By Susan Fikse, ByFaith magazine
“This will require constructive efforts that describe how sex transcendently, metaphysically bonds husbands and wives in beautiful ways. It will also involve describing the monstrosity of divorce and the tragic suffering of disordered desire.” — Greg Forster, author of “The Joy of Calvinism”
The dominoes are falling toward the legality of gay marriage, and the arguments of Christians seem to be crumbling beneath them. Even those who oppose same-sex marriage admit the likelihood that they have lost the argument. Depending on the slant of the poll, between 64 and 83 percent of Americans expect the national legalization of same-sex marriage. Many Christians bemoan the cultural decline of marriage and question why the political and cultural landscape can’t embrace the premise that God ordained marriage as a spiritual and physical union between a man and a woman. Genesis 1 and Matthew 19 are all the evidence many need to accept this premise. However, to most in our culture, scriptural and theological language is as meaningless as the source code behind their smartphone apps.
If the culture fails to acknowledge the biblical underpinnings of marriage, is it time for Christians to slide under the pew and cede the argument? If “because the Bible says so” is no longer convincing, can we use our God-given imagination to creatively persuade in ways that are consistent with biblical teaching, but in a language that our culture understands? As Christians are compelled to articulate and embody their beliefs in new ways, perhaps we will influence this debate — and our culture — in ways that frame new arguments for marriage.
In his late-June dissent to the Supreme Court decision on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), Justice Samuel Alito described the debate in this case as a battle between two views of marriage:
The first and older view, which I will call the “traditional” or “conjugal” view, sees marriage as an intrinsically opposite-sex institution … created for the purpose of channeling heterosexual intercourse into a structure that supports child rearing. … Others explain the basis for the institution in more philosophical terms. They argue that marriage is essentially the solemnizing of a comprehensive, exclusive, permanent union that is intrinsically ordered to producing new life, even if it does not always do so. While modern cultural changes have weakened the link between marriage and procreation in the popular mind, there is no doubt that, throughout human history and across many cultures, marriage has been viewed as an exclusively opposite-sex institution and as one inextricably linked to procreation and biological kinship.
The other, newer view is what I will call the “consent based” vision of marriage, a vision that primarily defines marriage as the solemnization of mutual commitment — marked by strong emotional attachment and sexual attraction — between two persons. At least as it applies to heterosexual couples, this view of marriage now plays a very prominent role in the popular understanding of the institution.
As Alito describes, the real issue at stake is not expanding the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples, but redefining the very core of the institution. Ryan Anderson of the Heritage Foundation writes, “Redefining marriage does not simply expand the existing understanding of marriage. It rejects the truth that marriage is based on the complementarity of man and woman, the biological fact that reproduction depends on a man and a woman, and the social reality that children need a mother and a father.”
If the law redefines marriage, same-sex couples may find that they have the legal right to an institution that no longer exists. Redefining marriage makes “marriage equality” a misnomer. Kathryn Lopez writes in National Review Online, “We all want, need, and deserve love. The debate over marriage isn’t about questioning this — or denying it. It’s about what marriage is and what common good the law serves in being involved with it.”
But the process of redefining marriage did not begin with a homosexual agenda. Rather, our culture lost its appetite for the traditional view of marriage as the biblical narrative of creation, fall, and redemption has lost its prominence in the cultural mixing bowl.