Kristin Rudolph (@Kristin_Rudolph)
The traditional Christian understanding of marriage, family, sexuality, and human life has long been receding from dominance in America, and this week’s Supreme Court decision in United States v. Windsor, which declared the federal government’s traditional definition of marriage in the Defense of Marriage Act’s (DOMA) as unconstitutional was consistent with this trend. Recent developments and controversies surrounding same-sex marriage (SSM) bring to light cultural assumptions about sexuality, and likewise, clarify what traditional Christians believe on all matters of life, sexuality, marriage, and family.
For church leaders and Christians across America, this is one more opportunity to be salt and light by living and speaking God’s truth in all areas of life. Save a dramatic cultural shift (which is certainly possible) we are moving toward a day where the majority (or all) of US states will redefine marriage. Popular opinion is dramatically changing, because, as it turns out, marriage was hollow even before the recent SSM debate. Christians should not be shocked by recent developments.
An overview of the rise and fall of civilizations throughout history indicates strong marriage and family norms are essential for a stable and flourishing society. The decay of the family is far advanced in America. Back in 1947 (!), Harvard sociologist Carle Zimmerman warned in Family and Civilization that “The family will probably keep on moving, in one direction or another. One of the reasons it cannot stop now is that it is already so completely atomized that it produces no stable social body in which to solidify. Its human products, children, are not sufficient to reproduce the society of which it is a part. Its psychological product, the human stuff of society … seems insufficient to give the society a workable, stable moral code widely enough accepted to enable the great society to hold together.”
Zimmerman specifically predicted widespread divorce, plummeting birthrates, ubiquitous antifamilism, acceptance of sexual deviance, among other trends prevalent today when he wrote Family and Civilization in 1947, noting that these ills are “but symptoms of the final decay of the basic postulates upon which the ‘human’ part of society is built.’”
One major factor in this breakdown is the cultural understanding of marriage as a primarily emotional relationship aimed at making adults happy and fulfilled, which is not sufficient to provide a firm foundation for healthy, thriving future generations. But most Americans now hold a watered down emotionally oriented view of marriage, based primarily on a weak understanding of love. This definition of marriage runs counter to the traditional Christian teaching that marriage is a lifelong, self-sacrificial one flesh union, open to the creation new life.
Barbara Dafoe Whitehead writes in Divorce Culture that during the divorce revolution in the 1960s and 70s, emotional satisfaction and personal happiness became the primary measures of a “successful” marriage, and adults were no longer expected to uphold their vows, even for the sake of their children. In fact, Whitehead writes, children’s literature addressing divorce often told youngsters to “Understand how unhappy your parents are and do what you can to help them feel better.”
Younger generations have only known a time dominated by an individualized, feelings oriented definition of love and marriage, so it is little wonder they view marriage as entirely optional and fluid. Christians should not be shocked by this shift in public opinion. It has been underway visibly for decades, and the philosophic foundations have been under construction for centuries.
This is no reason to despair and develop a defeatist mindset. Instead, it is one area where Christians will continue to contrast with the culture around us. The contrast will grow increasingly stark. There are some who already hate Christians who hold a traditional view of marriage, and the broader culture will likely follow suit. Indeed, the Supreme Court’s majority opinion declares that DOMA’s “principle purpose is to impose inequality,” and asserts the law was motivated by “improper animus” against persons in same-sex marriages.
In addition to defending traditional marriage, especially through fresh communication strategies (See the John Jay Institute’s “You’ve Been Framed” document), what should Christians do? First, we must look ahead of the current moment at the coming challenges. Redefining marriage inevitably means redefining family and how families are created. This shift has already meant challenges (and closures) for Christian adoption agencies that will only place children with traditionally married couples and threats to religious freedom will undoubtedly continue. Further, Christianity teaches marriage is the institution God has designed to bring human beings – eternal souls – into this world.
The formation and stability of families and the dignity of the human person is at stake in all angles of this revolution. Sex has already been separated from marriage and procreation while marriage is viewed as a largely optional arrangement for having children. As such, assisted reproductive technology (ART) is increasingly common for heterosexual and homosexual couples and single persons.
Ultimately, as the interconnectedness of marriage, sex, and children is dismantled, the human person becomes commodified and broken down into pieces. The ART industry, a new wild frontier largely unexplored ethically and legally, shows this breakdown clearly. Although the euphemism “donation” is used to describe the selling of “genetic reproductive materials,” the creation of human beings through ART is undoubtedly a business, profiting on the creation of human beings.
LGBT activists are touting a bill before the Washington, D.C. city council that would legalize surrogacy contracts in the nation’s capital. Louisiana’s governor recently vetoed a similar bill that state lawmakers approved with overwhelming support. Such legislation receives little attention and creates even less controversy than it should. By definition, children raised by homosexual couples are separated from at least one biological parent, or have an array of multiple “parents.” It is rare to hear anyone publicly seriously consider the implications of ART for the children created through such means. Children, once again, are the defenseless victims left to the whims of adult desires.
The average American knows little to nothing about the ART industry and the ethical issues it entails. More alarming, most Protestant Christian leaders seem unaware and/or silent on the matter. This is unacceptable. As our culture moves further away from a traditional understanding of marriage and family, these ethical questions will only intensify and multiply.
Christians must focus on the big picture. We cannot isolate SSM or abortion as moral concerns without articulating the consistent Christian teaching on the dignity of the human person from conception to natural death, the validity of a chaste life in singleness or lifelong marriage, and the necessary connection between sex and procreation within marriage. Many within the Western Church have already compromised on these teachings, but our cultural moment is a wake-up call to refine our convictions about marriage, family, sexuality, and human life.