The Questions of Gay Marriage: An Inquiring Essay, Part One

What should we make of marriage?  Or should we perhaps frame the question differently?  Should we instead take up what marriage makes of us, and so consider ourselves as fundamentally responsive to it rather than creative?  Why does a particular form of relationship deserve the special treatment we afford it?  In what way does the structure of marriage inform a particular life and its prospects?

These questions are perennially interesting and they entangle us all.  Gay, straight, single, married, the childless and parents—even those who permanently deny themselves marriage are, through their negation, shaped by it.  As an institution, marriage provides a unique point of access into the structure of reality.  And of all the subjects we might possibly take up in this world, few bring together the cluster of personal desires, society, law, tradition, history, theology the way this one does (along with many other strands, no doubt).  The sheer collision of the complexity of the issues and their fundamental importance makes the subject an endlessly fertile source for inquiry and understanding.

But my interest in such questions is unremittingly personal as well.  I was not always the happily married man I am today, and my path into this status was anything but smooth.  My adult life began with a romance that ended  badly.  I found myself not so unlike Dante in the opening of his Infernolost in a wood, “the right road was wholly lost and gone.”  Like many young evangelicals, I had known that I was supposed to be headed toward marriage.  I simply did not know why or how to get there.  It was only through the exploration and inquiry that the crisis precipitated that I slowly found out the “marriage” to which I had been headed was not much of a thing at all.

I have not lost that original interest in understanding the meaning of marriage or its peculiar goodness, even while our society has been beset by a sharp controversy over its legal and political dimensions. Over the past decade, the gay marriage controversy has intensified into a social conflict between two warring factions, who have taken their arguments everywhere from the Supreme Court to Starbucks and Chick-Fil-A.  The concurrent rise of social media has made the conflict feel even more totalizing, as it became harder to avoid seeing friends and neighbours locked in interminable discussions about it.

All this has had a considerable effect on younger evangelicals, even if the transformations may have been more subtle than the blunt instruments of “yes or no” polls might allow.  Many younger evangelicals with conservative theological positions no longer support the state’s recognition of traditional marriage.  The percentage who does is still disproportionately large, but even so the atmosphere has shifted.  Institutional bellweathers of young evangelical opinion like Relevant and Q have barely even addressed the subject the past five years. Many prominent young evangelical writers seem to have adopted the Louie Giglio model of never speaking of the subject at all, so as to not unnecessarily offend their audience base and embroil themselves in controversies that are not their “core issues.”  Others seem to have adopted a “strategic ambiguity” about the question, routinely chastening conservatives for approaching the subject badly without necessarily taking up the task of finding substantive remedies themselves.

The broader cultural shift is not only having its effect on young evangelicals’ political positions, though.  Many young evangelicals are losing confidence in traditionally Christian statements about sexual ethics, including those pertaining to homosexuality and masturbation.  Some have resigned themselves to accepting what they take to be God’s commands, but have lost hope of understanding the reasons for them. Submitting to Scriptural authority is an essential starting point for understanding, but it cannot be the end.  This erosion of confidence may not show up in opinion polling, but it has been noticeable in the conversations I have had nonetheless.

Yet there are benefits to a controversy like we’ve had on marriage, if we will use it well.  Like any social institution, marriage is a focal point for our understanding of the nature of reality.  It is entangled in a broader cluster of ideas about the nature and destiny of the human person, the meaning of children to a society, the role tradition plays in human formation, and more.  The logic of marriage pulls everything into it, such that the reasons for the traditional understanding of it can be properly described as “cosmological” (to borrow a point Rod Dreher has made).  As we respond to the public controversy about marriage, we are given the opportunity to grasp this reality anew.  When that which is given is called into question, we must provide an account.  But for that account to be persuasive it must stretch out toward the things themselves and lay them bare so that they can be accepted, and the institution renewed, or rejected.

Such a pursuit can take the form of an inquiry.  We need not know when we set out all the reasons for a particular position, even if we already affirm it. It is reasonable to affirm a stance on the grounds that it has the strength of a tradition behind it.  Such a posture merely admits that there may have been reasons why these things have come to pass, and that while our forebearers were fallible, they were probably no more wicked or malicious than we are ourselves.  We may have forgotten the reasons for a particular tradition—but that is a different problem than there never having been any, nor does it necessarily justify scrapping the tradition altogether.  The chemist in the lab may only have a dim grasp of all the preceding scientific work that enables their research, but if he tosses it aside for that reason he shall find progress rather difficult.  Traditions do sometimes need their barnacles scraped off or the occasional rejection outright. But determining when and how those should be done depends upon first understanding the reasons why the tradition exists as it is.  No tradition can exist in a state of perpetual revolution.

If this is right, then it means we should reject a traditional position only after we have understood it; we should grasp its point and debate it on those terms.  The rhetorical move of dismissing a stance as “unintelligible” strikes me as a failure of this responsibility, one designed to place the burden of proof entirely on the conservative side.  If the conservative cannot marshall reasons (and in a hurry!), then we have no reason to carry on.  But that gets the order backward:  the person who asks us to reject a tradition should demonstrate they have understood it and can persuade us why it is wrong.  Dismissing a position as “unintelligible” might say more about the speaker than the position itself.

Goodness is rarely in a hurry.But still, the inquiry is necessary.  When a traditional position is called into question, the answer cannot be that it is traditional.  That is simply the grounds on which the inquiry must be taken up: why might the tradition have held this thing out as important, such that we should hold on to it today?  What is the structure of reality, such that we can say the institution of marriage is actually bearing it?  We gain a way of looking from the tradition, but that does not mean we have nothing left to learn. We might adopt the tradition’s conclusions, but find a new path to them.  We might start in the half-light of having received a particular outlook; but we do not yet see or understand fully, and a challenge to a position is simply an invitation to grow further.

I will happily acknowledge that inquiry is only one mode of response to such a controversy, and while there may be reasons to prefer it to others we should not be methodological exclusivists.  Those conservatives who have been frustrated by the shifting winds are perpetually in danger of overthinking what tactics they should pursue.  (I speak as one who knows from experience.)  Yes, the resources are limited and it is important to understand how cultures shift so they are spent well.  But conservatism does not do well if it becomes doctrinaire, either, nor are conservatives immune from the temptations of the central-planning fallacy.  It is not bad to be methodological pluralists.  To each his own style of argument, provided they are cogent and lend themselves to the truth. But then I’m not in a particular hurry, either, for reasons I have explained before.

What’s more, that marriage is cosmological—or that its logic depends upon the “re-enchantment of reality,” to use Joseph Bottum’s term—does not mean that conservatives should give up on exploring and unwinding that logic in order to see how it might fit our new context.  The failure of conservatives to persuade, after all, is wrapped up in our failure to understand these things ourselves.  Taking the “monastic option” and entering segregated communities intent on cultivating the practices of a healthy marriage culture still requires theoretical exploration.  If Dreher and Bottum are right, then we are all implicated in the failure of marriage in ways that we do not yet realize.  The rehabilitation of our practices must happen concurrently with our ongoing growth in understanding of the reasons for them.

The unwinding of our own cosmological position on marriage, though, will invariably be not only for ourselves and our communities.  Such monastic communities must be missional, which means they must be prepared to provide an account for the hope and flourishing that marks them off.  And as Oliver O’Donovan has put it, “The reasons to believe are simply the reasons of belief.”  Those reasons might come from anywhere—we need not limit ourselves strictly to special revelation, after all.  But they can be nothing less than our reasons, reasons that we have seen in their essential connection to the subject of our inquiry.

In this way, inquiry and the reasoning that accompanies it become invitations to the world to come and see, to learn how we this one aspect of life. It is true that Christians have sometimes forgotten this in their eagerness to describe marriage’s shape.  But if marriage is cosmological, then for Christians it must at some point be a window into the relationship at the heart of our understanding of reality:  Christ and the church.  Any truly cosmological inquiry must therefore be attentive to the goodness of this news, to its profound power and unique beauty.  It will look for it at every turn and expound upon it, offering it to all who are willing to listen.

Yet goodness is rarely in a hurry, and frequently evades our most urgent demands for revelation.  Discerning the beauty of marriage demands patience, especially in a world where its fundamental terms are foreign to us (even to those, like me, who were raised in the church).  The promise of marriage has always been that the glory would be revealed at the end, that the wedding is a foretaste of things to come, that the last five years would magically be more meaningful than the first.  The argument for marriage need not take the same lifetime.  It might be summarized in a sentence, the way a description of Scripture’s proclamation might fit on a bumper sticker.  But cultivating a rich and thorough appreciation for the soundness of its structure and the integrity of its logic may take time.

I once proposed to take up such an inquiry and explore the more narrow topic of gay marriage.  There were some worries and cautions, and some expressions of weariness.  I have worries about its utility, too, which I will lay out in a future essay.  But the outpouring of encouragement and interest was overwhelming.  So I naturally laid the idea aside and said nothing, despite the Supreme Court’s ruling and the unparalleled interest in the subject.  I was in the midst of writing a book, and simply ran out of energy and time.

The value of such an inquiry has doubtlessly shifted given the Supreme Court’s ruling.  But it has not been lost altogether, and I am interested in taking it up.  I do so not because I think I have anything particularly interesting to say, but because I am personally interested in it.  I too need to see more clearly, and in our growth toward understanding there is no substitute for testing arguments and claims.  I make no promises for how quickly I will proceed, or how systematically.  Indeed, I have not begun prior to this in part because I simply was not sure where to start.  But the questions surrounding gay marriage entangle us all, and as such deserve careful and patient consideration.

An invitation:  Please let me know what sort of questions you have that you’d like me to take up. 

A few books that may come up during all this: 

What is Marriageby Robert George, Sherif Gergis, and Ryan Anderson

Debating Same-Sex Marriageby John Corvino and Maggie Gallagher

Bible, Gender, and Sexuality:  Reframing the Church’s Debate on Same-sex Relationshipsby James Brownson

Church in CrisisOliver O’Donovan

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  • Many Horizons

    Thank you for this post.

    I think you’re spot on to situate the debate in terms of its implications for / derivations from our understanding of reality. I’d like to see you explore some of those ontological implications.

    What would be implied by a created universe in which homosexual unions were acceptable/unacceptable? What would it mean about human freedom, responsibility, roles within the created order, etc.? What is God’s highest ideal for human society and how do we seek to establish that without over- or under-realising our eschatology?

    -Barney
    http://www.manyhorizons.com

    • http://www.mereorthodoxy.com/ Matthew Lee Anderson

      All very good–and very difficult–questions. I’ll do what I can!

  • Bethany Persons

    I think I’d want to start exploring with this question: what did Jesus mean by:

    Matthew 19
    4 He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”?

    And what are the implications of God ordained male and femaleness for the celibate life, which Jesus modeled? does gender become more significant in the marriage relationship?

    I think these questions are a good place to start they seem like the basic building blocks of God’s design for humanity.

    • http://www.mereorthodoxy.com/ Matthew Lee Anderson

      Yes, in terms of the Biblical argument, that’s about the best methodological starting point that I can think of.

      • Bethany Persons

        I would also like to see an exploration of marriage as a picture of the gospel, or Christ and the church. I’ve heard this all my life, but I have trouble seeing it.

        The only thing I can think of is that God has given men a deep protect impulse, even to the point of laying down their lives (e.g. the three boyfriends in the Dark Knight shooting). That is the very picture of what Christ did for us, though obviously on a small scale. Yet in Ephesians 5, Paul says

        25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”

        Not only do I not see this sanctifying and washing dynamic play out in most marriages, it makes me uncomfortable on the occasions that I do.

        What am I missing here?

  • Bethany Persons

    Also, is there a way to get notified every time you post something new to this series?

    • jamesfarnold

      Bethany,

      You can use an RSS reader to keep up, if you use that. You can also follow us on Twitter (http://twitter.com/mereorthodoxy), or like us on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/MereOrthodoxy). You can also sign up for our monthly newsletter, where we highlight the top posts of the month (the sign up is on the right-hand side of every Mere-O page). You can bet this series will be listed there.

      Hope that helps,
      -James
      Editor, Mere-O

      • http://www.mereorthodoxy.com/ Matthew Lee Anderson

        Yup, that’s right. We don’t have a topic-specific way of sending out posts, but that’s a good idea that I’ll file away for the future.

      • Bethany Persons

        Thanks for the tip! I already follow on Twitter and Facebook, though, but those aren’t a guarantee that I’ll see a post! :) Apparently this has been up three days and I only saw it this morning? I want to know sooner than that! A monthly newsletter would likewise be too slow for my interest.

        • http://www.mereorthodoxy.com/ Matthew Lee Anderson

          Some of that was a technical problem….Mere-O was actually down most of Friday until this morning, unfortunately, so I don’t think things got pushed through as they should have.

  • jamesfarnold

    For my money, I’d like to see practical questions answered. You did this a bit when talking Chick-Fil-A (sometimes a chicken sandwich is just a chicken sandwich; I’ll take my friends to Starbucks and then Chick-Fil-A, just to show that I’d rather bless someone right in front of me than concern myself with a CEO).

    Perhaps “practical” isn’t the place to start. I’m fairly sure it isn’t, actually. But it is also the biggest question for those who already agree with the traditional position. There are many of us who tow the traditional line (more or less), but have no idea what that means in terms of practical application. Some have responded by ditching the political (pro-gay marriage, publicly, even as they oppose church-ordained homosexuality). Some haven’t responded at all, opting to withdraw from the conversation from the get-go. Praise God you haven’t done that, but we’re all still wondering about personal interactions.

    How ought I be friends with those around me who are gay? Should I attend their weddings, if they have them? Should I invite them and their SO to parties?

    Most in our generation take it as a given that these friendships are viable, if complex. But the down-to-earth, everyday interactions? That’s trickier, even if we figure out which way to vote.

    • http://www.mereorthodoxy.com/ Matthew Lee Anderson

      James, you’re right that the practical questions are massively important. I think any exploration of the issues at hand that doesn’t reach down to that level is insufficient. I’ll try to take them on at some point (2015, perhaps!). : )

  • RSFreiheit

    Hi Matthew. I’m not a typical reader of yours, but I thought I would respond to your essay as someone who would run into you at a political convention, but as a secularist and a member of the LGBT community.

    I too am often discouraged by the de-emphasis on marriage as a social good and I think the LGBT community is often caught up in arguing at the cost of the discussion of merits. That is, the institution of marriage creates as much social goodness for straight couples as it does for gay couples, because at its core, marriage encourages strong, loving familial bonds. Incidentally you may make the argument that marriage is instead child-focused, but as I would argue, what is a child without first establishing a stable and loving family? It would not very conducive to happy, healthy children if marriage wasn’t more fundamentally focused on family.

    It also misses the understanding that those who are childless through choice or not, benefit just as much from being encouraged to be partnered and mutually self-supporting. When empirical observation shows us that married couples live longer and healthier lives than those who are lifelong bachelor/ettes, that statistic includes childless couples and gay couples. The same is true of married versus unmarried in measures of economic stability and prosperity. When a person is in a lifelong relationship with someone for whom they care, it gives them a purpose to live and a measure of support. Legalizing, protecting and honoring that committed partnership — straight or gay — is a measureable benefit across society.

    I would add that we must not also forget that LGBT persons do in fact have and raise children, either artificially or through male-female means. The later of which is surprisingly not that uncommon. Marriage can, as well, convey social good to these children who are currently excluded.

    This understanding of marriage is true for those who have strong faith and those that do not. Marriage may lead one who is of faith to a deeper understanding of his/her faith and his/her personal relationship with Christ. However as a person with just as strongly-held religious beliefs, that very personal revelation for Christians does not play a role in my life and nor should it. Our journeys in life are separate paths. We are each guaranteed the liberty to freely choose those paths without intervention from those who have ill-will. Don’t get me wrong. I will be the first to argue that Christians are flowing with goodwill towards all, but I hope that Christian goodwill is tuned enough to realize that marriage is not a social good that ought to be rationed just to the faithful. I similarly feel as much pride and hope and happiness attending the Catholic rites or an evangelical union, as I do for those who are secular, because I know it is a blissful time for everyone regardless of their faith.

    But I also have to make two assertations concerning the other debate that you will perhaps rub you, Matthew.

    1) I am not going to go against my innate humanity to appease those who seem to be unwilling to understand that human psychology and biology is not black/white. I am marriage-driven, monogamous-minded and emotionally attracted to an individual, who is in all aspects is my better half. That’s not changing. And even if someone refuses to believe me or the LGBT community when we say sexual orientation is both innate and unchangeable, history has shown us there always have been LGBT people and there will be. LGBTs are not going to go away.

    2) I think many in countries that are majorly Christian forget that marriage is not an exclusively religious institution. Marriage predates recorded history. We can see evidence of institutional marriage even as far back as Hammurabi of Babylon’s time, which predates monotheistic Judaism by ~1,100 years. All cultures practice some form of marriage, traditional or not, and we let people of all faiths marry and create families. So it’s a complete non-starter for Americans of different creeds, and those of mainstream protestant Christian denominations, to make political appeals to conservative Christian doctrine in this debate. It makes no sense that what should be an intra-community discussion to be a society-wide discussion.

    I perhaps may be meandering in my commentary here, but if you should decide to continue your exploration of marriage and its means, perhaps my thoughts may prove to also be a starting point for you?

    I’ll look forward to checking in with this blog from now on.

    Thanks, Zach

    • http://www.mereorthodoxy.com/ Matthew Lee Anderson

      Zach,

      Lots of good stuff here, and your thoughts are most welcome now and in the future. We had in the early days of Mere-O a rather robust readership of atheists and non-Christians who piped up in the comments. We’ve lost that and we are the worse for it. My hope here is to clarify the arguments at work, as a means of reasoning publicly. I’m doing something similar in person with John Corvino in St. Louis on October 3rd, because I think it’s a really important task.

      I do want to especially affirm your second point. One of the interesting aspects of Christian theology is that it has historically rooted marriage in *creation* or *nature*, which means it’s a universal institution and not explicitly or inherently *Christian* per se. Many Christians have reverted to explicitly religious forms of reasoning and the suggestion that marriage is *first and foremost* a sacrament, but that actually represents an inversion of the long tradition of Christian thought about marriage.

      More on that on the main page, though, I hope.

      Matt

      • Michael_Rittenhouse

        “One of the interesting aspects of Christian theology is that it has historically rooted marriage in ‘creation’ or ‘nature,’ which means it’s a universal institution and not explicitly or inherently ‘Christian’ per se.”

        Very Aquinas of you! And the U.S. has actually had to fend off a previous attempt to redefine marriage that went afoul of natural law. See point #3, if you have a moment please.

        http://orthosexuality.wpengine.com/?p=14

  • Matthew Loftus

    I’m looking forward to reading this!

    My question is mostly about the political ramifications of this cosmological view:

    Since most public efforts in regard to marriage recently have centered around either (a) opposing the establishment of a new ‘right’ for gay couples to marry or (b) enshrining marriage exclusively as between a man and a woman, what exactly do we expect that these endeavors will accomplish?

    I understand and respect the argument of upholding the common good (especially for children) by reflecting gender norms either proscribed by Biblical truth or apparent through natural law. But then why is gay marriage the focus of our attention when there are many more disastrous, abnormal heterosexual partnerings producing children and there are innumerable social and economic forces wreaking havoc on children & families? Framed more positively: If marriage is cosmological and that has political ramifications, shouldn’t we primarily craft policies to address adoption & foster care, welfare/workfare, greater economic security for young families, pornography, etc. rather than banning gay marriage?)

    (similarly, if we’re concerned about the common good and the definition of ‘marriage’ per se, is it worthwhile to more enthusiastically push for robust civil unions as a means of keeping marriage sacrosanct or does that undermine our whole endeavor?)

    Furthermore, if there are a lot of other things that we are explicitly called to do in the Scripture that involve the public square (teach, preach, disciple, evangelize, practice mercy, seek justice, etc.), why should we place such an emphasis on an endeavor not proscribed in the Scripture that holds very little potential for calling people to repentance in Christ, actually preventing sinful influence from reaching the minds of actual children, or strengthening marriages that are appropriately reflective of God’s will? Framed more positively, f marriage is cosmological and that has political ramifications, what is a political strategy in regards to marriage that complements the proscribed commands of the Bible?

    • http://www.mereorthodoxy.com/ Matthew Lee Anderson

      Thanks, Matthew. I will at some point take these up…but my initial response is to pose a question about the “rather than” relationship that you introduce. Do you think that’s a helpful way of framing the political decisions at stake here?

      • Matthew Loftus

        I do think it’s helpful because it frames the political decisions at stake here in terms of their short-term and long-term policy consequences for marriages, families, and children. I don’t think that we necessarily have to choose between them to the exclusion of one, but I think we’ve sort of already done that by putting most of our political eggs in the policy basket that (I think) is least likely to advance our true cause.

        • http://www.mereorthodoxy.com/ Matthew Lee Anderson

          Okay. It strikes me as both an oversimplification of conservative political activism around marriage the past decade (see: covenant marriage intiatives in places like Arizona) and an unnecessary division for deliberating about what we *ought* do in the future….but I’ll work all that out in full later. : )

          • Matthew Loftus

            I would be delighted if you could prove me wrong on this (e.g. show me that I’ve oversimplified and there are smart people are hammering out comprehensive marriage/family policies and promoting them proportionally to the degree that they would make short-term and long-term effects.)

          • http://www.mereorthodoxy.com/ Matthew Lee Anderson

            Well, I’ve pointed toward one set of initiatives that should at least complicate the narrative. But then, I think the desire for a “comprehensive marriage legal reform” is probably not wise anyway, so I probably *won’t* convince you if that’s what you’re looking for. There’s sometimes wisdom in going after limited, specific harms with legislation rather than trying to overhaul everything.

          • Matthew Loftus

            Well, then, you will have to show us that something as cosmologically significant as marriage only merits legislating a single harm, policy-wise! ; )

            (and demonstrate how said legislating would mitigate the effects of that harm and positively impact real marriages.)

          • http://www.mereorthodoxy.com/ Matthew Lee Anderson

            Because the law’s role is not to provide comprehensive goods for a society, but rather to preserve a space where such goods can emerge. See Oliver O’Donovan’s *Ways of Judgment* for more.

            Matt

          • Matthew Loftus

            well, then, if you put it that way then no lawmaker seeking to preserve the space where true marriage emerges can ignore the economic insecurity that leads people to delay marriage, the judicial system that locks up young fathers, or the toxic environment created by pornography!

          • http://www.mereorthodoxy.com/ Matthew Lee Anderson

            Agreed. But I don’t think that lawmakers *have* ignored those problems. And they are distinct from the additional question of whether lawmakers would be served in those purposes by recognizing same-sex couples as married or not. Which is why I don’t see how your pitting them against each other is a helpful way of framing things.

            But more on that later, I suppose.

  • Andrew

    Matthew, thanks for committing to writing this series. I would be interested to hear you address the argument made by those who continue to adhere to the traditional Christian definition of marriage, but are hesitant to hold others to that same standard in a pluralistic society.

    Paul Griffiths, for example, writes:

    “It is a widely accepted norm of moral theology that the Church should not expect the civil law of a secular state to approximate in every particular the content of the moral law, stricto sensu. Prudential judgment about what the Church should advocate is needed in every particular case of divergence between the two. Relevant to such judgment is consideration of the degree to which what the Church teaches on the matter is likely to prove comprehensible to the locals. In the America of our day, it is about as difficult (or as easy) to make what the Church teaches about marriage comprehensible and convincing (the latter more difficult than the former) to the educated locals as it is to make the doctrines of the Immaculate Conception or the Real Presence so.

    “If that empirical claim is right… , then the conclusion strongly suggested by it is that the Church should not, at the moment, oppose legal recognition of same-sex unions. Those who have undergone a profoundly pagan catechesis on these questions will believe and behave as pagans do; it would be good for them and for the Church if the Church were not to attempt to constrain them by advocating positions in public policy based upon the view that what she teaches resonates in all human hearts—because it doesn’t, true though it is.

    “What the pagans need on this matter is conversion, not argument; and what the Church ought do to encourage that is to burnish the practice of marriage by Catholics until its radiance dazzles the pagan eye.”

    (Source: http://wesleyhill.tumblr.com/post/22779817883/it-is-a-widely-accepted-norm-of-moral-theology)

    • http://www.mereorthodoxy.com/ Matthew Lee Anderson

      Yes, Griffiths’ essay is very good and he’s right that what people need is “conversion.’ However, I do wonder about the broader structural conditions for *widespread* conversion to occur over a long period of time and what role argument plays in that. The emergence of the apologetic tradition within Christianity happened very early, under conditions where Griffith’s bifurcation would have been even understand than now.

  • Chas Jay

    Thank you for looking into this and I pray that I can help in this very important discussion.
    I’m middle aged and have lived as a gay man my entire adult life. It has been an emply one because it was focused on following my desires that I thought were best for me. I followed what aroused me instead of following God’s desires for me.
    What did I miss by doing so? God’s blessings that He wanted to bestow on me that come with His creation of marriage, not what I wanted. I missed the balance and beauty that a wife can give but another man cannot. I missed out on being a father and participating in the continuation of creation that God made in marriage that can never be made in a same-sex relationship. I was completely selfish in seeking what I desired and that selfishness hurt me most.
    Men, by our very nature, have a sexual energy and desire that must be controlled because it will devour and destroy us if not controlled. A Godly woman brings that control that a man will not because we will encourage each other to be boys and do as we please. A woman brings control and stability in demanding we must grow up and become men. They do so because they are the ones that give birth to children and cannot tolerate childish behavior because there are actual children that must be cared for in the home.

    My life has been one of “fun” and “good times” but fun and good times eventually don’t seem so fun as you age and the fleshly desires that I allowed to define me by calling myself gay. I gave myself a life where I defined myself by what my sexual organ desired. There’s an old saying about that aroused organ not having a conscience and by defining myself by my aroused sexual organ, I lost my conscience.

    Fortunately, God is a God of grace and mercy. He can take the very mess I made of my life and use it for His glory and I pray that He will. He defined me as something much greater than the desires of my sexual organ even though I desired to lower myself to such.

    If I had been celibate for the last 30 years, I would have been defined by Him and would have had control of my sexual organ. I hope and pray that the remainder of my life I will seek to be defined as an obedient follower that obeys God and loves others instead of being consumed about myself and what I want.

    • http://www.mereorthodoxy.com/ Matthew Lee Anderson

      Chris,

      Thanks for chiming in and for providing your background. I’m grateful that you’re reading and hope that you’ll keep up with it. I’ve much to learn about all this as well….which is why I am taking it up!

      Best,

      Matt

  • wmrharris

    In asking what sort of questions might arise, I can find three that may merit attention.

    First, should homosexuality be considered a single entity or social construction? While this framing certainly facilitates certain sorts of cultural warfare (and opposition), is it accurate? I would suggest that one may discern at least two sorts of social constructions: a sexual liberationist one and a domestic/conventional sort (from the casual reading of literature, the split is perhaps 2:1). If we admit differing ways of framing and understanding the social construction of same-sex relations, we can be seen as moving towards a relativism — that’s one danger. However viewing all expressions the same (politically convenient as it may be) at the very least does a kind of violence to our neighbor.

    Second, on “gay marriage” itself: is this perhaps too narrow a focus? The larger problem seems to be that of relationships, specifically that of friendships. if we lack ways of creating, sustaining and supporting strong, intimate friendships with each other, we will have little that is emotionally satisfying to offer singles (straight or gay). One cannot talk chastity without also the possibility of emotional rich non-sexuallly expressive friendships.

    Perhaps on this there is also a turn on the consumer/libertarianism that afflicts us. That is, can we turn away from self in our sexuality, without also a general turning away from the cultural goads to self?

    And Third, there is the discussion of the cosmological turn. Here, I hesitate theologically. I’m uncertain what to do with this sentence, in particular: “The logic of marriage pulls everything into it…” Almost certainly it is that neo-Anabaptist thinking in me, but this surely sounds as if marriage were the linchpin of our lives and culture (hence cosmology), rather than the relationship with the Triune God revealed in Christ. Knowing Rod Dreher’s thinking and your own love of things Chestertonian, I wonder if this cosmological turn is related to natural law traditionalism. From my perspective that’s a dead end, a reification of present cultural norms. The difficulty with the gay marriage debate is precisely the failure of these cultural norms. Barth’s phrase about shouting “man” to call on God comes to mind.

    Rather than cosmology I would turn to the language of sovereignty and confidence; instead of cosmological conflict, discernment and engagement.

    The
    logic of marriage pulls everything into it, such that the reasons for
    the traditional understanding of it can be properly described as
    “cosmological” – See more at:
    http://mereorthodoxy.com/the-questions-of-gay-marriage-an-inquiring-essay-part-one/#sthash.2r98QyMK.dpuf
    The
    logic of marriage pulls everything into it, such that the reasons for
    the traditional understanding of it can be properly described as
    “cosmological” – See more at:
    http://mereorthodoxy.com/the-questions-of-gay-marriage-an-inquiring-essay-part-one/#sthash.2r98QyMK.dpuf
    The
    logic of marriage pulls everything into it, such that the reasons for
    the traditional understanding of it can be properly described as
    “cosmological” – See more at:
    http://mereorthodoxy.com/the-questions-of-gay-marriage-an-inquiring-essay-part-one/#sthash.2r98QyMK.dpuf

    • http://www.mereorthodoxy.com/ Matthew Lee Anderson

      All very good thoughts. I wouldn’t want to pit the “cosmology” of marriage against the reality of the Triune God. The logic of Ephesians doesn’t permit that sort of bifurcation, I think, given what happens in Ephesians 5 and Ephesians 1.

  • http://theivorylighthouse.blogspot.come/ SJ

    I’m excited to see this unfold. Especially in the endeavor to understand and articulate past “because tradition says so.” I would love to hear more about your understanding of the more intrinsic properties of marriage. To me this would circumnavigate the rather fruitless debate that always seems to start when children, and procreation, are brought into the definition of marriage. Another question for you would be the concept that the institution of marriage is that of some sort of supernatural essence not a convention of necessity. I’ve heard very beautiful portrayals of marriage as a plan of God in Gospel and in mirrored relationship to us and God but I can’t say that much of what I’ve read was theologically air tight. In the same vein I question your assumption of the “Christ and Church” narrative for marriage because it seems you take an analogy and read it backwards, something I’m not sure you would want to do in many other situations.

    Any thoughts?

    ~SJ

    • http://www.mereorthodoxy.com/ Matthew Lee Anderson

      Robert George is interesting on the first score. He contends the “intrinsic good” of marriage is the unitive dimension, but that such a unitive dimension is necessarily of a procreative type that holds regardless of whether any children *are* given.

      I’d also be curious to hear what your worries were in those portraits of marriage.

      • http://theivorylighthouse.blogspot.com/ SJ

        If I follow the “procreative type” seems to be the then purpose of a marital union? This seems still short sighted to those who don’t procreate. This is problematics for me in that a definition, or understanding, is incomplete if it does not encompass all that is within the defined thing. I’m sure we could agree there are Godly marriages without children something else must unite the group of couples we deem married according to godly goodness. Much more to say but I should probably just blog it….

        • http://theivorylighthouse.blogspot.com/ SJ

          On my second point, I think the use of the Christ and Church analogy might be taken too far because of its use in Ephesians. That’s not to say that it isn’t true in some way or another but the characteristics described in Ephesians might not be entirely merited. I’m not a professional, but the use of the metaphor seems to take what was understood as marriage to what Christ would be like. To follow would then say that 60 A.D. Greek/Hebrew marital tradition is the quintessential marriage model offends both our social understandings (buying women, physical abuse) but also seems to forget an overarching failure to achieve God’s ultimate goodness because of our sin nature.

          • http://www.mereorthodoxy.com/ Matthew Lee Anderson

            Just a note that your first worry is a common one about George’s view. I’ll probably end up saying more about it later.

            As to the second, I think the terms of the analogy are backward: our marriage is patterned on Christ’s to the church, not necessarily the other way ’round. That provides a challenge to first-century conceptions of marriage. Indeed, the effect of Chrisitanity on marriage laws is considerable, as it is largely due to Christian influence that restrictions on adultery began to be applied to both men and women (rather than just women).

          • http://theivorylighthouse.blogspot.com/ SJ

            I’ve never heard of Christianity being linked to that legislation, if anything the stereotype is in the contrary with women being characterized as the more at fault because of the characterization of being the church while men are more like Christ.

            Doesn’t the problem then arise that women are lacking as the church is in Eph. 5:27 “…so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”? I guess the problem I have here is that men and women are equally fallen and in need of cleansing, but the relationship to one another seems taken out of contexts? I feel like there’s so much traditional assumption built into these verses and “biblical marriage” I’m looking for other instructions from Paul and parables of Jesus that we apply similarly. As of now the hierarchy referred to in Ephesians, and the way we apply it to Marriage, (seems to me) would be a bit like reading, “we like sheep have gone astray” and then preaching it is our duty to be dull minded and “sheep like,” so that our shepherd might find us.

            Again, I’m really just happy there’s more people out there sifting through this stuff thoughtfully and I’m very interested in your up coming posts.

            ~SJ

          • wmrharris

            The difference between George’s view and yours is roughly the difference between an analogical reading of Eph 5 where the realities of marriage confirm to the believer the grace in marriage, and the typological one where God’s covenantal action informs our behavior, so marriage becomes a type of the covenant.

            By way of observation, the analogical reading being more sacramental also more directly reinforces traditional marriage (at least as seen through Catholic eyes). It’s one I hear a lot from evangelicals. The typological is a bit more problematic for defenders of traditional marriage, in that it can easily be read as subordinating natural law. So godly marriages could be seen as those where the couple in their mutuality reveals the covenant. Questions of procreation then would be second tier.

          • http://theivorylighthouse.blogspot.com/ SJ

            If procreation is a mere tag to add to make same-sex unions void, I fear we have devalued the miracle that is procreation and brought in our preconceived notions of what marriage should be into the God centered definition of marriage. For lack of a better word its “unscientific,” though I imagine neither camp would be happy with that.

  • Dave

    I am getting in on this conversation late, but have at least one question and one observation.
    I am an older guy with kids your age or near so. I have been thinking my way a long time. But, with children through and attending college and now old thoughts are challenged.
    As you point out, the key to evaluating what I believe is evaluate from where or did I build my understanding, which is not always easy.
    When our daughter finished a semester of internship in San Francisco through the Christian Liberal arts college, we paid for, she had some different thought. She did not know at the time I was glad for that.
    One of those was on gays. Not that it was right but we should treat them better and, though she never mentioned it may have been thinking about the correctness of same sex marriage. This, of course, caused me to evaluate the issue. It did not take long.
    Scripture teaches there is never a reason to treat any without love. Scripture also teaches( see Jesus and Paul) that once one has preached the truth, and I do not mean a quick hi and bye, and it is not accepted to move on.
    I take that to mean in conjunction with not to associate with the wicked that a Christian’s responsibility is to avoid the sin and sinner.
    In the instance of a gay person who has accepted Christ and no longer has a life style of sin then we should accept them into the family. This principle applies to all life styles of sin.
    This is not simple or easy but is straight foreword.

    Next, I have not read many of your columns but it seems as if you want to argue in the form of the Enlightenment period, all from the logic of the mind and from nothing outside and greater.

  • rg26

    This will be very interesting to follow. I think the question for me is how to relate the argument for traditional marriage from a faith point of view to a world that is largely post-Judeo-Christian in thought and morals. I have no doubts as to what God’s view of the matter is (He makes it abundantly clear). That is not an arrogant statement on my part. I say it simply because if I do not believe what is written in God’s word or what was said by the One I claim to follow on one subject, there would hardly be an reason to believe any of it. Either it is all true and the right way to live life or it is an old book that has lost its relevance. It cannot be both to any rational person.