How marriage can still be saved – thoughts from Greg Forster
In another thoughtful piece at First Thoughts Greg Forster explains why the struggle for marriage is eminently winnable in America. No, he’s not primarily talking about the struggle against same-sex marriage. He’s thinking of the character of traditional marriage itself, an institution fearfully weakened long before anyone thought same-sex marriage was anything more than an inherent contradiction.
Forster writes for the First Things blog but he is Reformed, has written for Presbyterian magazines like Ordained Servant, and has published books like The Joy of Calvinism. In this post, responding to a piece by Dan Kelly, he writes,
Firstly, I agree with Dan that homosexuality is a distraction; the root cause of our problem is liberalized divorce laws. Liberalized divorce establishes fully and indisputably that marriage is a meaningless piece of paper… In my opinion, it is only because liberalized divorce has established that marriage is a meaningless piece of paper that gay marriage makes deep intuitive sense to people, while opposition to gay marriage seems like it could have no cause but irrational hatred.
Forster quotes Kevin Williamson to illustrate his point:
I might be more interested in the politics of [gay] marriage if the legal standing of the institution were not already degraded to the point of triviality. Here is an experiment: Imagine that you have a marriage that you wish to escape and $50,000 of credit-card debt that you do not wish to pay — which claim do you imagine will prove more enduring? Or try unilaterally canceling a contract with an employee, without showing any fault on his part, simply because he no longer suits your taste. Your contract with your cell-phone provider is legally enforceable, and your marriage vows — “forsaking all others until death do us part” and all that — are not.
So why does Forster think the struggle for traditional marriage can be won? Because he recognizes that even the cultural elites of this country are becoming deeply disillusioned with the current state of the family. They recognize how important stable marriages are for the health of civil society and for the nurture of productive citizens. They are increasingly open to new suggestions for how marriage might be bolstered for the good of the country. As Forster puts it,
The forces at the top of the culture are already waking up on these issues. They have recognized that the breakdown of marriage threatens all their most cherished values: equality of opportunity for all and especially for the poor, equality of dignity across social strata (what some call “social equality”), and protection of the interests of women and children. This has been growing for some time and to my view (these things are subjective) it looks ready to reach a tipping point.
I’m confident that Forster is right on this point in part because his comments ring true to my own experiences at Emory University. Two of the professors on my dissertation committee edited this book, only one example of numerous contributions they have made on the subject.
But how do we lead the cultural elites to take the final step towards reaffirming traditional marriage (or something like it)?
It’s to rub their noses in the failure of their preferred solutions. They’ve admitted this is a big problem – indeed, a dire one. But their solutions don’t work. The next step is to offer a solution that manifestly does work and then demand to know: “if not this, what?” There are challenges to doing this effectively – you have to do it in such a way that they don’t feel like they have to sacrifice their position at the top of the culture, their credibility as cultural leaders, by adopting your solutions. We don’t want to displace them from the top of the culture, we want to force them to co-opt our preferred solution and pretend it was their idea all along. That can be done. Numerous social movements have done it on other issues in the past. This is where my concern to “deinstitutionalizing enmity” comes in – we want to defeat liberalized divorce, not conquer our unbelieving neighbors and subjugate them to Christianity.
Forster’s is an eminently pragmatic approach, one that recognizes the distinction between the demands of loving your neighbor in a vocational sense (i.e., in the vocation of political citizenship) and winning them over to the gospel of Jesus. It reflects the wisdom of focusing on concrete, practical issues, rather than reducing every conflict into a war of civilizations or clash of cultures (as some, for instance, insist on doing with any matter pertaining to Islam).
Posted on September 28, 2012, in Marriage and tagged Dan Kelly, divorce, First Things, First Thoughts, Greg Forster, John Witte, Kevin Williamson, no fault divorce, same-sex marriage, Steve Tipton. Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.