Consequences Like a Blindside Linebacker

The Bible teaches that mankind bears the image of God sexually. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them” (Gen. 1:27). The attempt therefore to disregard all this in the “recognition” of same sex mirage is not just an act of immorality, but also an act of theological defiance. It is heresy; it is apostasy.

The image of God borne by a man and women together is therefore a creational reality, not dependent in any way on the definitions that a secular state might want to come up with. Marriage exists prior to, and independent of, any determinations by any civil magistrate. The magistrate did not create marriage and therefore has no authority to define it, or recreate it in his own image.

The civil magistrate is a steward, entrusted to guard that which God has determined. In Romans 13, the magistrate is repeatedly identified as God’s “deacon,” God’s servant, entrusted with rewarding righteousness and punishing wrongdoing. He has no authority to invert this, and to define as up what God has named as down.

Now this does not mean that the civil magistrate has nothing to do with the definition of marriage; he does have a solemn responsibility to recognize the way the world is, and to discharge his related obligations accordingly. It works this way.

Because heterosexual unions are fruitful — not inherently fruitless the way same-sex copulations are — they are unions that bear, not only children, but also civic responsibilities and challenges. The issues of property and custody and inheritance are in principle woven into every heterosexual relationship, and are woven into no homosexual relationship. They can be nailed onto the side of a homosexual incident, but that is all. They can be arbitrarily assigned to a homosexual partnership, but do not flow out of the creational nature of that partnership.

If two people go into farming together, with one contributing the fertile ground and the other the seed, there will be questions of responsibility and ownership that grow out of the ground. What shall we do with the 30, 60 and 100 fold? But if two people form a partnership in which they plant pebbles instead of seed, the same kind of issues do not and cannot arise. The magistrate does not have to adjudicate anything with regard to the harvest.

As Gay As a Pope Tweet

One of our central problems today is that Christian men have been maneuvered (and/or bludgeoned) into thinking that ungodly and sentimental softness is a biblical virtue. Even while attempting to take a stand against the extreme forms of rebellion in our time — e.g. complementarianism v. egalitarianism — those who stand for the biblical position too frequently attempt to outdo the disobedient at their own game. It comes down to a “softer than thou” sort of posturing. The corruptions of feminism have gotten into everything — Calvinism, evangelical activism, complementarianism, and so on. The end result is that evangelical men, taking one thing with another, are gayer than a pope tweet.

And lest this seem like a random insult — instead of an incredibly apt metaphor — let me just say that Pope Francis (@Pontifex) takes sentimentalist sap to new and majestic heights. “Advent begins a new journey. May Mary, our Mother, be our guide.” “Advent increases our hope, a hope which does not disappoint. The Lord never lets us down.” “There is so much noise in the world! May we learn to be silent in our hearts and before God.”

It didn’t always used to be this way. It almost makes one yearn for the days of the badass popes. For example, Pope Urban VI ordered the torture and execution of five of his cardinals, responding to their screams with his taunt of “weak old women!” That also would be a bad hash tag, but at least it wouldn’t be so insipid and boring . . . okay then, all right. I changed my mind. I am prepared to grant the effeminate Francis is an improvement, but still . . . #DeathByBromide.

But I got distracted from the point anyhow. The problem we are discussing is evangelical men who do not know what gentleness is. They do not know what men are for. They do not understand how tenderness is supposed to work.

When You Say “Mean,” What Do You Mean by Mean?

Last week, my daughter wrote about the problem of theological cone bras, which is, as we all acknowledge, a very real problem. Well, the comments section erupted and a common theme in many of them is what I briefly want to address here. Let me assemble my own version of this objection as registered.

“I certainly don’t agree with everything RHE writes, but I have been blessed and encouraged by much of it. I have been on the brink of leaving the Christian faith several times, and each time have been brought back by her encouraging words. What discourages me is when Christians explode against one another like this — why can’t we engage in constructive dialog? Would that be so hard?”

In short, the accusation is that this kind of critique of RHE is mean-spirited, and that we ought to quit it. Here are a quick series of responses to various elements of this concern:

First, the Bible does prohibit being mean-spirited. “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice:” (Eph. 4:31). “Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings . . .” (1 Pet. 2:1). It doesn’t say that we get to use malicious wit, provided the cause is good. It says to put it all away.

That being the case, that is precisely what we ought to do. I oppose malice in public discourse for the same reason I oppose the Annual March for Tranny Justice in the public square. God says not to do it. This might be a theology that is a little too old-fashioned for these evolving times, but I think that when God says not to do things, we ought not to do them.

Our Canvas Christendom

In some ways, Matthew Schmitz’s cavalier dismissal of objections to the Marriage Pledge seems to invite an old-fashioned fisking. But I resist the invitation. The confusions about marriage in our time are deep and profound, and many of them are present in the underlying assumptions of this Pledge, a Pledge seeking to preserve Christian marriage by detaching it from public and legally enforceable commitments. But what if legally enforceable commitments are an essential part of what marriage is?

I continue to insist that this well-intentioned maneuver is a blunder, of a high order. When Lord Cardigan oversaw the charge of the light brigade, we need not question his motives to question the wisdom of the move. And the fact that he gave his name to a very nice sweater does not help us out much.

So let us walk through Schmitz’s post, pointing out objects of interest as we go.

“A number of people charge the Marriage Pledge authored by Ephraim Radner and Christopher Seitz with ‘clericalism,’ claiming that it seeks to keep the hands of pastors clean from signing dirty marriage docs while urging laymen to make their perilous way to City Hall. This is probably the silliest of many silly charges that have been made.”

Although I didn’t use the word clericalism, I was one of those who advanced this argument, an argument that was, in Schmitz’s eyes, probably the silliest of many silly charges that were leveled. And so it is only fitting that I now rise in an attempt to defend my silliness. Being as silly as I am, this is going to be difficult, so please look on my poor efforts with the judgment of charity.

Let us first see if Schmitz gives an accurate statement of the argument that he is calling silly.

“The pledge finds no problem in Christians — be they clergy or laity — entering into civil marriages . . . It has been particularly amusing to see him accused of having a problem with clergy getting near civil marriage.”

But alas! This is not an accurate statement. Oh, that we had an accurate statement so that we could engage over our actual differences. Our argument was not that the advocates of the pledge had a problem with Christians contracting civil marriages. The argument was, given what they had said about clergymen needing to stay away from participating in the process, and given the reasons they advanced for this position, reasons involving conscience, “why didn’t they have a problem with Christians contracting civil marriages?” We know that they didn’t. The pledge explicitly asked the bride and groom to hie themselves down to the courthouse and do the deed.

The signers of the pledge had forsworn participation in x. They did not forswear participation in y. But why, why, oh, why y?

The Problem of Theological Cone Bras

My part in this is simply to introduce a guest post by my daughter, Bekah Merkle. The subject is the doctrine of Rachel Held Evans, so you could consider that a trigger warning, I suppose.

By way of preface, I should simply say that if you have never heard of Rachel Held Evans then there is no real reason to read any further. If that name means nothing in your life, this post could seem exceptionally random and possibly uncalled for. But if, on the other hand, you have encountered the impact of her teaching in some way, if you have been outraged, or shocked, or if you’ve felt the force of some of her arguments, if you’ve had your faith rocked a little or if you know someone who has, then hopefully you’ll understand why I’ve decided that this is worth saying. And I may perchance, in the spirit of cracking myself up extensively, have put one or two extra eggs in this pudding – so if you’re not in the mood for that, tread not forward.

A Hailstorm of Cotton Balls

I would start by encouraging you to take a look at this video Q&A with Russell Moore. If time’s winged chariot is at your back, you can jump to the fifteen minute mark, which is what I will be writing about.

I do think that Moore does a good job in his qualifications. He says, as he should, that he doesn’t want to urge anyone to go against their conscience. He says also that he is “it seems to me” mode, and not in “thus saith the Lord” mode, and that is all to the good.

On top of that, the questions he fields are admittedly thorny. But I would want to say the difficulty involved with the questions is an emotional difficulty, not an intellectual one. Unfortunately, we live in a time when any emotional difficulty translates automatically into an intellectual difficulty. That’s just how we evangelicals roll.

Moore says rightly that Christians ought not to attend same sex ceremonies, and he says this for the right reasons. Everybody would understand our attendance as approval, and since we don’t approve, we cannot attend. But he then says that we could attend the reception, or the shower, and so on. I honestly cannot make any sense of this. The reception is the celebration of what just transpired. If what just transpired was an abomination, how can we celebrate it?

A related question had to do with how to handle it when a lesbian aunt wants to visit for the holidays, and you have a spare room. She wants to bring her girlfriend. Now what? It is quite true that refusal will be characterized as “mean,” but what matters is whether our behavior is actually loving. We should care less about whether it is represented as loving.

The entire sexuality battle is about approval, not participation. We are being maneuvered into the place where we start using ethical air quotes. “Well, I do ‘disapprove’ of this behavior, and yet, will do absolutely nothing to express that disapproval in a way that might be taken as disapproving.” I do not agree with your sin, but I am willing to raise a toast to it.

Evangelicals are nice, there is no getting around it. It is our besetting sin. That means about the worst thing you can tell us is that we are being mean to somebody. Maybe that meanness is turning someone away from Jesus. Our niceness is the steering wheel that we always want to put our critics behind. Not surprisingly, they always steer us straight into compromise.

But actually one of the biggest stumbling blocks that we really do manufacture is this great idol of Nice. When someone is turned away from Christ because some Christian was mean, everybody notices it. But when we have turned the whole world off because we are nicer than a hailstorm of cotton balls, nobody notices that problem at all.

In Which First Things Does Some Fourth Things

So how are we to respond to this? A marriage pledge is being promoted at First Things, in which the undersigned ministers promise to cease cooperating with the civil magistrate on all things marriage. They will cease being agents for the state in weddings, and this in protest of the radical redefinition of marriage that is now underway in our culture.

In part, the pledge says this:

“Therefore, in our roles as Christian ministers, we, the undersigned, commit ourselves to disengaging civil and Christian marriage in the performance of our pastoral duties. We will no longer serve as agents of the state in marriage. We will no longer sign government-provided marriage certificates. We will ask couples to seek civil marriage separately from their church-related vows and blessings. We will preside only at those weddings that seek to establish a Christian marriage in accord with the principles ­articulated and lived out from the beginning of the Church’s life.

Please join us in this pledge to separate civil marriage from Christian marriage by adding your name.”

Before getting to the difficulties, let me start with the commendations. This is an important time in our cultural history, and how ministers respond to it is critical. It is good to see men drawing a radical line, and doing so in defense of biblical marriage. There is a clear awareness that we do need to have a showdown, and that is all to the good.

But . . . and you knew this was coming . . . we need to think this through more carefully. We need to have a strategic plan that is based on solid theological foundations, and it should be a plan that is designed to be implemented by churches, and not just by individual churchmen. Here are my reasons for thinking that this plan at First Things does not meet those criteria.

Betting With Real Money

I want to answer two very basic questions. Let’s all wish me luck. First I want to define marriage — what is marriage anyhow? — and I want to explain why the answer to this first question is any business of the civil magistrate. The two matters are wound tightly together, as we shall see.

I have defined marriage before in at least a couple of places.

“A common error among Christians holds that if the sexual act is completed, then the couple are married ‘in God’s sight.’ Many destructive complications occur in contemporary culture because we have adopted the idea that people can be married in God’s sight without being married. It is hard to say where this idea originated, but it has caused a lot of damage . . . Marriage is scripturally defined as a sexual relationship within the boundaries of a covenant commitment that has been formally ratified. The sexual relationship by itself does not constitute marriage” (Her Hand in Marriage, pp. 28-29).

“The first is that you must have an explicit covenant surrounding a sexual relationship. Not everyone who is sexually united is married, and not everyone who has exchanged vows is married. The covenant exists when the two elements are there together: covenant vows surrounding a covenant union” (For a Glory and a Covering, p. 33).

Thus far the assertions. Why do I believe that the two essential elements in a marriage are sexual union (of the sort that could result in pregnancy) and a publicly recognized covenant? To use the language of the philosophers, these are necessary conditions but not sufficient conditions. A necessary condition means that without it you do not have the thing in question. A sufficient condition means that with it you will have the thing in question, of necessity. Thus the presence of oxygen is a necessary condition for a blazing fire but not a sufficient condition.

You cannot have a marriage without old school heterosexual copulation and you cannot have a marriage without a covenant. Nevertheless you can have a covenant without a marriage and you can have sexual intercourse without a marriage.