What will it take to recover marriage in our culture? Do we have a vision for marriage in our culture? I wrote recently on “Ten Reasons We’re Losing On Gay ‘Marriage.'” Today I want to lay out a vision for victory on marriage, in the form of ten essentials.
Note that I do not say “victory on gay marriage.” Though I cannot help writing with that question in mind, the issue is deeper and larger than that. I’m also not framing this post as “ten steps” to victory or any such thing. It’s not a formula. It’s a picture, a vision.
Some of these essentials have to do with study and communication, some with building loving and genuine relationships. There isn’t an easy item on this list. If I’m right that all ten of them are essential, we have a lot of hard work to do.[1. By “we” I mean those of us who believe marriage is for a man and a woman, and yet not just for the man and the woman but through them also for their family and community.] I will begin with theory and move from there to practice.
A vision for marriage
We will have recovered marriage when we have:
1. Reframed what we’re seeking. Our real challenge is not to prevent same-sex “marriage,” it is to build and support marriage in its strong and true form.
2. Recovered a true understanding of marriage, particularly among us who support male-female marriage. Marriage is greater and deeper than just the happy pairing of a man and woman. It is also the basis of generation and re-generation, the center of family, and the foundation of a stable society. It is a reflection of the relationship between Christ and his people.
Heterosexual couples tragically led the way in making marriage merely about happiness together, and also in making it optional for sexual expression. Why should anyone be surprised that same-sex couples have followed? This fruit of our error ought to have been predictable.
3. Rediscovered and re-located the source and grounding of marriage. It’s not in “traditional values.” That phrasing leaves me cold, frankly. It’s bland and empty; it makes an idol of the past without thought to what was good about it—and what wasn’t. Marriage, in contrast, connects directly and timelessly to the essence of humanness, family, community, and culture.
4. Trained ourselves to be able to articulate the truth about marriage, in persuasive terms transcending the usual slogans and images. This will take study and patience, for it requires a level of reasoned discourse few people in our culture are accustomed to navigating.
5. Equipped ourselves to explain why standing in favor of marriage is neither hatred nor phobia. Same-sex “marriage” advocates have framed our position that way, without bothering to see whether it’s true that everyone holding our position actually is hateful or phobic. Some are, certainly, but it’s far from universal. This is a matter for explanation, demonstration, and persuasion.
6. Rejected spiritual pride, which is loathsome to everyone, especially to God. While it is right to agree that what’s wrong is wrong, it is never right to imply spiritual superiority.
7. Shown genuine and continuing love toward gays, lesbians, bis, and transexuals. This is not to be confused with agreement or acquiescence with their program, for to support falsehood is no act of love. The point rather is to be genuine, to be willing to connect in authentic relationships—to be friends.
Note that there is an unavoidable asymmetry connected to both 6 and 7: whereas their advocacy leaders can (and do) proclaim loudly and publicly that we are hateful and phobic, it’s impossible to love loudly. We can only do it personally. They like to make us out to be arrogant, too, which is also difficult to answer effectively on the same level. Public remedial humility, expressed in apologies and confessions of error, is too easily tainted with the whiff of manipulativeness, which is much more easily dispelled in the close-up context of real relationships.
Therefore our individual friendships with gays and lesbians may not much affect the grand inclusive stereotype some want to impose upon us. Still it’s right to do the right thing, for the sake of integrity if nothing else.
8. Engaged productively in the legal fight to preserve the true definition of marriage. Political victory is only partial victory, but still it matters. Legal approval of gay “marriage” would be a serious setback for the teaching and practice of what is true.
9. Rebuilt a culture of marriage, where a couple’s mutual love and relationship is not the whole point, but where family—especially the children to be hoped for—and community are deeply intertwined in it right from the start. (Christian couples also know that God belongs at the center with them, between them, and holding them together.) This means that those who are married stay married; that we love our spouses and our children. It means we stay with it even when it’s hard, as it is for every couple at times, and that we get the help we need when it’s beyond us.
10. Last but really first: Suffused all these efforts with prayer, for this is a spiritual vision and not just a natural one.
I don’t want to understate the challenge of any of this–especially, for some couples, item 9. Again, I didn’t say any of this was going to be easy. For the sake of our future, though, and especially our children’s future, none of it is optional.
I believe it’s a vision worth pursuing.