I hear it all the time:
“Christians in years to come will be just as ashamed over the Church’s opposition to same-sex marriage today, as we are now about slaveholders in the South using the Bible to support slavery.
So very wrong: and yet so close to the truth. I’ll explain why.
First, here’s what’s wrong in it. It’s what I call an argument from future opinion:
We ought not do x today because in the future we’ll find out that x was wrong.
As an argument it’s obvious nonsense. As rhetoric, though, it can be effective, for its purpose is not so much to persuade the reasoning self as it is to shame the emotional self.
There’s another way to look at these things, though; and here is where a “future embarrassment” argument actually makes sense.
Begin by picturing in your mind a culture built solid on a foundation of ethics and morals, on family, church, and community.
Now imagine with me, what if by some slow process of decay, or maybe by someone’s strong advocacy, that foundation were replaced by a culture of relationships based on adult personal satisfaction?
What if the effect of that were to be a huge increase in divorces and in children born out of wedlock?
What if it meant generations of children being raised by someone other than their own parents?
What if it caused millions to experience the crushing pain of their parents’ divorce?
What if it meant millions of “inconvenient” children being killed before they could even be born?
And what if there arose a strong political campaign to cement that culture of adult satisfaction into place, by calling it “marriage” when two people, who couldn’t possibly raise their own children, wanted to be in a special relationship for themselves?
Do you have that image in your mind? (I know, it’s not hard to see. We’ll come back to that.)
Now picture this: What if the Church didn’t speak out against such a thing? Wouldn’t it be a massive embarrassment to all future Christians?
Comparisons are impossible, so I don’t want to say, “wouldn’t it be as embarrassing as the mistakes Southern Christians made on slavery?” But undeniably it would be a horrifying burden of guilt and shame for the Church to carry.
The statement I opened this post with typically comes from same-sex “marriage” (SSM) advocates. But there are some believers, too—I’m in an extended conversation with one right now—who think it’s time to “face facts, recognize that SSM is a done deal, throw in the towel, and find some way to coexist with new realities.” There are some who say there is no way we can oppose SSM while genuinely loving same-sex attracted persons; and that our witness to the world hangs more on our love for them than it does on defending marriage.
But here’s the problem: our witness to the world also depends on how we defend the defenseless. And there’s no one weaker in today’s world than tomorrow’s children.
Much of what I pictured for you above was all too easy to “imagine,” because it took no imagination. It would have been an “argument from future opinion” if someone had put it forth it in 1955. Now it’s current reality. Not all of it is, though; and what is, need not remain so.
The Church, to be the Church, must speak for the helpless and weak. In this case, the ones we’re defending are the children of future generations. They’re children who need their parents—their actual parents, united in a lifetime marriage commitment—to be equipped and ready to raise them.
So when people say,
“Christians in years to come will be just as ashamed over the Church’s opposition to same-sex marriage today, as we are now about slaveholders in the South using the Bible to support slavery.”
We have an answer. It’s not based on future opinion but on present reality:
“We dare not let future generations be embarrassed at how we let them down by failing to speak up for truth in this crucial hour. We dare not force the Church in the future to bear the shame of our inaction today.”
Also posted at The Point Blog.
Related: Research Ethics and Same-Sex “Marriage”
Also from Reasons for God: Does the Future Have Moral Authority?