Today’s discussion picks up from Part One on the topic of the image of God. This very idea, to be sure, is not without its detractors. Peter Singer, for one, argues very clearly that the very notion of mankind being made in such a fashion is one of which we must rid ourselves. In his opinion, one shared by many people in influential quarters, the very idea of humans being exceptional or qualitatively different from any other species on the planet is a hindrance to a proper ethical approach to the challenges we face. And he argues this in support of the “rights” of animals.
What has this to do with our topic of same-sex unions and marriage? On the surface, not much; underneath, however, there is a linkage when we consider this concept of “rights.” Much of the conversation about our topic has centered on the rights of gay people to marry. Sometimes it is described as “marriage equality.” I propose to consider these ideas in light of what was said in Part One about the created nature of humanity as described in the opening paragraphs of the Bible and assumed throughout the remainder of its message.
I wrote in the previous post that male-female difference is essential to understanding marriage and the divine intent. I also suggested on the basis of scripture and human experience, as well as scientific findings, that the differences are real and necessary. They are necessary in that both male and female are created in the image of God, but that they carry that image differently, such that a fuller representation of God is presented to the children born to them and raised by them. Simply stated, this is what marriage is all about. We must acknowledge that we have not done very well at the task; in all too many cases, for example, men have failed to honor women as being equally important to the understanding of God as they themselves are. And when that happens, the children see a distortion of who God is as they take in spoken and unspoken messages. This and other distortions, however, do not change the definition of marriage implied by the Bible and by combined human experience.
There are, of course, other accountings of human life in the world. And the alternatives are offered with varying degrees of compatibility or agreement and disagreement with the biblical-theological model sketched above. As thinking beings or, if one must say it, rational animals we can think of other ways. And it is our right to do so. That may seem like an odd thing to affirm, but I believe it follows from our being made in the image of God. We can think and draw conclusions, but our conclusions do not in any way change what is really the case, the way things were from the beginning. But to the extent that these alternative conclusions differ from the created order, they miss the mark. And they miss the mark with consequences following in their train. While this is true for all deviations (and there are many we could discuss), we are focusing on the specific matter of referring to marriage as another kind of union.
In our time, we have come to think of the essence of marriage as the love that has developed between two people. One of the questions inevitably asked when a couple seeks marriage is “why do you want to get married?” And just as inevitably, the answer will be “because we love each other.” It’s a good answer, of course, but it is not sufficient. It is not sufficient because it does not include, at least on the surface, a desire to represent God by the union of the differences between male and female, a union open to even if not always resulting in offspring. Note that this does not argue that other relationships, including homosexual relationships, cannot be loving relationships. As candidates for marriage, however, other relationships miss the mark; they cannot represent the image of God nor bear offspring.
Missing the mark, as more astute Christians will recognize, is the essence of sin. When we miss the mark, we are caught in the consequences that follow from living in a way out of keeping with the goodness planned by the Creator. I am not talking at this point about culpability or personal responsibility; I am talking about living in ways that miss the intention of the One who made us, whether those ways are personally chosen or are the ways that have been handed to us through no choice of our own. We all too quickly jump from the idea of sin to personal worthlessness and devaluation. I don’t think that’s what at stake here. It is tempting to draw out a theology of sin and redemption here that will likely differ from the typical evangelical model. But that full accounting is for another day. For now, when we miss the mark we bring consequences on ourselves and on those we influence, as individuals and as societies who establish those alternate ways.
The subject of rights was mentioned above. Two thoughts about rights will be presented before closing this installment of my thoughts upon the marriage debate. The first is this: everyone has the right to be married. A man can marry a woman and vice versa. Even those who have attractions to same-sex relationships are free to marry someone of the opposite sex. There is no issue of rights involved in this question. What is being sought, however, is a change of definition of marriage. That is not a matter of rights; it is a matter of truth. It is a matter pertaining to the nature of things and how we come to know them. It is what returns us to the discussion of philosophy in Part One of this presentation, asking the question of whether there is any truth about things other than what we decide to believe and impose on others arbitrarily.
The second thought about rights follows from the first and brings me back to Peter Singer. The assertion of rights has to include a source for those rights; they must be grounded somewhere. And this is where nominalism (or name-only-ism) fails. If things just exist, if people just exist without a purpose and without a knowable source, rights become nothing more than assertions of those who are in power. They can only come from a government, whose legitimacy can only be measured by whether or not we like it or find it agreeable.
I’m going to allow things to hang at that point until the third installment. In that next portion I will more directly address the questions of what we should and should not do as political people and as Christians.