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Same-Sex Marriage Makes a Lot of Sense

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The media is still buzzing with President Obama's recent announcement that he personally favors same-sex marriage. In 1996, he favored it. In 2004, though, he rejected it (affirming civil unions) on grounds of his Christian convictions that marriage is a "sanctified" union of a man and woman. Now he has reversed that position, again offering his Christian convictions (loving neighbors and being in a church community that accepts same-sex couples) as a rationale.

Speculations about political motivations aside, the President is hardly alone in his waffling over this controversial issue of significance for American society. Nor is he alone among those who say that they affirm same-sex marriage—or their own homosexual lifestyle—as something that is affirmed by God and their Christian commitment.

Makes a Lot of Sense?

Both sides trade Bible verses, while often sharing an unbiblical—secularized—theological framework at a deeper level. If God exists for our happiness and self-fulfillment, validating our sovereign right to choose our identity, then opposition to same-sex marriage (or abortion) is just irrational prejudice.

Given the broader worldview that many Americans (including Christians) embrace—or at least assume, same-sex marriage is a right to which anyone is legally entitled. After all, traditional marriages in our society are largely treated as contractual rather than covenantal, means of mutual self-fulfillment more than serving a larger purpose ordained by God. The state of the traditional family is so precarious that one wonders how same-sex marriage can appreciably deprave it.

Same-sex marriage makes sense if you assume that the individual is the center of the universe, that God—if he exists—is there to make us happy, and that our choices are not grounded in a nature created by God but in arbitrary self-construction. To the extent that this sort of "moralistic-therapeutic-deism" prevails in our churches, can we expect the world to think any differently? If we treat God as a product we sell to consumers for their self-improvement programs and make personal choice the trigger of salvation itself, then it may come as a big surprise (even contradiction) to the world when we tell them that truth (the way things are) trumps feelings and personal choice (what we want to make things to be).

Plausibility Structures

The secularist mantra, "You can't legislate morality," is a shibboleth. Defenders of same-sex marriage moralize as much as anyone. They appeal to dogmas like freedom of choice, individualism, love, respect, acceptance (not, tolerance, mind you, but acceptance), and excoriate religiously traditional opponents as hypocritical in failing to follow the loving example of Jesus. The agenda is plainly as ethical as any other. Whatever is decided at state and federal levels, a certain version of morality will most certainly be legislated.

What this civic debate—like others, such as abortion and end-of-life ethics—reveals is the significance of worldviews. Shaped within particular communities, our worldviews constitute what Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann coined as "plausibility structures." Some things make sense, and others don't, because of the tradition that has shaped us. We don't just have a belief here and a belief there; our convictions are part of a web. Furthermore, many of these beliefs are assumptions that we haven't tested, in part because we're not even focally aware that we have them. We use them every day, though, and in spite of some inconsistencies they all hold together pretty firmly—unless a crisis (intellectual, moral, experiential) makes us lose confidence in the whole web.

Every worldview arises from a narrative—a story about who we are, how we got here, the meaning of history and our own lives, expectations for the future. From this narrative arise certain convictions (doctrines and ethical beliefs) that make that story significant for us. No longer merely assenting to external facts, we begin to indwell that story; it becomes ours as we respond to it and then live out its implications.

I've argued that in Christianity this can be described familiar terms of the drama, doctrine, doxology, and discipleship. But you see it in every worldview. Take Friedrich Nietzsche, for example. The late 19th-century philosopher believed that we came from nowhere meaningful and are going nowhere meaningful, but in the middle of it all we can create meaning for ourselves. Freed from an external creator, law-giver, redeemer, and consummator, we are finally on our own. The parents are on holiday (if there is a parent), and it's party-time. In Romans, Paul identifies our fallen condition as a pathological inability to be thankful. After all, if reality is an accidental given of a random and impersonal universe rather than a gift of a purposeful God, then the only meaning we have is that which we design and execute for ourselves.

It's something like Nietzsche's narrative—the "Nowhere Man" poised to make something of his own individualism and will to power—that creates the plausibility structure of contemporary living in the West. Its central dogma is the will to power and its doxology is actually self-congratulatory, like Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself." It yields masters and consumers rather than pilgrims and disciples.

The fact that "moralistic-therapeutic-deism" is the working theology of Americans—whether evangelicals, Catholics, mainline Protestants, or agnostics—demonstrates the pervasiveness of secularization even in our churches. The old actors may still be invoked: God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit. Bits of the old narrative may still be mentioned: creation, providence, redemption, salvation, heaven. However, the shift is evident enough. These old words are mapped onto an essentially human-centered rather than God-centered map. The map is the autonomous self's striving to create a sense of meaning, purpose, and significance. Each individual writes his or her own script or life movie. "God" may still have a meaningful role as a supporting actor in our self-realization and peace of mind, but we're the playwright, director, and star.

So when we come to debates about same-sex marriage in civic debates, even professions of deeply held Christian commitments can be invoked without the biblical narrative, doctrines and commands, doxology, and discipleship actually providing the authoritative source and structural integrity to our arguments.

Conservatives often appeal to self-fulfillment: gays are unhappy. They don't realize their own potential to mate with the right gender and produce pleasant families like the rest of us. To be sure, there are other arguments, like referring to the decline of civilizations that accommodated homosexuality. However, this is just to extend the pragmatic-and-therapeutic-usefulness presupposition of individual autonomy to a social scale.

On this common ground, same-sex marriage is a no-brainer. Some people are happier and more fulfilled in committed same-sex relationships. There's no use trying to refute other people's emotional expressions of their own subjective states of consciousness. Do same-sex couples wrestle with tension, anxiety over a partner losing interest and being attracted to someone else, infidelity, and so forth? Looking at the state of traditional marriage, how exactly are these couples uniquely dysfunctional? A 2006 Amicus Brief presented to the California Supreme Court by the nation's leading psychological and psychiatric bodies argued, "Gay men and lesbians form stable, committed relationships that are equivalent to heterosexual relationships in essential respects. The institution of marriage offers social, psychological, and health benefits that are denied to same-sex couples...There is no scientific basis for distinguishing between same-sex couples and heterosexual couples with respect to the legal rights, obligations, benefits, and burdens conferred by civil marriage." Well, there you have it. The new high priests of the national soul have spoken.

How would someone who believes that sin is unhappiness and salvation is having "your best life now" make a good argument against same-sex marriage? There is simply no way of defending traditional marriage within the narrative logic that apparently most Christians—much less non-Christians—presuppose regardless of their position on this issue.


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  • Guest - Kathy B

    I am trying to wrestle with this topic from a biblical, ethical perspective. Some of the touch points that arise are... The reason we defend Christian Marriage is that it is the very best and most important expression of who God is, period. In Genesis God said ... So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. God is not man or woman, but he is perfect complete union. We cannot affirm gay marriage without doing grave offense to the nature of God. The church has held such a puny view of marriage and its light view of divorce, that we have no one to blame but ourselves when we lack the moral authority to stand against the onslaught of this foundational principle. In gospel terms, another sticking point that I see is the permanent nature of marriage. Homosexuality is no greater a sin than any of the others that Paul list in the works of the flesh, but, with reprobate heterosexuals, if there is repentance, the instruction is to remain in the marriage as long as the unbeliever is willing (no sin, but actually sanctification of relationship). If a homosexual person is married to their lover and later finds repentance, how can he or she remain for any extended period of time and still consider themselves to be repentant. The cloak of virtue that is afforded by the institution of marriage may be trapping numbers of homosexual individuals in the dilution that are not choosing open rebellion against God.

    Given where we are and where we are going in the church and as a culture, I grieve to think where we will be in a generation. We will lack the discernment and biblical literacy to even frame these kinds of arguments in 10-20 years.

    Can I say that I have people in my life for whom I care deeply that are immersed in the gay lifestyle and I sympathize with their desire for legal protection and the companionship that is a God-given void. "Marriage" is not the answer. When this whole issue gets ironed out, the church must revisit our part in creating this mess. We gave the sovereign rights of God and the church over to the secular government. Having confidence in mere human bodies to steward this institution has left it vulnerable to misuse.

    Thanks for the opportunity to pose concerns among thoughtful individuals.

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  • [...] a hindrance to the LGBTQ lifestyle as once thought. Again, I will refer to Michael Hortons article, which indirectly addresses some of the fallacious ways in which Christians tend to argue against [...]

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  • Guest - K. Mapson

    I find the crux of the argument to lay in the proposition put before the California court: "The institution of marriage offers social, psychological, and health benefits that are denied to same-sex couples." I think it is abundantly clear that indeed people in marriages (whether Christian, Jewish, Pandeist, Atheist, gay, straight, interracial, Eskimo, whatever) enjoy better health and longer lives. So to tell a group "you can not marry" is to strip years from them, condemning them to a probability of ill health and earlier deaths.

    The problem of asking whether we ought to support or condemn 'same-sex-marriage' is the runing together of religious ideals with the practical operation of a government which is not supposed to restrict religion or dictate aspects of the religious life. There is a difference between supposing a 'marriage' ought to be recognized and respected by the Church, and by the State.

    After all, if the Bible is to be taken at all seriously, then a divorcee is not to marry. Yet few today would give much thought to the idea that the state ought to prohibit such remarriages, even as people divorce whenever they begin to feel unfulfilled and go on to their third and fourth and fifth marriages. That people do this in marriage is far more undermining to the institution than who it is who marries (this is aptly demonstrated by the historical religious condemnation of interracial marriage as a practice which would weaken the institution; interracial marriages are no more volatile than same-race marriage).

    But at the end of the day the question really is, how much power are we going to give the State to govern social institutions. Because, if we tell the state "you may prohibit people from marrying based on their respective sex" we are (absurd as it may sound today) openning the door to a future government prohibiting people from marrying those of the opposite sex!! Better to restrict the power of government in the field altogether and simply remove its power to weigh in on the validity of marriage any more than it may do so with the validity of Baptisms and Communions.

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  • Guest - Frank Wm Carr

    Until I analyzed and perused this site I thought of myself as an evangelical. And I kind of was. Now I am convinced that it is not my place to judge or condemn the LGBT community for their "sins." Christianity is about love, after all. The civil authorities are not authorized to decide moral matters.

    Based on Calvin's teaching, there is the kingdom general and kingdom special. Politics, like everything secular, belongs to the kingdom general. The church belongs to the kingdom special, which is "salt and light" to the rest of the world.

    My best defense of Traditional-only marriage was Rom 1:26-27. However, in context, this chapter includes many other kinds of sins we're all guilty of. Paul's letter to the Romans was intended to provide the means of grace, so we can love one another. In 1 Jn 4:7-12, John discusses God is love and we love one another. And as long as you glorify God in your body (1 Cor 6:13-20), whether gay or straight, that's what we are called to do!

    50 years ago, it was civil rights for blacks. Now politics is concerned with gay rights. Who knows? 50 years later it may be something radically different. Politics should not be mixed with religion, plain and simple.

    To God be the glory. Amen.

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  • Guest - J Archer

    If marriage is upto government to change it`s institution, will the government then be acting to legislate that ANY body can be baptised ?
    If we are to be the salt and light, how can we condone same-sex marriage and then turn around and tell our children that marriage is only between a man and a women.
    Why then Dad did you agree that the government could change the legal requirments for marriage ??

    Can any of you same-sex advocates tell me that Homosexual anal intercourse is healthy ? Or that children can be placed into same-sex marriage homes and not be affected ??

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  • Guest - Norm

    Again all this aside implication of some greater purpose for life that the author never goes into detail about.

    What is the The super duper special reason for living that "True Christians" have but never mention?
    They only talk about how selfish it is to live to better yourself and the rest of humanity.

    When you finally press them on it the purpose to a "true Christians" life IS...(drum roll)
    To be a sycophant to an idea.
    To grovel to an egomaniac who created them to be his own personal cheering section.
    And it's soo different from being selfish, all they want is to live forever and ever in a place where they get to do whatever they want without any responsibilities and without any sadness- IE to be happy FOREVER.

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  • [...] believe that this is the root of the issue. Dr Michael Horton sums it up brilliantly in his article Same-Sex Marriage Makes a Lot of Sense. Please take a few minutes to go and read it. We will wait here while you [...]

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  • [...] a few weeks ago. The underlying core of the moral predicament that we find ourselves in is that the church appears no different from the world. The answer isnt necessarily that [...]

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  • [&] the White Horse Inn Blog: The secularist mantra, “You can’t legislate morality,” is a shibboleth. Defenders of [&]

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