Here are a few post mortem thoughts on the debate last Wednesday night with Andrew Sullivan. I’ll begin with some scattershot comments, and then get to others that go closer to the root of the matter.
We had the privilege of having Andrew and Peter Hitchens as guests for dinner at our home, along with some others, just before the debate. That event was entirely cordial, and Nancy’s cooking, as always, was the kind of thing that graces every kind of event.
The first clash in the debate was when Andrew didn’t want to answer questions from Peter, the moderator, and so I should comment that the format should not have come as a surprise to Andrew at all. Peter was just doing what we had agreed to. Andrew acted greatly put upon, but it was Peter who was ambushed there.
People ask me what I thought of the event. I wish the lighting at my podium had been better. And I wish Andrew hadn’t spent as much time as he did playing the violin because it is kind of hard to refute a violin. But I was pleased with the debate, and pleased with the contrast that it presented. I also agree with Peter Leithart that such events reveal a larger disconnect in our society than many Christians realize, and that something else/something more will have to happen in order for issues like gay marriage to be resolved. More on that in a bit.
The Q&A revealed what I called in one response “a short attention span” generation. It was often assumed that my argument had failed as soon as the first sentence of my argument was completed. And there were also questioners who thoroughly confounded their inability to recognize the presence of an argument with my alleged failure to present one. So there was that. And though I was on a college campus, there were some who found my use of terms like direct object and verb too esoteric and “literary.” So we are trying to defend marriage in the midst of our marriage ruins, but we are trying to do it with careful arguments in the midst of our educational ruins. We have more than one ruin going simultaneously, which complicates matters.
But for those who insist that I failed to present an argument for why gay marriage was not good for society, here are two summaries — one from my opening comments, and another from my closing comments. The first points to consequences that are socially unacceptable, and the second points to consequences that fail to conform with the Christian gospel, the only hope of the world.
Andrew and I agreed that the legalization of polygamy would be deleterious to society. I argued at length that all the arguments employed to advance same sex marriage can be, are being, and will be used to advance polygamy also. In short, gay marriage greases the skids for polygamy. Now the fact that an argument is disliked does not make it vanish or go poof. But at the same time, I agree that to argue from mere negative social consequences is inadequate. God has placed eternity in our hearts, and so we need more than that.
In my closing comments, I outlined how Scripture teaches us that the very image of God is expressed in the male/female nature of humanity (Gen. 1:27). Andrew pointed to a particular sexual creativity on the part of a certain kind of grass, but I am more interested in the sexual nature of the image of God. That image was defaced in the Fall, but not eradicated. Later, fallen man is described as still being an image-bearer (Gen. 9:6), but that image was defaced enough that it needed to be restored. This is what God did when He sent His Son to earth, the Bridegroom, in order to search out and rescue His lost bride (Eph. 4:24). That bride was and is the Christian Church.
This point also goes straight to the heart of the debate. It is good for society when we realize that we are created in the image of God. It is bad for society for us to try to figure out an arbitrary way for billions of evolutionary by-products to get along with each other. If we deny or ignore the great theological statement that God made about Himself in the creation of a man and a woman then we will suffer the consequences of that appalling rejection.
God could hardly have been plainer. The Bible begins with the wedding of a man and a woman. The Bible ends with the wedding of the Bridegroom and the Church. In between we have the story of how God overcame our rebellion and sin in order to drive us toward His ultimate design. The Garden was the location of the first hetero wedding, and the Garden City is the location of the ultimate and final hetero wedding. It is our duty as individual couples to proclaim this truth through our own marriages (Eph. 5:25). And it is the duty of every society to listen to this proclamation, and submit to it (Matt. 28:18-20). Therefore, gay marriage is disobedience to the gospel and unacceptable.
Now I agree with Peter Leithart that, given Andrew’s Darwinism, his conclusions about what is “natural” makes perfect sense. But that is why I would want to dispute Andrew’s commitment to evolution. This point was a brief exchange in the debate, but I do dispute it with what might be called glee and exuberance. Evolution need not bother us here because evolution did not happen. Evolution, as Muggeridge once put it, will be seen in retrospect to have been one of the great jokes of history. I do not need to worry about what follows from Darwinism because the collapse of Darwinism follows from Darwinism. Same sex marriage, incidentally, represents a significant part of that collapse.
Two more points and I am done for the time being. The first is that there are two kinds of homosexuals in this discussion. There are the establishment homosexuals, like Andrew, who want marriage to domesticate homosexuals. Then there are the queer theorists, the outliers, who abominate the entire marital enterprise, and who as true revolutionaries want to burn down the whole thing. All of it is driven by envy, but envy expresses itself different ways. One form of envy wants to ingratiate, while another form of it wants to destroy.
The reason that Andrew was so adamant about rejecting the logical consequence of polygamy is that it would wreck the very thing he has wanted to possess for so long. Hetero marriage has been the great house on the hill, bright lights shining whenever there was a great party, to which Andrew had never been invited and where he desperately wanted to be. But he doesn’t want to finally pull into the driveway of that house for the big event only to see a bunch of trailers for the new polygamous compound scattered over the great lawn. He wants the house to be the house it always has been, only with him there now. So if I point out that the riff raff might want to use all of his arguments verbatim in order to crash the party also, he has a deep emotional need to deny it. But nobody wants them to come, he might protest. This is quite true, but nobody wanted him to come either. It is hard to wax indignant about the third wave of party crashers if you were in the first wave.
And the last thing is the first thing. I mentioned Peter Leithart’s round up of the debate earlier, which I agree with as far as it goes, but I would want to make one additional point.
“Whatever the political needs of the moment, the longer-term response to gay marriage requires a renaissance of Christian imagination. Because the only arguments we have are theological ones, and only people whose imaginations are formed by Scripture will find them cogent.”
In order to have this renaissance of Christian imagination, we must have the imaginers. And it order to get them, we must have a great movement of the Holy Spirit. In short, there is no political solution to this. We have many political problems, but no political solutions. What we need is an evangelical awakening that will cause the 21st century to be known to historians as the century of revivals. If we don’t get that, we will be known to historians as the century of sinkholes.
When the Spirit moves in the Church, the deadened imaginations of Christians will be restored, and brought into conformity to the Scriptures. When the Spirit moves to send out preachers of a hot gospel, the imaginations of those who are dead in their tresspasses and sins will be brought to life, and they will be ushered into the way of Christian discipleship.
I am profoundly aware of the fact that the arguments I made the other night just fall on deaf ears. But I am more than willing to be called an idiot for failing to argue a point I just finished arguing. I am aware also that my presentation of the gospel does the same thing. Unless God turns us we will not be turned. But ours is not the first generation that has hardened both neck and heart. If you read through your Bible, you find this happening every third page or so. This is a standard way for God to tell the story. He is the God who raises the dead, and so it should not distress us that our generation is provided Him with so much raw material. We, in the wisdom of our defiance, think to stymie the potter by providing Him with truckloads of clay.
So if the Spirit anoints His preachers, the good news is that there is absolutely nothing that the unbelieving world can do about it.