“I sat down to type a scathing rant about gay marriage,” wrote blogger Matt Walsh. “I sat down to tell the world that gay marriage is the greatest threat to the sanctity of marriage. But then I remembered … a sign I saw on the side of the road a little while back. Divorce for sale! Only $129! And then I remembered an article I read last week about the new phenomenon of “divorce parties.” Divorced is the new single, the divorce party planner tells us …
“And then I remembered that … there is one divorce every 13 seconds, or over 46,000 divorces a week in this country. And then I remembered that … there are half as many divorces as there are marriages in a single year. … And then I remembered how many Christian churches gave up on marriage long ago, allowing their flock to divorce and remarry and divorce and remarry and divorce and remarry …”
As Walsh discovered, the most important question is not, “What are we going to do about same-sex marriage?” It’s, “What are we going to do about marriage?”
Christians, if we are aware, will find redemptive opportunities all around us. We can propose the good gifts of marriage and sexual wholeness to a culture whose sexual ethic is bringing slavery instead of freedom. As we do so, we can point people to Jesus Christ, the ultimate source of all freedom.
Christians, have hope. We still have much to offer the world.
1. We can teach and model what marriage is and how it fits in God’s plan. A recent Pew Research study found that an increasing number of Americans considers marriage to be obsolete. It’s one thing to think marriage is good or bad, but it’s quite another to think it just doesn’t matter. Beyond getting marriage wrong, the evidence shows that as a culture we just don’t get marriage.
For all the seminars and sermons offered by churches across America teaching how to have a “happy” marriage, a “fulfilled” marriage, or a “meaningful” marriage, there are precious few that disciple believers about God’s intent and design for marriage. Those who do not understand and cannot articulate the meaning of marriage will either be unwilling or unable to stand against that which compromises it. The deafening silence from so many Christians about same-sex marriage indicates they don’t understand what is at stake.
But arguments only go so far. Seeing marriage modeled is every bit as important as hearing it explained. Good marriages breed good marriages. The church should be a place where those that want marriage mentors can find them, and where those that don’t want them will get them anyway.
2. We can take a strong stand against divorce, as God does. Because divorce is so common, condemning it risks sounding incredibly harsh to those who have personally experienced it. We do not intend to single out those who have been divorced, or pretend marriage is easy, or imply divorce is never justified. But we cannot ignore the clear teaching of Scripture. According to Malachi 2:13-16, divorce caused God to reject the offerings of the Israelites. It is, God says, an act of violence (verse 16). According to some translations of this verse, God also says definitively, “I hate divorce.” Of course He does. He hates anything that so damages children, adults, communities, or a nation.
The church used to be the “go-to” place for relationships and marriage, but when a marriage is in jeopardy today, where do couples turn? Do they look to the church for help or to professional counselors and divorce attorneys? If churches owned a proven track record for helping distressed marriages, the answer would be clear. The number of intact families in a community should become a factor by which churches measure ministry success.
On a personal level, we must have the courage to say “no” to divorce, both to ourselves and, when appropriate, to others. Of course, there are situations when divorce is the only option, but it’s always a tragedy. And with so many in our communities impacted by divorce, we must honor our responsibility to care for its victims.
3. We can honor the created connection between sex, marriage, and procreation. Somewhere in the middle of the last century, procreation was disconnected from marriage, in principle and practice. Many Christian couples today see no problem in marrying while planning to never have children, either by procreation or via adoption.
While health, family, or financial considerations may justify the choice to limit the number of children, the most common reason is the culturally sacred idol of personal choice. Severing the tie between marriage and children compromises the role marriage plays in securing the future of a culture and furthers the destructive notion that marriage is just about furthering personal happiness. Plus, it obscures that one function of marriage that clearly demonstrates why marriage requires a man and a woman.
Do we teach the created connection between sex, marriage, and procreation to our congregations, especially to those young couples headed for marriage? Do we help them think through the ethical implications of various methods of birth control? Do we undermine the connection between marriage and babies in some way?
When we promote chastity to teenagers, for example, by promising that “the best sex happens in marriage,” while never teaching the inherent relationship sex has to marriage and children, we risk reinforcing bad thinking about the purpose of sex, and therefore marriage. This amounts to Christianizing the notion that sex is only for pleasure, and marriage only for happiness. We must teach the full picture of what sex is for.
4. We can flee sexual immorality and seek healing for our own sexual brokenness. Sin disfigures our hearts and minds. It twists us away from the people we are supposed to be. Disordered sex is particularly insidious in this way. It takes over our affections and destroys both others and us.
At the same time, we ought never imply that sexual sin is, in any form, unforgiveable. In an age of such widespread sexual sin and brokenness, we must proclaim the full hope of the gospel. Neither heterosexual nor homosexual sin places us outside the redemptive reach of Christ.
Unfortunately, in some Christian communities, confession of sexual struggle brings shame and shunning. We’ve both seen close friends treated as unclean, even after sincere repentance. More horrific is when victims of sexual abuse or assault are treated this way! What does this communicate to them and to non-believers about the grace of God? We must tell the truth about sexuality, but we are called to be healers and reconcilers (2 Corinthians 5:17-21), as much as we are called to be truth-tellers.
5. We can recognize our own responsibility to the institution of marriage. Parents, are we modeling a biblical marriage to our children, and to their friends who may not have that model in their life? Are we actively seeking to strengthen our marriages? Have we taught our kids what marriage is and why it is so important to God, as well as to a flourishing culture?
Pastor, does your congregation know that you love and cherish your wife and kids, even more than you seek the success of the next program? Have you taught the biblical view of marriage from the pulpit? Do you equip your congregation to defend natural marriage through classes, books, or other resources? Is your church active in the lives of married couples, offering mentoring classes as well as divorce intervention and recovery help? Is your church a safe place where people can confess sexual sin, and find healing and restoration? Are you and your congregation anticipating and planning for the legal and moral challenges that are created because of same-sex marriage?
Youth workers, do you teach your students a biblical worldview of marriage? Do you model sexual purity and a healthy marriage to your students? Do you bring older couples into your youth ministry for mentoring and modeling? Are you actively helping your students handle sexual temptation, especially pornography?
Students and singles, is there someone in your life that you look to as a model of a healthy marriage? Have you taken time to build up your understanding of marriage so that you can articulate it to others? Are you staying accountable to parents and peers about what you are looking at on the internet?
We all have a role to play, and there’s plenty we can do. If we feel defeated or demoralized by the speed and breadth in which same-sex marriage has been embraced in our society, we must start now to rebuild a culture in which the differences between it and marriage as it was created to be is obvious.
Adapted by permission from Same-Sex Marriage, © 2014 by Sean McDowell and John Stonestreet. Published by Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group. All rights reserved. Used with permission.