Perhaps you heard about the decision (PDF) of the Iowa Supreme Court last week to overturn a state ban on same-sex marriage. Mainstream news outlets immediately began to crow about the “financial windfall” that could come to the state as a result of the decision. These are, of course, people for whom finances are the only factor.
Allan Carlson has an interesting piece on this matter over at frontporchrepublic.com, a new site with paleocon/agrarian/localist/distributivist leanings where I’ve been spending a lot of time recently. (You can read his entire piece here.)
In it, he makes the following statement:
Actually, I wasn’t deeply surprised by the Court’s decision. It has become increasingly clear to me that we heterosexuals bear most of the blame for the sorry state of marriage today. Over the last 50 years, we’ve accommodated ourselves to no-fault divorce, the intentionally childless “companionate” marriage, a pervasive “contraceptive” culture, and the virtual legal equation of cohabitation with marriage. “Same sex marriage” is simply the next logical step in this deconstruction of a once-Christian institution.
I think this is basically right. In Churches of Christ, I think that we have to admit at this point that, for all of the hoopla made in recent years over the MDR question, we don’t really have a constructive understanding of marriage. I’ve said this before on this blog, but we have been much more concerned with the technical specifics of divorce and remarriage than we have with instilling in new couples a deep understanding of what marriage ought to be and then actively supporting those new couples in those marriages. Basically, we send them off to their honeymoon with a big “Good luck!” and cross our fingers that the marriage will take. And then, to top it off, we express dismay and shock when our internal divorce numbers essentially mirror those of the surrounding culture.
Now, when it comes to same-sex marriage, this is obviously not really an issue in most Churches of Christ at this point. But if we follow the logic of that old saw about how what hits the denominations will hit the Church 20-30 years down the road, this is probably an issue that we will need to give some collective attention to now, rather than later.
True to form, most Protestant evangelicals — when it comes to same-sex marriage — essentially rely upon the government to do their work for them and to prop up their understanding of marriage. (In some ways, this is similar to the commonly-heard lament about the end of prayer in public schools in the 1960s. Those who complain about the demise of public school prayer ignore the fact that it is not the responsibility of secular institutions to enforce Christian doctrine. Christians are fools to think that they can pressure them in any meaningful way to do so.) Thus the outcry among evangelicals over Proposition 8 in California and similar measures elsewhere.
For the most part, Churches of Christ have operated in a similar frame of mind. We have tended to assume a stable, societally-supported definition of marriage that would not change. In coming years, we will be forced to come to a realization of just how problematic that assumption is.
This realization will, I hope, lead to two further realizations. First, we will need to understand the necessity of decoupling civil and religious understandings of marriage. The growing discrepancy between an ever broader civil definition of marriage and the commonly acknowledged view supported by Scripture and two thousand years of Christian tradition will force this upon us. The Church, if it wants to maintain the latter, will have to do so apart from the former.
Secondly, marriage will have to become a much more “churchly” and communitarian thing. I still believe that the best argument against same-sex marriage is a robust understanding and practice of heterosexual marriage in the Church. In truth, this speaks not only to the potential future that we face, but also to our present. As stated above, we are in the situation that we are in (in part) because of our failure to faithfully practice heterosexual marriage. We have little credibility in criticizing others when our own lives are in shambles and we are not modelling the love of Christ for his Church in our marriages. That means that we have to understand that the health of the marriages in a local congregation is everybody’s business, from the elders down through the older married couples with grown children to the younger couples still in the process of raising children to new married childless couples to singles. Couples in struggling marriages shouldn’t have to flounder alone, but often they do because no one wants to get involved to rescue the marriage. (Ironically, everyone has an answer when it comes to whether one of the spouses can get remarried, but little is said prior to the divorce in an effort to prevent it.)
Thoughts? This is a tough issue and I don’t mean for the ideas outline above to sound like a cure-all that will solve all of our problems immediately. But we do have to start by at least addressing the problem. We don’t address it by pretending that it will go away.