Monday, July 2, 2012

How Christians are (partly) responsible for gay marriage

Provocative headline, no? Bear with me here.

We all know that homosexuality has been around a long time. It is discussed in both the Old Testament and New Testament, after all. Some societies found it acceptable within certain boundaries (Greece and Rome, for example) and others found it an abomination (Judaism and classical Christianity, for example). Yet never before did any society seek to make homosexual marriage legal. Even in societies where it was common and acceptable, the concept of homosexuals marrying would have been considered bizarre: marriage was seen as between a man and a woman, for the purpose of raising children and passing along inheritance.

So why, in recent years (first in Europe and now in the United States), is gay marriage becoming a topic?

As we Christians like to point out, marriage is a sacred institution between man and woman, before God: an oath and covenant which binds two people together forever in such a way that they cannot be separated until their death. It is so serious that Jesus gave very little room for divorce (basically, only if your spouse cheated on you or was found not to be a virgin on your wedding night). It is such a binding covenant that Jesus said if you divorce wrongly and remarry it is considered adultery for the rest of your life.

So everyone, gay or straight, should be able to see why Christians are concerned about redefining marriage (even if they disagree with it): it seems to undermine one of the key covenantal features of our religion, and indeed does so while endorsing as acceptable a sexual partnership which the Bible forbids.

So why do I say we Christians are at least partly responsible for gay marriage? Because even though we love to talk about marriage as a sacred institution, we started redefining marriage about 50 years ago. Gay marriage is simply a logical result of what we have allowed for decades.

For most of Christian history, the sanctity of marriage was held very seriously. Women and men were expected to be virgins on their wedding day, and remain faithful afterward. The Christian view of sex has always been, abstinence until marriage, fidelity until death.

But the sexual revolution of half a century ago changed everything. Women and men began sleeping with multiple partners outside of marriage. They began sleeping together for years to check their “compatibility” for marriage. Some slept together only when they felt “in love”, some after big events like prom, some simply after the second or third date. But in all instances, the Christian concept of purity on one’s wedding night was lost.

So when the sexual revolution was going on, and a Christian household found out that their daughter was pregnant, or their son had began sleeping with his girlfriend, what was their response? Shotgun marriages.

This was the common approach that we set up. If you are living in sexual sin with a heterosexual partner, then do the “right thing” and marry them. Indeed, I have known evangelical churches who have couples living together sexually and they are welcomed as visitors; but when they attempt to join the church they must go get a quickie marriage in order to be “acceptable” before God.

Now do you think that God finds the couple who were sleeping together sinfully somehow different because they were forced (by church or parents) to say a vow that they didn’t really mean? Does that somehow make it better?

Of course not. The Christian response to fornication used to be, “forgive, educate, and prevent”; in the past half-century it has become, “Use marriage to cover it up.” We took marriage (a holy and sacred institution) and profaned it into a common legal agreement.

We followed our typical American (heretical) works-based approach to religion: if you are living a bad life (in this case, fornication), then do some holy works (marriage) and everything will be better. When we should have been teaching the youth of America to seek forgiveness and penance and help them learn self-control, we instead profaned marriage and made it a “cover up” that somehow made the sin acceptable if you went into a church and said a few words.

We say that we want to protect the sanctity of marriage. But the truth is that we allowed its sanctity to be destroyed years ago.

We allowed it when we let divorce become completely acceptable.

We allowed it when we used marriage as a cover-up for fornication.

We allowed it when we decided that being married by a justice of the peace was just as good as a minister.

The modern gay marriage debate is simply the logical result of the redefinition of marriage that we Christians created. Marriage is not seen as a sacred institution today because, for two generations, the American church has not treated it as such. Now Americans see marriage it as a visit to a J.P., a few words said either out of puppy love or obligation or an attempt to take away the guilt of sexual sin. It is a loose agreement at best, easier to cancel (via divorce) than a subscription to Netflix. And by and large, the Christian Church has looked the other way during this redefinition, and in fact has at times encouraged it.

And so here we arrive in modern society. There are probably not any more homosexuals than in past eras, but for the first time they seek marriage. Why? Because of our enlightened society? No, because in their minds it is logical. For what is marriage, anyway? It is a legal protection with tax benefits, which can be entered into in a day’s notice with a justice of the peace in your backyard, and makes the sexual lifestyle you live somehow acceptable.

Why do they believe that? Because that is exactly what the church has taught for fifty years.

What real argument is left to us? They have us in a corner. Why do we allow one type of sexual sinner (fornicators) to marry but not another (homosexuals)? Both sins are equally bad in God’s eyes. Why should they believe us when we say with our mouths that it is a covenant to God, but with our actions we say that a meeting with a JP is fine and our divorce rates within the church are the same as outside of it?

Can we blame them for concluding that we are hypocrites in this regard?

Now of course, this does not mean that they are right. Far from it. And we Christians should oppose gay marriage, because it is yet another step down the same path. Certainly we should try and fight the continuing erosion of marriage. The frustration for me is that we have slid so far down this slippery slope that we no longer have a reasonable ground to fight from. I cannot picture a path back from where we are today to where we are supposed to be (and once were) with regard to seeing marriage as a sacred institution.

Maybe the now-rising Covenant Marriage movement will help. At least in that way there is a clear difference between Holy Matrimony and just a JP shotgun wedding, easily started and easily stopped.

So when it comes to the gay marriage debate, oppose it. You should. But in doing so, be sure to show kindness and love to those on the other side of the debate. Because you are talking about two different things: you see marriage as sacred, while they simply see marriage as a fairly minor legal agreement which holds some legal benefits. And that view is not their fault; it is ours. We caused this.


  1. I don't support gay marriage, but the real threat to marriage isn't homosexual unions (when homosexuals are, what, 1-2% of the population?) but divorce, which ends 50% of marriages. Modern laws that make divorce easy and convenient, as you mentioned, remove all incentive for couples to stay together, especially women, who initiate most divorces and wind up with kids and a sizable alimony payment as a reward.

    Divorce also de-incentivizes marriage, especially for men. This is the real cause of the twentysomething man-children the media constantly beats up on. Why bother to grow up and move out of your parents' house when becoming an adult via marriage looks so unappealing? In the past, a man giving up his freedom was worth it because he gained a stable family and societal respect in return; now he's asked to give up his freedom to a woman who can divorce him on a whim and take his wealth and kids with minimal effort. It's no wonder that so many men are bailing out of the whole thing!

    I still believe in marriage because my parents have a great one and I've seen that it can work, but I understand where guys are coming from when they don't want to "grow up" when growing up looks so unappealing. As you said, this is largely the result of poor teaching from the church, and getting marriage back to its roots is not only the key to stabilizing families but showing the pro-gay marriage crowd why traditional marriage is worth preserving in the first place.

  2. Kyle, very true. Worrying about gay marriage when half of all of our marriages end in divorce is a bit like bailing water in the Titanic: yes, gay marriage is a pollution of God's plan for marriage, but the ship is already sinking, and it is counterproductive to put our energy into fighting the 1-2% of bad marriages when 50% are dying right around us.