Unprepared

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Pastors have long been pleading with their flocks to wake up. I think the awakening is about to come, in at least one sense: if persecution comes, as I proposed as a strong possibility yesterday, it’s going to be a veritable earthquake shaking us out of bed.

And then we’ll be running around our bedrooms wondering where our clothes are.

In other words, I’m not sure we’re ready to wake up. We’re not quite ready in terms of the depth of our knowledge and relationship with God, but we’re really not ready to encounter contemporary culture.

I recently ran a small and non-scientific Twitter-recruited survey of opinions on same-sex “marriage” (SSM). I was mostly interested in the reasons people would give for opposing SSM. Here are some of the answers I received:

  • “Broadening the definition of marriage will be detrimental to the already detrimented state of marriage today.”
  • “It is against God’s original purpose of marriage and nature’s laws.”
  • “Opposite sex – God. Same sex – devil. Opposites attract and it has always been that way according to God and scientific laws placed by God in the universe.”
  • “Its wrong, God made man & woman for natural & moral purposes.”
  • “Because God defines what love and marriage is, not society or governments.”
  • “Genesis 2:24-’One flesh’ – the union between a man and a woman!”
  • “Same sex couples need to know they are poking their finger into the eye of God.”
  • “It is abhorrent before God. ’Nuff said!”

Other than some seriously questionable thinking on “opposites attract” and “scientific laws,” I don’t disagree with a word here. I wouldn’t express all of it in the same words, but it’s all good in its way—as long as Christian believers are talking with Christian believers.

Yet I’m picturing these survey respondents as parents teaching their teenaged children about homosexuality and SSM. Then I’m seeing their children at school, where homosexuality is celebrated and SSM is promoted. How does the conversation with their non-believing friends go? Suppose what they had to offer were one of the answers from the list above:

“You Christians don’t believe in equal rights for gays. That’s homophobic and it’s bigoted. What’s wrong with you?”

“Nothing’s wrong with us. Same-sex couples need to know they are poking their finger into the eye of God.”

Huh!? That’s weird. And besides, you know you can’t bring religion into politics. So tell me again, what’s wrong with you?”

If that’s all the Christian student can say in support of his position, what’s he going to do next? What’s he going to feel, other than that he’s done something wrong by standing up for God? What’s he going to think, other than that there’s probably no good reason to believe what he thinks he believes? How will he stand up against hostility next time? How will he hold firm to his beliefs? What beliefs does he genuinely hold? I mean genuinely; with the benefit of insight and reasons to hold them. Are they his beliefs or his parents’?

Conversations like that are happening everywhere, except I’m sure most of them are happening in the privacy of students’ minds: If she asks why I’m against SSM, I’m not going to have a good answer, so maybe there isn’t a good answer, and maybe it really is weird and wrong to believe what my church is telling me about it, so I’ll just lay low and stay in church until I’m out of the house and my parents can’t make me go, and then I’ll quit.

This, I am convinced from observations much wider than my little survey, is the condition of American Christianity: we’re standing for the right thing but on a weak foundation. I don’t mean that the Bible is weak, or that it’s weak for us to trust in God’s word. I mean that we’re weak in knowledge, insight, and training in those things that would strengthen our faith in God’s word, especially in view of the increasing challenges with which our culture is confronting us. This  damages both our evangelistic effectiveness and hinders our effect on society, not to mention its dampening effect on our own spiritual condition.

Surveys show that 50% to 80% of students walk away from the faith after high school.

I chose the topic of SSM for this survey because it is both hot and hard to handle. It is not, however, impossible to manage. There are of course sound scriptural reasons for supporting genuine man-woman marriage. For those frequent conversations in which Scripture is not admitted into the discussion, there are many solid secular reasons for it as well. The problem is not in any lack of answers, it’s in our preparation to provide them.

This series will continue, as I have much more to say on this.

Series Navigation (Awakening Church):<<< Preparing for PersecutionHow Prepared Are You? >>>

12 Responses

  1. BACH says:

    Thanks for your continuing attention to this issue & commitment to dialogue, Tom. I wonder though if you’re overlooking what has been anecdotally in my own experience the overwhelming reason that young people find reasons like yours for opposing SSM to be unsatisfactory. Again & again I hear young people who have left churches of many various stripes (but mostly Evangelical traditions) state very simply that they have gay & lesbian friends who they know and love. And they see the relationships that their friends have with same-sex partners as valid, loving, and fraught with all the same challenges that their own heterosexual forays into dating bring.
    Again this is anecdotal, but as someone who hears quite a bit about this from people who have left the Church, it seems that this is very much one of the chief reasons… more so than the “maybe people will think I’m weird” conclusion.

  2. Tom Gilson says:

    Thank you, BACH.

    Your comment runs parallel to what I’m saying, actually.

    Students by and large don’t find “reasons like [mine]” to be unsatisfactory; they’ve never even heard real reasons, properly explained. They don’t know how to navigate the very difficult waters of disagreeing in love, either. So they choose the more emotionally satisfying option that you’ve described here, which leaves them wondering whether they can believe what their churches say they should believe.

    It’s just another version of unpreparedness.

  3. Ray Ingles says:

    Gonna need the secular reasons, ’cause we already separate sacramental and legal marriage. Catholics who divorce and remarry aren’t married in the eyes of the Church (and God, they would say)… but they are married in the eyes of the law.

    So people are – and so far as I can see, will always remain – free to say that same-sex couples are “poking their finger into the eye of God”. But how is that an argument that the law can’t sanction such relationships?

  4. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Ray Ingles:

    But how is that an argument that the law can’t sanction such relationships?

    To society there is a difference in kind between married relationships and friendships: they can occasion that most tragic of all occurences, the birth of new life, a potential Mother Theresa or a petty, genocidal maniac. There is no such difference between SSM relations and friendships.

    So why should the law sanction and give special status to such relationships? What is the interest of society at large in granting special status to such relations besides catering to the self-serving needs and irrational prejudices of a loud and vocal group?

    If you say such relations deserve such and such special rights (hospital visitation rights, inheritance, etc.) as married men and women enjoy — on what grounds I do not know, but let us just assume it for the sake of argument — then why not change the laws governing such specific rights to be widened as opposed to the laws about marriage?

  5. SteveK says:

    ….then why not change the laws governing such specific rights to be widened as opposed to the laws about marriage?

    A question I’ve been asking for years with never a cogent response.

  6. Ordinaryseeker says:

    SteveK,
    Because separate is not equal.

  7. Ray Ingles says:

    why not change the laws governing such specific rights to be widened as opposed to the laws about marriage?

    Because the people opposed to same-sex marriage won’t let that happen either. Most of the state bans on same-sex marriage have also banned civil unions, too.

    And even when legal arrangements short of marriage are in place, they are not always honored. Google up, e.g., Langbehn and Pond.

    If you don’t want a fight to the death, don’t back your opponent into a corner.

  8. Grace says:

    Tom, I am glad you brought this up. I started exposing my 13 and 14 year old children to apologetics over the summer, with the hopes that it will one day sink in after years of repetition, and this is one issue that I think I can show them a reasonable explanation to as well. I’ll share what I wrote on my FB page after a Christian Libertarian was urging me to vote for the Libertarian candidate (I made some minor changes to it and I’m going to show it later to my kids). Most Libertarians are for smaller government, and the Libertarian I was talking to made these 2 arguments: “Government shouldn’t legislate morality” and “we shouldn’t base our laws off of religion.” Basically, he thought Christians shouldn’t push their beliefs about SSM onto others.

    I wrote: Each of these statements is wrong because they are actually intertwined with government. The government bases its laws off of the values that society holds. Since the United States is a democratic republic, each individual plays a part in passing laws that reflect the majority’s values. It is hard to separate values from religion since values are related to religious beliefs. All people, even atheists, hold to certain values, even though we may disagree on which values are the right values. If we look at the Christian worldview and compare it to the Preamble, we see that each of those functions listed in the Preamble (To Form a More Perfect Union, To Establish Justice, To Provide for the Common Defense, To Secure the Blessings of Liberty, To Promote the General Welfare, To Insure Domestic Tranquility) seems to have its roots in the Christian worldview. If you want to take religious values out of it and hold the opposite, (since atheism is only the lack of belief in God, an atheistic worldview would then be naturalism) the value system under naturalism would promote the survival of the fittest. Naturalism doesn’t take into consideration the sickly, the handicapped, the elderly, or children; it only promotes the survival of those who are the most fit. Naturalism doesn’t provide for basic human rights.
    So, most of the values that our society holds do not come from an atheistic/naturalistic worldview. The atheists/naturalists have to borrow from other worldviews that provide intrinsic value to people.

    Regarding morality, if one really lived his or her life as if there were no moral values, and they were all illusory, he or she would probably be a sociopath. So, most people do have some kind of moral values that they hold to. Some people believe that morality in the Bible is whatever God arbitrarily commands. But they do not look deeper to see that God gives certain commands for a reason, and namely, they are to protect people (evidenced in the laws written by Moses) and promote the flourishing of sentient beings (Genesis 1:28), and this is reflected in the Preamble. So, government does legislate behavior that has the potential of being harmful to others. There are studies in this link that show that SSM is indeed harmful http://winteryknight.wordpress.com/2011/06/27/a-secular-case-against-gay-marriage/.

    Proponents of SSM also say it is a basic ‘right’ for same sex couples to be recognized as legally married. I view marriage as a privilege. Consider this analogy by Dwight Stanislaw: “The NFL is an institution whereby participation is exclusive to men (and athletic men at that!). Within this institution, certain rights become available (such as large contracts, endorsements, etc…). However, entering into an agreement with the NFL entails one having to be male. People are free to play the sport of football in private, but in order to enjoy the “perks” of an NFL player, you must be male. So, although it is discriminatory in nature, it is not everyone’s “right” to be an NFL player. In the same way, marriage is discriminatory in nature, but it is not a right, only a privilege for heterosexual couples. “

    I believe that our government also views marriage as a privilege, since it bestows benefits to married couples of the opposite sex. This article shows how government has a vested interest in the union of couples of the opposite sex because the union will usually result in offspring that will cause society to flourish: http://tech.mit.edu/V124/N5/kolasinski.5c.html. Again, the flourishing of society is another Christian philosophical view.

    So, this is how I would explain to my children the reasoning behind why I am opposed to SSM, and hopefully they’ll learn to reason logically instead of repeat whatever rhetoric they hear from others.

  9. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Ray Ingles:

    Because the people opposed to same-sex marriage won’t let that happen either.

    That may be true; not being much interested or knowledgeable in matters of practical politics I honestly do not know.

    But please do not try to fool me into thinking that SSM advocates would be content with these concessions. They want the whole shebang and whatever victories they obtained by judicial fiat were mere stepping stones to get it. Fight to the death and backed to a corner you say? That goes both ways.

  10. Ray Ingles says:

    G. Rodrigues –

    That may be true; not being much interested or knowledgeable in matters of practical politics I honestly do not know.

    And yet you have strong opinions on practical policy?

    But please do not try to fool me into thinking that SSM advocates would be content with these concessions.

    In France, there’s been marriage – only open to opposite-sex couples – and civil unions, open to other gender combinations – for decades. There’s no serious push for same-sex marriage in France. So no, it’s not clear to me that such a regime can’t be stable.

    I will note that the vast majority of people voting for marriage equality aren’t gay themselves. Offer them an option that they decide satisfies fairness and you might be surprised.

  11. Philobite says:

    There’s no serious push for same-sex marriage in France

    This is not a fact. The opposite is true. The new liberal government of Francoise Hollande is pushing a redefinition of marriage bill to provide same-sex marriage and gay adoption. The “regime” is certainly not stable and I’m not aware of evidence that SSM advocates intend it to be. It’s an incremental wedge and they intend to drive it in.

  12. Ray Ingles says:

    Philobite – Y’know, things have changed some since last I looked. I wonder if the situation in the U.S. is influencing the debate somewhat, though…