"I find many good people in the world. Yes, I could say that none are bad. They are only corrupted and neglected. They are sheep without a shepherd; they lean on human organizations with no divine support. State and church are full of holes, and the people fall through, and no one can help them. Something new must come, something that people can be a part of and which will truly care for them both spiritually and physically. The rule of the Prince of this world must come to an end; a different Master must rule our lives." C. F. Blumhardt (1842-1919)
The recent Massachusetts court ruling that requires the state to recognize gay marriage has set off an avalanche whose reverberations will be felt for years. Everybody has something to say about it: grandparents and children, teachers and students, priests and parishioners, lawyers and politicians. Speakers everywhere are taking to the podium to recruit support for their point of view. Even President Bush has weighed in--an indication that the issue will remain volatile for the rest of this election year.
Why is this ruling such a hot topic, when homosexuality has been around since the beginning of time? I suspect people fear that if one state has put a legal stamp of approval on gay marriage, others will soon follow suit, and that the resulting wave will wash away the pillars of the family itself. I fully understand them, because if that happens, every wholesome aspect of society will be destroyed. Still, I think their basic focus is wrong--if only because they have turned a vital moral issue into a political one, at the expense of souls.
Marriage today is often nothing but a fraud. Modern husbands are proud that they don't treat their wives like doormats, and modern wives are sure that they are more independent than their mothers were. Still, women have never been sexualized as blatantly as they are today, and men have never been so casual about treating them as objects of desire. No other culture has celebrated promiscuity as openly as ours, or been so cynical about domestic abuse and neglect. Never before have people spent so much on weddings--or made such a complete mockery of them. And though the usual scapegoats are Hollywood and MTV, Christians (including pastors) divorce just as often as other people do, and adultery and abortion are just as commonplace among churchgoers as among non-religious people.
Already eighty years ago, my grandfather, a well-known writer, spoke out against the "dead and worthless" marriages of his generation. To him bourgeois marriage was not worth saving even back then. In his own words, "There is no point in defending something threadbare and old. What is at stake is not the different historical forms of church or civil marriage, which are in any case based on money and serfdom...Civil codes and social conventions cannot be authoritative in regard to such a vital matter."
So what is at stake, and what should we do, if gay marriage is wrong, and traditional marriage is in such a mess? To me the answer is plain enough: if we call ourselves Christians, we need to step back from all the commotion and rediscover the simple truths of the Gospels. They describe, in perfect clarity, the one form of marriage worth defending and saving. More important, they mirror the unchangeable order that God established for each of us at the very outset of human history:
"Haven't you read that at the beginning he made them male and female? For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh...Therefore what God has joined together, let no man separate." (Matt.19:4-6)
"Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church...Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy...and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies...After all, no one ever hated his own body." (Eph. 5:22-23)
"Husbands...be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers." (1 Pet. 3:7)
Grappling with these verses should spur us to examine our own lives. After all, even if we are opposed to the Massachusetts ruling, its premise of equality cannot be attacked. In the sense that we are all sinners, every one of us strays from God's order. Man or woman, gay or straight--we all have plenty of work to do.
To begin with, we can turn the tide and show a sex-crazed world that there are still such things as loyalty, commitment, and faithfulness. If married, we can lead our wives--not by bossing them, but by loving them and turning them to Christ. If single, we can prove that there are other goals worth pursuing besides sex. We can model true manhood (or womanhood) through self-discipline and service, and show that happiness is not dependent on physical relationships. Even if scarred or embittered by divorce, we can still learn to forgive, and need not be victims forever. Even if marriage was hell for us, we can remain loyal, and pray for our ex-spouse.
As fathers, we can show that deadbeat dads don't have to be the norm: we can put our children first, and our careers and hobbies second. As parents of either gender, we can show our children that every person has a soul, and that to treat someone as a sexual object is to despise them. This message is scoffed at in most places today: our culture is so obsessed with the human body and its appearance that sex is now seen as a merely physical act, and its effects on the soul are largely dismissed. But God gave each of us a soul that is unique and special. And this is what matters most in every man, woman, and child, because the soul is eternal.
Further, even if our culture tries to blur every line between men and women--and even if growing numbers insist that the only difference is biological--we can still bring up our children with a reverence for the mystery of their sex. We can still bring up our sons to be proud that they are boys, and our daughters to be proud that they are girls. Their peers may accept almost every perversion as "normal," but we can still show them by our example that there is such a thing as right and wrong.
Finally, we must witness to the fact that no matter the advances of science or the morals of our time, each of us was created in the image of God, and must one day answer to him. If the furor around the Massachusetts ruling helps us to rediscover this, it may turn out to be a blessing in disguise. But let's resist the temptation to see it as a soapbox on which to stand and label others, or judge and condemn them. Instead let's use it as a chance to point to Christ, and to marriage as he spoke of it--a mystery no court on earth can define.
Forget about sexual politics. Let us rather put our energies into helping every person to find Christ. He offers the water of life to everyone who thirsts for him.
-- by Johann Christoph Arnold
[Johann Christoph Arnold (www.ChristophArnold.com) is the author of ten books and pastor at the Woodcrest Bruderhof (www.woodcrestbruderhof.com).]