By Alan F.H. Wisdom, A Christian Manifesto.
Do you know how frustrating it is when something seems plain as day to you and yet others just don’t “get it”? This thought came to mind as I read a recent report from an English professor at an evangelical university. Abigail Rine told of the disturbing reaction she received when she had her students at George Fox University in Oregon read “What is Marriage?” by Sherif Girgis, Robert George, and Ryan Anderson. (As it happens, we printed “What is Marriage?” in the May/June 2012 issue of Theology Matters.)
In their article Girgis, George, and Anderson give a thorough, straightforward account of the traditional “conjugal” view of marriage: that it is the enduring physical, emotional, and economic union of the two complementary sexes, such that any children conceived through that union will be assured the care of their mother and father. Contrasting this with the “revisionist” view that reduces marriage to an emotional attachment between consenting adults, the authors show how the “conjugal” view best explains the distinctive features of marriage–e.g., that it is lifelong, and that it involves two and only two spouses in an exclusive relationship.
‘My Students Hated It’
Many people no longer hold the “conjugal” view. But you would think they could at least understand it, based on an article as clearly written as “What Is Marriage?” You would especially expect evangelical students at an evangelical university to understand, coming as they do from a Christian tradition that has historically embraced the “conjugal” view.
Sadly, according to Dr. Rine, you would be wrong in that expectation. “My students hated” the Girgis/George/Anderson article, she recounts. “They also seemed unable to fully understand the argument. As I tried to explain the reasoning behind the conjugal view of marriage and its attitude toward sex, I received dubious stares in response. I realized, as I listened to the discussion, that the idea of ‘redefining’ marriage was nonsensical to them, because they had never encountered the philosophy behind the conjugal view of marriage.”
Even in their evangelical churches, the students had absorbed our culture’s prevalent view of marriage as “an exclusive romantic bond that has only an arbitrary relationship to reproduction.” They could not imagine an alternate view.
This sort of blindness has been a great frustration to all of us who have been making the case for a traditional, biblical understanding of marriage. We carefully assemble all the best evidence–biblical, historical, biological, sociological–and we present it as clearly and winsomely as we know how. Yet still we hear the revisionists asserting: “The debate is over. There are no arguments against same-sex marriage.” They don’t take the trouble to acknowledge and refute our arguments; they simply claim that we have no arguments. It’s as if they didn’t hear a word we said. And we meet this incomprehension in the church too, as Dr. Rine did among her evangelical students.