I eagerly await the young evangelical that finally convinces me that the Bible and human history are wrong on marriage and that justice requires that both Christianity and society bestow marriage on same-sex relationships.
So I read with eagerness an op-ed in TIME from a spokesman from “Evangelicals for Marriage Equality.” The only problem, however, is that I didn’t see any real arguments. I saw a lot of emotion. I saw appeals to injustice and craven caricatures of Christianity, but I didn’t see any real arguments.
In 800 words, there’s not a coherent argument about the nature of marriage. And that’s what this debate Americans are having is about, isn’t it? It’s about one question: What is marriage? This isn’t just about Christianity’s teaching on marriage. It’s about the definition of marriage for society. It’s about whether marriage is malleable, or whether marriage has a fixed social purpose that’s been recognized throughout all of human history as something distinct from other relationships. To say that the union of a man and woman is different is not grounded in bigotry or discrimination. It’s grounded in the powers of observation that draw rightful distinctions between different sets of relationships.
Consider too the argument about separating “theology and politics.” This is a separation that the Bible itself, at least how it’s phrased here, doesn’t make. The author himself even knows this, since motivation for Christians to influence government (for example, to help end human trafficking) necessarily fuses “theology and politics.” The government is not in the business of upholding theological positions or propagating sectarian ethics. As a Baptist Christian, I don’t need the government to defend Christian orthodoxy. But I do need it to tell the truth about marriage.
The church’s theology on marriage, while certainly pivotal to the church, isn’t sectarian. Marriage leads one outside the walls of the church and into the public square because marriage, by design, reveals a purpose about our being made male and female. Marriage has an innately public purpose by bringing together the two halves of humanity. If you embrace man as man and woman as woman, you might be on the losing end of a culture war over marriage, but you’ll be on the side of truth when the dust settles about human nature.
You can arrive at a civil understanding of marriage that still upholds the man-woman definition as essential without making it a theological argument. We do this all the time. We make laws like this for common good purposes, none of which require a theological rationale. Consider stealing. The government forbids stealing, for example, not simply because the Decalogue forbids it, but because stealing violates the public trust. Because stealing undermines cooperation and a well-ordered civil society, common belief about the harms of theft leads to outlawing it. Of course, as evangelicals, we believe everything has God as its author, and so we view stealing as breaking God’s commandment. But that is not government’s interest in making theft illegal. The same is true of marriage. We uphold marriage because no institution like it in society can secure civilization’s stability and future.
A group of precocious Millennials that would rather take up foreign interpretations and incoherent social policies than defend the church’s supposedly backward teachings is inexcusable—that when Christianity’s moral teachings rub up against culture’s newfound moral bearing, it’s Christians that have to adapt. It is telling that these individuals weren’t making this argument prior to the 21st century. For Christians to tout a view of marriage that undermines its own long-held moral teaching signals that our moral compass is conditioned more by majorities than logic.
We can talk all we want about polls and data. But if Christianity means anything, it means that its teachings and values aren’t subject to the whims of changing polls or public opinion. Sure, some elements of Christianity have always wanted to fashion a form of Christianity like this into their own image (one that mirrors the prevailing attitudes of society), but a Christianity of this nature never lasts. Over time, the pull to remain decidedly Christians simply stalls, since Christianity looks no different than what can be found in other sectors of culture.
But there’s another possibility to consider. More and more, I see stories like this and this, articles from young coming-of-age Millennials that tell a different story. They tell of young Christians who, when challenged about marriage, were forced to examine the arguments about why Christianity in its theology, and society in its laws, have always held to the idea that marriage is a unique and irreplaceable union that joins a man and woman as husband and wife to be a father and mother to any children their union produces.
Arguments like we see from Evangelicals for Marriage Equality aren’t persuasive. Filled with rhetorical flourishes, they pull at our heartstrings, but they don’t actually make coherent arguments—either theologically or on matters related to public policy. They refuse to answer the lingering questions that plague gay marriage proponents.
Why am I a Millennial evangelical who ardently beliefs that Christians should hold fast to the biblical definition of marriage—a definition that countless societies and countless non-religious thinkers have all held to? Because I love my neighbor. I can’t sit idly by as the basic social unit of civilization is redefined before my very eyes. If the Bible teaches anything, it teaches that the family is building block of society. When we distances ourselves from this truth, we change society—and not for the better.
As Christians, we understand that marriage and human sexuality reflects the deepest truths of the gospel. As Christians in America, we also understand that government has an interest in promoting marriage as a social policy apart from any theological backdrop since it remains the best catalyst for human flourishing.
Andrew T. Walker is the Director of Policy Studies for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.