What’s the Harm? What’s the Lesson?
Yesterday the Supreme Court voted to impose their definition of marriage on all states – replacing a definition that has stood, by its own admission, ‘for millennia’. I am a firm believer in the traditional definition of marriage as between one man and one woman. Having read the arguments prior to the judgement and now the conclusions, I’m going to highlight some of the significant statements and offer a few thoughts. I do this not because I necessarily have anything unique to offer but because my email, messages and social network feed is buzzing with requests for my thoughts.
There is so much to digest that I am going to avoid the mistake of putting too much out too soon. I’m going to offer a response in bite-sized chunks. An issue a day for as many days as needed.
Thought #1: What’s the Harm? What’s the Lesson?
The redefinition of marriage has moved the marriage debate away from the social institution marriage has traditionally been to the feelings and rights of individual adults. In passing down the judgment the court claimed that proponents of traditional marriage were unable to prove that changing the law would be harmful:
“The respondents also argue allowing same-sex couples to wed will harm marriage as an institution by leading to fewer opposite-sex marriages. This may occur, the respondents contend, because licensing same-sex marriage severs the connection between natural procreation and marriage. That argument, however, rests on a counterintuitive view of opposite-sex couple’s decision making processes regarding marriage and parenthood.” [Question 1: page 26]
“The respondents have not shown a foundation for the conclusion that allowing same-sex marriage will cause the harmful outcomes they describe.” [Question 1: page 26-27]
“Then and now, this assertion of the “harm principle” sounds more in philosophy than law. The elevation of the fullest individual self-realization over the constraints that society has expressed in law may or may not be attractive moral philosophy. But a Justice’s commission does not confer any special moral, philosophical, or social insight sufficient to justify imposing those perceptions on fellow citizens under the pretense of “due process.”” [Question 2: page 22]]
How exactly can these conclusions be possible? For people reading these citations for the first time an obvious question comes to mind: “Were the proponents of traditional marriage not prepared?”
In that court stood sharp minds and eloquent speakers well able to debate a point. Hindsight, for sure, affords us opportunities to reflect and learn. I’m sure the respondents would change some thrust of their argument were they able to do so. I’m convinced however, that the inability to ‘prove’ or ‘show’ the harm of enforcing the redefinition on all states and all peoples did not rest on the arguments made in court but the damage done out of it. It is really difficult to show harm when the reference point – society and family – are already irreparably damaged! I mean, take a look around!
So what happened? How’d we get here and what lessons do we learn from this aspect of the Supreme Court’s conclusion?
In a message entitled, “Silencing the Lambs” (Acts 4), I made a bold statement:
“Those who claim that yesterday is better than today are part of the reason it may be so.”
My observation was that over the last half century or more the church lost her prophetic voice and remained silent while the very fibers of marriage and society were being torn to shreds.
Ecclesiastes 7:10 says, “Do not say, “Why were the old days better than these?” For it is not wise to ask such questions.” I firmly believe that looking back to go back is unwise. However, looking back to move forward is essential.
The conclusions of the Supreme Court reveal that when the church remained silent on issues like divorce and abortion law, for example, we inadvertently created the framework for the erosion of the family unit that made the defense of the standard definition almost impossible. This is one reason, I believe, why many legal experts said this conclusion was inevitable.
So, we didn’t lose this battle in the courts, we lost this battle in the pulpit and the pews when we refused to fight the cultural war. We lost it in our homes and families when Christian couples took the easy way out of their marriage. We lost the battle when fathers, just like my own, walked out on their kids and spouses. We lost this battle when we stood and watched sexual ethics being redefined. We lost it when we sat back and tolerated abortion on demand with merely a whimper and a whine. We lost this battle when the only sexual ethics our children were taught at home and, sadly, in church was little more than: “sex belongs inside of marriage.” So many of us never thought to add: “and marriage is between one man and one woman.” Would the numbers of Christian young people who see nothing wrong with same-sex marriage be lower if we’d been more thorough with the sexual ethic education in our churches, I wonder? Parents, if you are not teaching your kids about the Biblical sexual ethic and you won’t allow your church to do it then guess who does?
I come from a broken home where my mom did a sterling job of raising me on her own. I’m not criticizing anyone in the above paragraph. I’m merely offering an explanation as to why such a defense of traditional marriage was so difficult. We’ve lost the cultural war and the reality is where culture goes, so goes the law.
So as I ponder this aspect of yesterday’s judgment there are at least two lessons I discern that must influence the life of the church:
1) Christian’s cannot ignore ‘the culture war and changes in the law’ without exposing future generations to the consequences. When we don’t speak up, our kids and grandkids suffer. I love my kids too much for that to happen. I love the kids in our church too much for that to happen.
2) We have to create a new culture from within a culture that is far removed from the Biblical ideal. Rather than condemn and criticize those who cheer the decision it’s time to practice the standard definition, God’s way. Marriage is a social institution ordered towards procreation for the good of society, especially the weak and vulnerable. What every child needs is not a mom and a dad or two moms or two dads but their mom and their dad. It’s that simple. Fidelity and longevity are critical to achieving that end.
I’m not going to spend my time condemning those who disagree. I’m going to spend my time making sure that I champion living God’s definition God’s way, beginning in my own home. Culture change begins with me.
The good news in all this is that people of faith have “lived God’s way in a strange day” before. For more on that I draw your attention to my message entitled, “Living a long way from home” in week 2 of “Silencing the Lambs” (on Jeremiah 29).
May God give us wisdom for the task and anoint us for the challenge.
Let’s move forward in faith and courage.