Richard Mouw, Timothy Dalrymple, Same Sex Marriage, and the Common Good

Richard Mouw, Timothy Dalrymple, Same Sex Marriage, and the Common Good December 5, 2012

It seems that I disagree with Tim Dalrymple on lots and lots of stuff. Nevertheless, it’s been interesting watching him publicly wrestle with the question of whether his evangelical abhorrence of gay sex should be codified in anti-same-sex-marriage laws. First, he asked, Is it time for evangelicals to stop opposing gay marriage?

the question at hand is not whether we should abandon the historical Christian teaching on marriage.  The question is whether we should contend for laws and regulations that give this vision of marriage the sanction of government.  And to make one more distinction: the question is not whether Christians have the right to promote their views, just like everyone else does, and to support or oppose laws on any grounds they wish, including religious grounds.  There’s nothing categorically wrong with supporting laws and politicians who recognize and affirm what marriage actually is, even if your view of marriage is religiously informed.  The question, rather, is whether it is still wise to press for American law to recognize only heterosexual unions.

There are about a million and one caveats in that post. Tim knew he was going to be hammered by his fellow evangelicals. He furthered his questions and clarification in a second post, Ten things I believe about evanvelicals and same-sex marriage:

Timothy Dalrymple

Since I am neither suggesting that we should alter our moral and theological convictions nor that we should cease confessing those beliefs publicly, responses along these lines — “Well then, why don’t we just give up the doctrine of hell since that’s unpopular too!” — are off point.  The question here, the only question I’m raising, is this: (P1) Should we hold fast to our convictions, profess those convictions publicly, and organize legally and politically to ensure that the laws reflect our convictions – OR (P2) should we hold fast to our convictions, profess those convictions publicly, and accept a legal definition of marriage that does not preclude same-sex marriage?  In my view, this need not be contradictory.  It would merely entail explaining that we believe homosexual behavior to be sinful, and we believe gay marriage is not really marriage, but we are not going to compel others legally to act in accordance with our convictions.

Tim is being courageous here, IMHO. I think his view of human sexuality is retrograde and a misunderstanding of the Bible, but he comes by his opinions honestly. His question is twofold: Is it good for our Christian witness to keep fighting same sex marriage in the political realm? And is it even necessarily good for our democracy to keep fighting it?

On this latter thought, Richard Mouw answers Tim’s questions with a resounding YES! Mouw is the president of Fuller Seminary, at which I teach as an adjunct DMin professor; I have a great deal of respect for Rich. He’s good for evangelicalism, but he’s wrong about gay marriage:

Richard Mouw

The question is especially complicated for those of us who are inclined to concede the case for supporting “civil unions.”  In a pluralistic society there are many “living together” patterns that I do not approve of on moral and theological grounds, but I nonetheless think should be legally permissible in the larger culture.  We are presently living—to use a fine phrase that I learned from John Howard Yoder—“in the time of God’s patience,” which means that we must also cultivate that kind of patience as we await the Return of Christ.

So, once I have made the concession to civil unions, why not also grant a legal status for same-sex marriage? I am not ready simply to give up on restrictions on what is called a “marriage,” for at least two reasons. One is that much is at stake in legislation about marriage. Some Christians have been arguing recently that we should simply distinguish between marriage as a legal arrangement and marriage as a ceremonially based religious union. I find that unsatisfactory, precisely because it encourages religious folks to abdicate responsibility for legal regulations regarding marriage in the larger culture.

In his post, Rich goes on to criticize my view on marriage and side with Lisa Miller, who wrote about me in the Washington Post a while back. So I thought this would be a good time to summarize my views on same sex marriage, and to push back on Rich and side with Tim (or at least answer Tim’s questions, No).

1) I do not believe the Bible prohibits same sex marriage. This is well-trod ground by many biblical scholars, and I won’t retread it here.

2) Marriage changes. What is considered “marriage” has evolved over time and across societies. Even the Bible reflects that evolution. This is an inescapable fact. (More on this tomorrow.) This word, “marriage,” is a placeholder for a variety of meanings, emotions, and ideals, but it’s not a static entity. It’s a moving target.

3) Clergy should stop signing marriage licenses. When pastors sign documents that legally bind persons into a state-sanctioned contract, they are acting as agents of the state and forfeiting their prophetic posture toward the ruling powers. Here I agree with Rich Mouw: Christian leaders do have a role to play in the shaping of how the culture views “marriage,” but we abdicate that authority when we act as proxies of the government.

4) Civil Unions are not the answer. “Marriage” matters to LGBT persons because we — a western, Christian culture — have invested it with so much meaning over the centuries. Now gays and lesbians want in on that. We reap what we sow. To tell them that they can have civil unions but not marriage is like saying, “You can drive, but only a scooter; never a car.” As Christians, we should vehemently oppose all classist structures and caste systems.

5) We should encourage monogamy. Long ago, our culture turned against polygamy and began encouraging monogamy. In the U.S., we even financially incentivize heterosexual monogamy in the tax code and many laws. One of the main reasons we did this was to protect children (who have few rights) and women (who had less-than-equal rights at the time). Another irrefutable fact is that many gay and lesbian couples are now raising children — it is illegal to discriminate against them for adoptions, and many are also using surrogates. In order to protect those children, and vulnerable partners in those relationships, we should incentivize monogamy among GLBT couples in the same way that we do among heterosexual couples. I submit that even evangelicals should face the reality that gays couple and raise children and should advocate for monogamy.

6) Therefore, legal marriage and sacerdotal marriage should be separate. Encourage monogamy among all couples, gay and straight. And accord all religious communities the freedom to sacramentalize the marriages that they want to.

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  • I really appreciate the careful work and thoughtful perspective here, Tony.

  • Begin the firestorm of comments on how Tony is wrong.

    • BTW, I think he’s right.

  • This all tracks very closely with my own view. Well said, Tony.

  • Pax

    Tony, I’m curious why you think that we still need to discriminate against polygamous families to protect children and women.

    And, what value is there in discriminating against single persons by giving certain benefits only to couples?

    • Charles

      Off topic…

      • Pax

        Hardly. It’s #5 in Tony’s 6-point list.

        • Basil

          There are two problems with polygamy. 1 — it raises really thorny property issues/inheritance issues between the adults involved and their respective lines of children. 2 — more importantly, there is a pretty extensive social science literature, based on the experience of Muslim societies (where polygamy is often legal), that polygamy is linked to the oppression of women. Specifically, even women in monogamous marriages get threatened by their husbands with being “demoted” to wife #2 if he is not pleased with her. So why would we legalize an arrangement that is inherently injurious to the status of women?

          For what it is worth, I have never heard of multiple men/one women unions, thouht presumably they would not have all of the above drawbacks. I suppose it must exist somewhere, although I just doubt there are very many women who want to put up with the bs more than one man.

          • Pax

            I really don’t think #1 is a problem, certainly not to the polygamous families who would like their unions recognized. You come up with some default rules and let them sign a pre-nup if they want to make other arrangements. As for #2, we’re talking about legal relationships entered into by consenting adults. A man in such a union has no more rights than a woman (just like in marriages with two people), and there need be no ordering of people of the same sex within the union.

            And still, why discriminate against people not in relationships at all?

            Certainly if Tony is holding out “two people” as the magic criteria that makes a marriage, then there should be a good reason for it. If long ago we decided it was a good idea to discriminate against a certain class of people isn’t good enough for discriminating against same-sex couples, then why is it good enough to discriminate against the polyamorous?

  • Eric

    Hi All,
    I was raised in a conservative Chrisitan background with the notion that all forms of homosxuality are a sin… no gray involved. Recently, I’ve been trying to find Biblical grounds for why a monogamous homosexual relationship would be acceptable. How do you address versus such as I Corinthians 6:9 9 “Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men” or I Tim 1:10 “for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine”?

    The only thing I can come up with is that the meaning in these verse is speaking to people who are involved in simply sexually gratifying themselves through homosexuality. Is this right?
    Please help…

    • Frank

      No. All homosexual behavior is sinful and marriage is between one man and one woman. Anything else is outside of Gods Will.

      • Charles


    • eric,
      if you’re interested in reading further – i’ve found a helpful review of those verses (and the other so-called ‘clobber’ passages) from a more progressive perspective in ‘a time to embrace :: same-gender relationships in religion, law, and politics’ by william stacy johnson. you can purchase it via amazon here :: johnson takes into consideration the legal, religious and political implications of both non-affirming and affirming positions. i’d recommend it!

      • I second that. Best book on the subject.

      • Frank

        The best book on the subject is from Gagnon. No one has been able to dispute his spot on interpretation.

        Nowhere does God condone or bless homosexual behavior in any form.

        • Charles

          …more bullshit!

          • Frank

            Yes of course anything that does not agree with YOUR notion of how things should be is bullshit! I get that.

          • Basil

            Clearly you don’t because you just keep posting bullshit

          • Frank

            Show me where God condones or blesses homosexual behavior?

          • Basil

            Still more bullshit — show me where God condemns it.

          • Frank

            Bail are you serious? I think you are well familiar with what the bible says. You might want to change it but no matter what your opinion is you cannot. Homosexual behavior in any form is sinful.

        • Scot Miller

          Gagnon has a flawed hermeneutic.

          • Frank

            Scott you had your chance to respond to him. You failed to show in ay way he is wrong. Your opinion does not make the Word of God.

    • toddh

      I like this one as an easy introduction to some of the issues with the clobber verses in the Bible: . It’s not the end of the discussion for sure, but it’s a place to start.

  • You are wrong.

    I drive a scooter and I love it. I don’t feel like I’m less of a person for driving it. In fact, I love the 70mpg that it gets. (see #4)

    I didn’t want you to think that the only people you were offending with this post were evangelicals.


    • You got me. I’ve been outed as a car-centrist.

  • Curtis

    That verse has received quite varied translations through the years, so it is hard to say with certainty what specific behavior is being described. It is more helpful to step back and take a look at the purpose of the verse in context. Is the purpose of the verse to provide a comprehensive catalog of prohibited behaviors? Clearly not. If you read the whole chapter, you see that the purpose of the verse is not to simply re-state the law. The purpose of the verse is to make an example of how the law has been mis-used by others, and how it should be used when instructing others.

    As it says earlier in the chapter, the purpose of Christian instruction is not to promote speculation and myths, but rather “the aim of such instruction is love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and sincere faith”. The aim of Christian education is not speculation about what behavior is permitted and what behavior is not. The aim of Christian education is love.

    The chapter goes on to say that the result of the law is to condemn us. All of us are condemned under the law. Paul himself states that he, too is condemned by the law “I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence.” But then, EVEN WHILE PAUL WAS A SINNER, “the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” Even while Paul was a sinner, even while under condemnation under the law, as all of us are, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the foremost.”

    Using Timothy 1 as a catalog of prohibited behaviors is missing the larger point that Paul is making. All of us are condemned under the law equally. All of us are freely granted love and forgiveness by God, even while we are still sinners.

    As Paul concludes the chapter, it is not understanding a catalog of sins that makes us a Christian. It is understanding God’s love for us, even while we are sinners, that makes it possible for us to “fight the good fight, having faith and a good conscience.”

    Let us try to understand Paul’s whole point, not pull one sentence out and turn it into a re-listing of the law. That is exactly what Paul was trying to teach against.

  • Craig

    If Mouw thinks this would be “an abdication of responsibility,” what might he say when two religions have opposing convictions on an issue like this? Is it an abdication of responsibility for either group to curb its attempts to politically coerce the other into forced submission? What a disconcerting vision of democracy.

  • Luke Allison

    This is, to me, a perfect example of generational disconnect. Dalrymple is capable of considering a change (albeit reluctantly), while Mouw (who is generally a fairly nuanced thinker) won’t budge. This reminds me of having a conversation with my dad.

  • Craig

    Tim is being courageous here, IMHO.

    No, Tim is just being responsive to the needs of a politically strategic conservative agenda. There’s a rather obvious pattern in what he does, and when he does it.

    • Yes, good point. That’s the less generous reading of his posts.

      • Basil

        I stopped reading Tim a while ago, although I made an exception to follow these last three posts. He was very keen about Mitt Romney’s candidacy, which struck me as emblematic of the whole problem with modern American evangelicals — their primary function is as the tax-exempt political advocacy/organizing arm of the Republican party. There is nothing wrong with that — except that it strikes as pretty shallow religion, though it may be great politics.

        • Chris

          “their primary function is as the tax-exempt political advocacy/organizing arm of the Republican party. There is nothing wrong with that — except that it strikes as pretty shallow religion, though it may be great politics.”

          The exact same could be said for left-leaning religion and the Democratic party.

  • As most here already know, I am a Christian who rejects the Bible as the “word of God.” I behold it as a treasured guide, but not as an absolute authority. Marriage for gay couples? Yes. Intimacy in same-gender relationships? Yes, but as Tony opined, keep it monogamous.

    At the same time, I understand that the vast majority of evangelical Christians do believe the Bible is the word of God, and that folks like Dalrymple struggle (at least seemingly) with the challenge of reconciling their personal openness toward gay people with the clear words of Scripture which condemn penetrative male-in-male anal intercourse which pretends to mimic procreative male-in-female vaginal intercourse (see Leviticus 18:22 and Leviticus 20:13).

    But even in that challenge, I always wonder: what are these people, like Dalrymple, so afraid of? God’s judgment? Losing the respect of peers? Or worse, being blacklisted or ostracized by them, which could adversely effect their livelihoods and security? Or all of that?

    It could be asked another way: what is it that Tony sees, and which allows him as a Christian to advocate for gay men and women on the sexual and marital front, that folks like Dalrymple do not, and which folks like Mouw will not?

    • Frank

      Tony makes up his own theology so that where it comes from. Certainly it does not come from scripture.

  • Moulder

    @Frank… There’s loads of Pre-Death (Dr John Lerma, Into the Light) and Near Death experiences where God condones homosexuality…

    • Frank


  • What happened to my post?

  • Thanks for such a clearly articulated pro-Marriage Equality/Evangelical perspective. I am a clergy advisor for an LGBT-Christian (“No Hate”) student group at Michigan State University: QCROSS (Queer Christians Reclaiming Our Sexuality and Spirituality). As an ally-minister to this group, I continue to look for resources from all of Christianity that supports the diverse group of Christians represented by the students. I know what several denominations have to say, but the Evangelical voice has been decimating to LGBT youth thus far. We lost another LGBT youth in Michigan to suicide recently (due to bullying)…this has got to stop and it hurts my heart what Christianity has done so far. Thanks again for great statements.

  • obpoet

    Here is a test. Grant marriage to same sex couples, but call it something other than marriage. In substance, it is exactly the same. It confers all the same blessings, and curses. But it is called by another name. Call it whatever you will. Unionjoining. Take your pick. Marriage is reserved as a union of one man one woman. Unionjoining is for same sex couples. Legally, they are identical. The lawyers will benefit equally from the divorces. Churches can benefit equally from the unions. Everyone wins, no one loses.

    My guess is even that would not satisfy. For what they seek ultimately, is God’s approval in marriage. And that will always be lacking.

    • Monimonika

      No, the problem is that even though civil unions are supposed to be equal in every way to marriage except-in-name, in actual practice the two are legally handled quite differently due to how the majority of laws/policies concerning marriage rights/benefits are worded.

      Take for example companies that refused to give benefits to the same-sex partner of employees in civil unions because the companies’ benefits policies state that only “spouses” are eligible for the benefits. Similar cases have happened where same-sex couples would take the time and tedious effort with a lawyer to draft power-of-attorney to make medical decisions and wills to ensure their partners are taken care of after one partner dies. And that gets all blown away by hospitals and courts refusing to accept such paperwork because the existing policies and laws due not explicitly permit such rights to “non-family” and “non-spouse”.

      It all comes down to wording, and the main word that ties all of these legal rights and benefits together is “MARRIAGE”. As long as civil unions are not explicitly called “marriages”, any marriage-related rights based on written words can technically (and legally!) be denied as not applying to relationships labeled as “civil unions” or whatnot. There’s going to be no hurry whatsoever to actually rewrite the thousands upon thousands of policies and laws to add in the extra wordings needed to include “civil union”, “domestic partnership”, “partner”, etc., because the process would be way too tedious (and understandably so).

      As for God’s approval… Why would anyone want YOUR stupid deity’s approval? Everyone has their own image of what god is/gods are like (some of them being blank images) and I can guarantee that your image is not the same as any of your friends’, much less those whose images (unlike yours) are based on ideas of compassion for fellow human beings.

      The truth is, you know deep down that as long as you are able to keep the term “marriage” away from gay couples, society will treat them differently and not ever fully accept same-sex relationships as being a neutral thing. You know that they won’t get the same blessings, or curses, or other substances. You know that these people will face difficulties and sadness due to being forcefully separated and handled as a completely different entity from the norm. In essence, in order to rationalize your desire to hurt gay people, you lie to yourself and others about how words and labels supposedly have no influence on how people get treated.

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