Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Defense of Sanctity of Marriage

Does anyone else find the Christian view on marriage difficult to justify given today's moral relativism? How do you defend the sanctity of same-sex marriage when society at large does not necessarily accept the biblical view of marriage? I read the recent breakpoint article on the issue but I was not satisfied by the arguments given there, nor could I imagine a non-Christian accepting the rationale given by the article.


Daniel Kim said...

From the context of the question, I would imagine that you meant to talk about defending the "sanctity of heterosexual marriage".

I think you are right in the difficulty of defending the sanctity of marriage in today's climate of relativism. I don't think the moral argument is understandable to the audience at large, so I think there are basically two pathways of discussing this topic.

One is to discuss the legality of it, which is what Greg Koukl does, as he does on: http://www.str.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=6553

The article covers a wide variety of responses, but the gist of the "legality" argument is that homosexual couples were allowed to have weddings, buy property, raise children, etc. All these were already allowed, so it's not that these were "illegal" as the propaganda would like to have us believe. The biggest difference for a state-recognized marriage would be family insurance and tax relief. However, Greg Koukl argues that "there is no obligation for government to give every human coupling the same entitlements simply to 'stabilize' the relationship." He goes onto to argue that the state gives tax relief to heterosexual families because there is, in a way, state's self-interest in doing so - because they are the birthplace of the next generation. Infertile couples in heterosexual marriages would be an exception to this rule which does not threaten this basic reason why the state would give tax breaks to marriages; however, the official marital status given to gay marriages would actually make this into a norm - so that now the state is giving tax breaks to couplings that categorically do not produce the next generation. I would imagine that the relevant question to ask a secularist is "from the self-interest of the state, why would the state want to give financially preferential treatment to a particular human coupling?"

I think that's one pathway, but there's another pathway which I think deals more with ethical reasoning. The main way that same-sex marriages are defended in the marketplace is that if the parties involved are consenting adults, and they love each other and are committed to each other, why shouldn't they get officially recognized by the state? Who is to "define" what a marriage is? This is really the line of reasoning for the secularist defending the expansion of marriage to include homosexual marriages. Let's take that line of reasoning and apply it to a real controversy that is quite relevant. Many of us might have already heard of all the raids that are happening on polygamy ranches. Let's think about this. If Mike and Jane have a right to marry, and Mike and Steve have a right to marry, why should we deny Mike, Jane and Marry? They love each other, and they are consenting adults. They don't harm anyone.
I think this is very relevant - just this past month, I read an article in the Week Magazine (May 18, 2008) talking about polygamy. I quote:
"Why is it [polygamy] illegal in the U.S.? That's an intriguing question. The U.S. Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, and says nothing about how many wives a man might have, if all are consenting adults. Yet as law professor Jonathan Turley has pointed out, these protections are denied to polygamists on the constitutionally dubious ground that having multiple wives just isn't... well, normal. In its 1878 ruling that permitted states to outlaw polygamy, the Supreme Court sniffed that polygamy was... 'contrary to the spirit of Christianity'".
The article goes on to give a "defense of polygamy" - quote:
"Not all polygamists live in sinister compounds under the heel of a tyrannical prophet. Many, like the fictional Henrickson family in HBO's hit polygamy saga Big Love, lead discreet suburban lives and insist that the lifestyle is neither as bizarre nor as challenging as its critics maintain. According to a 2005 estimate by the pro-polygamy group Principle Voices, there are some 15,000 independent Mormon fundamentalists living in the Westerh U.S., Mexico, and Canada - people who believe in plural marriage and Joseph Smith's other original teachings, but who live alongside normal monogamous families and eschew the authoritarian, cult-like practices of sects like the FLDS. In an interview with National Public Radio, Linda Kunz Green, one of the five wives of polygamist Tom Green, spoke to the joys and practicality of sharing her husband with four other women. 'We have a very close, sister-like relationship with each other,' said Kunz Green of her co-wives, 'and our children have often expressed that they enjoy having that many mothers to care for them and love them.'"
I think it's fruitful to discuss this issue of polygamy - and compare and contrast the ethical reasoning regarding polygamy and same-sex marriages. I know that some might balk at mentioning polygamy and same-sex marriage as if they are the same thing. I don't think they are. But the point is the ethical reasoning between the two are, as far as I can tell, seamless. Try arguing for same-sex marriage but against polygamy, and you'll see what I mean.
A few years back, Terry Gross on NPR was talking about homosexual marriage, and this very question of polygamy was brought up. And she said, "Why can't we just make marriages between two consenting adults?" and then they moved on. Well, that begs the question - who gets to define that marriages are for 2 people only? Are we forcing our definition of marriage on loving, consenting adults? Are we going to tell them, "no, you don't actually love each other."?

Those are my thoughts.

Daniel Kim said...

The previous comment is just a reply that I would give as far as reasoning things out to a secularist is concerned. However, if you were to ask me personally apart from the rather academic arena of ethics, I would also add my personal belief.

I believe that people who struggle with homosexuality should be embraced and accepted by the church. Not that I would consider it as a normal thing; I would still consider it a sin. But then, so is greed and lust. Surely, the church should accept people who struggle with other sins, and therefore if there is anyone who struggles with homosexuality, I believe the church should accept him/her and look upon him with compassion and love. I think it's important to communicate to the world that the Christian church accepts people who struggle with all sorts of sins, as long as they are actually struggling and not trying to normalize their sins. You and I are sinners, and we have been accepted and forgiven by God when we recognize our sins and struggle to turn away from our sins. And God accepts us even though that "turnaround" is not complete - and we should strive to do the same with people who struggle with other issues and sins and brokenness.

Daniel Kim said...

This last comment makes me a little bit nervous, so let me add a bit more clarification.

I do believe that we are all God's creation. And I do believe that God loves us all the same. And I agree absolutely that we should not turn this homosexuality issue into an unforgivable sin that ought to be shunned.

However, I do believe that the church has an obligation to exhort people to turn away from a sinful lifestyle... if they are living out their sinful desires in a lifestyle. Not only in the ministry of Jesus, but throughout the epistles, we see the exhortations to the church to no longer engage in sinful lifestyles (1 Cor 6:12-20; Cal 5:16-21; Eph 5:1-20, etc.). So the church does have an obligation, if it sees a person who is actually "engaged" in the lifestyle of sin, to address it and confront it - especially if the person who is engaged in the lifestyle calls himself a Christian. (For this distinction in ethics for a Christian, see 1 Corinthians 5:9-11).

So that means Christian churches should exhort people struggling with homosexuality to keep himself/herself from actually acting upon those desires. I think this is exactly the same as other sins. People struggle with lust, with greed, etc. We are to accept one another with those sins and struggles. However, it's another story when a person starts to engage in a "lifestyle" of acting out on those desires - if, for example, a self-professing Christian has an immoral relationship with someone outside of marriage or is living with someone or is pursuing a relationship with a married person.. That would be a "lifestyle" that Christian churches must challenge.. And the same would go for a gay lifestyle, if the person struggling with SSA would start going to gay bars or start to pursue a homosexual relationship.

Probably when you said "lifestyle", you didn't mean that the person would be going to gay bars and things, but I just wanted to clarify that - because usually a gay lifestyle means that.

Moreover, regarding the issue of "feeling judged", let's imagine that I say to a person, "As a Christian, you really need to leave that lifestyle." "As a Christian, you can't be living with your girlfriend," "You shouldn't be buying those kinds of things.." And if by my saying those things, they feel shunned - well, what can be done? What if by my saying so, they feel "judged and condemned"? Well, am I not judging them? Actually, I would say I AM judging their actions - and frankly, when your actions are being judged, you feel like you're being judged.. it's really hard to tell sometimes, isn't it? So does that mean I should just smile and be silent and accept everything? That's certainly not what the NT teaches (just read any epistle for 5 minutes, and it's guaranteed that you'll read something - and someone - that is being judged).

What I'm saying is that therefore we should be careful not to demand that a church never make a person feel judged. If that's the case, the church cannot challenge any immoral behavior - if that's the case, Jesus was wrong about how he made the Pharisees feel and how he mad the people of Korazin and Bethsaida feel (Matt 11:20-24). So emotional peace is not the highest goal of the church.

I know that you're probably not saying that, but just wanted to get that out there, because there's an overwhelming sentiment in the postmodern world where making someone feel bad is the worst crime one could ever commit. So in short, I still believe that people who struggle with homosexuality should be accepted and embraced with compassion and love. But at the same time, we need to challenge them (and ourselves) not to live out our sinful desires, even if that challenge might offend.

Anonymous said...

"so that now the state is giving tax breaks to couplings that categorically do not produce the next generation."

but homosexual couples can and do have and raise children. You can be a lesbian and a parent and part of a couple all at the same time.

What about trans people? If a person transitions from having a female body to a male body, but the whole time they are attracted to women, are they straight?

should they get more marriage-to-women rights than a female-bodied person who does not undergo hormone treatments/surgery? Because that's the state of the laws right now and why same-sex marriage rights are needed.

Daniel Kim said...

Woa, the trans question is beyond me. I don't know enough about that issue, so I will withold opinion about that.

Regarding lesbians who can have children, though. Are you saying that 2 lesbians can actually produce children? (perhaps through bio-tech?)