Same-Sex Marriage Battle: The Consequences of Surrender

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.

What’s yours?

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  • Yes the battle has been lost, but it was lost long ago, and on completely different grounds. Long ago most people stopped feeling obligated to heed Biblical, even New Testament behavioral instructions in a variety of cases because they simply had ceased to have cultural relevance. In spite of clear commands in the New Testament, almost no group forbids women to braid their hair, to wear any gold or pearls in spite of being forbidden in not one, but two New Testament texts: 1Tim. 2:9 and 1Pet. 3:3. Few churches require men to raise their hands during prayer, even though 1Tim. 2:8 specifically requires it. Most congregations do not follow clear commandments about women in the context of public worship. In spite of 1Cor. 14:34 women speak in worship. In spite of 1Tim. 2:11-12, women in our churches are leaders and teachers, even ministers in quite a number of denominations. We have long ago concluded that not all biblical texts are equally appropriate to use as a basis for our moral decision making. Certain Old Testament texts condone polygamy, genocidal holy war, and stoning of delinquent children. Other texts in both testaments condone a hierarchal family structure in which wives are required to be in submission to husbands, showing a quiet spirit, and encouraged by example to call their husbands “lord.” Condoned in both testaments is the institution of slavery. Slaves are required to obey their masters; a runaway slave is to be sent back to his master.
    The very idea that there are people who actually treat the bible the way it is often implied is simply not the case. Everybody picks and chooses. The rhetoric of this debate is severely disconnected from the reality, even for the most fundamentalists among us, possibly with the exception of the Amish – though I doubt if they would endorse slavery.

  • Eagle

    How would you have survived in Nero’s Rome? With all the banter about culture and engaging in the endless culture wars, I wonder…how would you last 30 minutes if Nero was Emperor?

    • Good question. But I think each place in history is unique and Christians should adjust their emphaiss and message — notthe truth — accordingly. In that era, I would guess the emphasis would be more on survival while being faithful to Christ. Here, we have been handed a heritage unlike any the world has ever seen, so there is a different duty, I think, to help preserve it for the sake of the Kingdom efforts. God may have different plans, of course.

  • Steve Ruble

    Maybe evangelicals should think of gay marriage in a way similar to the way they think of divorce. Divorce – under most circumstances – is obviously condemned in the Bible, by Jesus himself, and most evangelicals think it’s a bad thing and would try to persuade people to go to great lengths to avoid divorce. Nevertheless, it’s difficult to imagine the evangelical community trying to make, say, remarriage after a divorce (not caused by adultery) illegal across the country. Evangelicals have somehow come to terms with the legality of divorce and remarriage; I think they’ll need to do the same with gay marriage.

    • Good point, Steve.

    • Derrick

      That is a good point, but it also brings up thoughts about what might have been. What if the laws of our country reflected the Christian ideas about divorce? I’ve seen so many broken homes and broken children because of divorce. Of course, it could have been much worse, and I’m talking about hypothetical situations, but still. . .

  • John Evans

    The definition of adulthood has already been redefined for sexual purposes. Most nations have been RAISING the age of consent.

  • One might even say that evangelicals and Catholics have embraced the concept of divorce wholeheartedly. There are many individuals and leaders in all groups who have multiple marriages behind them. Besides that, no one is sucggesting that divorce be illegal for those outsise of their faith. To go back to your examples, substiute divorced parents for gay parents and you will find that your argument falls apart.

    I think it is important to note that in any pluralistic society no group should be able to legislate morality for non-members. We rightly criticize countries such as Saudi Arabia where there is no difference between religious and secular law, where non Muslims are subject to the same proscriptions as believers. Again, no one would wish such a thing here.

  • Doug

    Related article:

    From the article:
    “As more states legalize same-sex marriage, one of the key questions the justices may be forced to address is whether a national consensus now exists supporting the idea of expanding an “equal protection” right of marriage to homosexuals.”
    It’s scary to think the Supreme Court will start ruling based on consensus over the Constitution.

    • Are you familiar with the Fourteenth Amendment and the existing jurisprudence surrounding it? Because it this comment makes it sound like you do not.

  • Suo

    The battle is only lost as long as you so claim it to be. Time and time again what seemed to be the inevitable cultural habit of a particular society was rolled back in favor of the truth. You really seem to have no conception of the overwhelming grace of God and the fundamental goodness of human nature. Here is a secret for you: All are searching for God. All are searching for true food. Oh yes there is a certain degradation of culture at this time, but so long as God is good, He will not abandon us to our baser nature. Sodom will not rise again.

    • Can you give me a few examples of the rollback in favor of truth you’re speaking of in a culture that didn’t happen without a significant crisis?

  • Jennifer

    “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? ”
    Here is the problem as some of us see it:
    Imaginary family “A”: Mom, Dad and Dad Jr. Live together and go to church together. this is the second marriage for Dad and, because he is getting on in years he does not want any more children. Birth control is used but…. So Mom chooses abortion (as a large percentage of Christian women legally have). The whole family enjoys lunch out and a trip to the mall after church on Sunday. Dad Jr. Has all of the latest and greatest gadgets that money can buy and proudly boasts about these things to his peers. Dad Sr. Is no better.
    Imaginary family “B”: Dad1, Dad2 and adopted daughter live together and go to church together. The two Dads have been together for many years and want to stay together until death do they part. Both are committed to volunteer work in their community. They observe Sunday as God intended them to and place a priority on God and on their family. They regularly tithe to their church and to those in need and are modest in their lifestyle.
    Which family would your school want to keep out? Does this school accept divorced parents? Parents who work or publically shop on Sunday? Single parents by choice?
    Why does the “sin” of physical love between same sex couples trump so many other considerations.

    • The school can legally deny admission to the children of both families.

    • Jennifer

      Hi Bill, in family “A” I was meaning a Mom, a Dad, and one male child (“Jr.” to mean named after Dad.). Sorry for the confusion. My main point is not that religious groups should stop professing their beliefs or be forced into practices that go against their beliefs. It just seems that homosexuality is seen as a “worse” sin than many others. Adding this to the fact that many Christians don’t practice what is preached leads some to question what moral grounds are being stood upon by those trying to restrict the actions of those who don’t share the belief that the relationship between two loving and committed same sex people is a sin – or who maybe see love and commitment as more important. One thing I am finding as I try to learn about God is that so much of what I read and hear talked about is what the other guy is doing wrong – or in how everything is falling to pieces as we slide further and further into immorality. I’m finding it quite depressing, actually. I’d love to hear from people who could say from the heart that they believed so strongly in God and his word that they were filled with great comfort and joy. And not only that, they have so much faith in their beliefs that it doesn’t matter to them that I might believe differently. Or even act differently. They’ll be happy to welcome me into their hearts, their church, their schools anyway – secure in their own faith.

  • Bill, I already answered your private school hypothetical in detail a couple of weeks ago in response to your post-election post, but you didn’t respond, so here it is again:

    Bill, to answer your question, under federal law, a private school can not be forced to admit an adopted child of a same sex couple, because a private school is allowed to discriminate as much as it wants. Your question is a bit upside down though–the onus would be on the government to show why it was able to compel the school to admit the child, not the other way around.

    Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 denies federal funding to schools that discriminate based on race, color or national origin. That’s all. That means (a) private schools can freely discriminate based on other criteria, and (b) private schools can (and some do) discriminate based on race, color or national origin, so long as they do not receive federal funding. Private schools can certainly discriminate on the basis of religion, freely and with no consequences. Private schools can also discriminate based on sexual orientation (or the sexual orientation of family members) freely and with no consequences. Recognizing same sex marriage on a federal level would change none of this.

    So, your hypothetical private school (whether it was set up as a para-church ministry with an educational function or not would not be relevant ot the question) would be allowed to continue to discriminate based on the criteria of its choice. The only restriction would continue to be that it could not discriminate based on race without losing federal funds (if it recieves any).

    For the most part, the interaction between the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause and the 1st Amendment’s Free Exercise (of religion) Clause as applied to race already maps out the most restrictive likely future of discrimination based on sexual orientation.

    Right now, your church can refuse to solemnize interracial marriage. Your church can refuse to employ people based on their race. Your church can refuse to admit people to membership or leadership because of race. Your church can preach the most virulently racial theology. Your church can refuse to even let people of another race through the door. (And I’m not sure what “hate-crime laws” you have in mind that would even be relevant here–generally hate crime laws in the United States merely impose harsher penalties on crimes that are motivated by animus against one of a set of specific categories, but since none of the foregoing are crimes, the fact that they are racially motivated doesn’t make them hate crimes).

    Race is the most extensively protected discriminatory category under federal law by a significant margin. Even if sexual orientation were given the same protection under law that race is given–and federal recognition of same sex marriage would not do that by a long shot–your churches and private schools could still discriminate. The only possible consequence (other than bad PR, which you just have to live with–ideas have consequences) for your hypothetical school would be a loss of federal funding.

    In any case, the short answer is, federal recognition of same sex marriage has absolutely nothing to do with discrimination laws. The two legal concepts are simply not connected. Recognizing same sex marriage would not somehow automatically rewrite 14th amendment jurisprudence or any of the Civil Rights Acts in force. And even if it did, the strictest conceivable result would be that sexual orientation discrimination would be treated as strictly as race/national origin discrimination, which is just, ludicrously unlikely, but even if it happened, that just means no more federal funding for your school.

    Yes, people could file a lawsuit. But that’s a meaningless argument: people can always file a lawsuit, at any time, for any reason; all it takes is a filing fee, service of process and a petition (even an incoherent one! even one that does not in describe a legally actionable fact situation!). I could walk down to the courthouse right now and file a lawsuit against you purely based on my dislike for your eyebrow shape. I wouldn’t win, because having subjectively offensive eyebrows is not against the law, and no damages are available. You would move for it to be dismissed, your motion would be granted, and you could probably go after me for making you respond to a frivolous lawsuit. But I could file the lawsuit. The clerk of the court doesn’t somehow screen petitions for dumb ones.

    • Understood on all counts. Sorry for not replying last time. Don’t sue me :).

      The short answer many would give who share that concern? We just do not believe the status quo on discrimination would stay that way. It’s that simple, I think. There is a presumption based on both the radical homosexual agendas that have been expressed in some quarters and the inevitability of the slippery slope that leads many to believe changes in the law could soon follow.

  • rvs

    I would like to see more rigorous Bible-based arguments on why the quasi-antinomianism in 1 Corinthians 10:23 is to be feared. After all, everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial: conscience is key.

    • In context, I read 1 Cor. 10:23 to say that all things that are lawful according to God are permissible, but not all wise for each person. Thus, in those vast grey areas, conscience is key. But that verse cannot be intended to cancel all other commands in Scripture.