This post is the second epsiode of my new podcast, The Nicene Nerdcast. Again, there’s not much for me to introduce, and if the title has you prepared for outrage, I give you my kind-hearted laughter. This episode is the result of some recent reflections on the nature and purpose of marriage, along with its problems today.
A while back, I posted about the American Solidarity Party as a potential third way for Christians who are sick of the polarization, incompetence, and corruption involved with our two major parties, the party of death and the party of standing-for-nothing-but-at-least-we’re-not-Democrats. The ASP is a Christian democratic party of the kind seen in many European countries, to sum it up. But when I originally posted, I didn’t offer very much detail in their introduction. So now I want to do a relatively brief series of relatively brief posts on the ASP platform (read the whole thing here) and why I think it at least offers a general direction for a third way in today’s political situation.
So, for this first post on the platform, I want to comment on some highlights in ASP social policy, which is essentially a committed social conservatism. I haven’t included everything, only a few big points.
- We support constitutional and legal measures that establish the Right to Life from conception until natural death.
- We call for an end to capital punishment.
- We oppose the legalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide.
The very first principle in the ASP platform is an unreserved pro-life one, even up to a Constitutional amendment to establish a right to life from conception. The Democrats are opposed to this, Libertarians are divided, and the Republicans who actually have any power pay lip-service but really just don’t care anymore. But the ASP makes it a #1 priority.
The ASP also opposes the serious evils of euthanasia and assisted suicide, a welcome addition. The opposition to capital punishment is likely off-putting to many of my evangelical friends, but really I think it’s not a half-bad idea, and even if you disagree I don’t think it should be viewed as a big problem.
- We acknowledge that the Judeo-Christian worldview has played a positive role in the history and culture of the United States of America. We advocate for laws that allow people of all faiths to practice their religion without intimidation and deplore aggressive secularism that seeks to remove religion from the public sphere.
The ASP is committed not to theocracy or making Christianity dominate the state, but nonetheless they have no desire to have references to God, Christianity, and the like removed from the public square. They recognize our heritage and want to at least respectfully acknowledge it. They care to preserve the rights of all religions to be publically heard and expressive.
- We support the legal recognition of marriage as a union of one man to one woman for life.
- The ASP is committed to the defense of the Bill of Rights.
- We deplore the reduction of the “free exercise of religion” guaranteed by the First Amendment to “freedom of worship” that merely exists in private and within a house of worship. The right to follow what the Declaration of Independence called “the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God” must be respected.
- We will defend the rights of public assembly, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press. We oppose the expansion of censorship and secrecy in the interests of “national security.”
Another vital plank of the ASP platform is natural marriage. The Democrats hate it, the Libertarians generally oppose it, and the big Republican donors (with their silent establishment puppets) are all opposed to it now, so it probably won’t last on the RP platform for much longer. Natural marriage and the family are essential to the fabric of human society, and the ASP supports it explicitly.
The ASP is also strongly committed to basic American rights. Religious freedom and freedom of association, among others, are in pretty bad danger these days from all parties, though especially the Democrats and, while the Libertarians shouldn’t be this way, Gary Johnson is. And of course the battle has been lost on the Republican donors. But the ASP is committed to all Constitutional rights, especially free religion.
- We support the decriminalization (not the legalization) of recreational drugs. Funds currently expended on the “war on drugs” should be directed toward prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation.
- We support the implementation of the so-called “Nordic model” for dealing with prostitution by imposing stricter and more uniform penalties for the purchase of sex, decriminalizing the selling of sex, and providing viable employment alternatives to those who are exploited as prostitutes.
The ASP is also opposed to tough laws on social vices, as they seem to cause more harm than good. They prefer decriminalization (not legalization) so that average participants do not have to be stuffed into prisons with actual bad guys. These tough penalties help no one, hurt lots of people, and cost loads of money. The ASP would prefer an alternative system in which vices are problems to be solved moreso than crimes to be prosecuted.
This is in contrast to the Libertarians, who would usually like to actually legalize and normalize the majority of drugs and other vices. Such a system necessarily offers a social endorsement of those evils. But Democrats and Republicans keep wanting to make a bad thing worse by wasting time, money, prison space, and human life to punish people who are as much victims as perpetrators. Neither is desirable.
Does religious freedom equal gay marriage? Some people think so. I didn’t want to say anything else about gay marriage any time soon at this point. I feel that, for the most part, more than enough has been said on each side in the last three days. But watching Facebook (and a few other places), there has been this particular idea which I think deserves a response from a blog like mine (i.e. a blog which mostly reaches a few common folk the author knows).
See, some Christians have been suggesting that, even though they agree that homosexuality is wrong, the SCOTUS decision is still a win for liberty. After all, we have religious freedom here. So if gay marriage is only wrong from a Christian point of view, shouldn’t the government still allow it for people in general? Wouldn’t restricting marriage to a Christian view violate the religious liberty which Christians so enjoy? We don’t want the government forcing people to worship Jesus, so why should we want them forcing people to respect a Christian view of marriage?
I think there are a few problems with such an argument. The first is that it assumes something about marriage which should not be assumed, namely that it is something which can apply to both homosexual and heterosexual couples. It assumes that it means something for a male to “marry” another male, for example. Yet this cannot be a given. Someone must first question what marriage actually is and is about before we can assume that it makes sense to speak of two men or two women as married. An an analogy, we know we cannot speak of men as pregnant. Nothing a man can experience counts as pregnancy. If the government wished to pass a law which allowed some kind of male circumstance to be legally recognized as pregnancy, it would be absurd and everyone would know it. I suggest we should think twice before assuming that marriage does not work in a similar way when it comes to different or same-sex relationships.
Secondly, we have to ask, “Why does the government recognize marriage?” After all, most people still would think you can be in some way married even if there is no government. Marriage has a legal side and another side. So why is there a legal side? Once we ask that question, we can compare the answers to see if it even makes sense for government to recognize “marriage” in same-sex relationships. These days, people tend to assume that marriage is about nothing more than twue wuv and personal fulfillment. There is no significant reason for a government to care about such a union whether gay or straight. Legal marriage, if love is all marriage is about, has no purpose. But if there are other important matters which it makes sense for the government to support by recognizing marriage and giving it legal benefits, then we have to ask whether they apply equally to gay and straight couples.
As well, from a specifically Christian point of view, the original argument I’m countering smacks of Gnosticism. To say that marriage only needs to be heterosexual for religious reasons, but not in the rest of the world, is basically to say that what is right and designed by God has no important impact on the real world after all. We would be promoting a theology which separates God’s moral law from the way the real world works. Can we really say that homosexuality is only wrong for an arbitrary spiritual reason and has no tangible consequences? But if a Gnostic moral worldview is false, and homosexual unions are wrong, then we must admit that they do cause tangible problems. And if homosexual unions do cause tangible problems, then for the government to legally recognize and privilege them is for the government to promote what damages human society, which of course should not be done.
In fact, this all ties in to the silly idea that legally recognized marriages are a right. That’s simply wrong. To marry is a right, and the government must protect it, but the government is not obligated to legally recognize marriages and give them benefits. They have reasons to do so, but ultimately legal marriage constitutes a government privilege, not a right. If the government is to have legal marriages, they should do so because they have some vested interest in promoting marriage. And in that case, it is not a right they are dealing with. They are choosing to promote certain relationships for the benefit of society. This means that some form of discrimination is necessary, as not all relationships can serve that goal (certainly, for example, pedophilic, incestuous, or polygamous relationships we all agree do not serve that goal, and thus can be justly barred from government recognition). If we moved legal marriage from the category of “right” to “privilege,” where it belongs, then all of this nonsense about equality would be less powerful.
I may have rambled some, but I hope one point remains. As Christians, we do not need to agree that legalizing gay marriage is a good idea for the sake of religious liberty. There are various reasons that, religion aside, the definition of legal marriage can still in principle reasonably be restricted to heterosexual unions without violating any principles of religious freedom. The separation of church and state can still exist without gay marriage, and I daresay it should.
In case you missed it, here’s something Victoria Osteen said recently that got everyone into a tizzy:
I just want to encourage every one of us to realize when we obey God we’re not doing it for God — I mean that’s one way to look at it. We’re doing it for yourself, because God takes pleasure when were happy. That’s the thing that gives him the greatest joy this morning…just do good for your own self. Do good because God wants you to be happy. When you come to church when you worship him, you’re not doing it for God, really. You’re doing it for yourself, because that’s what makes God happy.
Naturally, this set off sparks. The reactions can be divided into three easy categories:
- Osteen is right. Some people defend Victoria Osteen’s statements here by saying she is simply right. God’s intention for us is that we be happy. God has nothing to gain from our lives of worship but to see us become better and more joyful. He is a Father who simply wants His children to live good lives.
- Osteen is (really, really) wrong. Many of the more conservative Christians in on this issue have responded loudly and aggressively against this supposed heresy. “She is preaching a false, man-centered Gospel!” they will often say. Worship and all of our lives are for God and for His glory. Any benefit we get ourselves is just because God is indeed gracious enough to make us happy along the way.
- Osteen has (probably without realizing it) touched on a very orthodox truth. Some intellectuals counter both sides by saying that Victoria Osteen has perhaps stumbled upon the important theological point of what we call God’s aseity. This theological word means that God exists in, of, and for Himself completely. He needs nothing and no one can truly provide Him any benefit because He is altogether complete in Himself. So, in some way, all of God’s interactions with man are for man, not God, because God would be perfectly fine without man. His dealings with us, and the worship He prescribes for us, is so that we can enjoy Him, as He has no need for us in order to be satisfied Himself.
Some people fall somewhat outside of these neat categories, but for the most part all of the discussion has taken one of these three points (and really, the vast majority has simply been in the first two). But I think this is all very misguided. Why? Because the question on which this debate hinges, namely, “Do we live righteously and worship God for us or for Him?” is entirely the wrong question. It is utterly inappropriate to address the real issue here. What do I mean by this? Take a couple Scriptures first.
Wives, submit to your own husbands as to the Lord, for the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of the body. Now as the church submits to Christ, so wives are to submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her to make her holy, cleansing her with the washing of water by the word. He did this to present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or anything like that, but holy and blameless. In the same way, husbands are to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hates his own flesh but provides and cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, since we are members of His body.
For this reason a man will leave
his father and mother
and be joined to his wife,
and the two will become one flesh.
This mystery is profound, but I am talking about Christ and the church.
Then the Lord said to me, “Go again; show love to a woman who is loved by another man and is an adulteress, just as the Lord loves the Israelites though they turn to other gods and love raisin cakes.”
So I bought her for 15 shekels of silver and five bushels of barley. I said to her, “You must live with me many days. Don’t be promiscuous or belong to any man, and I will act the same way toward you.”
This one will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant they broke even though I had married them”—the Lord’s declaration.
The recurring theme I’m bringing up here is marriage. Marriage is one very special institution, one which in some very deep way represents God and His people. So I think marriage makes a great way to address the debate currently going on (well, mostly gone by the time I actually post this). What happens when marriage asks, “Is this for him or for her?”
Hopefully, when you saw that question, the absurdity should have struck you. It is ridiculous for someone to assert, “Marriage is for the husband,” or for someone to counter, “Marriage is for the wife.” The love and commitment that define marriage simply don’t roll that way. Marriage is a unique union of mutuality and special relationship that cannot be squished into a one-sided “for him” or “for her.”
Because of this, I think the debate Victoria Osteen sparked is altogether based on the wrong issue. We do not simply do Christian life “for God”, nor is it simply “for us.” We live out a marriage-like relationship with Jesus Christ, which detests such questions altogether and yet turns out to fill us with joy and orient our every act and thought towards God’s joy. So who needs all those “fors” anyway?
As a quick addendum, here’s what I think about what Victoria Osteen was saying. I honestly think she wasn’t completely bad or heretical here. In truth, John Piper says things that are very similar sometimes, but he does it with more theological density and orthodox language. While I don’t like the Osteen ministry or consider either of them good teachers or preachers, this wasn’t the worst offense.