability to dehumanize those it seeks to help, simply by the scale of its operation. The government is also unable to make moral distinctions based on anything other than utilitarian concerns.

On the other hand, neither is a good society one that abandons those most vulnerable to ‘fate.’ The Republican party has become the party of economic liberalism. Taking their cue from Adam Smith’s philosophical reflections (which are predicated on a sub-Christian understanding of morals, by the way) the Republican party has come to espouse the individual as the supreme economic actor. There is no authority (or at least few) that may interfere with the economic actions of the individual. All that is require is mutual consent (analogous to cultural liberalism’s ethics above). A fair wage is what a person may command in the current market; a fair price is what the product will command. There is no moral calculus beyond this, and any effort to introduce one distorts the sovereign market.

The government becomes a tyrant who seizes the individuals’ wealth in the form of taxation. This is wrong because the individual owes no duty to anyone other than himself. The supreme moral calculus is efficiency and profit.

A good society is not one in which those with the fewest resources are abandoned. A good society is not one in which the utilitarian concern of bailing out financial institutions trumps the impulse to assist average people who are subject to a system that is corrupt.

In neither system is there room for anything even remotely resembling a common good, a sense of the individual having some degree of duty to something or someone outside of himself. Nor is there a moral system capable of explicating what that duty is and from whence it arises.

As a result, I find myself stuck and more profoundly sympathetic to the anabaptist tradition of envisioning the church as an alternate society–rather, envisioning secular society as a corrupted copy of the church.

So. Which of these profoundly sub-Christian alternative is preferable? At the present moment, I have a hard time wishing to endorse either and as a result I find it difficult to contemplate voting.

Gay marriage 3 – the case against – Updated

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?