IS IT POSSIBLE THAT WE HAVE LOST OUR WAY TO THE BATTLE-FRONT?
I love the idea of marriage. It was God’s idea and was woven into the fabric of created goodness. But I’m glad I was able to marry someone because I wanted to love her for the rest of my life and raise kids and see them married so they could present us with grandchildren.
I’m grateful that the home I grew up in had a marriage between two people who were not perfect, but committed. That commitment provided at least two generations of descendants with a place to call home. A father and a mother were in residence who learned how to love us and each other. What a profound blessing. It was based on a marriage commitment between a man and a woman and they remained committed for life. They both died in the home they had built as a young married couple following World War II. It was home to us, our kids and their kids.
We have enjoyed all of that because of the Christian influences upon our culture and society. It started with a bunch of people all across the Roman Empire who loved and served Jesus Christ and who determined to live out these and other values because they trusted Jesus. There was no law that said they should and no law that said they shouldn’t. They lived it because of the teaching of Jesus and the apostles and because of the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit. Much later, when the Roman and successive empires gave favour and influence to the church such values were enshrined in constitutions and the legislation that flowed from it.
It is more common for legislation to follow social change in a given society. There are exceptions, but this is generally the case. It is the case with the idea of marriage in western nations. I don’t know if you have been living long enough to notice, but there have been both monumental and incremental shifts in the values being lived in our society. Long before there was pressure to change the legal definition of marriage, the commitment and understanding of marriage was changing.
I am from the baby-boomer generation; born immediately after the Second World War in Australia. My parent’s generation and then my own generation have seen a massive shift away from following Jesus and the resulting desire to trust his commands and teaching. At the centre was a shift was from serving Christ to serving ourselves. The opportunity for material prosperity was too good to refuse. Freedom from oppressive wars and depressions made it the all the more accessible. I watched this shift play out among my children’s generation and then in their children’s generation. Self-indulgence is pretty much the ‘tie that binds.’ So many things have happened as a consequence. Most of them could be summed up as a kind of decaying of our society as people have chosen to live for themselves rather than for the reason they were created – i.e. to worship and serve Jesus Christ.
It seems to me that it takes at least a generation or maybe two for a particular value to be reshaped in a society and for another value to take its place. It then takes a bit longer for that value to apply pressure on the laws. That’s how it stands with regard to marriage law in most western nations of the world. Our society has been profoundly shaped by individualism and self-indulgence. The reference point is not Jesus. It is not even the community. The reference point is inside the individual and is measured by degrees of comfort, pleasure and personal preference. As I discovered with a bit of pop-research a few years ago, the shaping values relating to personhood have been self-centredness, self-preservation and self-determination.
So no matter what rhetoric we use to describe high court decisions about marriage, we lost this battle a long time ago when those of us who were responsible for showing redemptive love, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and being salt and light to our spheres became more absorbed by extending our own kingdoms than we were about the kingdom of God. As a result, the communities for which we carry responsibility could no longer see the difference between a Jesus-serving family and a non-Jesus-serving family. And when our community finds a whole raft of ways to self-indulge we have often muttered a “Tut, tut” or expressed some kind of quiet disapproval and watched it happen.
I am totally in favour of finding ways to inform our communities about the life-giving values that are revealed for us in and through the life and teaching of Jesus Christ. I am certain that changes to marriage definition are a bad idea. It has never been about equality. To take a term that has exclusively described a life-long relationship between a man and a woman and apply it to other human relationships is like the call to name every different kind of fruit an apple. We have different fruits and they are distinguished by different names. We have different relationships and they should also be distinguished by different names. No, it’s a very definite attempt to destroy something good simply because in the western cultures it has a Christian origin.
What I have diminishing conviction about the assumption that the battle line should be drawn at the point of legislation. It is too late in a battle that we have already been losing. The real battle has been lost in the homes of ordinary people in the community. Even if we kept on winning the battle at the point of legislation we have still lost the commitment of the hearts and minds or people in the community.
Since when has the kingdom of God depended on legislation for advancement? It seems to me that a gospel problem needs a gospel answer. The way of Jesus for seeing change in society is by living and proclaiming a gospel of good news. The battle for marriage began to be lost when we set aside the task of proclaiming the gospel to everyone and started hiding ourselves away in our churches and church programs. We capitulated to the power of the enemy when we chose to become more and more self-indulgent rather than self-denying [as we are commanded in the teaching of Jesus]. It continued when we separated ourselves from the community rather taking responsibility for our community.
And then, when the community we have failed for years succeeds in supporting laws about things like marriage that are destructive, we presume that the issue is fighting the law rather than bringing light to our darkening community. It’s the cheap option and the long-distance one. Long distance morality is always an easier option than laying down your life for your ‘enemy.’
The vacuum we have allowed to happen waits for a well-organized pressure group with a deconstructionist moral agenda. When we stand back and judge rather than move forward with a desire to figure out how we can relate to and redemptively love people who are gay, we end up misrepresenting the gospel and ending up with polluted ‘salt’ and with our ‘light’ covered by a jug. It is we who should be doing the greater repenting. We were meant to be missionaries and we simply chose to stay at home. When the missionary work of other groups becomes more successful it is hardly credible for us to hurl our accusations at government members or opposing lobbyists.
We should get back into the battle that we have been called by Jesus to fight with the weapons he modeled every day of his life. If we do, we will find that we have returned to fighting a battle we cannot lose and one for which the enemy has no power to resist. We need to work actively to teach and train so that our marriages and homes are filled with every reason for people to want to look no further.
I think we also need to listen hard to people who are choosing or actively pursuing same-sex relationships. On the basis of that understanding we may find ourselves more equipped to live out and impart something that is good news. Then we may recapture what our Christian forefathers and mothers had and regain the influence they had. What was gained without legislation cannot be sustained ONLY by legislation. What is lost through legislation will only be gained by seeing change in the homes and families around us.
 Note that these three stand as totally opposite values to the ones Jesus talked about when he described Christian discipleship [cp. Matthew 16 and Luke 9]. In both places he said that true personhood is built on self-denial, self-sacrifice and in following Him.