I undertake this post with some amount of fear and trembling. I understand many may differ from me on this point and I hope you know that regardless of where you stand, if you are chasing after Christ, I consider you my brother or sister. However, having listened to an excellent lecture by Sarah Williams and sitting in a class under Hans Boersma this semester (to whom any good points in this post probably ought to be attributed), this post has formed in the midst of recent developments in the news and the reaction I’ve witnessed. This post is also longer than normal in an attempt to do the topic justice. I pray it is not divisive but gives us an opportunity to think once more how our culture is confronted by Christ.
This last week has once again stirred up the issue of gay marriage in the media. With the California courts overturning Proposition 8 and Washington moving to legalize gay marriage, the question arises: what is a Christian response to gay marriage?
My project here is not to deal with homosexuality itself, although naturally that is part of the issue. Rather, I want to suggest that the cultural (and even Christian) support we see for gay marriage is a natural development of predominant cultural values.
What are these values? There are three related values I see at work that particularly fuel this acceptance:
- The modern value of self-realization through choice.
- The post-modern dislike of barriers or boundaries.
- The post-modern elevation of diversity as an inherent good.
Since the existentialists, modernity has elevated self-realization through choice as the ultimate good. The human end or goal is the fully-realized modern man. This man is realized by exercising his will, by pulling himself up by his own bootstraps. Indeed much of our society continues to reflect this value: a capitalist society seeks to maximize our options, we are told that we ought to strive to follow our hearts (aka, our choices), and success is dependent upon our own efforts.
The two post-modern values also result in an increasingly tolerant, diverse society. While clearly, there are benefits to this, there is also a darker side. In addition to acceptance comes a lack of clarity regarding truth statements, as well as a high degree of sexual confusion.
When it comes to human sexuality, these three values have created a series of separations between sex and its traditional location (marriage), its traditional participants (man and woman) and its traditional consequences (children).
In a world that elevates the self, contraceptives become a means of maximizing sex as pleasure without consequences. Children become a choice, not a gift; man is in charge, not God. In a world that dislikes barriers or boundaries, to restrict the fullest manifestation of one’s sexuality to marriage appears as nonsense.
And finally, in a world where all three of these values come to bear, there is an increasing acceptance of gay marriage as not only a natural part of the world’s diversity but also naturally right if that’s what those individuals choose.
Yet it strikes me that these three values run counter to a Christian understanding. The follower of Jesus is never interested in self-realization; we are, instead, interested in realizing the Son more fully in our lives and imaging him through our lives. While we value choice, we also recognize that our wills are to be submitted to the Father to work his Kingdom purposes. This runs radically counter to the modern value of self-realization through freedom of choice.
Christianity also holds that there are clear boundaries. The Creator-creature distinction is a hard line that cannot be crossed. I firmly believe that this created distinction must be mirrored in our ethical decisions.
Finally, our ethics must be fully Trinitarian. The Trinity reminds us that diversity is not valuable in itself alone. The Trinity presents us with a beautiful image of diversity in unity, thereby, denying us the right to elevate diversity as inherently valuable.
Thus, as a Christian, I do not feel I can support gay marriage because the cultural values that fuel the push for gay marriage run counter to the Christian message.
1. Please note I have only highlighted three. The modern and post-modern worlds are, of course, much more complicated than three impulses alone. Yet I do believe that these three are highly significant ones and may well lie at the heart of this issue.
2. As evident from the title, this is part 1 of a two-part series; next week, I will consider what the church ought to do in light of these thoughts (HINT: I don’t think it ought to start picketing, etc.). You can read Part II here.