I believe that a few people are wondering if Russell Moore ran over my dog or something. In a post last week I said that Moore was setting the stage for a cultural abdication that I did not want to see happen, and in saying this I am afraid that I annoyed some people. Consider this post an explanation and amplification of that first post, alongside an actual offer to retract the statements I made in the first one if that proves necessary.
There is nothing personal here. Although I have never met Russell Moore, men I respect are among the men who respect him highly, and I have no wish to dispute with them about his character. I do not believe that he is about to applaud gay marriage as such. Quite the reverse. I am willing to grant that he is much more of a Christian gentleman than I am, although I say this recognizing that for some of my detractors this is setting the bar pretty low. Still, there it is.
What this is about has to do with how theology maps onto strategy, and how different theologies will necessarily translate into different strategies. Like it or not, Russell Moore is a general on our side in the culture wars, and I see him adopting a certain way of framing the issues surrounding marriage which I believe will be catastrophic for us in the long run. Please bear with me as I seek to explain why.
Here is a brief round-up of some of the things that Russell Moore has said with regard to the homosexual revolution. He is opposed to same sex activity and believes it to be a sin. He is no coward, and was willing to say as much in an unfriendly setting. Here is an account of him doing just that.
At the same time, after the shooting at the Pulse, the gay nightclub in Orlando some months back, Moore tweeted this: “Christian, your gay or lesbian neighbor is probably really scared right now. Whatever our genuine disagreements, let’s love and pray.”
He also appears to be among those who believe the church should get out of the marriage business (as it pertains to the marriages of unbelievers in secular society), as he argued in the post already linked. He is willing for the church to perform a civil function for a ceremony between two believers, and argued against those who wanted the church to get out of doing marriages altogether. I have already interacted with that view at some length, and Moore and I seem to be fairly close on that issue.
But I think he is missing something important in it. Whether the church ought to be performing marriage ceremonies and, if so, which ones, is a very different issue than what the church should be prophetically saying to the unbelieving world about what they call marriages. I am not primarily talking about whether John the Baptist would officiate for Herod and Herodias, of course not, but what he should say to them after that political power couple succeeded in getting someone else to officiate for them. More on John the Baptist below.
And recall how Russell Moore responded when Chief Justice Roy Moore defied the imposition of this ungodly agenda on the state of Alabama.
Last, in a post on Russell Moore a couple years ago, linked here, I responded to Moore’s take on a question he was asked about attending a gay wedding. His answer at that time was that a Christian should not attend the wedding, but could attend the reception. In that post, I linked to the video where Moore said this, but since that time the video has apparently been taken down. But he did say it.
And then, in his talk at the First Things dinner, I noticed—like it was blinking in neon I noticed—that he said we were standing for right-to-life and for the stability of the family.
Now when you refuse to attend a wedding ceremony, but then are willing to attend a reception that celebrates the event you could not attend, this says something profound about what you believe about the nature of the thing you disapprove of. It registers what kind of disapproval it is, and what level of disapproval it is. It tells me that you do disapprove of the union in the first place, but that you are willing to be supportive of it in some sense as a fait accompli. It tells me, in short, that you disapprove initially but are willing to try to make it work after the fact. More on this approach shortly.
Referencing the tweet above, did the angels visiting Sodom have “genuine disagreements” with the residents there? Why yes, they did, and if memory serves, there was a lively exchange of views on Lot’s front porch. But to put it this way, to talk about our high-handed homosexual revolt as though it were simply a matter of “genuine disagreement” that we can temporarily set aside in order to “love and pray” is to radically misconstrue what the hell is going on.
And so this brings us down to the point at issue, and my comments last week. In my previous post, I said this:
“In the meantime, people like Russell Moore, evangelicals who opposed Trump, for reasons of their own are quietly setting the stage for sidling away from the biblical position on LGBTQ AMTRACK. Moore is starting to do this by saying that one of the pressing issues of our day is the stability of the family. By the quaintest of oaths, it is not. The issue before us today is the definition of the family.”
From the beginning, one of the arguments used by advocates of gay marriage is that legal recognition of homosexual unions will help stabilize the family. This has been a centerpiece of their whole stinking campaign. This is why queer advocates oppose homosexual marriage and it is one of the reasons why I do. The response of faithful believers is that we don’t want stable polygamous unions—we want heterosexual monogamy. We don’t want stable homosexual marriages—we want no homosexual marriages.
Allow me to say that again. We want no homosexual marriages. I do not want simply to keep homosexual marriages out of the Christian church. I want to keep them out of the United States of America.
Of course in the meantime we don’t want our religious liberty to refuse such unions within the church to be overthrown (and Moore and I agree here), but we also want to proclaim to the secular and unbelieving world that they have a moral obligation to refuse such unions as well. And that is where I believe Moore is preparing to fold. Again, I would remind you of how Russell Moore responded when Chief Justice Roy Moore did not fold.
Now I know that Russell Moore opposed the Obergefell decision. He didn’t go to that particular wedding. But he is saying certain things that make me think that he is in fact willing to go to the reception. This is not because he is wickedly approving of homosexuality as a good thing in itself. It is that he has filed his disapproval in the wrong file cabinet.
This is, I believe, because he doesn’t have the theological categories that enable him to deal with this issue. As a Baptist, the issues of religious liberty are right at his core. As an American Presbyterian, I am happy to agree with his commitment to that religious liberty, but other things are also going on. I would want to point out that Presbyterians have a much longer history grappling with the thorny issues presented by natural law, biblical law, and the necessity of some defined religious commitment to ground and establish the public square. In short, the public square cannot be neutral. If we do not confess that Jesus is Lord in the public square, then every form of lawlessness will necessarily follow.
John the Baptist Cuts Short a Promising Ministry
Certain kinds of marriage sins can be classed as “water under the bridge” sins. God picks you up where you are, and not where you should have been. A man comes to Christ together with his wife—his second wife. His first wife is remarried also and has three kids who are all in high school. Now what? Assume that the dissolution of the first marriage happened because of adultery with the current spouses, and that the formation of the new marriages was adulterous in both spirit and letter on all sides (Matt. 5:32). Scripture still calls the downstream spouses names like husband and wife (Deut. 24:1-4). The verb Jesus used of the illicit union—gameo—is the verb to marry (Matt. 5:32). Disobedience can result in a marriage that is recognized by Scripture as a legal marriage, one which needs to be dealt with in those terms.
But other marriage sins are not in this category. Say a man marries his sister or daughter, or a dude marries another dude. Assuming repentance, that repentance must be validated through what happens next, which must be a divorce. When the men of Israel married Canaanite women who were guilty of a certain level of detestable practices, Ezra required them to divorce their wives (Ezra 10:3-5).
And this is how John the Baptist comes to Herod, in the present tense, and tells him more than that he shouldn’t have done what he did back in the day. He tells him that the sin was ongoing. He says that the marriage was unlawful, period. He didn’t say to repent, and just take it from here (which you would do in some instances, see above).
“For Herod had laid hold on John, and bound him, and put him in prison for Herodias’ sake, his brother Philip’s wife. For John said unto him, It is not lawful for thee to have her” (Matt. 14:3–4).
As long as Philip was alive, it was not lawful for him to have her under any circumstances. She was his niece, as well as being the niece of Philip, her previous husband. This provides us with the creepy factor. But then Herod stole her from his brother, and John the Baptist said that this was against the law of God. The laws involved were from Leviticus (Lev. 18: 16; 20:21). This was the problem that Josephus pointed to—he said that the sin was that Herodias was “parted from a living husband.” Time couldn’t fix this, and mere acknowledge of the sinfulness of the union at the beginning couldn’t fix it. This was not a water under the bridge scenario. If Philip was dead, the political situation would have been different (although perhaps just as tawdry).
So opposition to a particular given marriage can come in two forms. Suppose a couple gets together and you believe that the proposed union is a spectacularly bad idea. It is such a bad idea that you cannot in good conscience go to the wedding ceremony in order to witness the vows, or to celebrate them afterward. Say that a sixteen-year-old girl is marrying a 40-year-old chieftain in the Hell’s Angels. Not a good idea. But they persevere in disregarding all counsel and get married in a nice little ceremony at the Flying J. Six months later your dear little fathead has realized that the whole thing was not as romantic as it had initially seemed, and she has now come to you for counsel. Though you didn’t go to the wedding, all your counsel now is calculated to save the marriage if biblically possible.
You were saying no, no, no, all the way up the altar, and yes, yes, yes when they get back from their honeymoon. You were the sole opponent of their love before the wedding, and the biggest advocate for it afterward. In this sense, you are working for the stability of marriage. But you do this with the basic definition of marriage still unaltered. A marriage can be a really bad idea without altering the definition of marriage.
But there is another category. This is the kind of wedding that you oppose beforehand and you oppose afterward. The reason you do this is because it is an abomination, and changes in our nation’s laws cannot make it stop being an abomination. John the Baptist opposed the continuance of an incestuous marriage to a sister-in-law while the spouse is still alive. The answer is no, God says. It didn’t matter that Herod thought it was legal. It was legal in his world, a world that it appears John didn’t give a rip about.
Now which category does a sinfully contracted homosexual marriage fit in? What does repentance look like in that situation? It looks like divorce, and if there is no divorce, then there is no repentance.
The Theology of All This:
Now in the post-Obergefell era, we are going to have to decide what cultural repentance looks like. What do we want exactly?
Is there any such thing as a Christian nation? Moore has argued that the answer can be yes, if you mean a nation with a lot of Christians in it. But he says no if you mean that our nation could have a unique relationship with God, somewhat like ancient Israel had. I agree with him on both these responses, by the way, but I also want to say there are other options. Can a nation be covenanted with God in the new covenant era, and seek to please the Lord Jesus in how they frame their laws?
Doing this does not preclude other nations from doing it also, and as they do it, you have the budding formation of a new Christendom. Now in order to have a Christendom like that, the marriage laws of such nations would necessarily exclude same sex mirages. The laws would reflect (as they did in the past) what God requires of humanity in marriage.
I read Moore as thinking that the magistrate should not be explicitly Christian in his approach to marriage law, but that common grace and common sense can tell him that stable sexual unions in his nation would be good for political stability over all. We can discover that stability is a political desideratum without unleashing the horrors of theocracy.
Now I do believe that natural law can teach us that stability in a commonwealth is a political good. But I also know that natural law tells us that homosexuality is unnatural and perverse, and is a destructive cultural force. Embracing homosexuality is no less wrong-headed than embracing political instability. So even if we fall short of my mere Christendom goals, we still must walk away from the cockeyed view that homosexual marriage is anything other than progressivism’s wet dream.
Good Cop, Bad Cop
And here is where the election of Trump comes in. The progressives with their totalitolerance were over-reaching like nobody’s business. They were demanding that we surrender our views on biblical marriage or be relegated as haters forever. If Hillary had been elected, that full-court press against the consciences of believers would have continued unabated. Homosexual marriage would have been publicly celebrated, and persecution of sexual dissenters would have continued. This has been, and would have continued to be, a two-front war. They would be seeking to establish their definition of marriage, and they would have continued to make war on the religious liberties of Christians who differed with them. Russell Moore would have been staunch in defending believers against such attacks, but is, I believe, predisposed to let them do what they want on their own turf.
And so, with the election of Trump, I expect the threat to our religious liberties to be greatly diminished. But I also expect a “live and let live” mandate to be part of the offer. Hillary was the bad cop, and Trump is the good cop.
The Price of Being Great Again
Now here is the question. Suppose that Trump, all things considered, does a halfway decent job. Suppose that under him the economy escapes the Obama doldrums, and suppose that we Americans get returned to our birthright, which is to be awash in money again.
Here is the question for evangelical Christians. If the price of that recovery is the normalization of homosexual marriage in the West, is that price worth it to you? If you had to choose between the survival of same sex mirage or the survival of America, and could only pick one, which one would you choose? If you prefer the survival of any particular nation over the survival of one of God’s creation ordinances, then we have discovered the root idolatry.
And that is what it would be—idolatry simpliciter.
On Answering the Question on the 10th Anniversary of Obergefell:
A full generation after Roe, there is a robust pro-life movement that wants to overturn Roe. What we started doing in the aftermath of Roe, killing babies, we should now stop doing. We must continue to thank God for this ongoing opposition, and we must continue to ask God to sustain us in that opposition.
So my question is this. On the tenth anniversary of Obergefell, will there be any anti-homosexual marriage movement in this country? Will anyone be calling for the overturning of Obergefell? Besides me, I mean.
I do not mean to ask if anyone will say that Obergefell ought not to have been decided the way it was. I am not asking about opposition to it as a legal or historical matter, tucked away in an academic journal somewhere. I am talking about wanting to overturn it in the future, and trying to get that opposition into the platform of your political party. I am talking about proposing to others that we must overturn it lest God be angry with us and visit us with burning brimstone from the sky.
I am talking about John the Baptist coming out of the woods to confront a Republican president who wants to move into the White House with his latest boy toy—the First Lad, let us call him. In case you think I am off my head to talk this way, I would like to ask you to remember that our next First Lady is actually the third lady, if you are just counting marriages, and who is someone who has been a soft porn model at the very least. We have come a long way from Dolly Madison. So if you fast forward a bit, it is not all that hard to imagine all the evangelical leaders of that future day being a bit “uncomfortable” with poor John’s binary approach to things. I predict that none of them will visit John in jail. Poor testimony, and we don’t want to jeopardize the election of the owner of the boy toy.
So there are three basic takes that Christian leaders can offer on this.
- They can say that Obergefell must be overturned, period, the sooner the better. Christians must treat Obergefell as we have treated Roe.
- They can say that Obergefell should not have been decided the way it was, but it is settled law now, and we should work to preserve our own religious liberty, and generally for stable marriages within the framework of that legal reality.
- They can refuse to say.
Now having said all this, having explained my reading of him, if Russell Moore is willing to affirm #1 above, I am fully willing to retract my earlier statements and to seek forgiveness for having made them, and for having misread him. But thus far I believe I have decent reasons for believing that I have not misread.