Monday, July 28, 2008

In Defense of Gay Marriage (or How to Protect the Sanctity of Marriage)

I think that homosexuality is sinful, and as such, morally wrong and contributing to the worsening of the soul of any person practicing homosexuality.

I also think that the Christians should stop fighting the legalization of homosexual marriage.

To many these statements will no doubt sound contradictory, and I understand that. But before I defend my apparent contradiction, I need to first implore anyone who immediately reacts negatively to that second sentence to question why it is that s/he thinks homosexual marriage should remain illegal.

Have you ever honestly thought about why you think that, or is it just that since we as Bible-believing Christians consider marriage to be the sacred union of one man and one woman, it should remain outlawed? I am convinced that this is not a good reason for the banning of gay marriage.

Thus, my first point: at a fundamental level, if we as Christians are seeking for government to legislate Christian morality, then we are in error. As more and more evangelicals are noting these days, America is simply not a Christian nation. The implication of course is that as such, the American government should not be seeking to legislate Christian morality. There may be other reasons for the government to legislate against homosexual marriage, but the fact that it is sinful in the eyes of the God of the Bible is not one of them.

My own preference is that, as much as possible, the government avoids legislating morality at all. There are, of course, some moral issues that must be legislated against for the sake of having a reasonably well functioning society (e.g. murder, rape, theft, et. al.). But it appears to me that the central purpose of that legislation is to make it more difficult for one person to impinge the freedom of another person, especially violently. That is, I should not be allowed to murder you specifically because you would rather not be murdered.

But homosexual marriage squarely fails that test. If two consenting adult males want to marry each other, why should the government be able to stop them? Add to that the tax benefits of being married, and suddenly denying that privilege makes it more expensive to be gay. And again, why should the state financially punish people for being gay?

But there is an even more important reason to allow state-sanctioned gay marriage, and it is this: I could not care any less what the state thinks of my marriage. Not even a little bit (as long as I get the according tax benefits, that is!). And why should you if you are a Christian?

By contrast, the only institution whose opinion of my marriage I do value is the church. Any church can decide whether or not they want to perform a gay wedding, and I for one would never find myself at a church that did that. But is there any biblical precedent for the licensing of Christian marriage to be primarily in the hands of any institution other than the church? The fact that America does or does not sanction my marriage is entirely secondary.

And truthfully, if Christians began to care more about what the church thought of our marriages and less about what the state thinks, perhaps we would do much more to preserve the sanctity of heterosexual marriage. For one, maybe we would stop getting divorced so often if we would submit our whole marriages (not just our weddings) to the church. And on that note, does it not feel even a little hypocritical to anyone else that we of the well-publicized 50% divorce rate are the most outspoken against other people’s marriages?

If we did start to seek the goal of godly marriages, would that not model the sanctity of marriage in a far more profound way than any legislation against gay marriage could? That seems to me to be a far greater and more important challenge to us as Christians than getting the state to sign off on our view of marriage.


Geoff Ziegler said...

This standard--that government exists to preserve all freedoms that don't harm others (straight from J. S. Mill, incidentally)--is questionable in my opinion. Rather than making a modern individualist view of freedom as the foundation for government, might not we consider such concepts as justice, or even shalom? If we believe that the family, rather than the individual, is the fundamental building block of society, and that the "wholeness" of our society is continually being diminished by this structure being devalued, then there is a legitimate case for seeking to oppose homosexual marriage at a state level.

paulbenedict said...

The problem is that same-sex couples cannot get married. To say they can is not true. To redefine marriage, at least as it hs been done in California, serves to define marriage out of existence. In California there are no more husbands and wives, there are only "Party A's" and "Party B's."

Norman Jeune III said...

Let the grandstanding and rhetoric begin! The stick has officially been inserted in the hornet's nest!

c.c. said...

if government is not there to legislate morality, what is it there for? even the way you defined appeals to some sense of moral correctness and incorrectness, doesn't it?

not only that, but the only reason governments have historically recognized marriages at all - as opposed to leaving them purely up to religious ceremony, and not caring about who lives with whom in each household - is because there are civic benefits to male-female marriage. specifically, procreation, the nuclear family, happier/healthier people. gay marriages may be two people who love each other, but they cannot procreate (unless they adopt, and this is not the majority, it seems), they do not create a traditional nuclear family with a father and a mother, and, well, i don't know about happiness, but there are studies that suggest good health is not a benefit of homosexual practice.

i can see where you're coming from, don't get me wrong, and i'm not saying you're a worse Christian for it. i think Christians do get too wrapped up in making certain things legal and illegal when it's really a question of the heart, not the law, that will change things. but in this case i think it would be wrong.

tentpeg said...

To develop your argument, you'd really need to go further:

1) What is the biblical role of government? Should we not seek a government that will faithfully uphold the moral law of God?

2) As someone else noted, you cannot redefine marriage to personal preference. If you could, why forbid marriage between brother and sister, father and daughter, human and animal? Why forbid polygamy? Homosexual "marriage" is like calling red blue. It simply is not true.

3) Sexual sin is not private and personal. It affects all of of society. What are the consequences to children? What foundation does it give us for the future of our culture? How does this affect religious freedom and our freedom to label certain practices sin? All law is legislated morality. If a law is not moral, then what is it?

I do agree that prohibiting homosexual "marriage" does not address the heart, but that is not the role of government either. The church is entrusted with that message (the gospel). Simply because the church and government have different purposes in God's providence does not mean that Christians should stop seeking godly, moral laws.

Anonymous said...

Good post on a complex issue.

I posted a response at my blog where I (very) briefly addressed the hypocrisy of it all considering "the plank in our own eye."

Anonymous said...

I've linked to your post from July 30th - Protection of Marriage, conference call expanded

Anonymous said...

Personally I believe we are not called to be militant about anything other than "making disciples and proclaiming the Gospel" To be anti this or pro that is to miss the mark. I also believe that we are called to submit to the rulers that God has (sovereignly) given us.

I also think that most Christians don't understand God's covenant economy. There is a general feeling amongst Christians that God will judge the U.S. for legalizing abortion, gay marriage, etc. I submit that abortion, gay marriage, etc., IS the judgment. Our nation gets what it deserves.

I think we as Christians need to focus on covenant fealty. Or, in other words, quit being lazy and complacent in our duties before God. When we do that we will start to see the tide change. I think we can start by being salt and light to our society not mimicking it.

Andrew Faris said...

Thanks for all the thoughtful responses so far. While I (clearly) have an opinion on this issue, it could use more developing, and I'll be the first to say it.

Let me try to respond to a couple of the general thoughts that have come up so far.

First, the major issue for me is exactly what paulbenedict has brought up: what precedent does America have to define marriage as between one man and one woman? Where is it getting that definition? History (as Carissa brought up) is probably the main place, and I am unable to come up with anything else. That said, that historical definition, it appears to me, has been imported from an old, religiously minded government, which we no longer have. Marriage, it seems to me, becomes a free term whose definition is almost entirely symbolic. Gays can already adopt and receive tax benefits and visitation through civil unions (as far as I know), but want to call their relationship marriage. My response is to ask, Upon what grounds does the state define marriage as between one man and one woman? Just because it is the definition of the term? If so, why that definition?

Second, I think the best argument against my case is the one Geoff and Carissa have mentioned, namely, the betterment of society. This is why the government does and should legislate some morality (as I tried to say above). If there are going to be massive negative societal affects, then we should legislate against it. My problem when we apply this to the gay marriage is that allowing gays to marry is not equal to allowing gays to openly practice their homosexuality in committed relationships (as rare as those may be). The fact is, homosexuality is openly practiced anyway, and is deemed to be something quite like marriage through civil unions. So the question seems to me to end up being almost entirely one of semantics. Again, from a state perspective, is not the term "marriage" almost entirely symbolic?

For Christians of course, this is all different. Marriage is not merely symbol, but a fundamental change of something close to ontology. As soon as I get married, I am becoming one flesh with another human being. The spiritual reality is not just a symbol.

In short the question continues to be this: what is the precedent for the government's definition of marriage?

Two final thoughts:

1) Ryan: much of the point of my post is to answer your first question with a resounding "no." I do not think that a Christian view of government is one where we push for the most Christian legislation. I think this comes, in a roundabout way, close to Pelagianism, as if we want non-Christians to be more moral. If some such legislation will make for a better overall society, than I think it is probably worth going for, but even that needs to have some limited-government constraints included.

2) I should have made clearer that I think my points here primarily to electing a president, rather than to voting on the issue itself. This is because in a representative democracy the elected representatives will be the ones to put forward and vote on, at the national level at least, much legislation. My issue about the precedent for defining marriage as between one man and one woman comes into play precisely here: why should those government officials define marriage that way? Is there a constitutional or other precedent?

Now we in California will get the chance to vote for or against the legalization of gay marriage soon. Right now I'm tempted to vote against it, if for no other reason than that the California Supreme Court legislated from the courtroom unilaterally when they legalized it, and that makes me furious. But when I try to look carefully at my own chance to vote directly on the issue, it is still hard to find in myself a strong conviction. Here the question becomes my own precedent: do I vote for what I think is morally right, or do I vote for what I think the best system of government is? That's a tough one for me, and one where I need to read more.

Thanks again for all of your thoughtful interaction, and I look forward to what you continue to have to say.

Anonymous said...

My take is that governments are morally accountable to God whether they realise it or not. In the OT God judged other nations for transgressing God-defined morality despite the fact those other countries didn't have God's law laid out for them.

I believe marriage between one man and one woman is one of those moral ordinances that are applicable to all peoples, not least because it began at creation. That's why I disagree with you that it's ridiculous to expect a government to legislate against gay marriage when they have no logical basis or reasons for doing so.

It is true that if Christians had no part in the governing of a country (as in NT times), we would have no reason to contest their actions and would leave it up to God to judge. However, in a democracy every person is expected to contribute to the governing of the country, and Christians who do have reason to uphold marriage between one man and one woman are also accountable for their contribution to the governing of the country.

So, regardless of what non-Christians/secular people think, Christians should still vote in accordance with God's moral will.

(Having said that, I don't believe Christians should spend energy trying to persuade non-Christians to vote against gay-marriage. Instead, I think Christians should seek to bring the gospel to people, see them converted, and change society and voting that way.)

tentpeg said...


You ask for precedent, but the precedent is obvious--biblical and natural revelation. Not only is homosexuality prohibited biblically, you would have to search pretty hard to find a government that has ever sanctioned homosexual marriages. You mention that the old definition comes from the "old religiously minded government, which we no longer have." But aren't all governments "religious" in that sense? Even secular governments make moral assumptions. They simply do it in willing ignorance of biblical revelation.

If your argument is that we should jettison a religious foundation for government, then all legal terms become symbolic. At that point, the only foundation you have is the will of those in power (of the majority or whoever can control the government). Thankfully the founders of our nation recognized the inherent sinful nature of man and established a constitution based on moral laws (derived from biblical revelation).

You also suggest that marriage for Christians is somehow ontologically different. On what basis? All of our actions, whether done in covenant relationship with the Lord or outside of that covenant, will be judged by the same standard. Homosexual relationships, like adulterous heterosexual ones, are done outside of God's definition of marriage (covenant monogamy between and man and women).

As for a Christian view of government, I was simply saying that the authority that governments have is established by God for a purpose. Governments (and the people who lead them, which in our case includes our representative voice, i.e. my vote) will be held accountable by God and judged accordingly. That is very different from suggesting that people can be saved through laws. That said, I do believe that good, moral laws can lead people to an awareness of sin (much like the moral law of God), which can prepare the hearts of people for receiving the gospel. Keeping homosexual marriage illegal will not "save" people, but it will reinforce to them what has been seared in their conscience, namely that there will be consequences for their actions. Hopefully, some will recognize this (as do many men in the jail ministry where we preach) and embrace the gospel. This is not Pelagian. It is the biblical use of the law--to bring conviction of sin, our guilt before God, and preparation for the gospel of Christ.

(Sorry for the long post--thanks for the discussion).

Carrie Allen said...

I was not put on this earth to push God's commandments on people who don't even have a relationship with Jesus just won't work. What I am called to "push" is Christ and Him crucified...then, and only then, can we get into the specifics with people.

I tend to agree with you Andrew, but my main problem is that if gay marriage is legalized, then it makes it easier for a gay couple to adopt. I don't want to sound harsh, and many have asked me, "would you rather see a child grow up in foster care or a homosexual based relationship?" I have to admit, that is a hard question. But as a person who was adopted, I feel that it would be very hard to grow up in a family with 2 mom's or 2 dad's. It is definitely not the norm (yet...), and won't be for a while (I believe). Therefore, as Christians, I believe it is more important to focus on the sanctity of "family" as a whole, when we are making state decisions on the sanctity of marriage.

BCJ said...

"But it appears to me that the central purpose of that legislation is to make it more difficult for one person to impinge the freedom of another person, especially violently."

So should it be illegal for me to not wear my seat belt if I don't want to wear my seat belt?

Just wondering.

Anonymous said...

A couple of comments:

Those who say we should vote according to God's moral will - here, of course, meaning that we should not support those who are for gay marriage - I want to know: How do we rank moral issues? It seems to me that any vote is *always* a compromise when judged according to the standard of God's moral will. No candidate is Christ and, last time I checked, no candidate was advocating the policies of the Kingdom of God. So clearly there are some assumptions about which moral issues are more significant than others. How do we stratify God's morality (I will come back to this point by introducing eschatology below)? Is homosexuality worse than, say, capitalistic greed which, I believe, is equally corrupting and oppressive of society (lust, coveting, materialism and so idolatry!!!). On this point, a discursus: the evangelical church is morally depraved; it allows its members to drive up in all manner of luxury cars, spending more sermon time condemning the sexual ethics of society and yet ignoring the ethics of its own members. Why don't we preach and vote with equal tenacity and vigor against greed and materialism? I suspect it is because we have selectively heard God's moral will, prioritizing things we are good at avoiding over those with which struggle...

To return to the point, to suggest that this matter is easily decided by an appeal to God's moral will is too simplistic and naive. God's will is always compromised in our fallen politics...

We cannot too easily assume univocity between Christian morality and political policy, as if what holds true and binding in one sphere is easily transferable to the other.

A robust eschatology and ecclesiology are desperately needed here. Eschatology: Christ's kingdom is not yet fully realized. This is our prayer: Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Christian truth and morality cannot easily translate into political policies. The assumptions that make the government work are different than those of Christ's kingdom.

Thus, the answer comes not by simple appeal to God's moral will as if such were reducible to political policies. Being involved politically is not a matter of turning God's moral will into civil law which, because of our eschatology, will always mean reductionism, but of discerning how God's kingdom can be best realized in a world that falls short of the kingdom/righteousness of God. So, ecclesiology! What is the role of the church in relation to the state?

The answer, then, comes by thinking eschatologically and ecclesiologically about how God's kingdom is best realized in the broken present. In this case, we have to ask: Is homosexuality an issue in which God's kingdom is best realized through the government or through the church? Where is the Christian witness most effective *now*, in civil law or in ecclesiastical discipline?

And here I suspect Andrew is right: the church, not the state is the authority in matrimonial matters because true marriage is sanctioned by God and witnessed by God's people. Christ's kingdom is better realized *now* when Christians treat marriage as holy and moral, rather than merely legal. Christians testify truly to the institution of marriage declaring a matter of the Spirit's governance.

Andrew Faris said...


Not a chance. If you don't want to wear your seatbelt, why should you have to?

Of course, you'd be an idiot not to, but that's not the point.

I do think parents should at least be forced to make their kids wear seatbelts though, which may seem like a conflict, but it would be essentially a basic legislation against bad parenting rather than against children's freedom in a really obvious, non-obtrusive way.

Is "obtrusive" a word?


tentpeg said...

JM, you mentioned that we cannot be simplistic and naive in this, and I agree. But I fear that you make it far too complicated. I would never equate the role of government with the church, nor suggest that we should seek to "realize" the kingdom of God through government. Entrance to the kingdom of God comes as hearts are changed through the preaching of the gospel (i.e. repentance and forgiveness of sins). This is clearly the mission of the church. But this does not negate the established role of government. As Peter reminds us in his first letter (2:13-14), all authority among men is given by God. Government is given authority to punish evil and commend those who do right. While I'm fine with governments doing more than this, at the very least, every government should seek to honor the One who gives it authority to rule. God consistently judged those who rule on the basis of his law. Why should we be any different? We are encouraged to pray for our political leaders, and by extension, we ourselves should seek laws that honor God whenever we have a voice.

I agree that we live in a compromised fallen world. But the question is not about where homosexuality rates on the scale or morality, but whether or not it should be endorsed and supported by our governement with legal protection. Is such support consistent with God's stated purpose for government, to make a clear distinction between right and wrong by enforcing moral laws?

Anonymous said...

Ryan, thanks for your comments; they give me an opportunity to clarify that miserable rambling.

I was not suggesting that we rank God's moral will, quite the opposite in fact. Indeed, I was raising that tactic so as to call into question the whole approach of simply voting God's moral will. The point there is that we cannot vote God's moral will simply because there is no perfect candidate and no perfect package of political policy; any vote will always be compromising God's moral will. The best case is to rank God's moral will so that we could prioritize certain issues over others, and thus enable us to vote in good conscience. But: How do we rank God's moral will? By what criteria? If the Ten Commandments are any indication, idolatry seems to be God's biggest concern, and yet that is far from the political agenda today!!!! So ranking God's morality seems to be problematic, thus again, appeals to God's moral will seem too simplistic.

I introduced the concepts of eschatology and ecclesiology to put some distance b/w the political sphere and Christian values. Since all politicians and their politics compromise God's moral will, Christians don't make decisions on the basis of God's moral will so much as how to be faithful and effective witnesses to God's Kingdom in the present world. Thus, the question becomes: How do we effectively witness to this issue as God intends it in a broken world? In the case of homosexuality, I suggest that Andrew is right because advocacy for a purely political understanding of marriage bankrupts the Christian understanding of marriage, and thus harms our witness. It would lead to confusion, do more harm than good. For we will tacitly reduce a Christian concept of marriage to a legal institution. As Andrew says, the sanctity of marriage is better served by the church's authority.

But you seem to miss all of this when you revert back to talking about what sort of authority the government has and thus how we should vote on this issue. You write: "Government is given authority to punish evil and commend those who do right. While I'm fine with governments doing more than this, at the very least, every government should seek to honor the One who gives it authority to rule. God consistently judged those who rule on the basis of his law. Why should we be any different?" Again, in a perfect world, things would be so simple - vote according to which politician perfectly regards God's Law and faithfully executes its God given authority/responsibility. But we don't live in a perfect world, and thus the quesiton is, do we rank God's moral will so that we can vote while retaining a good conscience (excusing our compromises) or do we make decisions about how the Christian witness is more effective?

Marriage for the Christian is not a legal institution but being bound together by God. But your position seems to assume univocity between Christian "marriage" and public "marriage". I'm asking, what does this do for the Christian witness? What message does it send to society? And indeed, what message does it send to our own churches, which are so plagued by divorce that I can't help but think that it is due to a real deficient understanding of what Christian marriage is and how it is upheld... Again, marriage for the Christian is being bound together by God and supported by God's people. "Marriage" in the public sphere is a poor parody of true marriage, and this is why I am against making homosexual marriage a determinative issue for Christian politics.

In short, I am asking for us to engage the political arena in a way that thinks about the church's witness to God's moral law rather than God's moral law in general precisely because God's moral law is only a reality of the consumated Kingdom. Once we do so, that is, once we realize the distance between the state and God's Kingdom and the importance of the church's public witness, we might find ourselves (a) thinking differently about what issues determine our politics and (b) caring more about the church.

Just some crazy thoughts.

Anonymous said...

JM, if you thought your comments were rambling, try tackling this!

I appreciate what you are saying. However, I read you as introducing a couple of assumptions that I (the previous anonymous commenter) do not share.

1) To attempt to vote in line with God's moral will is not necessarily a good witness.

2) God's moral will is found in God's Kingdom (and his Church) alone.

3) Voting is advocating.

If I have read you wrong, please let me know because I don't agree with any of those.

First, you are right that voting in line with God's moral will is not simple, but the complexity of the issue does not negate our responsibility. Yes, as Christians we have a responsibility to witness to God's character and Kingdom in our voting, but how that is at odds with voting in accordance with God's moral law (no matter how complex) I don't know. How does making moral choices - even hierarchical ones - differ from the Church's witness to God's morals?

Secondly, God's moral will - his Law - is what all people will be judged on. It is not restricted to God's Kingdom - it is just that it will only be fully worked out in God's Kingdom.

In the case under discussion, marriage is not the domain of the Church alone, nor does voting about the issue reduce it to a legal definition. Married non-Christian people are truly married, and as Christians responsible for being part of the governance of a country, we should be including the promotion of God's view of marriage for the good of all people in our thinking about who to vote for. Should the Church concentrate on the marriages in their midst? Absolutely. They should reflect all a marriage can be. But it is not an either/or situation. You can take God's will for marriage into consideration in voting while at the same time working on marriage within the Church.

Thirdly, just because Christians vote one way does not mean they should be pushing their vote onto others. Do I detect a worldview unduly influenced by the efforts of the Religious Right?

It's also important to assert that to make necessary compromises doesn't mean that we have capitulated on particular issues. A person who votes for a candidate's pro-environment policies when the candidate also holds pro-choice policies is not necessarily pro-abortion (and vice-versa).

What Andrew seems to be saying, however, is that we should let non-Christian society do what it wants because it shouldn't affect us as Christians and abandon voting about gay marriage altogether. I disagree. It will affect us (at least in terms of new Christians that come into our Churches), and we have a responsibility to contribute to government in line with God's will as far as we are given wisdom and ability.

Anonymous said...

Ali, thanks for engaging my muddled thoughts. As far as your summary of my points go, I think you've missed what I said. Take you point 1, for example. What I said was that one cannot vote God's moral will simply because one will always have to compromise. To vote God's moral means that you will have to make some decision about which aspects of God's law are more important than others, again, because no one in the political sphere is representing God's moral will. The question, then, becomes, how does the Christian *effectively* witness to God's moral will with his/her political voice? That is a bit more complex than simply saying: God said this is wrong, therefore I will vote for the candidate who says it is wrong too.

I'm not sure what you mean by your point 2. The word "found" is troubling. Of course I believe God has revealed his moral will in the Torah, and most perfectly in Jesus Christ. So in that sense, God's moral will can be "found" there. But, his moral will will only be *realized*, that is, made effective, in the consummation of God's Kingdom. Again, eschatology - there is a distance b/w the present broken world and the world to come. So don't take me as denying that God's moral will is a mystery until the new heavens and new earth; I'm only saying that there won't be one-for-one correspondence b/w God's moral will and the present order, and I think that such an observation should inform our political action.

I am even more unclear concerning your summary point 3? I'd have to hear more about what you think "advocating" is? I have cast voting in terms of witness, that is, how do we declare to the world the values of God's Kingdom. According to the old wisdom, we declare this by simply trying to match God's Law with civil law. But I have pointed out that it's not that simple, and so there must be something else governing our political action. I have introduced the concept of how we witness to God's intention for the realities which are at issue in the political sphere.

The first point you raise is a good one, and I have considered it myself. Am I really saying anything that different in terms of net effect? Well, I think, I hope I am...??? What I want to say is that we need to be careful about assuming univocity b/w the Christian concept and the political concept. What Christians mean by marriage and what the state means by marriage are two different things, and again, we can attribute this to our eschatology - God's Kingdom is not yet fully here. If that's the case, then we need to decide how we can witness to the reality of marriage in a broken government.

You second point assumes precisely what I deny: univocity b/w the current order and God's Kingdom.

I'm not sure what your third point has to do with my position. I never expressed worry about "pushing" our values onto others, nor about capitulation. I have only tried to show that our voting is not just a matter of aligning God's moral will with civil law, because, (a) that's impossible given that no one is adovocating the policies of God's Kingdom and (b) it is eschatologically uninformed, for it assumes that the true concept and the political concept are the same.

I'm not sure how allowing society to institute gay marriage will affect us anymore than allowing divorce affects us... Again, you are ranking God's moral will here.

I hope this muttering makes sense.

Anonymous said...

People in a free society adopt language -- words and their definitions -- to describe what they will agree to hold in common. These words all come from somewhere and, since the US did not invent Western Civilization, we happen to get alot of our definitions from what our forefathers (and mothers)understood them to mean. When citizens decide to completely throw out the accepted meanings of these words and completely redefine them, there ought to be an ultra-compelling reason to do so.

We spend a huge amount of time, effort and money in our society on words because if we don't allow them to guide us in our interactions with each other, far more malevolent forces such as facism or anarchy fill the empty spaces.

Western civilization has constantly maintained that the word "marriage" defines the commitment between one man and one woman. Marriage customs have changed (few of us had our spouses selected by our parents, for example and divorces and remarriages are far more common than they used to be). But the core definition of marriage as an estate involving a man and woman have not changed. I want that word. I want "marriage" to mean what it has always meant.

If two men or two women want to set up a household, let the arrangement be called "civil union" or some other descriptor we can agree on as a society. But if you fiddle with the meaning of the key words that have defined our civilization, I want you to have a massively great reason to do so, and the recent attempts at wresting away the traditional definition of marriage does not, in my mind (as a voting member of the society) rise to that level.

Andrew Faris said...

Dad (that's Bill Faris, for those who didn't realize it),

Great point, though I still disagree. If nothing else you've re-made my own point in one sense, namely that the issue is almost entirely semantic. Allowing gay marriage is not the same as allowing homosexuality in general- we already allow that. We're just talking about the meaning of a word here.

Is that something to be so up in arms about?

Anonymous said...

Hi JM,
I'm sorry that you were not able to see how all my thoughts applied to yours - obviously I was not clear. Let's see how well I do this time!

I don't deny that voting according to God's moral will is complex. You are right, there will be compromise. But I don't see that is any different from voting to "witness to God's moral will". Do we vote to witness by voting in line with the parts of God's moral will that agree with the culture so they appreciate us, or do we vote to witness by voting in line with the parts of God's moral will that disagree with the culture so they see the contrast? Both approaches are complex.

The difference, I think, is in our views about how God's moral will applies today. I believe that the world began with God's moral will, and ideally should still operate in line with it. The fact that humans have perverted that does not mean it does not apply, nor that they will not be judged by it. Christianity is a return to that moral will. The difference, therefore, between God's moral will today and in the coming Kingdom is that today it's being ignored where when God's Kingdom fully comes it will not be ignored.

Therefore, I believe nations should be governed along the lines of God's moral will, and that my contributing vote should take that will into account - and yes, that will include voting according to my understanding of a hierarchy of God's morality.

My witness to God's Kingdom law, as far as I'm concerned, is not so much what I vote for, but a) how I explain my vote, acknowledging that my vote does not reflect the totality of my understanding of God's moral will (i.e. I don't agree with - advocate - everything a candidate promotes), and b) my living out the uncompromised moral will of God as I understand it.

My problem with your view re. this issue, is that it makes a clean break between Christian marriage and the political concept of marriage. Your assumption seems to be that to compare the two is like comparing apples and bicylces, whereas I see the comparison as between apples and rotten apples. As far as we have a responsibility, I think we should try to prevent the apples from rotting further.

I'm not sure how allowing society to institute gay marriage will affect us anymore than allowing divorce affects us...

It would affect us more in the following ways:
- Divorce does not remove the political concept of marriage as far from God's concept as gay marriage would.
- Divorce does not affect the societal understanding of gender as much as gay marriage would.
- Divorce is not completely prohibited in the Bible whereas homosexuality is.
All in all, as painful and distressing as divorce is, recovering from homosexuality is far more difficult.

So, yes, I am ranking God's moral will, even as Jesus did in less volitile cases (eg. Matt 23:23, Mark 2:23-28).

Andrew asked his father in comment #21 whether redefining the word "marriage" is worth getting all het up about. I myself won't be joining protests on the street and gathering signatures for petitions about it, but as far as my responsibility in voting goes, gay marriage is an important factor in my decision. And if I vote for a candidate who supports gay marriage, it will not be because I think it's not a worthwhile issue - it will be because something of greater import is at stake.

Anonymous said...

At my blog, I posted a somewhat related followup: Homosexuality and the Church in light of 1 Corinthians 5:9-13

Anonymous said...

Ali, you pose good questions, particularly, how voting for witness to God's moral law and simply God's moral law differ. I think they differ in the type of decision one is making, the former again assumes that God's moral law can be matched with the present order whereas the latter thinks more about how one can testify to coming God's Kingdom. Of course, both require discernment/judgment and some sense of prioritization, but that is really only a superficial similarity.

You do admit that one has to rank God's moral law, and that there will always be compromise. Ok, then why is it that the things that seem most important to God - idolatry - are at the bottom of our list? Why is it that our system of ranking does not comport with God's?

Moreover, Paul lumps in greed with homosexuality (1 Cor 6.9-10), so why aren't we protesting institutions in our society that facilitate greed with the same vigor that we protest homosexual marriage? Much of our consumerist culture operates on and incites coveting and lust, habits of the soul that are explicitly condemned in the Ten Commandments. I want to know what's driving our selectivity here, why do we focus on certain things and not others? It seems to me that those who invoke God's moral law aren't being really honest with their position, that is, about the way in which God's moral law functions as a standard.

So, you are right that we disagree on the way in which God's law functions as a standard today. And that means, in this case, that I sharply distinguish Christian marriage from the political concept of marriage. At the end of the day, it seems that if Christians want to protest homosexual marriage - which is marriage according to the political concept - they should *equally protest the political concept of marriage itself*, especially if they purport to be holding God's moral law as their standard and motivation...

Anonymous said...

Webster defines "semantics" as follows:

1: the study of meanings: a: the historical and psychological study and the classification of changes in the signification of words or forms viewed as factors in linguistic development.

So, yes, we're talking semantics -- does that equal "trivia"? I don't think so. I'm not "up in arms", that's rhetoric (another interesting word!). I'm concerned about the erosion of the meaning of a key word in the lexicon of Western Civilization.

We're not going to arrive at a time, in my mind, when the "religious" notion of marriage can be entirely divorced (if you'll excuse the word) from its secular meaning in our civilization. When I married some 32 years ago, we got our license from the State before we stood before "God and these witnesses" on that day. When I perform weddings, the closing lines go: "Now by the authority given to me as a minister of the gospel of Christ AND in accordance with the laws of the State of California, I now pronounce you..."

In our society the civics of "marriage" matter in the church and, perhaps remarkably, there are those who have no religious notions who also don't want the definition of "marriage" to be changed -- some of these are even homosexuals (who, I dare say, "get it" when it comes to this issue).

Go figure.

Anonymous said...

Hi JM,

I don't think voting according to God's moral will and voting to witness to the coming Kingdom are very different at all. It is possible to do the former without doing the latter, but I'm not sure how it's possible to do the latter without doing the former!

I also find it difficult to understand the sharp division you make between today and the future Kingdom in terms of God's moral will - where does that come from and how do you work it through? Doesn't the very fact that there will be no marriage in the Kingdom create difficulties for you?

My perspective is not an either/or. I believe God's moral will is constant throughout, including into the future Kingdom. The difference is in how closely his creation follows that will. Just because we are unable to follow it doesn't mean it should not be voted for. If that were the case, no one in the Church should be required to live by Kingdom values because it will never completely happen!

You express doubts about prioritising God's moral will, but you seem to be rejecting a current situation in this comment rather than the concept:
"Ok, then why is it that the things that seem most important to God - idolatry - are at the bottom of our list?"
Just because it has not been done well, does not mean it should not be done. Add to that the fact that no political candidate I've come across deals with those things, and voting for those things becomes difficult.

I am not myself interested in protesting or making a big deal about "any" issue. My preference is to, as the Church, serve society in accordance with the moral will of God/Kingdom values. But where I have a responsibility i.e. voting, I will exercise it according to my understanding of the priorities of God's moral will. Personally, I think abortion is even a greater moral issue than homosexuality, and if I was going to agitate about anything, that would be my choice.

You are right, of course, that we Christians often emphasise one thing illegitimately over another, but I don't think homosexuality is as far down the list as you think. Take Romans 1 for instance, where homosexuality is a specific consequence of idolatry. Surely, in the case of a downward slope, the outworkings of idolatry have continually worse effects, and here homosexuality is presented as a very bad effect.

That's not to say idolatry itself is not to be considered, but the government does not have jurisdiction over the heart. Does it have juridiction of the outworkings of idolatry? Yes, I think so. But I think the outworkings of that idolatry themselves are necessarily prioritised as well, and despite having greed in the same list as homosexuality, I would not put it on the same level (though I think it should be brought up many, many notches).

Lastly, I don't quite understand this comment:
[Christians] should *equally protest the political concept of marriage itself*, especially if they purport to be holding God's moral law as their standard and motivation...

Why "equally"? In so far as the "political definition of marriage" lines up with God's, I'm happy with it (though note, I live in Australia). Are there things that could be improved? Sure, but the basic framework is good. I don't understand what you are saying.

Anonymous said...

Ali, thanks again for a good discussion and thoughts.

It seems that we are agreed that one cannot simply vote God's moral law b/c of eschatology. I am pleased. So our debate is about how we best witness to God's moral law in the present regarding homosexuality.

First, let me clarify: By witness, I'm not suggesting that we ignore God's moral law nor that it is irrelevant. Of course, God's moral law is a universal standard. True, true. But our eschatology teaches us that it is not yet an actual standard, that is, not everyone recognizes and obeys it as it truly is. That's why I draw a distinction b/w the political concept and the Christian concept. So, by witness, I'm not drawing a distinction b/w today and the future in terms of God's moral will, so much as trying to account for the fact that today is not the future.

You wonder about how I could say that Christians should protest the political concept of marriage with the same energy as they protest homosexual marriage. You express your conviction that the political framework is "good."

To my mind, while the current political concept might get the form right - one man with one woman - it does not get the content right. For Christians, marriage is spiritual b/f it is legal, it is a reality constituted and authorized by God through the authority given to the church.
Again, this is why I draw a sharp distinction b/w the political concept and the Christian concept. Commonality in form is, of course, superficial, and so how you can say that it "lines up" with God's moral will is both perplexing and troubling to me.

Ultimately I suspect I have a more radical eschatology than you which means we have different understandings about the political system and the nature of government. I'm nervous about what happens when the political system is made to do the work of the church. I am suspicious that the reason why Christians have such a high divorce rate is b/c they ultimately view marriage in contractual, legal terms rather than in covenantal, spiritual terms. It is interesting that Christians will marry in the church and divorce in the courts, which suggests to me that for those Christians the court is ultimately the opinion that counts and is determinative for their marriage. So for me, I'd rather let the political system have its definition of marriage since it does not and will not share our assumptions and spend our time drawing the contrast b/w legal marriage and real marriage.

This is also probably an ecclesiological difference b/w us. I believe the church, not the state is the place where we make God's reign effective... I'm more concerned w/ keeping the church's intergrity and holiness than with trying to see God's reign realized through a secular, better, false religious system, that is, the state. So we'll probably have to agree to disagree at this point. I appreciate your perspective and you've rightfully pointed out how my position falters at various points...

Anonymous said...

JM, one last comment, and I'm done.

I like your distinction between political and Church marriage and the extended application to other matters. You have thought through the implications of each further than I have.

However, I think we agree more than you are aware. I also think the Church's work should not be done by the State. I see the State having the role of governing a country, not preaching the gospel. Yet, if I were Prime Minister (or President in your context) I would be looking at governing in line with God's moral will as far as I was able, because it is by that standard that I'd be judged and also it is the standard that would be best for the people.

As a member of a democracy, I may not be Prime Minister/President, but I do vote, and so I see my responsibility in the same light - it is not part of the Church mission to vote, it is part of my responsibility to contribute to the governing of the country. That is where I see a vital distinction needs to be made - for me, at least.

That being the case, as a voter I consider the issue of gay marriage an important part of my voting decision, not least because it will negatively affect those becoming Christians and those Christians who grow up in secular society i.e. everyone.

Anyway, I appreciate your comments as well. You've helped me clarify my own understanding and given me things to thanks about.


Andrew Faris said...


Don't hear me wrong: I'm not saying that semantics are unimportant. I just meant to say that what we are now agreeing about is that we are discussing the use of a term- not the practice of a lifestyle. Again, that is to say that voting against gay marriage does not in any sense restrict homosexual practice. The trouble is, I think a lot of Christians vote against gay marriage because they want to vote against gay practice (because the Bible tells them so). We need to get past too quickly considering those things equal.

Regarding the weddings that you officiate, I actually wonder about how easily the authority of the state and the church roll off the tongue together. Should that not trouble us even a little bit, especially when they are in that order? Obviously I know that you do not mean, by putting the state first, that the state actually has primary authority, but the order is still curious to me. It seems to me that those two authorities are on such radically unequal plains that maybe they should not be uttered together at all, just so we're clear about whose opinion matters most to us.

Think about it like this: if the state stopped allowing Christian marriage, say on separation of church and state grounds or something, you'd perform weddings anyway because Jesus Christ would still think you could and should perform them. But there is no parallel the other way. In fact, when the church starts messing with marriage rules by allowing gay marriage, you would for sure leave that church (no matter what the state says). The state's stamp of approval is necessarily secondary.

The use of those two authorities together in the officiating of a wedding ceremony is, of course, another issue of semantics in some sense, which shows that I think they are important too. And I do. In this case though, I would rather the state take words and change the definition just so we the church would have an upfront reminder that frankly, they aren't the ones who define our terms and practice.

"We the church" takes precedence over "We the people" in every situation.


Anonymous said...

Andrew, you've got it absolutely correct. The term "marriage" should never have been used by both the church and state--but that mistake was made hundreds of years ago. Just look at the way some of those who've left comments here include "Jesus Christ" in their definition of marriage--that's fine, but what does that do for people married in a Jewish temple? In a mosque? Or just at city hall? My wife and I could not have been married in a Jewish temple--the rabbi would have said "no" for obvious reasons. And no priest or pastor will have to say "yes" to any gay couple. Period. (The fact that many will say "yes" should perhaps cause Christians to rethink their positions, but I know you don't agree with that and that's ok.) The issue on the ballot in California is about state marriage, and the way the state has set up marriage (benefits, etc) makes it clear that it is unconstitutional to deny those benefits to homosexual couples. The Supreme Court didn't legislate, they (like Mass. and Conn. and no doubt others soon to follow) correctly interpreted the state constitution. This has nothing whatsoever to do with any church. When you get your marriage license, you do have to go through some state-sanctioned official ceremony before it is legally binding. Church officials can perform this function, but they don't have to and you can certainly choose to have someone else--a judge, a mayor, a Las Vegas Elvis impersonator, a CA county clerk--sign off on your license. And as you say, churches, too, can choose to perform marriage ceremonies for people who don't have the state license. I don't know of many cases of this--polygamist marriages in the fundamentalist Mormon churches, I suppose--but still, a church marriage and a state marriage are just not the same thing at all, even if for many married couples they happen together. Since a gay couple can buy a home together, move into my neighborhood, adapt (or otherwise have) a child...what does it matter to me or my family if they have a piece of paper in their safety deposit box from the county clerk declaring them married? Frankly, I don't know how many of the hetero couples in my neighborhood have that piece of paper; I only assume they do. Again, you nailed it: many people's objection is to the first part of my statement: that the gay couple can move into my neighborhood and join my society. That ship, my friends, has sailed--it's ok with me, it's ok with a lot more people than it used to be, but those who don't like it can hold their opinions. They just are wrong to interpret the law the way they do.