[This post is the second in a series of four offering this Christian’s heartfelt response to the debate over gay marriage. If you have not yet read the first post, I would encourage you to start there and read through this series with both humility and grace.]
Throughout the history of our country, we have been involved in numerous wars. From the birth of our nation in the American Revolution to our modern day War Against Terror, brave men and women have fought valiantly to secure the freedoms which our country holds so dearly. One war we tried desperately to stay out of in any official capacity was the Second World War. That resolution to remain neutral in the war changed one infamous day in December of 1941 when Japan attacked the U.S. military base at Pearl Harbor. Though Hawaii was not yet officially a state of the union, it had been an annexed territory of the U.S. since 1898. No matter how you looked at, the Japanese attack was an assault on our home soil. And it meant war.
Today, a very different kind of battle is being waged across our country. It is not a battle fought with guns, ships, and planes. But it was birthed in circumstances not very different from those which caused FDR to urge Congress to enter the Second Great War more than seventy years ago. It is a battle instigated by that same feeling of being attacked in your own territory.
Across America, a war is being waged over the concept of marriage. Those on the traditional side of the argument feel like their long-accepted understanding of marriage is being attacked by an outside force in an attempt to claim the right of marriage for themselves. On both sides of this battle, good people are fighting for what they believe to be a worthy cause.
But as is the unfortunate case with any war, things tend to get ugly and there are inevitably casualties of war. People get hot-headed on both sides of the debate and say things they later regret, thereby sacrificing their own reputations and integrity to the cause of the war and often hurting the furtherance of their own cause which they have fought so vehemently to protect. This series of blog posts is my attempt at a civil, reasonable presentation of a stance arrived upon through much intentional thought, internal struggle, and humble prayer. I hope that you will receive it in just such a way.
Let me begin by clarifying where I stand on marriage in general. In full disclosure: I am writing from a decidedly Christian worldview. Therefore I gain my understanding of spiritual marriage from the Bible. Based on the teachings I find in the Bible, I hold a belief that marriage was instituted by God and clearly defined as the spiritual union of one man to one woman in the eyes of God. But that definition alone is not all there is to biblical marriage. I would go much further than that in defining biblical, spiritual marriage. I believe the Bible clearly states that marriage is intended to be so much more than just a union of two people of opposite genders for their own pleasure. The Bible presents spiritual marriage as a union with a purpose. That purpose is to present a picture of a concept far greater than the love between two individuals. According to the Bible, the purpose of marriage is to present a picture of the gospel truth of how Christ loves and relates to His church.
That being said, I believe that most people who are fighting to protect the concept of marriage are not only fighting for a cheapened understanding of marriage, but they’re fighting the wrong people. Let me explain what I mean by both of these statements.
I would first argue that most people fighting to protect the concept of marriage are fighting to protect a weakened, sickly understanding of that concept. If we define marriage biblically, as most people arguing for the defense of marriage propose that we should, then we should define it as a spiritual union instituted by God, validated by God, ultimately sustained by God, and intended to carry out the purpose of God. It is much more than the union of one man to one woman. As a Christian, to define marriage any other way would detract from its intended weight and majesty.
Yet people on this side of the argument seem only to be worried about defending the gender difference required in a relationship called marriage. I would argue that Christians who really want to protect the concept of marriage should be fighting to protect our understanding of this union as an institution of God intended to present a picture of Christ and His church.
And here is where this gets personal for Christians. If we are truly interested in fighting to protect the concept of biblical, spiritual marriage in our society, then we are fighting against the wrong people. We really should be suiting up against ourselves.
I find it sad, deplorable even, that marriage is handled so haphazardly within the community of faith called the church. The divorce rate among those claiming Christianity displays little difference from those claiming no ties at all to Christianity. According to the most liberal studies, as many as 60% of nominal Christian marriages end in divorce. More conservative studies narrow the relationships that qualify as representative of the church to those who are regularly active within a church, lowering the number of marriages ending in divorce to around 38%. Even by the conservative studies, this fact illustrates how lowly we hold the true concept of biblical marriage.
The truth is that within the community of faith, marriages are ending daily across our nation. Many of them end for arguably valid reasons: unfaithfulness, abuse, etc. But a large number of them end for reasons that illustrate just how lowly we view this majestic concept called marriage. We fall “out of love” with our spouse. Things just get too difficult. Someone else starts looking more appealing than the person to whom we vowed our affections years before.
If marriage really is a picture of how Jesus loves His church, what message are we sending by our cheapened view of marital faithfulness? What do we tell people about our Lord when our lives scream that covenant love is only as important as our convenience and emotions necessitate?
We say we are fighting for the concept of marriage while we ignore our own negligence of the truth behind that concept. The church has long sacrificed our high view of marriage on the altar of our own laziness and infidelity. Until Christians stop allowing the tides of convenience and circumstance to dictate our commitment to the marriage covenant, we really should stop looking outside the community of faith for a scapegoat to divert our attention from our own sinfulness. As long as we continue to abandon marriage at the first sign of difficulty in exchange for cheap unfaithfulness and easy divorce, we have very little right to talk about the sanctity of marriage.
Unless our marriage commitments become more than two-year contracts that anxiously await the possibility of an upgrade to a newer, flashier model, we should question our condemnation of others who have no spiritual obligation to venerate the marriage covenant at all.
I understand that this indictment of the church, while definitely addressing a foundational problem in this debate, only applies to a certain percentage of Christians in the marriage debate and in no way answers the question on most people’s minds: What do we do about same-sex marriage? I turn quite specifically to that question in my next post and then offer a proposed course of action in my final post.
But for now, let it suffice for me to offer a word of challenge to the church. Instead of responding in indignation because “those people” brought the attack to us on the sacred ground that we have long considered to be ‘home soil,’ would you possibly consider a different tactic? I say we start the fight ourselves. And I say we start that battle for marriage on our own soil, with our own people. Let’s make some headway in the battle for marriage in our own hearts and minds so that we can clearly know what we should be fighting for.
Consider your own view of marriage. Is it high enough? Are you fighting for a concept that is worth the fight? Are you focusing your efforts in the right direction?
Marriage is, without question, worth fighting for. But the fight does not begin on foreign soil or against foreign enemies. It begins in our own pews, our own homes, and our own families. Let us humbly address our own cheapened view of marriage before attacking someone else’s. That is where the battle for marriage begins.