He’s just reopened the conversation in which I participated a little while back on whether evangelicals, in light of shifting cultural opinion on marriage, should make some kind of cultural bargain to legitimize gay marriage as an institution while trying to protect our right to disagree with it theologically. My interaction with Tim led to an experience on the Hugh Hewitt show, which was fairly startling to me. Clearly, this is a heated issue.
This is, then, not a moral or constitutional but a prudential question: Should we, in the absence of a cultural consensus in favor of our Judeo-Christian model of marriage, try to get our model of marriage legally enforced and other models excluded? I’m not sure that we should. When everyone more or less agrees, that’s one thing. When a substantial percentage of the country does not, then you have one half of the country (let’s say) forcing the other half to live according to its own moral and theological rules. We would be asking the American State to take our side over against other religious or non-religious ways of thinking about marriage. I’m not convinced that’s wise.
He goes on to give some reasons to embrace this possible shift:
- Even though we should continue to affirm our moral view that homosexuality is wrong and our theological view that only heterosexual marriage is truly marriage in the eyes of God, we might acknowledge that we live in an increasingly pluralistic secular democracy where we cannot insist that our moral and theological vision of marriage holds the power of the state and employs that power to defeat and exclude all other models.
- Even though we might feel that legally recognizing same-sex marriages is not in the best interest of the country, we might also feel that forcing others to live under our moral and theological convictions — convictions they do not share — is not in the best interest of our witness to non-believers. We cannot always save others from the consequences of their decisions.
- Even though we might not want, in an ideal world, for same-sex marriage to be legally recognized, we might recognize that the culture is moving that direction, and make a prudential judgment that it would be better to win a legislative compromise that secures our religious freedoms and conscience protections, rather than waiting for the legalization of same-sex marriage by fiat of a Supreme Court judgment that could haunt us for decades to come.
As usual, Tim has put together a strong argument filled with thoughtful ideas, and designed to mess up my carefully-crafted daily schedule by making me think and write about it. In what follows, I am going to tackle just a couple problems here which merit further consideration. As you’ll see, though I understand Tim’s desire to separate “moral” concerns from “prudential” ones, I don’t think we can.
A crucial part of this possible response to a shifting culture is to approve of SSM (same-sex marriage) because, as Tim says in a few places, it is not kind of traditional-marriage advocates (marriage advocates, better) to insist on their views if a growing majority disapproves of them. Tim says this: “So even though I would feel bad, if the witness of the church were better heard, and if we served better to persuade the culture of what we hold to be true and good, then perhaps the outcome would not be too bad.” The problem here is that the church will really have compromised its witness by promoting the kind of bargain Tim proposes. Our position on SSM is not evil or homophobic. It is gracious. It is loving. It leads to human flourishing, where SSM does not. SSM, as with all homosexual practice, leads only to eternal ruin and judgement (Rom 2:1-11, following on the heels of 1:24-32).
So this is a major concern I have with Tim’s proposal. It appears to be loving to buy into a compromise on SSM, but in reality, the opposite is true. It is incredibly unloving of the church to indicate in any form that homosexual practice is acceptable. It leads to destruction! But someone could say, well, so does gambling, but it’s legal throughout America, and you’re not protesting that. But that’s different in numerous respects, with this at the top of the list: Christians are not leading in normalizing gambling. We’re not offering to morally legitimate it through societally accepting it. To do so would be unloving to our neighbor, and therefore break nothing less than the Second Greatest Commandment (Matthew 22:35-39).
You could play this out in history, by the way. Should Wilberforce, out of a desire not to force his beliefs on others and therefore be considered “unloving,” have laid down the cause of abolition in order not to offend slaveholders and those benefiting from the slave trade? Absolutely not, right? He did the right thing in advancing his “exclusive” understanding of the dignity of slaves. Don’t think that didn’t cost him. It cost him dearly, as Eric Metaxas has shown. It no doubt burned many bridges that, if he had just tolerated sin, just quieted himself, just made a bargain, would have allowed for conversation about Christianity.
But what would have been left, really, of Wilberforce’s conviction? Say he had laid down his truth claims, and his moral principles. What would have been left to show of a transformed life?
Nothing, in the end. Jesus would be just another religious affiliation, not the soul-saving, persecution-inviting, sinner-upending savior that he is.
I have another concern with Tim’s proposal. If, say, over half the US population approved of pedophilia (not an unreasonable future outcome) and wanted it legally legitimated, would we then make the argument that we evangelicals need to politically okay it so as not to be unloving and rudely exclusive to others? To quote the apostle Paul, Me genoito! May it never be. Why, then, are we okay with doing this on the issue of homosexuality? Both of these patterns of sin are deeply disordered, against God’s good will, and destructive for many. We may lose the marriage fight no matter what. But how awful for even a remnant of God’s people to give approval to sin.
Christians must often find themselves being “exclusive” in their morality and social theories. At least that’s how it will seem to outsiders. In reality, we hold the moral and political positions we do because they are biblical, and being from the mind of God are ideally suited to human flourishing. All other forms of “love” are counterfeits. Only biblical wisdom, championed by even a minority people, is loving.
Therefore, we cannot adopt Tim’s solution. Don’t mishear me. We may lose the battle for marriage even if we’re bold and courageous and winsome and we don’t give an inch. But losing while keeping the faith is not truly defeat. It is honorable to God. Do not Bonhoeffer and others show us this?
We don’t damage our witness by being unpopular. We damage our witness by exchanging the truth for a lie, by supporting policies of the culture of sin, not the culture of heaven. Let’s not kid ourselves: there’s no bargain to make. We’re in Helm’s Deep, my friends, and all we can do is pray, be courageous, love our neighbor, and promote the gospel.