Friday, March 29, 2019

Explaining and Defending Marriage in a Non-Christian Culture (Smart Faith)

* My full notes from my presentation at the Smart Faith apologetics conference (Phoenix, AZ) on March 30, 2019.

Explaining and Defending Marriage in a Non-Christian Culture

Richard Klaus

With the legalization of same-sex marriage Christians must explain their view of marriage to those in the church and to those outside the church.  An understanding of the differences between traditional marriage and the new "consent-based" view is vital to standing for the truth of marriage.

1.     Current cultural context: Obergefell v. Hodges (June 26, 2015)

a.     The Great Evangelical Recession by John Dickerson (2013)

                                               i.     Future America of 2020 to 2050 will be:

1.     Increasingly anti-Bible-believer
2.     Increasingly pro-homosexual (p. 45)

                                              ii.     Most people 55+ “still see life through a quasi-Christian lens.” (p. 46)

1.     “Intentional or not, they are the dam holding traditional American values in place.” (p. 46)

2.     “Unfortunately for evangelicals, the majority of ‘Christian’ and ‘conservative’ Americans will die off in the next thirty years—even as the angst against conservative Christians continues to gain momentum.

“The end result will eventually be a culture where the majority of Americans has an enemy view of Bible-believing Christians, while the evangelical movement shrinks into further minority status.” (p. 47)

3.     Rapid change à just 15 years!

a.     1996: 68% opposed gay marriage; 27% favored

b.     2011: 53% support; 45% opposed

b.     The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation by Rod Dreher (2017)

                                               i.     “Post-Obergefell, Christians who hold to the biblical teaching about sex and marriage have the same status in culture, and increasingly in law, as racists.” (p. 3)

                                              ii.     “There is no other area in which orthodox Christians will have to be as countercultural as in our sexual lives, and we are going to have to support each other in our unpopular stances.” (p. 196)

c.      David Gushee “On LGBT Equality, Middle Ground is Disappearing” (August 22, 2016)

                                               i.     “Middle ground is disappearing on the question of whether LGBT persons should be treated as full equals, without any discrimination in society—and on the related question of whether religious institutions should be allowed to continue discriminating due to their doctrinal beliefs.

“It turns out that you are either for full and unequivocal social and legal equality for LGBT people, or you are against it, and your answer will at some point be revealed.  This is true both for individuals and for institutions.

“Neutrality is not an option.  Neither is polite half-acceptance.  Nor is avoiding he subject.  Hide as you might, the issue will come and find you.”

                                              ii.     “A vast host of neutralist, avoidist or de facto discriminatory institutions and individuals will also find that they can no longer finesse the LGBT issue.  Space for neutrality or ‘mild’ discrimination will close up.

“Sometimes society changes and it marks decadence.  Other times society changes and it marks progress.  Those who believe LGBT equality marks decadence are being left behind.”

2.     Living in an alien culture à we are alienated!

a.     We need to learn to live as aliens

b.     We need to study afresh 1 Peter and its wisdom for cultural context

c.      We need to demonstrate love and truth à Nancy Pearcey Love Thy Body

“Ancient culture also provides a vivid image of where Western culture may well be heading. As Christian influence wanes, will Western culture revert back to a sexual free-for-all like that of the ancient world? If so, Christians will once again need to muster their courage to be radically countercultural. And they will once again need to be prepared to minister to the victims of sexual abuse and predation--those wounded by the sexual revolution. They must do the hard work of making a case for the beauty of the biblical sex ethic with both words and their lives.

“Christians must once again become known as those who honor the whole person. The reason they speak out on moral issues should not be because their beliefs are being threatened or because they feel "offended." They should erase the word "offended" from their vocabulary. After all, Christians are called to share in the offense of the cross. This is not about us.

“Christians must make it clear that they are speaking out because they genuinely care about people. No matter how compelling the case for a biblical ethic, people rarely change their minds based on intellectual arguments alone. They are even less likely to change if all they hear is moral condemnation. People must be drawn in by a vision that attracts them by offering a more appealing, more life-affirming worldview. Christians must present biblical morality in a way that reveals the beauty of the biblical view of the human person so that people actually want it to be true. And they must back up their words with actions that treat people with genuine dignity and worth.” (189-190)

d.     Task à speak and live out the truth of marriage

                                               i.     Create a marriage culture

                                              ii.     Articulate a marriage culture

1.     “At issue is not only the value of marriage itself, but the reasons why the public has a deep interest in a socially supported normative understanding of marriage.  Marriage is under attack conceptually, in university communities and other intellectual centers of influence.  To defend marriage will require confronting these attacks, assessing their arguments, and correcting them where necessary.”[1]

2.     Analogy: Roe v. Wade caught the church unawares but the church did quickly begin to reason and articulate its position to its people and to the world.

                                            iii.     For the sake of the church and our children and grandchildren

3.     Arguing for biblical truth in the public square

a.     Use of the Bible… options:

                                               i.     Yes. (period)

                                              ii.     No.

                                            iii.     Yes, and…  (see the thoughts of Wayne Grudem)

By failing to quote Scripture in private and public discussions with unbelievers I think we are often reduced to pragmatic arguments that are not decisive or to moral arguments that have no apparent transcendent moral authority behind them, and as a result the Church is anemic and has no influence in the world. But what should we expect when we leave our sword at home?

“Of course, I am not saying that we have to quote the Bible in every conversation and every circumstance. But I am saying that we fail to quote it far too often, and I think it is because we do not really believe that it has unique power to change human hearts.

“Several years ago I went to the office of John Porter, the U.S. Congressman for our district in northern Illinois, who is a fairly liberal Republican. I went by appointment, with the purpose of talking to him about abortion. I thought he might give me three or four minutes, and I brought a Bible along (an NIV) with the hope of talking with him about what it said. We looked at Exod 21:22–25, the passage about two men struggling and striking a pregnant woman, and discussed its relevance for the abortion question. Then I also brought Lincoln’s second inaugural address, in which he quotes Scripture and says that the Civil War is God’s judgment on our nation because of slavery. What surprised me was the interest with which this congressman listened to the words of Scripture and questioned me about it in detail. He spent 45 minutes with me. This book is the Word of God!

“If we fail to quote it, the result is that the only true source of absolute values, the only true solution to the world’s problems, is never allowed to enter the playing field, and it loses the game by forfeit. When we are in academic discussions—especially regarding ethics and moral values, or regarding the proper role of government with regard to ethical questions—might the Creator of the universe have something he wants to say?”[2]

b.     May not be able to effectively quote Scripture in some contexts

                                               i.     “However, as we share a society with many people who do not accept the authority of the Scriptures, we need to articulate our conviction in a manner that invites and enables rational consensus-forming discourse, appealing to beliefs and truths that we hold in common with non-Christian members of society.”[3]

c.      Compare worldviews: Proof, Defense, Offense

                                               i.     Set forth internal coherence of the Christian worldview: truth, beauty, and goodness

                                              ii.     Internal critique

1.     Looking for Contradictions

2.     Looking for that which is Arbitrary

                                            iii.     Proverbs 20.3 “There is no wisdom, and no understanding, and no counsel against the Lord.”

d.     There is a place for “prudential” or “consequentialist” types of arguments as well as deontological arguments. 

                                               i.     Consider the example in Daniel chapter one.  The argument Daniel makes is a prudential argument:

Please test your servants for ten days, and let us be given some vegetables to eat and water to drink.  Then let our appearance be observed in your presence and the appearance of the youths who are eating the king's choice food; and deal with your servants according to what you see.  Daniel 1.12-13
This is a not a "we must obey God; not man" argument.  Rather, it is an appeal to pragmatic issues.  There are times when these types of arguments can be used and used effectively.  This is not to deny that explicit Scriptural arguments ought to be used.  And at times we should speak of our fundamental religious commitments as constraining our obedience--this happens in Daniel chapter three when Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego simply refuse to bow before the golden image of Nebuchadnezzar.

                                              ii.     Reasoning in Proverbs

The words of Old Testament scholar Christopher Wright are also worth considering:

“It is interesting that a consequentialist view of ethical decisions is found precisely in the Wisdom literature, which tends to be grounded in creation rather than a redemption theology.”

“Possibly the most interesting example concerns the Wisdom tradition’s sexual ethic.  It is in full accordance with the law, of course, but it is not explicitly sanctioned by law.  Whereas the law simply says, ‘Do not commit adultery, on penalty of death’, the Wisdom teacher says, ‘Do not commit adultery because of the appalling consequences that you will expose yourself and your whole family and property to.  It isn’t worth the risk’ (cf. Pr. 5; 6:24-35; 7).  Common sense itself warns against what the law prohibits.”[4]

                                            iii.     Deuteronomy 4.6 à keeping God’s law so the nations will see the wisdom of God

“So keep and do them, for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.”

4.     Not merely a legal issue but, rather, a worldview issue!

a.     James Davison Hunter Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America (1991)

                                               i.     “What ultimately explains the realignment in America’s public culture are allegiances to different formulations and sources of moral authority.”[5]

                                              ii.     “To speak of moral authority is to speak of the fundamental assumptions that guide our perceptions of the world.”[6]

                                            iii.     Hunter is very clear in his discussion to articulate that these “fundamental assumptions” encompass an entire worldview

§  Metaphysics: “the nature of reality”
§  Epistemology: “the foundations of knowledge”
§  Ethics: “the basic standards by which we make moral judgments and decisions”

b.     “What is ultimately at issue, then, are not just disagreements about ‘values’ or ‘opinions.’  Such language misconstrues the nature of moral commitment.  Such language in the end reduces morality to preferences and cultural whim.  What is ultimately at issue are deeply rooted and fundamentally different understandings of being and purpose.”[7]

c.      Hunter appeals to the thought of the French sociologist Emile Durkheim:

§  There are differing conceptions of the sacred

§  “Sacred” = anything viewed as “set apart and exalted” à “anything that provided the life-orienting principles of individuals and the larger community.”[8]

§  “The reality, as Durkheim pointed out, is that communities cannot and will not tolerate the desecration of the sacred.  The problem is this: not only does each side of the cultural divide operate with a different conception of the sacred, but the mere existence of the one represents a certain desecration of the other.”[9]

§  This is what makes the debate over gay marriage and religious exemptions so intractable!  Explains why there is not a willingness to make room for reasonable religious exemptions like those proposed and codified after Roe v. Wade

d.     Philosopher Francis Beckwith argues:

“…there can be no legally neutral ground.  In other words, the state, regardless of what position it may take on the nature of marriage, will place in its laws as a result of taking a position, a particular understanding of human nature, gender, and the good life that either implies or asserts that there is a correct way to think on these matters and that if you manifest your disagreement in particular acts or speech, the law will punish you in one way or another.”[10]

5.     Helpful to consider what worldview-based view of marriage Obergefell has…

a.     Rejected and

b.     What view it has embraced

* And… what are the implications and consequences

6.     Comparing and contrasting different conceptions of marriage

a.     Consent-based: “The consent-based view of marriage is primarily about an intense emotional union—a romantic, caregiving union of consenting adults.”[11]

b.     Comprehensive: “[M]arriage, properly understood, is a comprehensive union, that it unites a man and a woman in a comprehensive act, ordered toward the comprehensive good of procreating and raising new life in a family, and requiring of them a comprehensive—exclusive and permanent—bond.”[12]

§  An institution ordered toward children.

Socially constructed
Pre-political—recognized by state
Created by political/judicial fiat
Connected to biology—teleology
Not connected to biology
Different in kind
Different in degree

o   Note: These two views come to expression in Obergefell v. Hodges and its dissents.

§  Consent-based (Justice Kennedy)

“The right to marry thus dignifies couples who ‘wish to define themselves by their commitment to each other.’  Marriage responds to the universal fear that a lonely person might call out only to find no one there.  It offers the hope of companionship and understanding and assurance that while both still live there will be someone to care for the other.” (p. 14)

§  Natural view (Chief Justice Roberts)

“This universal definition of marriage as the union of a man and a woman is no historical coincidence.  Marriage did not  come about as a result of a political movement, discovery, disease, war, religious doctrine, or any other moving force of world history—and certainly not as a result of a prehistoric decision to exclude gays and lesbians.  It arose in the nature of things to meet a vital need: ensuring that children are conceived by a mother and father committed to raising them in the stable conditions of a lifelong relationship.”  (pp. 4-5—also see Justice Alito’s dissent pp. 3-4)

7.     Teleology: listening to the body’s purposeful messages

a.     “The main reason people today find it difficult to understand biblical sex ethics is that their thinking has been trained by the two-level mindset to sever the natural order from the moral order.  In the academic world, a teleological view of nature as purpose-driven has been ousted by a materialist view that sees nature as devoid of spiritual and moral meaning… As a result, most people no longer ‘hear’ the body’s own message—for example, how the very structure of male-female differentiation speaks of relationship, mutual love, and self-giving.”[14]

b.     “And if morality is disconnected from nature, then it becomes merely a social construction. It is whatever we decide.  A modernist view of nature leads inevitably to a postmodern view of morality.  Postmodern gender theory grounds your identity not in your biology but in your mind.  You are what you feel.”[15]

c.      The postmodern body/person divide[16]

Free to impose its own interpretation on the body
Raw material with no intrinsic identity or purpose

8.     Why the state is interested in marriage?

a.     Marriage as an institution

                                               i.     Definition of “institution”

“An institution is any structure or mechanism of social order and cooperation governing the behavior of a set of individuals within a given human community.  Institutions are identified with a social purpose and permanence, transcending individual human lives and intentions by enforcing rules that govern cooperative human behavior.”[17]

                                              ii.     Need to distinguish…

1.     Social purposes of the institution

2.     Private intentions of individuals

o   “The distinction between individual interests and the social purposes of institutions should be readily apparent to most.  It is the difference between the purpose of the university and the intentions of the individual undergraduate.  It is the difference between the purpose of the army and the purposes of the individual who volunteers for the forces.”[18]

b.     State interest in marriage à it produces children

                                               i.     “The reason marriage was singled out for special legal protection is that it is the only human relationship that can both (a) produce the next generation of babies and (b) connect those babies to both their mother and father.”[19]

c.      Children flourish best when connected to their biological parents

                                               i.     “The evidence linking the health of marriage to the welfare of children is clear. During the last two decades, a large body of social scientific research has emerged indicating that children do best when reared by their mothers and fathers in a married, intact family. A recent report by Child Trends, a nonpartisan research organization, summarized the new scholarly consensus on marriage this way: “[R]esearch clearly demonstrates that family structure matters for children, and the family structure that helps children the most is a family headed by two biological parents in a low-conflict marriage.” Other recent reviews of the literature on marriage and the well-being of children, conducted by the Brookings Institution, the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International A airs at Princeton University, the Center for Law and Social Policy, and the Institute for American Values, have all come to similar conclusions.”[20]

                                              ii.     Sara McLanahan and Gary Sandefur, sociologists at Princeton and Wisconsin, respectively, sum up the reasons that marriage matters for children in this way: “If we were asked to design a system for making sure that children’s basic needs were met, we would probably come up with something quite similar to the two- parent ideal. Such a design, in theory, would not only ensure that children had access to the time and money of two adults, it also would provide a system of checks and balances that promoted quality parenting. e fact that both parents have a biological connection to the child would increase the likelihood that the parents would identify with the child and be willing to sacrifice for that child, and it would reduce the likelihood that either parent would abuse the child.”[21]

                                            iii.     “Genderless marriage endangers children’s identity rights by sending the message the children do need a father or mother.  Without its gendered structure, marriage is incapable of supporting the natural union of father, mother, and child.”[22]

9.     Consequences of the Consent-based view of marriage

a.     Parents and children

                                               i.     Neither is biology the deciding factor for parenthood

“The underlying reason is clear: When same-sex couples have children—whether by divorce, adoption, or third-party reproduction—those children are not biologically related to one or both parents.  Therefore, if same-sex parents are to have the same legal status as heterosexual parents, logically the state must erase the assumption of natural parenthood based on biology. 

“The definition of parenthood must be de-naturalized.”[23]

“However, if parenthood is detached from biology, then the state will define parenthood for all children.  The state will decide who counts as a parent.  Instead of recognizing parenthood as a pre-political reality that is logically prior to the state—which the state is morally obligated to respect—parenthood will be treated as something created by the state.

“And if parenthood is created by the state, then the state has the right to define and control it.  It will be much easier for state authorities to intrude into the family, make decisions about how children are raised and educated, or even take them away if state officials disagree with their parents’ beliefs.  Jennifer Roback Morse predicts that ‘natural biological relationships will be systematically and routinely overridden by socially constructed government-created relationships.’

“Thus a de-naturalized definition of marriage leads inevitably to a de-naturalized definition of parenthood.  ‘Civil marriage provides the entire basis for presuming the rights and responsibilities of biological parents to raise their own children,’ Morabito explains.  ‘If we abolish civil marriage, these will no longer be rights by default, but rights to be distributed at the pleasure of a bureaucratic state.’

“In this way, paradoxically, a choice-based model of the family ends up empowering the state.”[24]

b.     Marital norms: Monogamy, Exclusivity, and Permanence

                                               i.     “It cannot explain or justify any of the distinctive commitments that marriage requires—monogamy, exclusivity, and permanence—nor can it explain what interest the government has in it.”[25]

                                              ii.     Chief Justice Roberts in his dissent to Obergefell v. Hodges:

“One immediate question invited by the majority’s position is whether States may retain the definition of marriage as a union of two people… Although the majority randomly inserts the adjective ‘two’ in various places, it offers no reason at all why the two-person element of the core definition of marriage may be preserved while the man-woman element may not. …

“It is striking how much of the majority’s reasoning would apply with equal force to the claim of a fundamental right to plural marriage.”[26]

c.      In tension with other marriage laws

                                               i.     But, if marriage is socially constructed there is an internal tension within the law.  The view of marriage as socially constructed undermines Loving v. Virginia (1967).  As Beckwith argues:

                                              ii.     “Ironically, if this view of marriage were dominant in our legal culture when the Supreme Court rejected the prohibition of interracial marriage in the case of Loving v. Virginia (1967), the moral grounds for its opinion would have been lost.  That is, in order for the court to have concluded that forbidding interracial marriage is wrong, it would have to know what marriage is.  But if marriage is merely a social construction and not a natural institution, the state of Virginia could have argued, like contemporary same-sex marriage proponents, that marriage is merely a social construction subject to our will and nothing more.  It is only because the Court knew that marriage is between a man and a woman that it could say that race, like height, geography, or place of residence, is not a relevant characteristic for two people to marry.”[27]

10. Resources

a.     Nancy R. Pearcey. Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions about Life and Sexuality. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2018.

b.     Ryan T. Anderson. Truth Overruled: The Future of Marriage and Religious Freedom. New Jersey: Regnery, 2015.

c.      Alastair Roberts, “The Institution of Marriage, Same-Sex Unions, and Procreation” Alastair’s Adversaria (May 19, 2012)—online:

d.     Alastair Roberts, “Questions and Answers on Same-Sex Marriage” Alastair’s Adversaria (March 2013)—online:

e.     Maggie Gallagher, “(How) Will Gay Marriage Weaken Marriage as a Social Institution: A Reply to Andrew Koppelman.” University of St. Thomas Law Journal 2.1 (2004), 44—online:

f.      The Witherspoon Institute, Marriage and the Public Good: Ten Principles (Princeton, New Jersey: Witherspoon Institute, 2008), 7—online:

g.     “Beauty & the Christian Sexual Ethic: Additional Resources”—this is large list of books and articles on varying issues of sexuality that I put together for a class I taught at my church.  Online:

     [1] The Witherspoon Institute, Marriage and the Public Good: Ten Principles (Princeton, New Jersey: Witherspoon Institute, 2008), 7—online:
     [2] Wayne Grudem, “Do We Act As If We Really Believe That ‘The Bible Alone, and the Bible in its Entirety, is the Word of God Written?’” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 43/1 (2000), 24.
[3] Alastair Roberts “The Institution of Marriage, Same-Sex Unions, and Procreation” (comment in “Response” section)—online:
     [4] Christopher J. H. Wright, Walking in the Ways of the Lord: The Ethical Authority of the Old Testament (Downers Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity Press, 1995), 121.
     [5] James Davison Hunter, Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America (Basic Books, 1991), 118.
     [6] James Davison Hunter, Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America (Basic Books, 1991), 119.
     [7] James Davison Hunter, Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America (Basic Books, 1991), 131.
     [8] James Davison Hunter, Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America (Basic Books, 1991), 131.
     [9] James Davison Hunter, Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America (Basic Books, 1991), 131.
     [10] Francis J. Beckwith, “Legal Neutrality and Same-Sex Marriage” Philosophia Christi vol. 7, no. 1 (2005), 19.
     [11] Ryan T. Anderson, Truth Overruled: The Future of Marriage and Religious Freedom (New Jersey: Regnery, 2015), 15.
     [12] Ryan T. Anderson, Truth Overruled: The Future of Marriage and Religious Freedom (New Jersey: Regnery, 2015), 24.
     [13] “Clearly, this philosophical anthropology is essentialist and teleological, which means that it is out of step with the dominant understandings of the philosophy of nature in the academy.”  Francis J. Beckwith Taking Rites Seriously: Law, Politics, and the Reasonableness of Faith (New York: Cambridge, 2015), 190.
     [14] Nancy R. Pearcey, Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions about Life and Sexuality (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2018), 162.
     [15] Nancy R. Pearcey, Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions about Life and Sexuality (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2018), 163.
     [16] Nancy R. Pearcey, Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions about Life and Sexuality (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2018), 165.
     [17] Alastair Roberts, “The Institution of Marriage, Same-Sex Unions, and Procreation” Alastair’s Adversaria (May 19, 2012)—online:
     [18] Alastair Roberts, “The Institution of Marriage, Same-Sex Unions, and Procreation” Alastair’s Adversaria (May 19, 2012)—online:
     [19] Maggie Gallagher, “(How) Will Gay Marriage Weaken Marriage as a Social Institution: A Reply to Andrew Koppelman.” University of St. Thomas Law Journal 2.1 (2004), 44—online:
     [20] The Witherspoon Institute, Marriage and the Public Good: Ten Principles (Princeton, New Jersey: Witherspoon Institute, 2008), 18—online:
     [21] Quoted in The Witherspoon Institute, Marriage and the Public Good: Ten Principles (Princeton, New Jersey: Witherspoon Institute, 2008), 25—quoting Sara McLanahan and Gary Sandefur, Growing Up with a Single Parent (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994), 38.
     [22] Tapio Puolimatka, “How Wolterstorff’s Defense of Same-Sex Marriage Violates His Theory of Justice: Philosophical Note on Wolterstorff’s Argument for Same-Sex Marriage” Philosophia Christi 19.2 (2017), 367-368.
     [23] Nancy Pearcey, Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions about Life and Sexuality (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2018), 251.
     [24] Nancy Pearcey, Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions about Life and Sexuality (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2018), 252.
     [25] Ryan T. Anderson, Truth Overruled: The Future of Marriage and Religious Freedom (New Jersey: Regnery, 2015), 15.
     [26] Obergefell v. Hodges, 576 U.S.___(2015)—Roberts, C. J. dissenting, 20.
     [27] Francis J. Beckwith, “Legal Neutrality and Same-Sex Marriage” Philosophia Christi vol. 7, no. 1 (2005), 24.