During the past several weeks I have had a chance to read many articles dealing with the redefinition of marriage to include homosexual couples. I have posted a number of these on my blog. As I have read these articles and watched the events at the Supreme Court case dealing with marriage, I now find it impossible to avoid the conclusion that homosexual marriage in the United States is now inevitable. It really doesn’t matter what specific decision the Supreme Court arrives at in relation to the matter before it. It is no longer a question of if, but rather when full legal status for homosexual marriage arrives.
When homosexual marriage becomes legal in all states, it will be a significant moment. It will signal that marriage in American culture is in its death throes. But such a decision will not be the cause of this. Instead, it will be a moment that forces us to recognize what has already taken place. It will impel us to grapple with developments that have been going on for a very long time. It is easy to describe homosexual marriage as a “redefinition of marriage.” However, in truth this misses the point. Instead, the fact that homosexual marriage can be discussed as a potential option bears witness to the fact that marriage has already been redefined.
Contraception – the revolution of “the pill” – has allowed people to use sex as an end itself. They have been able to use sex solely for the purpose of physical and emotional pleasure and enjoyment. Previously, marriage, sex and children provided the foundation of human society just as God ordered it. These three were indivisibly united with one another. However, since the end of the twentieth century we have lived in the first time in human history when people have had the technology to separate sex and children. When sex became disengaged from having children, it inevitably became disengaged from marriage as well, since marriage existed for the purpose of creating and raising children. Set loose from the channel that was intended to control and constrain it in positive ways, sex has run wild in our culture.
Once marriage was disengaged from the creation and raising of children, it took on a new purpose: adult personal fulfillment. Marriage was now about the personal satisfaction of adults. The inevitable result of this was the “no fault divorce.” With children removed from the center of marriage’s purpose, now if adults were not experiencing the personal fulfillment in marriage they desired they simply ended marriage in divorce and sought a new marriage. This was truly the moment when marriage was redefined. Everything that we are experiencing in regard to marriage is really just the working out of this basic fact.
Sex was unhinged from marriage. This produced not only a culture of fornication but also the new development of wholesale cohabitation. Of course despite all our efforts using contraception, sex never wholly ceases to produce the result God has given to it. It continues to produce children and so generations of children have not been born outside of marriage, and with great frequency, to single mothers. This along with divorce have decimated the family in American culture. They have proven to be the sins that visit themselves upon the children of the parents to the third and fourth generation … and beyond.
The course of this development since the 1960’s set the stage for today’s legal effort to include homosexual couples within marriage. Yet in order for this to reach the full fruition we are now seeing, the homosexual movement had to accomplish one other thing. They had to convince the public that homosexuality was a natural disposition. This is a goal they have achieved. It doesn’t matter that the research on this topic has yielded mixed results and that presently the best evaluation is that homosexuality is a combination of nature and nurture in varying degrees in different people. The homosexual movement has convinced the general public “that they were must made this way.”
Since marriage is not about producing and raising children and is instead about adult personal fulfillment, there is no reason that “marriage” can’t include couples who are of the same sex. Yet along the way, something interesting happened. Homosexual couples began to decide that children were a part of the equation that provided personal fulfillment. By definition their union could not produce children. But just as they had a right to marriage for the sake of personal fulfillment, so also they maintained that they had a right to children for the same reason.
Even if marriage had already been redefined on the basis of adult personal fulfillment, and homosexuals had convinced the public that they had a natural disposition, there was one other hurdle to clear in order for homosexual parenting of children to be accepted by the public. They needed to convince the public that there was no appreciable difference between the experience of children raised by heterosexual and homosexual couples. Since academia as a whole and the social sciences in particular are dominated by a pro-homosexual orthodoxy, it is not surprising that their research produced these very results using research samples and methodologies that were suspect. Subsequent research by Mark Regnerus has called attention to these deficiencies and using better samples and methodology his research has yielded different results. Not surprisingly, Regnerus has received concerted attacks (http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2012/10/the-regnerus-study-social-science-on-new-family-structures-met-with-intolerance). As with the nature of homosexuality itself, once again a lack of certainty in the research has not stopped the homosexual movement from proclaiming as “scientific fact” that homosexual couples make equally good parents as heterosexuals (http://surburg.blogspot.com/2013/03/american-acadmey-of-pediatrics-speaks.html).
This set the stage for what really made homosexual marriage inevitable. At its most basic level, marriage is about children. Armed with “research” declaring that they made equally suitable parents, homosexuals began to be granted the right to adopt children. There were already children in the homes of homosexual couples that had been produced in a heterosexual relationship from one of the partner’s past. Artificial insemination and similar methods were allowing homosexuals to possess children. But when the state and society as a whole began placing children into the homes of homosexuals, the future of homosexual marriage was assured. All efforts to prevent it amount to a rear guard action. The arguments for homosexual marriage are a custom fit for the spirit of our age (http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2013/03/27/why-the-arguments-for-gay-marriage-are-persuasive/).
In the last few weeks I have posted links to many fine articles that accurately describe why homosexual marriage is detrimental to society. However, the fact of the matter is that when homosexual marriage becomes a full and complete legal reality very little will change. The redefinition of marriage and its ongoing death in American culture was already happening. Homosexual marriage really does nothing more than provide the unavoidable conclusion that marriage in our culture in now in hospice. It doesn’t fundamentally change things. Instead it forces us to acknowledge that things have fundamentally changed for marriage.
Yet at the same time, homosexual marriage as a legal reality changes everything. It does so because it provides the legal basis for the homosexual movement to attack everything and everyone in society that does not fully accept it. It provides the legal basis for insinuating homosexuality into many different aspects of society such as education. It is an even more powerful tool than “hate speech legislation” since it takes the form of a “civil rights issue” that can be aimed at many different targets. As Robert Knight has written:
Which brings us to the bigger picture. The Left’s drive for “gay rights” poses the greatest domestic threat to the freedoms of religion, speech and assembly. When traditional morality is equated with racist bigotry, civil rights enforcement becomes a gun aimed at the head of citizens, forcing them to choose between God and Caesar. That should never happen in America, where our founders said rights come from our Creator, not capricious man, who can mistake fashion for morality (http://www.religiontoday.com/columnists/guest-commentary/war-on-marriage-is-a-war-on-reality.html).
The Church and the homosexual movement have very different approaches to one another. The Church condemns homosexuality as sin. Yet like many other sins that continue on in a fallen world, the Church realizes that she cannot stamp it out. She can only speak Law and Gospel as she seeks to lead sinners to repentance. She understands she will have to live in a world where sin like homosexuality continues until Christ returns.
The homosexual movement on the other hand is not willing to tolerate the existence of a position that labels homosexuality as sinful and contrary to God’s ordering of creation. It will use every means necessary to destroy the opposition. The legal status of homosexual marriage will provide the hammer of civil rights enforcement they need to do just that.
Marriage, of course, cannot really die or be destroyed. It was instituted by God and is part of his ordering of creation. It can be perverted and ignored in ways that bring unimaginable harm upon the adults and children who are touched by these things. Yet it will continue to exist and certainly will find a healthy presence among many couples in the Church.
What then does homosexual marriage mean for the Church? First, it underscores the fact that with renewed vigor the Church must uphold marriage among the baptized. She must allow herself to be examined by God’s Law and be led to repentance where her practice has not been faithful to God’s Word. In particular, there are two areas where this must happen.
The first is divorce. The fact of the matter is that the Church has caved into the culture when it comes to “no fault divorce.” She has lost her nerve and is unwilling to listen to her Lord when he says, “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery” (Matthew 5:31-32). She fears and loves the world more than Christ and so ignores him when he says, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 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’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:4-6).
I am a parish pastor, so I understand well the tremendous challenges that divorce presents. I recognize that there are times when despite our best efforts to discern black and white we are unable to see anything but grey because of the hideous ways sin twists and perverts things. I recognize that there is a valid exegetical insight in the recognition that these biblical texts about marriage are not intended be a kind of “canon law.” But at the same time they also clearly say that divorce should not occur. When divorce becomes the easy default position with absolutely no consequences for the Christian, I find it hard to believe that the Church really is being faithful to God’s Word.
The second area is fornication and cohabitation. Paul told the Thessalonians, “Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God” (1 Thessalonians 4:1-5). Paul wrote these words to Christians who lived in a culture that was awash in sexual immorality, just as we are. And yet all the evidence of the New Testament and the first centuries of the Church indicates that this was an important emphasis of the Church’s life. It was something that set the Church apart from the world and those refused to live in this way were set apart from the Church (see 1 Corinthians 5:1-13).
The Church of the twenty-first century knows little of the earnestness with which the early Church approached this. We desperately need to learn. We live in a time when we congratulate ourselves that the couple that has been living together finally was married in church. The pastor teaches the Sixth Commandment in catechesis on Saturday morning and then turns around and denies everything he just said by marrying the unrepentant fornicating couple on Saturday afternoon. Pastors don’t practice discipline because they are afraid they will lose members. Congregation members attack faithful pastors who seek to practice pastoral care and discipline toward their cohabiting son or daughter. Members learn that they can transfer to the congregation of the neighboring pastor who will allow them to live together and then will eventually marry them whenever they decide the time has arrived.
The Church has been called out of world. She must be different from the world when it comes to sexual ethics. If being faithful in this way causes her to lose members, then she must become smaller so that she can be healthier. Until we are willing, fortified by God’s Word, to take this stance we will never be able to face the challenge of the world around us. The Church will continue the long, slow slide down into the morality of the world, and the practice of marriage in the Church will suffer.
On the positive side, the Church must make renewed efforts to hold up marriage and sexuality as God’s good gift. We need both catechesis and preaching that directly address these areas of life, because God’s Word does. We need to frame this preaching and teaching in terms of vocation using the guidance provided by the Table of Duties in the Small Catechism. We need to learn from the master practitioners of pastoral care throughout the history of the Church. We are not the first to learn marriage can be difficult for two sinners. Surely the fathers who have come before us have insight to share – insight that is less laden with spirituality of our own age.
Finally, the Church must be ready to suffer with Christ. Homosexual marriage will bring hardships upon the Church. If we continue to confess what God’s Word says about homosexuality, the time will come when we will have to pay the price for this confession. Naturally we need to look to the promises of God’s Word as we prepare for this challenge. We also need to become friends again with the saints who have gone before us – the martyrs and confessors. We need to learn their stories so that we can see how God’s grace was at work in their lives, and so that we can learn from their examples of faith and confession.
It is Christ’s Church and he has promised that as she lives a life of faith that confesses him “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). Nourished by his Means of Grace we will be able to walk the way our Lord sets before us praying “Come Lord Jesus!” Until that Day we must live in the confidence of the apostle Paul’s words:
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (Romans 5:1-5).