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I don’t intend to write on this every week, but the controversy is not going away and Christians need to be engaged, so perhaps a few reflections every now and then may prove helpful. Since last week’s post, I’ve been thinking about three more questions Christians may be asking.

1. Why don’t we just separate the religious and civil dimensions of marriage? The premise behind the question sounds promising at first. “Let the state do whatever it wants with marriage. The government can have its own licensing arrangement and the church can solemnize whatever unions it chooses. Won’t things be simpler if we let each institution do what it wants?” Well, on one level we already have this arrangement. Churches can hold all sorts of ceremonies. Your pastor can “marry” a dog to a cat or perform a commitment ceremony between a rock and a tree. The government doesn’t care, but it won’t give you a license and it won’t call it marriage. If the church wants to get out of the marriage business altogether, the government won’t object, but that doesn’t look like Christian conviction, or even compromise, more like total capitulation.

Then, someone may ask, why not take government of the marriage equation and leave it up to individual worshiping communities to decide whom they will marry and what constitutes marriage? Even if our politicians were entertaining such a notion (which they’re not), it would be utterly impossible and completely undesirable. No-marriage is worse than messed-up-marriage. From taxes to estates to child custody, the state has a vested interest in overseeing the legality of marriage. They will not give that up, and it would be an unholy mess if they did. Imagine the chaos if every church or synagogue or mosque handled marriage on its own. Eight people playing cards every Friday would call themselves a church, ordain someone as a minister, and start doing marriages on the side. Hormonal teens with a conscience about sex before marriage would quickly get married one night so they would no longer have to “burn with passion.” Child custody would often be a nightmare. Divorce would be easier than ever. Everything that marriage is supposed to protect and promote would be undermined. We need some institution that is nationally recognized and has the means to enforce its own laws? Whether we like it or not, that institution in the modern world is the state.

2. As long as we, as Christians, can have our view of marriage, what’s the big deal if the government allows for other kinds of marriage? Again, the question hints at an attractive ideal. “Let’s call a truce on this culture war stuff. The world will define marriage one way and we will define marriage according to the Bible. The state has to be neutral, right? People just want Christians to be tolerant of other views and other ideas on marriage. Where’s the danger in that?” The problem is that all the cultural arguments for “tolerating” gay marriage are not-so-thinly veiled arguments against the supposed bigotry of those who hold to a traditional understanding of marriage. What do you think the equal signs all over Facebook mean? They make a moral argument: those who oppose gay marriage are uncivil, unsocial, undemocratic, un-American, and probably inhumane.

If you believe homosexual behavior is wrong and gay marriage is a contradiction in terms, you are fast becoming, in the public eye, not simply benighted but positively reprehensible, like the last slave owner who refuses to get on the right side of history. I understand that Christians tire of the culture war, but it’s not a battle we started, and if (when?) we lose the debate on homosexuality we will lose much more than the gurus of tolerance let on. David S. Crawford is right:

The tolerance that really is proffered is provisional and contingent, tailored to accommodate what is conceived as a significant but shrinking segment of society that holds a publically unacceptable private bigotry. Where over time it emerges that this bigotry has not in fact disappeared, more aggressive measures will be needed, which will include explicit legal and educational components, as well as simple ostracism. [Humanum, Fall 2012, p. 8]

Many Christians are about to find out there is nothing in the modern world quite so intolerant as tolerance.

3. Will all of this spell disaster for the church? That depends. It could mean marginalization, name calling, and worse. But that’s no disaster. That may be the signs of faithfulness. The church is sometimes the most vibrant, the most articulate, and the most holy when the world presses down on her most. But only sometimes. I care about the decisions of the Supreme Court and the laws our politicians put in place. But what’s much more important to me—because I believe it’s more crucial to the spread of the gospel, the growth of the church, and the honor of Christ—what happens in our churches, our mission agencies, our denominations, our parachurch organizations, and in our educational institutions. I fear that younger Christians may not have the stomach for disagreement or the critical mind for careful reasoning. We’re going to need a good dose of the fundamentalist obstinacy that most evangelicals love to lampoon. The challenge before the church is to convince ourselves, as much as anyone, that believing the Bible does not make us bigots, just as reflecting the times does not make us relevant.

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64 thoughts on “Three More Thoughts on the Gay Marriage Debate”

  1. Brent says:

    I’ve made my points clearly above for those with ears to hear and eyes to see. I won’t argue them with every person who refuses to read them.

    I am completely sick of all the theological liberalism.

  2. Neophytos says:

    #1 makes the most sense. Let Caesar define marriage how he pleases, since the definition of marriage is already a joke.

  3. John Dozier says:

    As Ravi Zacharias pointed out long ago, culturally-speaking, we are suffering from three “macro issues” that all else flows from: Rampant Secularism [only the present exists or matters = no shame]; Rampant Pluralism [no True Truth = relativistic worldview and the chaos of consequences]; Rampant Privitization [what we do in our private lives has no bearing on our public life].

    All three have, are eroding all things, but Rampant Privitization is a lie from the pit of hell that promotes a separation, a compartmentalization… that does not exist. And its rampant practice outside and inside the church rents the fabric of life in horrible ways.

  4. John Dozier says:

    PS – I recommend a treatment of this issue that every Christian, church consider as an appropriate response… One that glorifies God and blesses people.

  5. Jamal Shaka Luther III says:

    This is barely coherent rambling. Is this what you people think smart people sound like?

  6. Paul Reed says:

    “if (when?) we lose the debate on homosexuality”

    We have lost the debate. Sure, the law is still against gay “marriage”, but it’s only a matter of time before it changes. What we need to start talking about is how we are going to prepare for the aftermath.

  7. Jeremy Hoekstra says:

    Kevin, you’ve identified some good issues and questions but I don’t think you’ve really answered the questions in sufficient, helpful way. In every conversation I have been having relating to same-sex marriage the questions that you have mentioned have been brought up. People are interested in thinking through these questions. I’d love for you to take a little more time and do your best to better answer them because I’d love to hear your opinion and I think it would be helpful for everyone who comes across your blog.

    Also, lets not respond to this out of fear. How many times are we told not to fear? Psalm 46 helps us to remember that even if the world does go to hell in a hand basket we don’t have to fear because we are God’s. As Christians we can be a prophetic voice for our world but ultimately we belong to God and our hope and life is wrapped up and secure in him. Our future and our children will be fine. We just have to do our part to bring them up in the Lord.

  8. Brian says:

    I also respect and appreciate you, Kevin. I have benefited from your books and teaching, but your arguments here are weak and unconvincing.

    If the Church is so dependent on the state to uphold righteousness, then why are we stopping at preventing same-sex marriage? Why not incarcerate homosexuals, adulterers, and the sexually immoral as well? Should we jail people who watch pornography, take God’s name in vain and disrespect their parents? Where is the line? Why must we enlist the coercive power of government to enforce biblical morality at all?

    If the gospel teaches anything, it’s that law cannot create righteousness. Not even God’s law. How on earth can we believe that man’s law can?

    We don’t need to separate civil marriage from holy matrimony. It’s already separated. I’m not married because the State says I am. I’m married because we made vows before God and witnesses. I don’t care in the least what kinds of marriage the state acknowledges. It does not change the reality that homosexual sin is sin like any other sin and that homosexuals need the same savior that heterosexual sinners do.

    Christians need to face the reality that collectively we have ostracized and rejected people with toward same-sex attraction as though the gospel doesn’t pertain to them. Fighting what they perceive to be a civil right will do nothing to win them to the gospel, but only reinforce the perception that they are hated and unwelcome.

    Let the state do what it wants. And let the church invest its time into loving and winning sinners to the gospel.

  9. The fact that people have to even debate this question goes to show what a massive failure the Lincolnist version of Christianity has been. I am even more in awe of the fact that all these churches here that have incorporated themselves with the government, via the 501 (c)3 prostitution, would be surprised that the state is expecting them to keep their word that they will go along with public policy. The public policy that the state paid them to support in the first place!

  10. Tom Brewitz says:

    While religious arguments for one-woman one-man marriages are all well and good, it is the non-religious arguments that seem to be overlooked, undervalued and ignored completely.
    1. One-woman one-man marriage contracts provide equal opportunity for all citizens regardless of their race, creed, age, sex, religion, color, political affiliation, or ethnicity.
    2. Same-sex contracts bars one sex from the license which make them unconstitutional as approximately 50% of the population are excluded from entering the contract.
    3. Homosexual conduct does not benefit American society or government.
    4. 9 out of 10 one-woman one-man marriages produce the next stable generation of taxpaying citizens.
    5. There are no known reasons based on mathematical formulas, historic context where this was successful, scientific arguments, impact study results, the US Constitution, economic affects, what are normal, natural and healthy sexual practices, or the biological design of the human species reproductive system to spend taxpayer funds to promote, elevate, and encourage more homosexual conduct by the state. There are only political reasons.
    6. Homosexual behavior is unnatural, unhealthy and abnormal.
    7. Homosexual behavior is a choice made by each individual.
    8. Same sex couples are not equal to one-woman one-man couples as proven in mathematical formulas where F = Female and M = Male.
    F + M = 2.1 children.
    M + M = 0 children.
    F + F = 0 childrean.
    Therefore, M + F > M + M
    & M + F > F + F
    9. More children are born out of wedlock than in, fewer one-woman one man marriages occur, the birthrate drops below what is needed to perpetuate the next generation of a taxpayer base, and divorce increases significantly when homosexual conduct is promoted with a license:
    “The Demographics of Same-Sex Marriages
    We found that divorce risks are higher in same-sex partnerships than in opposite-sex marriages, and that unions of lesbians are considerably less stable, or more dynamic, than unions of gay men. Norway as well as in Sweden, the divorce risk in female partnerships is practically double that of the risk in partnerships of men.”
    10. The American government is not obligated to engage in a contract that it does not benefit from.

  11. Charles Pritt says:

    Appreciate this post, and the last paragraph was encouraging. I sat yesterday in the Delaware Senate Chamber during debate just before they legalized gay marriage.

    If you think it can’t happen in your state, understand that they had at least a 2-year plan with national funding from two organizations that helped pass the bill. By the time the bill was passed there were only several legislators undecided. One senator “came out” during the debate and announced that she had a 20+ year relationship with another woman. I’m very disappointed in my state, but thankful that God is in control and that the church has thrived in much worse societies!

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Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina. He is chairman of the board of The Gospel Coalition, assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte), and a PhD candidate at the University of Leicester. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have seven children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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