The Cambridge Dictionary describes it as “a legally accepted relationship between a man and a woman in which they live as husband and wife.” Merriam-Webster calls it “the relationship that exists between a husband and a wife.” But 21st-century America is not so sure about what marriage is and what it isn’t. In fact, according to recent polling some 57 percent of the American people say the definition of marriage should be changed to encompass same-sex couples. And the Supreme Court agrees, concluding in a 5-4 decision that “Laws excluding same-sex couples from the marriage right impose stigma and injury of the kind prohibited by our basic charter … it would disparage their choices and diminish their personhood to deny them this right.”
Advocates for same-sex marriage have successfully argued several points which now raise a number of challenges for Christians, including these 10.
1. Christians should applaud and support homosexuals who seek to marry because it is an affirmation of the institution of marriage.
This argument misses the point of what God has always intended marriage to be: the lifelong union of one man and one woman. This is the very foundation of God’s plan. We see this in Genesis when the Father presides over the first wedding ceremony, and again in the Gospels when the Son points to that first marriage, and again in the Epistles, as inspired by the Holy Spirit — all of which suggests that God is serious about marriage.
“A man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh,” Genesis 2 declares, adding: “Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” The text doesn’t say Adam and his husband, Adam and his girlfriend, or Adam and his wives. “Adam and his wife were both naked” and yet felt no shame precisely because they were married. By creating Adam for Eve and Eve for Adam, God made His design for intimacy plain: one man and one woman sharing their life and love within marriage.
Jesus, in Matthew 19 and Mark 10, affirms the original plan for marriage, explaining, “At the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul offers instructions for Christian households by going back to the beginning, to that first wedding ceremony, and quoting what the Father said: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”
To be sure, some of the people in God’s family tree engaged in polygamy and adultery, but that was not God’s will. Multiple wives and sex outside of marriage brought huge problems — moral, spiritual, practical — for David and Solomon.
“To defend traditional marriage is not to condemn, demean, or humiliate those who would prefer other arrangements.” – Antonin Scalia
As for homosexual marriage, it is simply not contemplated by the Bible. First and foremost, Scripture is consistent on what marriage is, as the words of Genesis, Jesus, and Paul tell us. Second, the Bible speaks early, often, and consistently about homosexuality, and the verdict is that homosexual behavior is wrong. See Genesis 19, Leviticus 18 and 20, Deuteronomy 23, Judges 19, I Kings 14 and 15, 2 Kings 23, Romans 1 and I Timothy 1.
Gary Thomas argues in his book “Sacred Marriage” that “(t)he first purpose of marriage — beyond happiness, sexual expression, the bearing of children, companionship, mutual care and provision, or anything else — is to please God.” Since it serves to sanction a behavior God defines as sin, it’s difficult to see how homosexual marriage could be pleasing to God.
2. Given that Scripture revises itself on things such as ceremonial and dietary laws, modern Christians can and should revise out-of-date views on homosexuality.
As the Rev. Tim Keller, author of “The Meaning of Marriage” and senior pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian in New York, observes, respected Christian thinkers are increasingly making this case. He notes that they say things like, “Christians no longer regard eating shellfish as wrong — so why can’t we change our minds on homosexuality?”
Keller’s answer is measured and wise. “Yes, there are things in the Bible that Christians no longer have to follow,” he explains. “But if the Scripture is our final authority, it is only the Bible itself that can tell us what those things are. The prohibitions against homosexuality are restated in the New Testament … but Jesus himself (Mark 7), as well as the rest of the New Testament, tells us that the clean laws and ceremonial code are no longer in force” (emphasis in the original).
3. Jesus was silent on homosexuality and warned against passing judgment on others. We should follow His example.
This is another common refrain from Christians who advocate for marriage redefinition.
However, Jesus’ teachings on adultery make it clear that sex outside of marriage is wrong (see Matthew 5, Matthew 15, Mark 10, Luke 16, Luke 18, John 4, and John 8). His teachings on marriage make it clear that He defines marriage as between a man and a woman — see Mark 10:6-8 — and that He is grieved by our misuse of marriage and contempt for His guidelines on intimacy.
Consider the story of the woman caught committing adultery. Some justify certain behavior — or even try to erase the notion that certain behavior is wrong — by turning to this story in John 8. Here, Jesus protects a woman from being punished by a mob of Pharisees.
“Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her,” He declares. As the accusers leave, He asks the woman, “Has no one condemned you? … Then neither do I condemn you.”
What a beautiful picture of God’s grace and mercy. Yet too often, those who cite this passage to rationalize this or that behavior leave out the most important part: Jesus telling the woman, “Go now and leave your life of sin.” To be protected from the consequences of sin — to know God’s grace and mercy — we must have a desire to leave our lives of sin. And God — not presidents or judges, movie stars or Facebook — defines what sin is.
That brings us to judgment. Increasingly, it seems the only wrong behavior is judging something to be wrong. To be sure, Jesus said, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” However, Scripture is full of references to the need for, and benefits of, godly judgment.
As a matter of fact, in the very same chapter where we find that oft-quoted “judge not” admonishment (Matthew 7), Jesus invites His followers to use their judgment to be on the lookout for false prophets. “Every good tree bears good fruit,” He explains, “but a bad tree bears bad fruit.” Deciding between bad and good presupposes judgment. In Matthew 18, Jesus adds, “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you.” Again, this presupposes judgment about sin. In fact, just using the word “sin” presupposes judgment about right and wrong.
Of course, applying godly judgment is much different from being judgmental. The former is about loving God, accepting and defending the truth, and building others up. The latter is about elevating self and tearing others down.
4. This isn’t about religion or the church. It is a political issue and a personal choice.
In fact, the definition of marriage has everything to do with the church. At its core, marriage is a religious institution — God ordained it at the very beginning — that is recognized by the state. It is not a state institution that religions have come to recognize.
As to the political dimensions of redefining marriage, the church is not here to take its cues from politics and pop culture. The church should be salt and light for a culture bent on decay and darkness.
As to the issue of choice, Christians can and do disagree about whether a person might be born with a predisposition to be homosexual. Regardless of where we land on that question, it doesn’t follow that a person has biblical license to engage in homosexual behavior. After all, a person might be born with a predisposition to alcohol dependence or overeating or lust or fits of rage or any number of other human frailties — also known as sin. All of us are born with a sinful nature. That doesn’t justify succumbing to that nature.
5. Marriage is about love. Hence, this is not so much about redefining marriage as it is about expanding our definition of love.
Justifying the redefinition of marriage on these grounds is fraught with consequences and complications.
For example, redefining marriage opens the door to polygamy. As Justice Samuel Alito observed, “A marriage between two people of the same sex is not something that we have had before. … Suppose we rule in your favor in this case and then after that, a group consisting of two men and two women apply for a marriage license. Would there be any ground for denying them a license? … What would be the logic of denying them the same right?”
If this is just about a person’s definition of love, there wouldn’t be any logic to preventing three or four or more people from marrying. In fact, a federal judge struck down parts of Utah’s antipolygamy law soon after the Supreme Court weighed in on the Defense of Marriage Act and began its march toward redefining marriage in 2013.
Spurred by the Court’s actions, so-called “marriage equality advocates” are targeting bakeries, flower shops, photography studios, banquet halls, and other industries that provide services for weddings — demanding that they provide services for same-sex ceremonies. The next logical step is to force churches and pastors to conduct such ceremonies. “Once it’s made a matter of constitutional law,” Justice Antonin Scalia warily asks, “is it conceivable that a minister who is authorized by the state to conduct marriage can decline to marry two men if indeed this Court holds that they have a constitutional right to marry?”
If that’s where this ultimately leads, then Christianity’s future in the United States will increasingly look like Christianity’s distant past: Rather than living in a culture that is largely shaped by Judeo-Christian mores, we would be sliding toward a culture that is less tolerant of and less influenced by Judeo-Christian values — and heading toward a future where the church is, at best, a marginalized remnant within an anything-goes society.
6. Opposition to marriage redefinition is about hatred and intolerance.
A 2013 Supreme Court decision described attempts to defend the traditional definition of marriage as a “bare … desire to harm a politically unpopular group” and an effort “to disparage and to injure” same-sex couples. In his dissenting response, Scalia sensibly explained, “To defend traditional marriage is not to condemn, demean, or humiliate those who would prefer other arrangements. … In the majority’s judgment, any resistance to its holding is beyond the pale of reasoned disagreement. … All that, simply for supporting an Act that did no more than codify an aspect of marriage that had been unquestioned in our society for most of its existence — indeed, had been unquestioned in virtually all societies for virtually all of human history.”
Echoing Scalia, Chief Justice John Roberts noted in his dissenting opinion to the high court’s 2015 decision that his colleagues had ordered “the transformation of a social institution that has formed the basis of human society for millennia, for the Kalahari Bushmen and the Han Chinese, the Carthaginians and the Aztecs. Just who do we think we are?”
For most of us who oppose the redefinition of marriage, this is about nothing more or less than the sanctity of the God-ordained covenant of marriage. That seems to be what motivated 342 House members and 85 Senators who voted for the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996 — and President Bill Clinton when he signed it into law.
Likewise, President Obama declared in 2008 that “marriage is the union between a man and a woman. … I am not in favor of gay marriage. … For me as a Christian, it is also a sacred union. God’s in the mix.” He later changed his position, declaring ahead of the 2012 election, “I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.”
Was he hateful or intolerant before he changed his mind, or was he simply defending his beliefs, or was he just politically calculating before and after?
7. The definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman is outdated and increasingly outside the mainstream.
We all know that right and wrong are not defined by what the majority says. Even so, the fact is that 39 states have defined — via democratic political processes — marriage as the union of one man and one woman. Yet unelected judges — what Scalia derides as a self-appointed “black-robed supremacy” — have now sided with the majority.
8. This is the most important issue facing the church today.
Yes and no. In one sense, there are lots more important issues than whether two men should be allowed to marry: the scourge of abortion, the assault on religious liberty, hunger, postmodernism, the gap between haves and have-nots, the rise and reach of jihadist terrorism, the decline of political and economic freedom around the world. But in another sense — in the sense that the very foundation of civilization is the family, and the family cannot exist without man and woman — this is an extremely important issue.
9. Redefining marriage to enfold same-sex unions is the latest chapter in the struggle for civil rights.
A cover story in The Advocate, a magazine focused on homosexual culture, calls homosexuality “the last great civil-rights struggle.” Many African-Americans bristle at such comparisons. In fact, 55 percent of African-Americans say that equal rights for homosexuals are not the same as equal rights for African-Americans, while just 28 say they are. In addition, more African-Americans oppose same-sex marriage than support it.
From a biblical perspective, the difference between the civil-rights movement and the marriage-redefinition movement is vast. The former sought to eradicate prejudice based on race and color, which echoes the spirit of Scripture (see Isaiah 19, Romans 10, I Corinthians 1, I Corinthians 12, Galatians 3, Colossians 3). The latter seeks acceptance for behavior Scripture says is wrong. On this and other matters, we can reject or ignore what Scripture says, but we can’t pretend Scripture is silent.
10. If society is changing, shouldn’t the church change as well?
If we accept the Bible as the ultimate source of the truth, then we shouldn’t discount what it says about marriage and sexuality, and we shouldn’t keep quiet about it. We are called to “speak the truth in love.” However, knowing the truth about what God intends marriage to be does not give us the right to be hurtful or hateful in speaking it. We should love one another, cognizant of the fact that all of us sin and fall short of what God wants. In other words, we shouldn’t elevate any particular sin above others.
Our motives and our means matter. If our motive is to hurt or hate — if our means are humiliating or un-Christlike — then we are failing our Savior and our fellow man. But if our motive is to honor God in what we say, in what we do, in how we say it, and how we do it, then we are fulfilling our duty to Christ and our fellow man.
Of course, to some ears, our means and motives are secondary to our message. The very fact that we oppose the redefinition of marriage is offensive to them. As believers, we should take this in stride. After all, the cross itself is an offense to the world.
Alan Dowd writes at the crossroads of faith and public policy.