Surrender to the Prevailing Cultural Mores

How are Christians to respond to the cultural shift regarding marriage? How are those who provide services for weddings, e.g. bakers, florists, photographers, to think about requests to participate in same-sex “marriages”? Should this be an individual’s decision or a societal decision? With the shifting cultural mores and laws, has this become a mute issue

As Ross Douthat ponders these questions he concludes that it is a done deal and the issue that remains for us to consider is what “the terms of our surrender” will be. He thinks that it is inevitable that the Supreme Court will eventually redefine marriage to include same-sex. This will likely put closure to the national debate on this issue, but it will not bring closure to the divide and divisions that exist and will remain.

Douthat writes of two possibilities. One is that “this division will recede into the cultural background, with marriage joining the long list of topics on which Americans disagree without making a political issue out of it.” The other possibility is that the “oft-invoked analogy between opposition to gay marriage and support for segregation in the 1960s South is pushed to its logical public-policy conclusion. In this scenario,” writes Douthat, “the unwilling photographer or caterer would be treated like the proprietor of a segregated lunch counter, and face fines or lose his business – which is the intent of recent legal actions against a wedding photographer in New Mexico, a florist in Washington State, and a baker in Colorado.”

In the past, Americans have not moved in the direction of state power to enforce some of these issues but allowed some “agree to disagree” as people espousing various views have lived together in the same culture. There was a place for religious freedom and a religious exemption clause. The response to what occurred in Arizona indicates this may be a thing of the past. Here is Douthat’s conclusion:

 What makes this response particularly instructive is that such bills have been seen, in the past, as a way for religious conservatives to negotiate surrender — to accept same-sex marriage’s inevitability while carving out protections for dissent. But now, apparently, the official line is that you bigots don’t get to negotiate anymore.

 Which has a certain bracing logic. If your only goal is ensuring that support for traditional marriage diminishes as rapidly as possible, applying constant pressure to religious individuals and institutions will probably do the job. Already, my fellow Christians are divided over these issues, and we’ll be more divided the more pressure we face. The conjugal, male-female view of marriage is too theologically rooted to disappear, but its remaining adherents can be marginalized, set against one other, and encouraged to conform.

 I am being descriptive here, rather than self-pitying. Christians had plenty of opportunities — thousands of years’ worth — to treat gay people with real charity, and far too often chose intolerance. (And still do, in many instances and places.) So being marginalized, being sued, losing tax-exempt status — this will be uncomfortable, but we should keep perspective and remember our sins, and nobody should call it persecution.

 But it’s still important for the winning side to recognize its power. We are not really having an argument about same-sex marriage anymore, and on the evidence of Arizona, we’re not having a negotiation. Instead, all that’s left is the timing of the final victory — and for the defeated to find out what settlement the victors will impose.

Here are a couple of questions:

  •  Do you agree or disagree with Douthat’s assessment? Why or why not?
  • As a Christian, how do you think about this? How do you or will you respond?
  • As a pastor or leader, how do you or will you help others to think about and to respond to this?

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