Here I am writing my first ever blog, on a subject that’s totally non-controversial! I’m being ironic, of course. How on earth did I decide to post a blog on something as controversial as the Government’s plans to redefine marriage, laying myself open to possibly huge criticism?
I guess it’s because the arguments on both sides have left me with lots of questions which, for me, lie at the heart of the debate and which I’ve heard nobody address satisfactorily, leaving me feeling entirely dissatisfied with both points of view.
My aim here, rather than to give a definite view, is to ask those foundational questions, and perhaps to give a hint at what I think the answers are. To raise more questions than controversial views.
I’m not sure what I think of the Government’s plan to redefine marriage, nor the response of the church or Coalition for Marriage. The questions which for me remain unanswered include (and these are not rhetorical):
- Who has the right to define or re-define any word or idea? The Government? The church? The Oxford English Dictionary? Society?
- Who owns marriage?
- Is marriage a religious thing? Or is it a concept that has transcended theistic, atheistic and pagan groups everywhere throughout human history, for the good of society?
When society changes the meaning of a word, the dictionaries catch up afterwards.
Similarly, when Western, democratic society evolves its ideas or values, the Government will often introduce (or amend) laws to reflect these changes afterwards. Like it or not, has Western society not already redefined marriage through the concept’s decreasing popularity, people’s disillusionment with marriage and preference towards co-habitation, and high divorce rate?
If the Government redefines marriage by allowing gay couples to marry, it is simply reflecting society’s changing values – society’s move towards equal opportunities between heterosexual and gay people. Is that not a legitimate way of reflecting society’s current values? Does the Government have the right to affirm this shift in values? Does the church have the right to challenge the Government’s proposed law? I don’t know. But doesn’t marriage belong to society (if anybody)?
And would not this proposed change in law (if anything) promote faithfulness (in this case, between gay couples) over promiscuity?
I cannot see how this change in law would in any way detract from or threaten heterosexual marriage. Marriage is already under siege – not by the gay movement, but by a growing sense of transience or impermanence within marriages and heterosexual relationships generally.
I understand and agree with the Christian view that true marriage originates from God’s heart and reflects his faithfulness, love and unity. I understand and agree with the basis for this being rooted in the account or allegorical beginnings in Genesis: one man, one woman, for life, as the context for an intimate, exclusive sexual relationship and for raising children.
Of course, the church has every right to believe that this is the only moral context for sexual relationships.
However, societies and people groups throughout the world and throughout history have had diverse views on what form marriage takes, and I’m not sure the Western church, with its particular interpretation of marriage, has the right to dictate to society or Government what marriage should look like.
If the church is going to make this case, should it not also be fighting for a law against co-habitation? Is it not hypocritical to stand against gay marriage but to have a relaxed view on heterosexual couples living together without a marriage covenant? I’m not advocating for either case, by the way! But is co-habitation not more of a threat than gay marriage to traditional marriage?
Like most Christians, I believe strongly in the importance of marriage in the true sense of a covenant, as one of the building blocks for a stable society. Rather than worrying about the effect of gay marriage on the marriage institution, shouldn’t the church’s focus (or that of Coalition for Marriage) instead be on promoting, supporting and modelling marriage generally, enabling couples (the majority of which will always be male/female) to live out long, loving, stable marriages? Strengthening couples whose marriage is in jeopardy. Modelling how a spiritual life (of prayer, worship etc) between couples keeps the love and passion alive. In many ways the church already does this, and should continue to do so.
I wonder if the fight against gay marriage is the wrong battle. If two gay men or women want to marry, can the church not ‘live and let live’? It’s no threat to me, and I see no reason why it would be a threat to the church or traditional marriage.
Steve Chalke, founder of Oasis, has received some flak (and some support) from Christians for his recent article in Christianity magazine endorsing homosexual relationships, although his critics recognise his ‘pastoral motivation’. Like Steve, I’m motivated by inclusivism, sensing the welcoming heart of the Father, although evangelical friends might say that I’m neglecting to give the Bible, the word of God, its proper place of authority, or twisting its words. That’s another question!
Maybe I’ve become more liberal and less evangelical in my old age! If that’s the case, I’m not ashamed of it. My intention is now, more than ever before, to be a Jesus-follower (however well or badly I may succeed at that) rather than to be this or that type of Christian. A blog on evangelicalism to follow another time…..!
The battle for the church in this context is to promote faithfulness, commitment and sacrificial love to the society around us, and to point to Jesus, the Author of these characteristics who demonstrated them ultimately at the cross.
Does the church have a monopoly on marriage? Does the Goverment, or the church, have the right to define or redefine marriage? I don’t know. But I think society has already done so.
Have I asked more questions than I answered? I hope so.