As I listened to a debate between Doug Wilson and Andrew Sullivan on the question, “Is Civil Marriage for Gay Couples Good for Society?” I began to participate at several levels myself. Already I was evaluating their individual arguments and trying to construct my own answer to the question from a social perspective. We are justified for reaching some conclusions even if we are not able to assemble an air-tight argument (otherwise young children couldn’t justifiably believe anything), but how much better it is if we are able to move step by step to an irrefutable resting place.
Sullivan opened the debate with the argument that:
- Denying homosexual marriage is not fair.
- Fairness is good for society.
- Therefore, homosexual marriage is good for society.
Wilson argued against the proposition with something like the following:
- If homosexuals can marry, then there is no reason to exclude those who want polygamous, incestuous, or open marriages.
- These other options are bad for society.
- Therefore, homosexual marriage must also be bad for society.
I could see Sullivan’s reasoning being persuasive with an important voting bloc because of the love affair that the post-modern has with all things purportedly fair. And while I think Wilson’s argument was valid, my hunch is that it would not be compelling outside that group that was already on his side.
So, what is a good answer to the proposition?
A good answer will necessarily be a Christian answer because Jesus Christ is wisdom. (1 Cor. 1:24, 30) Furthermore, in Christ “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Col. 2:3) If there is a thorny question to be answered, the right way to think about the puzzle is the way Jesus would think. In order to deny this, you must first deny the basic premise that Jesus Christ’s thoughts represent the highest pinnacle of right reasoning.
Now, of course there are those who will debate that very point, and then we can begin to discuss what is really the dividing line between the two sides in the spiritual war: the Lordship of Christ. But if that point is established between two who profess to be Christians, or even granted for sake of discussion, then the debate takes on a new tone. So, I don’t expect this argument to be persuasive to anyone who does not agree with me on the fundamental cornerstone of all right thinking, namely absolute surrender to King Jesus. However, if they don’t agree with that principle, then do we really think they will accept any other reasons we could offer in opposition to any moral claim?
At what points does the contemporary issue of homosexual marriage touch the nature and mission of Jesus Christ? One way to view the gospel is through the lens of marriage. That is, marriage was designed to illustrate who Jesus is and what He came to do. This was not always clear at certain points in redemptive history which is why the Apostle Paul calls marriage a “great mystery.” (Eph. 5:32)
Built into the sexes by their Creator is a message that is only communicated when one man and one woman make a covenant together. The union of Christ with His (singular) people whereby they are loved supremely and unchangeably is pictured beautifully in monogamous, heterosexual marriage. Polygamy breaks the picture as if Aslan really would accept followers of Tash. Divorce breaks the picture as if something actually could separate us from our unconquerable Lover. However, homosexual marriage also breaks the picture because a homosexual marriage cannot fulfill christian roles.
In Ephesians 5, the husband loves his wife in the same way that Christ loves the Church. He is the leader and initiator. Jesus pays for His bride with His blood (5:25-27) in a way that implies the breadwinning responsibility of the man.
In a distinctly different way, the wife fulfills her covenant duty in this great parable of the gospel by obeying her husband. By responding to the husband’s mission and following his guidance, the wife thereby pictures the church’s submission to the Lordship of Christ. (5:22-23) In this sense, the debate between egalitarianism and complementarianism carries the potential to affect the gospel.
Are there homosexual complementarians? That’s an impossibility. Their whole position is built on the idea that we should all be free to live in mutual equality regardless of physiological, neurological, or spiritual differences. Several times during the debate, Sullivan played the “That’s-not-fair” card to explain why he should be allowed to follow his desires. What could be more unfair than having the role of one partner in the marriage characterized as constant submission? That’s about as fair as grace.
When Paul teaches that the gospel is embedded in our collective conscience through the mystery of marriage, he assumes a distinction between the roles of male and female. But what if, for sake of argument, two men could work out between themselves who is going to submit and who is going to lead, would that solve the problem? Could these two men enter a covenant that could do what Paul says marriage is designed to do?
No, for two reasons.
First, the grammar of Eph. 5 is specifically masculine and feminine. The gender-specific words for wife and husband are used throughout the passage, and indeed throughout the whole Bible. The Song of Songs employs terms for male and female. (Not to mention that a contrasting pair is required as part of the poetic beauty.) Genesis 1 shows that God created two kinds of human, and gave them to each other. Jesus quotes Moses and affirms the same thing. (Matt. 19:4-5) Scripture repeatedly uses precise terms to affirm heterosexual relationships, not homosexual.
Two homosexuals do not picture the gospel secondly because Paul’s words in Eph. 5 are freighted with centuries of meaning dating back to Genesis 2. The purpose of femininity is clearly defined when God creates Eve. Her unique complementary role starts from her first appearance on the scene. If that role can effectively be handled by a man, then women really are devalued. The great earthly end for which God created 50% of the human race—so argues the homosexual position—is really a piece of cake. Anybody can do it. Even a man. May all feminists join me in righteous anger at yet another degrading attack on women.
Only marriage between one man and one woman pictures the union of Christ and His people whereby He purchases, loves, and leads them, and whereby they joyfully obey Him. This is the central message of the gospel. This statement leans on many other support beams such as the deity of Christ and the inerrancy of Scripture, but at the core of Christianity is submission to the Lordship of Jesus. Traditional marriage alone pictures these glorious realities leading us to the conclusion that if Christianity is right, then homosexual unions must be wrong.
Or, to cast the argument into a stylistically comfortable syllogism:
- If marriage is not between one man and one woman, then the central message of Christianity is denied, ignored, or altered.
- Homosexual marriage is not that kind of marriage.
- Therefore, homosexual marriage is wrong because Christianity is right.