by Barton Gingerich (@bjgingerich)
If there’s one thing Anglicans know, it’s that the West is fighting over the definition of marriage. Whether it be pansexual takeovers in the United States and Canada or English bishops debating in the House of Lords, followers of the Anglican Way are struggling to uphold marriage on an international scale. Revisionists within and without the Church work tirelessly to remodel mankind’s oldest-known, universal institution. Their cause has become frightfully popular, especially with the younger set. Marriage defenders-especially orthodox Christians-struggle to marshal an effective defense for marriage as an exclusive lifelong covenant between one man and one woman.
Rational defenses abound. The latest volley includes a case based on natural law and reason. Authored by Robert P. George, Ryan Anderson, and Sherif Gergis;What is Marriage?: Man and Woman: a Defense offers a rational basis for the traditional definition of nuptials for all of society, not just religious communities. However, as the Manhattan Declaration’s Eric Teetsel pointed out, “It’s not an intellectual boxing match, it’s a beauty contest.” In luxurious, entertainment-soaked societies, people-especially Millennials-aren’t concerned with what is logical as much as they are about what is appealing. This is not necessarily how things ought to be, but how they are.
How, then, can marriage defenders address this increasingly emotive, hostile environment? Enter “You’ve Been Framed: A New Primer for the Marriage Debate,” a product of the John Jay Institute, which happens to be run by Fr. Alan Crippen, an Anglican clergyman. In “Framed,” researcher Nathan Hitchen (himself an Anglican layman) urges marriage traditionalists take a different approach to persuading fellow citizens on such an important issue.
Hitchen plumbs the depths of narrative theory and cognitive science in order to forge the intellectual tools necessary for a more effective engagement with marriage detractors and their sympathizers. First, marriage defenders need to address emotions, since people try to find confirming evidence for their emotional bias. Next, Hitchen observes that personal and social narratives grant people an identity in an otherwise confusing world. The author espouses the use of stories to concretely illustrate the essentials that only traditional marriage provides: the uniqueness of mothering and fathering, how this complementarity supports a kind of teamwork, etc.
Hitchen also encourages a renewal of metaphors. Current examples and tropes for marriage defense remain stale, archaic, or desiccated. Marriage defenders need to become “poets” of a sort, providing refreshed rhetorical tools that capture and retain the imagination. Finally, “Framed” encourages the use of memes, meaningful patterns that the human brain uses to better anticipate what might happen next. By way of analogy, as genes are to the human body, so memes are to human society. They are simple, credible, concrete, emotional mental constructs that help determine how people think about something. For example, marriage revisionists use memes of equality and victimhood to argue their point. Marriage proponents, on the other hand, could restructure the debate by highlighting children (who will suffer most from marriage redefinition).
All in all, “Framed” promises to be a valuable resource for the months and years ahead, allowing concerned Anglicans to intelligently champion marriage to a new generation.
This article was first published for the American Anglican Council and was reposted with permission.