Saturday, April 14, 2007

Political Beef: Love

Another political issue on which people are taking a stand that I think will hurt them in the long run is LOVE. Or to be more specific, marriage. The sanctity of marriage has been taking hits even longer than the sanctity of life; as a result, marriage has almost completely "gone under." The evidence is basically threefold: (1) More and more people would rather do without marriage, even if they are living and sleeping with a certain special someone. (2) More and more people are breaking up their life partnerships, blessed and otherwise, in many cases going through several such partnerships in a lifetime. (3) The increasing acceptance of same-sex partnerships as "marriage" either reduces the concept of marriage to the absurd, or shows that it has functionally ceased to exist.

In a way, point #1 leads to point #2. Statistical studies have repeatedly, and increasingly, shown that living together, or even just sleeping together, before marriage vastly increases a couple's risk of breaking up. But the cohabitation problem is a separate problem, particularly in the church. Christians are called to be holy, and therefore to live in a distinctive manner in contrast to the secular world. Yet when I was a pastor and a cohabiting couple came seeking my blessing, they actually justified their behavior to me by saying: "Everyone does it these days." I gave them three options: (a) Get a license immediately and let me marry them as soon as possible - and save the big church-social event for a public-recognition-of-marriage ceremony at a later day; (b) Move apart and stay apart until the big date; and (c) Look for an alternative to getting married in the church, because apart from options A and B, I couldn't help them. Typically, the couple went home to Mom and Dad (leading members of the church) and reported that I had refused to marry them; typically, my faithfulness cost me more than their unfaithfulness cost them.

A caring shepherd needs to warn his flock about the dangers of cohabitation. And I don't just mean the increased danger that a couple will eventually break up. I mean the specific dangers the acceptance of cohabitation poses to the church and to the Christian faith of all those involved. That young couple in my office never considered any of these dangers, even though I very patiently explained them to them. Dangers such as the church, whose existence depends on the Word of God, becoming comfortable with setting aside the Word of God and thereby unplugging itself from its source of life and power. Dangers such as the church failing to set an example of holiness and becoming known as the church that accomodates itself to the fashionable mores of its neighborhood. Dangers such as the congregation becoming a party to scandal and sin rather than reproving it and calling the sinner to repentance. Dangers such as the unreproved sinner justifying himself in his own mind rather than repenting and being justified by God. The more the Christians put up with this type of behavior, the more they flay their conscience as with knives, until it is covered with such a thick layer of scar tissue that nothing can prick it.

Point #2 is also disruptive of church and family. Divorce screws up the kids and their future relationships. It deprives both husband and wife of the lifelong companion and helper they really need and want. And even in today's climate of gender equality, both divorce and cohabitation are bad news for women, especially women with children. When a partnership can be so readily dissolved, or when it is established on a legally shaky basis, the female half is generally the one that suffers socially, economically, and professionally.

I disagree with the thesis that marriage is essentially a contract to have children together. According to Genesis 2 marriage originates in man's very basic need for a partner. Husband and wife are ordained so that two may become one flesh, so that two individuals can complete each other, support each other, and make each other all that he or she can be. The whole is more than the sum of its parts. A married couple is designed to enhance each member through the power of loving and being loved, serving and being served. As a young couple leaves the protecting shelter of parents and home place, it helps them to join together and become more than they were. As an older couple passes through maturity into the pain, weakness, and loss on the other end of life, they depend on each other for the courage to get through it. And in a mysterious way, marriage is also a confession of the fellowship between God and His people. For it to be broken at any time is a tragic loss, whether it be by death or by any other means. For it to be broken many times in one person's life indicates a spirit that has been torn and shattered so many times that it scarcely retains a human form.

Point #3 grows out of this. Marriage is the union of two unlike partners. Same-sex union may be legally defined as marriage, but this is a reductio ad absurdum, or a sign that marriage has become meaningless to our society. Even if the same legal privileges are given to gay partners that married couples now enjoy, the gay couples are still going to hurt themselves (to say nothing of society) by doing this. They will not be all that they can be, because the nature of their union does not require them to adapt to a totally different type of person. How much easier such a relationship must be, at least to begin with; but for that reason, and for many other reasons, how much sooner broken!

A same-sex "marriage" will most likely be a relationship between self-centered, self-gratifying individuals - and so this relationship will eventually self-destruct. The partners may enjoy some legal and financial benefits while they stay together, but the other blessings of marriage will be missing -- and yet the heartbreak of divorce remains. They will share only the most trivial of the good things, and all of the bad, that comes with marriage. They will not become all that they can be; from the very first their relationship is a waste of, or a blot on, their potential.

The church that supports this is, again, shooting itself in the foot: first, by cutting itself off from its Biblical wellspring of life, truth, and comfort - because it must begin by disposing of the Biblical testimony that condemns homosexuality; second, by destroying its own credibility as a moral example - because it embraces and even promotes the sins against which many people who want to be godly must struggle with patience and courage. How differently the church would choose if its leaders and followers truly believe that God will hold us accountable for what we believe, teach, confess, and practice.

I call this stupidity because the people who are harmed the most are the ones who support the changes in the politics of marriage. They have tasted of the new freedoms our society permits, and they have the broken hearts, broken homes, broken relationships, and ofttimes broken health to show for it. I call this anti-marriage behavior stupidity - and I speak of all 3 points now, from cohabitation to divorce to same-sex couples - because it lacks the salt-of-the-earth, common sense that leads fathers to want to kill any young pup who puts his paws on his unmarried daughter, or that makes spouses sick with jealousy when someone or something comes between them, or that causes children of divorced parents to have trouble with relationships beginning with Mom & Dad, or that that causes a mother to feel as if the fruit of her womb has died and her line has ended when her son or daughter announces that he or she is gay. Such people may seem to have antiquated ideas, but there is something to them. They have a deep body-knowledge that tells them, quite correctly, that anything that messes with their biological legacy is a subtle form of extermination. Couples should listen, and be sensitive, to these visceral concerns; but because they often don't and aren't, they oftener and oftener alienate themselves from their parents and children.

I call the church stupid when it tolerates or even agitates for such anti-marriage behavior, because the church will be broken too. It will be broken the way a circle of friends surrounding a married couple is broken when that marriage fails. The church will be broken because two of its faithful can no longer be together in it, and those who care about both of them cannot bear to see either of them lost, so sure as shootin' some church members will go this way and some will go that won't be pretty. It will do nothing good for the Lord's kingdom.

No comments: