Tim Dalrymple offered an intriguing question for discussion at Patheos this week. It’s timely, relevant, and, to some, quite disturbing. He asked:
Is it time now, or might there come a time soon, when evangelicals should decide that the cost of carrying on the battle against same-sex marriage is simply too high?
On the one hand, I tend to side most easily with Owen Strachan’s responsive call here at Patheos (thoughtlife) to get back to our posts amid the disarray of a cultural skirmish seemingly lost, and to stand our ground for Biblical truth:
So let me urge in the strongest possible terms: don’t tweak your faith to make it palatable to the cultured despisers of religion. Guard the good deposit….There is nothing in Scripture to apologize for; there is nothing to feel bad about. God doesn’t need new PR. He doesn’t need people to be embarrassed for him.
On the other hand, Tim isn’t calling for us to try to make our faith palatable for others. He defends the Biblical definition of marriage because it is the only definition that could ever exist in the eyes of God. It is what it is, no matter the words we might use to describe it. As Tim puts it:
[J]ust as you can put other particles together in other relations, but those will not be simple hydrogen atoms, so you can devise other human relationships and call them whatever you like — and yet they will not be marriages. Marriage simply is a lifelong covenant between a man and a woman.
A Battle Already Lost
For my part, I think this battle over what we believe in Western culture about human sexuality has already been lost. Now we’re just fighting over the words we’ll use to define the new reality. Not that words are unimportant, but those who practice homosexuality in a seemingly committed relationship are already afforded nearly equal social status with those in committed hetro-sexual relationships.
I don’t agree with it. Nor do I think God agrees with it based on His revelation in Scripture. But our culture does. It’s not unlike a few decades ago when an unmarried man and woman living together or single woman with a child carried a social stigma that faded over time. For better or worse, we as a culture first mocked, then tolerated, then accepted them as, while not ideal perhaps, within the realm of normal.
So it is with committed homo-sexual relationships. Let me repeat: I don’t like it nor agree with it. I think it will be destructive to our culture. I will continue to engage in ideological battle against the beliefs beneath it, but it is what it is.
While we do not need to tweak our Biblical ideas, we do need to get much better at putting Biblical ideas into language that resonates with the work of the Spirit in the present age. Like Paul in Athens, we must creatively adjust our delivery of the gospel, not the truths of the gospel, to the culture we’re dealt — not the one we wish we had.
Frankly, I agree with Tim that until we get our own house in order, we won’t see much cultural change anyways: “Perhaps confession and cultural redemption are better tools against the deterioration of our social structures than legal opposition.” I really hate to say it, but I am starting to agree with him.
But if you give a mouse a cookie….
My greatest concern — dare I call it fear — is that marriage, once legally redefined, will be used as an ideological bludgeon to further pummel us into compliance with a worldview anti-thetical to our Faith. Call it a slippery slope, if you will.
I think many evangelicals and conservatives share that fear even if they won’t say it for fear of further criticism. It is the classic dilemma best captured by the phrase, “If you give a mouse a cookie….” If we acquiesce on a legal redefinition of marriage, what’s next? Redefining adulthood for sexual purposes? Jesus warned us we would suffer for His name, but does that mean we shouldn’t resist the potential causes of suffering?
Permit me to pose a problem in a very real context with which I am familiar:
Having served as a private Christian school leader for a dozen years, I know the chronic threat of lawsuits that hovers over faith-based organizations these days, especially with regards to a school’s admissions decisions. Yes, the law technically says such schools can discriminate on the basis of their First Amendment practice of religion. But if marriage were legally redefined in a way that violated the faith of the school, would that school be forced to partner with “families” who clearly and publicly did not practice what the school believed to be a Biblical lifestyle? And if not legally compelled, what pressure could be applied in the public eye by scores of protesters camped outside, making it unbearable for parents, and driving the school to shutter its doors? The same concern would apply for any church, mosque, synagogue, and para-church organizations, as well.
Owen Strachen warns of this with a poignant analogy so far as it goes: “The instinct here is to shed the husk and keep the kernel. What if – with apologies to Von Harnack – it is the husk that protects the kernel?”
I would go one step further. What if it isn’t the kernel they are after at all — but the entire field? Will we look back a decade or two from now and wonder how we could have been so foolish as to surrender the husk when the field is in flames?
For those of us who believe that every square inch of the field is God’s, giving any of it away should give us great pause.
Yet Tim’s question remains: is our strident resistance to legal redefinition of marriage compromising the very reason we were sent into the field in the first place? I think the answer may be a resounding — maybe. It seems to me that the question becomes how to both defend truth and speak it with love into our culture?
The Lord of the Harvest awaits our answer.