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[Note: This article originally appeared on this blog on July 26, 2012. When I originally published it there was some controversy, as a number of people feared that I was in some way promoting antinomianism. Such is not the case, at all. Here is a sermon I preached on Jesus' warning against lust in Matthew 5:27-30.]
Contemporary America is one of the most sexualized cultures in the history of the world. Sex is everywhere, no matter how hard you try to avoid it, and the objectification of women in virtually every form of media is a commonplace. In this context, it is easy to see why many Christians react by placing tremendous stress on women’s modesty, not only in principle, but in terms of a system of rules and practices designed to cover and obscure the skin and curves of a woman’s body. In certain conservative circles the rhetorical and moral condemnation of those women who do not conform to the strict (and sometimes arbitrary) standards of others is quite intense. In many ways it is analogous to the fundamentalist approach that Christians took toward alcohol in the early twentieth century. The cultural problems caused by drunkenness and strong liquor were tragic and required a response, but the response of many Christians was more legalistic than realistic, more about control than about the gospel.
Of course, the problem with an issue like modesty is that one can always take a stricter, more modest position than the next person. Person A says women should always wear skirts, never pants. Person B says women’s skirts should always extend below the knees. Person C says women should never show their ankles or hair. Person D says why not just put on a burqa? Men don’t lust after women in burqas (or do they?). On the other hand, once one opens the door to Christian wisdom and liberty, where do you stop? In some cultures women freely show their breasts, even in church. Even in Victorian England it was suitable to show significant cleavage but not your ankles.
In his classic Mere Christianity C.S. Lewis writes,
The Christian rule of chastity must not be confused with the social rule of ‘modesty’ (in one sense of that word); i.e., propriety, or decency. The social rule of propriety lays down how much of the human body should be displayed and what subjects can be referred to, and in what words, according to the customs of a given social circle. Thus, while the rule of chastity is the same for all Christians at all times, the rule of propriety changes. A girl in the Pacific islands wearing hardly any clothes and a Victorian lady completely covered in clothes might both be equally ‘modest,’ proper, or decent, according to the standards of their own societies: and both, for all we could tell by their dress, might be equally chaste (or unchaste)…. When people break the rule of propriety current in their own time and place, if they do so in order to excite lust in themselves or others, then they are offending against chastity. But if they break it through ignorance or carelessness they are guilty only of bad manners. When, as so often happens, they break it defiantly in order to shock or embarrass others, they are not necessarily being unchaste, but they are being uncharitable. (83-84)
Often lost in all of this is that when the New Testament talks about modesty it is always concerned about women who put too much emphasis on their clothing, jewelry, and hair, forgetting that what it means to be a Christian woman is about godly actions that stem from the heart, not about what one wears. If anything, Paul’s writings show that he was concerned about wealthy women drawing too much attention to themselves through their physical adornment. Throughout much of human history, and one sees this in the descriptions of the adulterous woman in Proverbs as well, sexual immodesty had to do with the kind of clothing and makeup a person put on to draw attention to herself, not with the showing of skin. And Jesus puts the burden of preventing lustful thoughts on Christian men, not on Christian women.
I am not saying women should dress provocatively, or that it is acceptable for them to show as much skin as possible. I am suggesting that there is nothing inherently immodest about showing the skin on most parts of the human body or about wearing clothing that accentuates certain curves. As Christians we should be careful not to commit the Muslim mistake of thinking that we need to hide a woman’s body in order to make life easier for men, or that feminine beauty is something that we should flee from and avoid rather than celebrate and enjoy. The problem is with the human heart (lust) and the actions that spring from it (sexual immorality and adultery), as Jesus made quite clear to the Pharisees who were prone to their own forms of legalism. It is not with women, or with the bodies that God has given to them.
One of the most helpful set of posts I have seen on this is by Rachel Miller at her blog, A Daughter of the Reformation. As Miller writes, responding to a post on another blog praising the merits of women wearing skirts,
Skirts are not inherently more modest than pants. Modesty is much more an issue of the heart than simply what a woman wears. A skirt can easily be provocative, and it’s not hard to be modest in pants, or shorts, or even a swimsuit. And, there is a real danger for many women to become self-righteous over their choice of clothing.
Miller illustrates her point with a clever set of pictures. The link in the quote leads to a more substantive post she wrote on the issue. There she writes,
In reading the Scripture verses that deal with modesty and clothing, I noticed something. First, I noticed that Scripture gives very little by way of specifics as to what modest clothing looks like. Second, I noticed that Scripture speaks more about what might be termed “inner beauty.” (Again, I want to be clear that I am not disagreeing with those who see the need to address the practical issues related to dressing with modesty.)
Noting the relevant biblical passages, she goes on with reference to 1 Timothy 2:8-10,
While we could certainly get into a debate about whether women should braid their hair or wear jewelry, I think the point Paul is making here is that godly women should not worry so much about their outward appearance, but they should concern themselves with living godly lives. Our love for God and His love for us should make us care more about what He thinks of us and less about what the world around us thinks.
This is a very freeing concept. Women and girls who know that they are loved by God, not for anything they’ve done or anything they are, but solely because He has chosen to love them, are freed from the constant struggle for acceptance by the world.
One might add that it frees Christian women from the constant scrutiny of those to the right of them on the modesty spectrum.
Here again the comments of C.S. Lewis are helpful:
I do not think that a very strict or fussy standard of propriety [i.e., modesty] is any proof of chastity or any help to it, and I therefore regard the great relaxation and simplifying of the rule which has taken place in my own lifetime as a good thing. At its present stage, however, it has this inconvenience, that people of different ages and different types do not all acknowledge the same standard, and we hardly know where we are. While this confusion lasts I think that old, or old-fashioned, people should be very careful not to assume that young or ‘emancipated’ people are corrupt whenever they are (by the old standard) improper; and, in return, that young people should not call their elders prudes or puritans because they do not easily adopt the new standard. A real desire to believe all the good you can of others and to make others as comfortable as you can will solve most of the problems. (84)
Again, the point is not that women should wear whatever they want without thought to modesty, or that they should dress provocatively. The point is that we should be very careful not to make arbitrary external rules our obsession, rather than the heart and the actions that stem from it, and that we should be careful not to fall into the trap of implicitly viewing women and their bodies as evils that are to be avoided or hidden. As a virtue of the gospel, modesty calls us to sanctify our hearts even as we celebrate that what God has made, including women created in his image, is very good.
[Note: the C.S. Lewis quotes have been added to the original version of this post]
Blogging will be light while I’m traveling during the next couple weeks. Later this week I’ll be giving a paper on “John Calvin as a Two Kingdoms Theologian” at a Reformation anthropology conference in Berlin. The following week I’ll be visiting with my wife’s family in Poland. I may or may not put up a few posts; we’ll see how things go. At the very least I’ll re-post a few classics, posts many of my more recent readers haven’t yet had a chance to see.
Last month Christian in America reached its one year anniversary. It passed with little fanfare. Although maintaining this site for a year has at times been a greater commitment than I would have liked, I am tremendously grateful for how things have worked out. Posts routinely get 300-400 hits, and the most popular ones get well over 1,000. Although I started out posting six days a week, I’ve been able to reduce my writing commitment to a more sustainable two or three times per week while gradually increasing blog traffic in absolute terms.
Far more important than the stats, of course, are you, my loyal readers. None of this would be worth it if you did not faithfully keep coming back, ignoring the weak posts where it’s clear I’m not thinking entirely straight, offering helpful criticism, or giving your encouragement and support when you’ve found my writing helpful. I’ve received generous messages from professors, students, elementary school teachers, state representatives, pastors, reporters, lawyers, dads, moms and Christians serving in all sorts of other vocations and circumstances of life. They tell me that what you read here has in some way or another helped you to think through what it means to be a faithful Christian in America (or some other country). I’m very grateful for this encouragement, and even more so for the fact that my work has occasionally attained some practical value for you.
Because that has always been the main motivation here. This blog is not designed to be a focal point for controversy, nor is it designed merely to stimulate a particular professional or theological audience. I write for ordinary Christians, seeking to help you think through some of the controversies, problems, and opportunities of our time, with a special eye toward politics. I try not to react to events or arguments with talking points or cliches, the sorts of things people have come to expect from many Christians. But I do try to challenge common assumptions about theology or politics, rethinking the implications of the Christian faith for public life from the perspective of Scripture and the gospel of Jesus Christ.
I write from a Reformed perspective, but I also wrestle with the Reformed political theological tradition. Every healthy tradition or community, I believe, must challenge and reinvigorate itself through reflection, conversation, and self-criticism, bringing the wisdom of both past and present into conversation with reference to the practical issues of our life together. It’s our duty as Reformed Christians to wrestle with what we have done well and what we have done poorly, with what we bring that is helpful to Christians of other traditions and what we need to learn from them. I seek to do this with humility and in a spirit of Christian unity. I also do so out of a sense of love and obligation to our neighbors in this country who do not share our faith. The ultimate goal is to remain faithful to our calling to reflect the image of Christ by serving one another in love.
So I want to take this opportunity to say thank you to all of you, and to ask for your continued support and constructive criticism. I hope and pray that my work will be helpful to you during year 2.
In the Daily Caller on Wednesday Brian Lee wrestles with the question of whether he should have opened the House of Representatives with prayer last week. This is not a case of it being easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission. Lee admits that he was always a bit torn, and that there are arguments both for and against what he did. Generic civil religion, he points out, is worse than problematic for Christians.
Lee, however, did not offer a generic prayer of civil religion last week. He helpfully explains the way he understands what he did as follows:
A church is a particular worshiping community, a creedal body, because it prays to a particular God. When I pray publicly in church, I therefore pray in the first person plural. That is, I pray in common and on behalf of every member of that community…
To whatever degree “Christian” may describe America, we are quite obviously not a creedal nation. Membership in Congress is explicitly not subject to a religious test; it is in this sense an anti-creedal body. It is therefore impossible for me to pray before Congress as I pray in church, on behalf of the assembled body, for Congress does not have an agreed-upon God. However, while I may not be able to pray on behalf of people who don’t share my faith, I can certainly pray for them. In this way, I occasionally pray for sick unbelievers when I’m invited to visit them in the hospital.
Christians must not presume false unity within a pluralistic group by praying in the first person plural on their behalf. If we do pray in such settings, we must pray as individuals, to a particular God, for the group. And indeed, this seems to me most consistent with the pluralistic character of our polity, that we retain our religious distinctiveness even as we enter the public square, instead of pretending as though there is none.
I think Lee gets this just right. But he goes on to note that this perspective gives rise to a poignant problem.
Should the House tolerate prayers like mine, offered in the name of Christ? Only, it seems to me, if it is also willing to accept prayers written in the name of Allah, Buddha, Gaia, or Zeus. My guess is this pluralistic version of Pascal’s wager would enjoy a lot less popular support than generic prayers to a nameless God, and the practice would soon pass away entirely.
Are most Christians OK with the U.S. House of Representatives asking practitioners of other religions to open House functions with prayer? In a sense this was not Lee’s problem when he was asked to lead the House in prayer. That’s why he stands by what he did. As he puts it,
Why then did I accept? God is near to those who call on him in faith. If someone asks a Christian to pray for them — especially a Christian minister — and you can do so in truth, with the love of Christ, and without violating your conscience, you accept.
As my father always said, if he was asked to preach in a mosque he would do it, as long as he was free to preach the gospel. But that doesn’t answer the question of whether a democratic nation, our nation, should request prayers not only from Christians, but from Muslims, Buddhists, or others. If we are OK with this, as Lee seems perhaps to be, how do we justify allowing a political body that represents us to promote what we regard as idolatry? If we are not OK with this, it seems that we should either be consistent and call for the establishment of the Christian religion, or we should oppose such prayers entirely.
What do you think?
In the House of Representatives on Monday Brian Lee, pastor of Christ Reformed Church in Washington D.C., prayed the following words:
Creator God, merciful and just.
You dwell above in holiness, a father to the fatherless, protector of widows and orphans. Dear Lord, rescue the weak and needy, deliver them from the hand of the wicked.
Give wisdom to this body. You hold all things in your almighty hand, and you have established this House of Representatives — and every governing authority — as your servants, that they might protect the defenseless, praise those who do good, and punish those who do evil.
Preserve and protect our President.
Humble all these your servants with your holy law, which you shine forth in all our hearts. Help them to seek peace.
You are a God who saves. Convict us of all our sins, that we might know deliverance from these our wicked ways.
Hear this prayer, for the sake of the merits of your only Son, the crucified and risen Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.
I’m not in the habit of analyzing or critiquing public prayers on this blog, but I do want to point out a few things that make Lee’s prayer exemplary. Remember, this is not only a prayer for the state (per 1 Timothy 2:1-2), but it is offered in an official, public setting. The temptations here are enormous, but Lee avoids them nicely, while offering intercession of substance:
- Temptation: to pray on behalf of all people, regardless of faith. Lee studiously avoids the first person plural except when describing those for whom he is praying. The “us” here is the object, not the subject.
- Temptation: to pray to a generic civil deity. Lee prays explicitly to the God of, and on the basis of the merits of, the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ.
- Temptation: to imply that the United States is somehow God’s chosen or uniquely favored nation. Lee declares that all governing authorities are established by God as his servants.
- Temptation: to pretend that our fundamental need is for God to prosper our national goals. Lee prays for protection, but he also prays for wisdom, humility, the knowledge of God’s law, and the conviction of sins.
- Temptation: to pray for a particular partisan or ideological agenda, thus politicizing the prayer. Lee carefully prays that those in authority would be humbled by God’s holy law and that they would seek peace. He describes government’s task in biblical terms: protect the defenseless, praise those who do good, and punish those who do evil.
What faithful Christian could not pray this prayer? What Christian, of any nation, could wish that this prayer would not be answered?
(Note: the painting above does not feature Brian Lee. His wig is much less stylish.)
My friend Dr. Brian Lee, pastor of Christ Reformed Church in Washington D.C., will be serving as a guest chaplain in the House of Representatives today. Lee will be offering the opening prayer for the pro forma session at 2 pm this afternoon. You should be able to watch it live here.
Lee has years of experience working in for the federal government in various capacities. He’s also done some excellent writing on questions of religion and politics, and has been a helpful contributor to discussions about two kingdoms theology.
We are living through the second coldest spring in American history but in the Middle East the Arab Spring is only getting hotter. Some 70,000 people have been killed, many of them civilians, in the past two years of fighting in Syria. Bloodshed in Iraq is on the upswing again, and fears are rising that the country is sliding back into war. Iran continues to defy western pressure as it works its way to nuclear capabilities the Obama administration has said will not be tolerated. Iran supplies the Syrian government with much of its weapons and equipment, much of which, it appears, passes through the territory of its ally Iraq, the country for whom so many Americans lost their lives and to which America devoted so many billions of dollars. In addition, consider the festering failure of US and Afghan forces to establish a peaceful stability in Afghanistan, or the fact that the one Muslim country in the region that already possesses nuclear weapons – Pakistan – has terrorists and their prominent sympathizers holding important posts in the government.
The consequences for Christians have been abysmal. Large minority communities with centuries of tradition and history have been tragically shattered amid the chaos and the resulting surge of Islamist forces across the region. For these Christians times were certainly better under Saddam Hussein, Hosni Mubarak, and Bashar al-Assad than they are under the forces and regimes supported by the United States.
The Bush administration is to blame for much of this mess, of course, including the chaos ricocheting out of Iraq. But one virtue of the Bush administration was that it sought to explain to the American people what is at stake in various conflicts to which American troops are committed. Under President Bush, Americans could be confident that their government was not afraid to make the hard decisions necessary to secure our national security interests in the region.
Under President Obama, on the other hand, there hasn’t been much of a message to Americans at all. When has the president addressed the war in Afghanistan, or the now “ended” war in Iraq, in terms that would prepare the American public for the sacrifices expected of them? Even worse, the signals radiating from the White House in the Middle East since Bush left office have amounted to a lot of hard talk backed by little of substance.
The obvious example, of course, is Iran. President Obama has made it clear that the United States will not tolerate Iran’s development of a nuclear weapon. Military force would be used if necessary. But there is no evidence that Iran has slowed its progress, or changed its intentions at all. The president has been right to put off war up to this point. Even if it would be just to go to war against Iran over its nuclear program, such would obviously only be the case as a last resort. In the meantime, however, it is imperative that the United States communicate strength in the region, a willingness to back up its talk with power, lest Iran doubt that President Obama means what he says. One way to do that is to make sure that when the United States draws a red line and threatens consequences once that line has been crossed, it is not an empty bluff.
For months now the President has been saying that if Assad used chemical weapons it would be a “game-changer,” there would be clear consequences. Now Israel, Britain, France, and the United States (the latter with less official “certainty”) have concluded that Assad has used such weapons, probably in just the degree that suggests he is testing the president’s mettle. Yet the United States has dithered. The White House claims that certainty needs to be established, especially given what happened in Iraq last decade. Fair enough. But the stakes are high. If the United States, whether intentionally or unintentionally, somehow communicates to Iran that it does not mean what it says when it talks about red lines, war in the region will be far more likely, not less likely.
Most Americans, of course, understandably want nothing to do with another war in the Middle East. Neither Iraq nor Afghanistan have ended well. Even Libya seems to have had consequences more negative than positive. Will intervention in Syria really achieve anything more than taking a big problem and making it a big American problem? On the other hand, interventionists like Senator John McCain argue that all the terrible things non-interventionists said would happen if we went into Syria have happened anyway. The conflict is spilling over into Turkey, Lebanon, and Iraq. Chemical weapons have been used. The radical contingent of the rebel forces is growing in strength, and Syria increasingly looks like yet another excellent training ground for Islamist terrorism. Isolationists might imagine that the United States could just walk away from all of this, but such optimism is based more on dreams than on a careful analysis of the situation in view. If the last four years are any indication, a weakening U.S. presence in the region is likely to make matters worse rather than better.
What is the Christian perspective on all of this? Approximately ten percent of the population of Syria is Christian, a total of some 2.3 million persons. As in Iraq and Egypt, the Christian population in Syria has often been identified with the old tyrannical regime, a regime that was politically repressive but that permitted meaningful religious liberty. Today Christians in Syria certainly worry that the fall of Assad would lead to tragic consequences for their own communities. Many (probably some 300,000) have already fled the country.
Christians occupy prominent political and military posts within the Assad regime. According to the British newspaper The Guardian, “Bishop Khouri, who is known as an ultra-loyalist, accused western countries of betraying their own religious heritage by backing the rebels.” There is also something to be said for the Christian aversion to insurrection and rebellion, in line with both the spirit and the letter of New Testament teaching.
Other Christians in Syria, however, rightly point out that the Assad regime has lost all credibility or ability to govern. They claim that the government has intentionally characterized the rebel opposition as radical Islamist in order to prevent U.S. intervention. As The Guardian reports, “The Syrian National Coalition, the main western-backed anti-Assad grouping, has tried to avoid any whiff of sectarianism … Its current leader, the respected George Sabra, is a Christian.”
Although it increasingly looks like the battle lines in the Middle East are being drawn between Shiites (Iran, Iraq, the Assad regime) and Sunnis, Christians are caught in the middle. Perhaps the view of most Syrian Christians is best represented by the Syrian taxi driver Abu Jean.
Christians should be neutral. But this is not our business. I will not let my son join the [government] popular committees or the national defence army – or the armed opposition either.”
But it’s not easy to remain uninvolved. These people are Syrians, as well as Christians. Syria is their country. It’s government clearly has to go. Yet while many reject the heavy-handedness of a regime that is now using chemical weapons against its own people, they are also wary of the consequences of a more democratic Syria, given what has taken place in Egypt and Iraq.
What a mess.
There’s no need for me to get into it too much, but I wanted to put up a bit of a disclaimer regarding a couple of articles that reference me at the Baylyblog, a blog hosted by two Presbyterian pastors who happen to be brothers. Both articles, one by Darrell Todd Maurina, the other by Craig French, list me among a group of men advocating what the Baylys call “the R2K Terror.”
Needless to say, anyone who reads this blog regularly, as well the articles I have written elsewhere on the two kingdoms, knows that so much of what is attributed to the “R2K Terror” bears no resemblance to my work, let alone to Reformed two kingdoms theology. I can’t speak for the other folks mentioned, but I’m confident that most of them would say the same. There are some scare tactics in play here.
People might be talking about me, but at the end of the day it’s just that – talk. If you want to know what I think, please just read what I have written, or contact me directly.
It’s interesting that so many people seem to assume that the two kingdoms doctrine was responsible for the failure of the German Protestants to resist Hitler. The reality is that most German Protestants didn’t believe there was any need to oppose Hitler. By and large even the leaders of the Confessing Church supported Hitler.
Why? Not because of anything like a “Radical 2k” doctrine, pace this critique of Michael Horton by American Vision Director of Research Joel McDurmon. They supported Hitler for the same reason that so many Christians in the United States have committed themselves to conservative visions of a Christian America built on racist social segregation. They thought he would bring moral renewal to Germany and, consistent with the Nazi Party platform and with Hitler’s rhetoric, that he would recover the “positive Christianity” viewed as foundational to German society.
I could cite all sorts of evidence for this, and in the near future I do hope to come out with some essays working this out. For now, let me simply quote a statement quite representative of typical Protestant opinion, crafted by the head of the Bavarian church, Bishop Hans Meiser, to be read from all pulpits on Easter Sunday, 1933, shortly after Hitler’s rise to power. Meiser later became a signer of the Barmen Declaration, a leader in the Confessing Church, and a consistent supporter of Hitler and the Third Reich.
A state which brings into being again government according to God’s Laws should, in doing so, be assured not only of the applause but also of the glad and active cooperation of the Church. With gratitude and joy the Church takes note that the new state bans blasphemy, assails immorality, and establishes discipline and order, with a strong hand, while at the same time calling upon man to fear God, espousing the sanctity of marriage and Christian training for the young, bringing into honor again the deeds of our fathers and kindling in thousands of hearts, in place of disparagement, an ardent love of Volk and Fatherland. (Quoted inMatthew D. Hockenos, A Church Divided: German Protestants Confront the Nazi Past, 17)
Sound familiar? It’s certainly not Radical two kingdoms talk. Except for that reference to blasphemy, on which most American culture warriors would be somewhat more liberal, and to the Volk and Fatherland, which Christian Right activists might replace with references to the founding fathers and Christian America, this sentiment is one with which we should be quite familiar. American Vision‘s own mission statement calls it to “Restore America to its Biblical Foundation,” reestablishing it as a “city on a hill” that will draw all nations to Jesus. And McDurmon calls for a nice synthesis of his own political views and the church’s proclamation at the end of his critique of Horton:
When the government protects abortions, when the government demands Christian businesses fund abortifacients against Christian conscience, when the government maintains standing armies and unnecessary foreign invasions, oppressive levels of debt and taxation, 70,000 pages of unread new regulations every year, fiat money and monopoly control over it, massive entitlements built on debt secured by the labor of our children and grand children . . . the list could go on . . . . When the government does these things, it is the job of Christians and of the church to “maintain a prophetic stance” against the civil realm and declare those things as ungodly and tyrannical.
To avoid this task, or to condemn others for performing this task, is to be the practical equivalent of the German Evangelicals described above.
The lesson of Protestant support for Hitler is not to abandon the two kingdoms doctrine, which, like Karl Barth, calls the church to avoid synthesizing Christianity with political ideology and instead confess and proclaim the whole Word of God. The lesson, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer friend and biographer Eberhard Bethge recognized, is to avoid just that synthesis of religion and politics to which so many American Christians are tempted:
That means that, when a different god is made out of Christ – a Hellenistic or Teutonic or Jerry Falwell-made American god – then the first commandment is being violated. (Quoted in Victoria Barnett, For the Soul of the People: Protestant Protest Against Hitler, 131)
Proclaim the whole counsel of God and the lordship of Christ over all of life? Absolutely. Pastors shouldn’t avoid homosexuality, abortion, or racism simply because those topics are political. But I think – and both the German experience and McDurmon’s rhetoric reinforces my view – we might want to hold on to a doctrine that reminds us of the difference between the kingdom of Christ and our own political ideologies.
In Catholic Voices (HT: First Thoughts) Sarah Teather, a Liberal Democrat parliamentarian with a record of advocacy for gay rights, explains why she dissented (one of only four Liberal Democrats to do so) when the British parliament voted to establish gay marriage on February 5.
I have previously taken a very public stance in support of gay equality in a whole range of areas, including supporting civil partnerships legislation in 2004 (which I was very proud to do), voting for all stages of equality legislation passed in the last two parliaments, working with schools to address homophobia and lobbying the Home Office for fairer treatment of gay people seeking asylum from countries where they fear persecution. I feel strongly about these issues and have devoted considerable time to campaigning on such matters over the last ten years.
However, changing the definition of marriage for me raises other more complex issues.
I believe that the link between family life and marriage is important….
My concern, however, is that by moving to a definition of marriage that no longer requires sexual difference, we will, over time, ultimately decouple the definition of marriage from family life altogether. I doubt that this change will be immediate. It will be gradual, as perceptions of what marriage is and is for shift. But we can already see the foundations for this shift in the debate about same-sex marriage. Those who argue for a change in the law do so by saying that surely marriage is just about love between two people and so is of nobody else’s business. Once the concept of marriage has become established in social consciousness as an entirely private matter about love and commitment alone, without any link to family, I fear that it will accelerate changes already occurring that makes family life more unstable. (I should add, that I also suspect it will make marriage ultimately seem irrelevant. After all, how long before gay people begin to say, as many straight couples of my own generation have begun to say, “if marriage is just about love, why would I need a piece of paper to prove it?”)
If I felt that the current legal framework left gay couples unprotected, I would be much more inclined to support the proposed legislation. However, the civil partnerships legislation, which I voted for in my first parliament, equalised relationships between same-sex couples before the law, providing the same protections as offered to heterosexual married couples… Virtually no new protections are offered to same-sex couples on the basis of this legislation on marriage, and any that are could easily be dealt with by amending civil partnership legislation….
The more I considered this bill the more I was unsure about the state’s role. If an important reason for marriage is that it is a space for having and raising children, I can see the relevance for the state being involved in regulating it and encouraging stability for the good of society and for children’s welfare. Similarly, if there is a need for protection of rights to property and rights to make decisions, there are good reasons for the state to provide regulation. But neither of these things is what this legislation is trying to do. In this case, the state is regulating love and commitment alone, between consenting adults, without purpose to anything else. That feels curious to me, as I would normally consider that very much a private matter.
Teather gets it. Despite the rhetoric of so many, the gay marriage debate is not about gay rights or equality under the law, all of which can be protected without establishing gay marriage. The marriage debate is about the nature of marriage itself. The implications are huge, not primarily for gays and lesbians, but for children, and for civil society. We will be learning the consequences for a long time.
This morning on the Aquila Report R. Martin Snyder posted 27 propositions formulated by Mark VanDerMolen regarding David VanDrunen’s two kingdoms theology, accompanied by VanDerMolen’s critique of those points. Snyder correctly noted that VanDerMolen developed these points in conversation with me on my blog, here.
Snyder incorrectly, and misleadingly, declared my agreement with the 27 propositions. He wrote, “Matthew Tuininga agreed these faithfully represent Van Drunen’s version of ‘two kingdoms’ theology.”
This is false. I never agreed, nor would I have ever agreed, that these 27 propositions “faithfully represent” VanDrunen’s theology. I expressly stated my reservations with some of them, as well as that they by no means give a full and complete picture of VanDrunen’s thinking. In fact, Snyder knew that, because I notified both him and Mark VanDerMolen of the point when the propositions first appeared on the Puritan Board. VanDerMolen clarified this on the Puritan Board. For some reason, unknown to me, Snyder insisted on claiming my agreement with the 27 propositions on the Aquila Report.
Anyone interested in seeing the extent to which I accepted the propositions as a basis for discussion with Mark VanDerMolen (not for discussion on the two kingdoms in general), as well as how I interpreted them, and the extent to which I found them problematic, should read the actual comment thread. For the rest of you, I would encourage you not to accept these 27 propositions as a fair representation of VanDrunen’s thinking, but simply as one person’s sincere interpretation of that thought. I myself would never claim to speak for David VanDrunen, and if you want to know what I think about it, please look to what I have actually written. If you want to know what VanDrunen actually thinks, obviously, you should read his own substantive writings.
Now, back to vacation. I’ll address this discussion more fully when I get back.