By Denny Burk
August 28, 2003
The Episcopal Church’s decision to allow local churches to “explore and experience liturgies celebrating and blessing same-sex unions” has drawn ire and refutations from conservative critics of gay marriage. For example, Maggie Gallagher’s recent article in The Weekly Standard contends that same-sex marriage only exacerbates the “crisis” that has occurred in the institution of marriage in the United States. Citing a Child Trends research brief, she demonstrates that the “family structure” of monogamous married couples is crucial for raising healthy children. Moreover, she grounds her definition of marriage in a sociological observation concerning what children need, “The marriage idea is that children need mothers and fathers, that societies need babies, and that adults have an obligation to shape their sexual behavior so as to give their children stable families in which to grow up” (p. 23). The bottom line of Gallagher’s opposition to gay marriage is that it is tantamount to leaving children in a lurch.
Conservative Evangelicals have reason to be thankful for such co-belligerent voices in secular media. The rising tide of homosexual activism presents a menacing challenge to all who value the sanctity of marriage. However, we conservative Christians who are submitted to the biblical witness run the risk of abdicating biblical authority in our stated opposition to homosexual marriage. If we adopt wholesale the Bible-free arguments set forth by co-belligerents such as Maggie Gallagher, we lose our distinct Christian witness to a dying culture.
In Gallagher’s article, an underlying pragmatism drives the entire argument. Marriage derives its value and its definition from “Research” that “clearly demonstrates that family structure matters for children” (p. 22). Perhaps there is no reason to doubt the conclusions of such research. But is this socio-scientific procedure really what drives the Christian’s testimony to the culture at large? Are Christians committed to the ideal of traditional marriage because of the pragmatic benefit of raising well-adjusted children (whatever that means)? If we are going to be servants of Christ, we must answer these questions with a resounding “no.”
As evangelicals celebrate the co-belligerency of our allies in the national media, it is crucial that we maintain our distinct Christian voice in the larger debate. All too often, Christians who profess a conservative bibliology in principle have a very liberal bibliology in practice. In other words, we believe that the Bible is true, we just don’t believe that it’s sufficient. Yes, we believe Paul, Moses, and others speaking as the mouthpiece of God in their clear message that homosexuality constitutes grave sin. But do we believe that the biblical witness is sufficient for our engagement of the culture on this issue? If we oppose gay marriage on the grounds that it contributes to this or that ill in society and if our public opposition ends there, we endorse an implicit denial of the Bible’s sufficiency for our witness to the world.
In fact, our witness to the culture is compromised when we neglect to communicate the clear biblical teaching that marriage receives its definition and value from God. Both Jesus and Paul grounded their public statements about the meaning of marriage in their understanding of God’s written word penned by Moses (Matt 19:5-6; Eph 5:31-32; cf. Gen 2:24). Paul went so far as to suggest that the “mystery” of marriage finds its definition in the gospel itself. When Paul speaks of marriage, he speaks “with reference to Christ and the church” (Eph 5:32). Thus, any compromise of the definition of marriage constitutes a compromise in the way the church sees herself related to Christ.
The kind of family-friendly research that is being done around the country must never become a substitute for biblical authority. At best, we can use such research as a corroboration of what we already know to be true on the basis of God’s word. Indeed, we would expect to find that God’s ideal for marriage is better for children, as Gallagher argues. But though we may be thankful for the supporting witness, we don’t need a Child Trends research brief in order to formulate our message to the culture on marriage. This is especially true for those of us called to the ministry of the Word. We dare not put our fingers to the scientific wind to see what new sociological findings are blowing our way. Though these winds sometimes gust in the direction of truth, all too often they will move us off of a biblical course. We confess that the One who searches the secret places of the human heart, the One who made the world and all that is in it has written the textbook on the meaning and purpose for His creation. Unless we can turn people to the message of this book, not only will marriage be lost, but so will souls.
Resolution C051 adopted at the 74th General Convention of the Episcopal Church U. S. A.
Maggie Gallagher, “What Marriage Is For: Children Need Mothers and Fathers,” The Weekly Standard 8/45 (2003): 22-25. See also Linda J. Waite and Maggie Gallagher, The Case for Marriage : Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially, New York: Doubleday, 2000.