Greg Strand is EFCA executive director of theology and credentialing, and he serves on the Board of Ministerial Standing as well as the Spiritual Heritage Committee. He and his family are members of Northfield (Minnesota) EFC.
Peter J. Leithart, senior (and founding) minister at Trinity Reformed Church, a CREC congregation, Senior Fellow of Theology and Literature as well as Dean of Graduate Studies, New Saint Andrews College, Moscow, Idaho, has written of how non-Christians hear biblical arguments against same-sex marriage: “Gay Marriage and Christian Imagination.”
Leithart reflects on a debate on marriage, one defending the biblical view of marriage, Douglas Wilson, the other arguing against it, Andrew Sullivan.
I came away from a debate on gay marriage between Douglas Wilson and Andrew Sullivan deeply impressed with the difficulties that Christians have, and will continue to have, defending a biblical view of marriage to the American public. It will take nothing short of a cultural revolution for biblical arguments to be heard, much less to become persuasive.
Sullivan clearly has all the hurrah words on his side – love, happiness, equality. How can anyone stand in the way of true love that seeks lifelong commitment in marriage? Sullivan also has liberal order on his side. When Wilson answered a question by citing the Bible, Sullivan pounced. Wilson’s was a fundamentalist, theocratic argument. Sullivan defined democracy as a system that excludes appeals to religious authority from the foundations of public life. He was quick to add that he is a resolute foe of political correctness, but one wouldn’t have known it from his mercurial move from Wilson’s citation of the Bible to theocracy to the Taliban to warnings about violent suppression of dissent. Sullivan demanded that Wilson defend his position with secular, civil arguments, not theocratic ones, and in this demand Sullivan has the support of liberal polity.
Sullivan’s is a rigid standard for public discourse that leaves biblically-grounded Christians with little to say. The claim that legalizing gay marriage will make the legalization of polygamy easier, as Wilson repeatedly argued, is coherent, but doesn’t have much purchase. Nobody seems to be much worried about a polygamous future for America, and making polygamy the centerpiece of opposition to gay marriage looks too much like fear-mongering.
That leaves Christians with the option of making theologically rich, biblically founded arguments against gay marriage. But do we have the vocabulary ready to hand? And even if we do, does the vocabulary we have make any sense to the public at large?
In essence, Leithart has concerns about defending marriage based on the biblical truth, as most in the culture hear that defense as a foreign language. They have no category or framework to understand it. Moreover, as we learned earlier from DeYoung, Sullivan has all the cultural sympathies for his view against the biblical view of marriage.
In the end, these dilemmas may not matter. Perhaps Christians are called to do no more than speak the truth without worrying about persuasiveness. Perhaps we have entered a phase in which God has closed ears, so that whatever we say sounds like so much gibberish. We can depend on the Spirit to give ears as He pleases.
Whatever the political needs of the moment, the longer-term response to gay marriage requires a renaissance of Christian imagination. Because the only arguments we have are theological ones, and only people whose imaginations are formed by Scripture will find them cogent.
A few additional questions: