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We should have never let the government get into the marriage business!
Marriage is not the government’s business. Marriage was originally an institution of religion, accepted from the beginning of time by virtually every society and culture known to man (and virtually every religion as well). While it was accepted by society (and its governments), it was not defined by society or government.
This acceptance of the institution of marriage by society and government has always been predicated on two very simple interrelated facts that are affirmed by nature. First, marriage is between a man and a woman. Second, one of the primary purposes of marriage is the propagation of the human race, which can only be done naturally through the union of a man and a woman. Anything else is “unnatural.” In other words, it goes against nature. Two men (or women) can’t reproduce, plain and simple.
I realize those concepts (‘unnatural,’ ‘against nature’) are not embraced as truth by many who disagree with the traditional definition of marriage. For instance, this article at slate.com, which is decrying the approach of including procreation as part of the gay marriage debate simply says, “Supporters of gay marriage aren’t questioning the biology of procreation. They’re questioning its relevance. Reducing marriage to intercourse isn’t scientific.” Of course, no one is “reducing marriage to intercourse.” Procreation is only ONE purpose for marriage, among many. They have created a straw-man, easily blown over by the huff and puff of their “science.” You cannot say, however, that sex, procreation and biology have “no relevance.” It ought to be part of the discussion, even if it does not define or solve the issues at hand.
My intention in this article is not to stir up the debate about whether tendencies toward homosexuality are caused by “nature” or “nurture.” I have actually pointed you to information about this topic before (here is the link). I believe homosexuality, like every sin, comes very “naturally” for some—and even more so as it is nurtured. It comes “naturally” not in the sense of biological or genetic determinism. But, “naturally” in the sense that the human race is corrupt, and are all sinners by nature. I have some “natural” tendencies toward laziness and indulgence. That does not mean I cannot choose to work hard and be self-controlled. Natural doesn’t demand necessary.
But I’m off track. I want to talk about DEFINITIONS.
If the discussion with your homosexual friend or “gay marriage” supporter begins by questioning the social, political or moral basis for banning “gay marriage,” then you should wave the white flag. Just as the media and abortion rights activists have reframed that debate in terms of ‘choice,’ the categories and discussions about this topic have already been irreversibly reframed. The traditional definition of marriage has been assaulted. There was an attempt to salvage it on a social and political level — the Defense of Marriage Act, defining marriage as a union between a man and woman. Despite clear legislative direction to actually DEFINE the term marriage, culture and popular opinion have won the day and a broader definition is almost universally accepted. Universally accepted, however, does not mean it is true!
“Gay marriage” is a bogus term, a misnomer, there is no such thing!
Look it up in the dictionary (quick, before they change it). It still says, “(a) the social institution under which a man and woman establish their decision to live as husband and wife by legal commitments and religious ceremonies.” Ahhh…but now it also says, “(b) a similar institution involving partners of the same gender.”
Wait a minute. Is it the same institution? Or, is it just a similar institution?
Of course, our dictionaries are all going to be rewritten eventually to include both (a) and (b) as “marriage,” and not just “similar institutions.” The definition of marriage is going to change (in popular opinion it already has, to be realistic). Language and definitions are always changing. But this is the very reason why the federal government passed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), defining marriage as a “union between a man and a woman.”
To suggest, as many have, that DOMA is a “ban on gay marriage” is to miss the point. It doesn’t ban anything. It only affirms the traditional definition of marriage (for the purposes of federal law).
I think the question that many have not been asking is, “When did marriage become simply ‘any union of two persons in a committed relationship?’” When (and why) did definition (b) get added to the dictionary? And why must I accept this new definition?
In practice, no one seems to understand that this new concept of marriage as simply “any union of two persons in a committed relationship” has usurped the age-old definition of “between a man and woman.” Because there has been a shift in the assumptions of what defines a marriage, it is impossible to discuss it using the same logic and reasoning we have used in the past. This partially explains why Christians seem seem unable to refute the arguments of those who support “gay marriage.” We have unwittingly embraced their assumption that “marriage is a union of persons,” and in the process lost sight of the fact that marriage—by definition, until now—has always been understood as intrinsically and inviolably between a man and woman. The newly assumed definition makes much of what we believe and say about love, marriage and intimacy sound selfish and narrow. That is because we have a different definition in mind. Once we unknowingly embrace their new definition, much of our logic about love, the purposes of marriage, and the nature of the marriage union itself no longer carries much weight.
And for those who don’t think changing the definition creates problems, this slate.com article states what logically follows — polygamy!
The definition of marriage is plastic. Just like heterosexual marriage is no better or worse than homosexual marriage, marriage between two consenting adults is not inherently more or less ‘correct’ than among three (or four, or six) consenting adults.
Christians have unwittingly let the other side of the discussion REDEFINE marriage. How? Why? Who gave them the right to redefine our religious institution?
A friend of mine (a somewhat tepid supporter of “gay marriage”) answered this question for me recently. He said, “I think that the State usurped the Church’s authority to marry people [and define marriage] when it allowed them to be married in courthouses by city clerks rather than in churches by pastors. This move completely took the church out of the equation and made marriage not only a religious institution but also a legal one. Because the ‘State’ marriage can be done without the consent or involvement of the Church, the State has the right to change the definition of a ‘marriage’ it recognizes.”
I’ll say it again: “We should have never let the government get into the marriage business!”
I would change his explanation in one way, however. The State, in recognizing marriage, did not “completely take the church out of the equation” at that point. It was certainly true, however, that it “potentially” took the church out of the equation. And today we are seeing the unfortunate consequences of that potentiality.
No one could have foreseen that marriage would end up being a watershed test case for why there should always be a separation of church and state. But, having let the state put their foot in the door of the religious institution of marriage, the Church has unfortunately and irreversibly given away the exclusive right to define it.
For many years I have included this language in every marriage ceremony I have officiated: “We are gathered here in this place of worship because marriage is an institution created and established by God, and which, therefore, is only properly regulated by His commandments.” I am making the point that the government has no right to regulate (or define) an institution that it did not establish and create in the first place. While I believe this and will continue to say it at every wedding until I die, the time has sadly already come where the implications of that truth will likely never again be possible. What used to be a “sacred union” between a man and woman is now (or soon will be) a “secular union” because it will be allowed to exist between any two people (or maybe multiple people soon—polygamy will be next!). There isn’t another way to see it. It isn’t sacred anymore when you take God and morals out of the definition.
But what about the implications of allowing the definition to change? How can we take this fact of a changing definition, and help people see that changing definitions has serious implications?
I have increasingly seen the discussion and debate revolving around the “gay marriage” issue boiled down to a matter of personal rights, or denying others the same basic human rights or privileges afforded to others. If it isn’t hurting you, then why do you care? As a person called to have compassion and concern for my fellow man, I have no problem understanding why homosexual partners want certain legal rights (hospital visitation rights, inheritance rights, etc.). In fact, I would consider it lacking compassion and grace for a healthcare professional to deny visitation to a homosexual partner because they “are not related.”
But that does not mean they should be allowed to redefine marriage. Nor does it mean that allowing this changed definition “does not hurt anyone.”
I went down this road in my discussion with the friend I mentioned earlier, by using an illustration of another potential “definition change.” I suggested we take the time-tested, and universally accepted definition of “United States citizen,” and redefine it to be more inclusive and accepting of others who want to have this relationship with the state. He had complained about those who oppose “gay marriage” by saying this:
I believe STRONGLY that the government was created to PROTECT the rights of the individual, not to restrict them. The government shouldn’t be in the business of enforcing the morality taught by one religion over another’s. The government should ONLY step in and take action against a person when that person is taking away the rights of another. Simply put: your rights end where another’s rights begin. Until someone can prove to me that two people of the same sex getting married is somehow taking away someone else’s rights, then I don’t see how it’s still an issue. If you’re against gay marriage because of your morals then don’t marry someone of the same sex as you. It’s that simple. Stop trying to force your morals onto someone else.
In an effort to show how changing definitions has definite implications regarding the rights of all people involved (not just the ones gaining new rights), I took his statement and reworded it with the topic of citizenship in view. I used a new definition of “citizen,” one not everyone would accept or embrace: “I believe you should have the right to be a called a citizen, and receive all the benefits of citizenship, if you have been in the U.S. for more than one year.”
Here was his paragraph re-written:
I believe STRONGLY that the government was created to PROTECT the rights of the individual, not to restrict them. The government shouldn’t be in the business of enforcing the CITIZENSHIP LAWS taught by one LEGAL SYSTEM over another. The government should only step in and take action against a person when that person is taking away the rights of another. Simply put: your rights end where another’s rights begin. Until someone can prove to me that a FOREIGNER getting CITIZENSHIP is somehow taking away someone else’s rights, then I don’t see how it’s still an issue. If you’re against FOREIGN CITIZENSHIP because of your DIFFERING DEFINITION then don’t BE A CITIZEN in the same COUNTRY. It’s that simple. Stop trying to force your CITIZENSHIP STANDARDS onto someone else.
I realize it is a crazy hypothetical, and sounds a little silly. Government does have the right to define and enforce citizenship laws. And a private citizen or lobby does not have that right. But the logic is the same. A small minority has demanded that the government change a standard definition, and grant them the same rights and privileges of others.
Redefining citizenship changes things. Redefining terms has implications. To simply change the definition to, “Any person who has been in the country more than one year,” and then proceed to give those encompassed by that new definition all of the benefits and privileges of citizenship would be an outrage (reference the current immigration debate, if you don’t believe me—the word “amnesty” gets many people fired up). You can’t do that because the definitions of citizen, and the rights and benefits of citizenship are defined by law. People would correctly object to changing that definition, because extending those benefits and rights would cost a lot of money, which actually does take resources away from others. How? Because the tax code, social security system, welfare programs and the insurance industry have all based their rates and eligibility standards with a different definition in view. The laws, standards and rates would all eventually adjust. But people who disagree with the new definition will be forced to submit to whatever consequences, tax increases, or rate changes that new definition creates. In that sense alone, they will have certain “rights” taken away from them in the form of potentially higher taxes, higher insurance rates, or decreased benefits (as the pot is spread thinner among those who did not pay in as a young worker). I hesitate to use the term “rights” here, but I think you get the idea. Change would be an economic certainty, and I must pay in whether I agree with the new definitions that will cause the potential increases or not.
This is the same logic and argument that would cause most people to strongly object to any kind of automatic citizenship (an exaggerated hypothetical), or even amnesty. This is why there is such a huge debate going on about immigration reform and temporary amnesty for illegal aliens.
I am not even discussing the moral side of the “gay marriage” debate here. Of course people disagree with our moral arguments (as Albert Mohler points out). I am actually addressing the pragmatic issue that when definitions are changed it has implications in the public arena. People’s rights and relationships change.
While most would acknowledge there is validity to these logical points as they apply to the immigration issue, the same logic is quickly dismissed in the “gay marriage” debate because the homosexual lobby is simply stronger and more powerful than the lobby of illegal aliens.
I concluded my discussion with my friend by reminding him that the issue I was expressing concern about was the redefining of marriage — not the benefits so much (as money/taxes mean little to me). The government has wrongly usurped the authority to define what has always been considered a religious institution (not even strictly a “Christian” one; almost all religions have believed marriage to be between a man and a woman until recently). They usurped this “defining authority” because they granted this institution a legal status, and a loud minority has demanded that they be given the same legal status, even though they are ineligible for the religious institution itself–INELIGIBLE BY DEFINITION; not because of bias, or hate, or a desire to deny them certain “rights,” or because we passed a “ban on gay marriage.”
Gay marriage is a contradiction in terms, unless you redefine marriage.
Sadly, I realize there is little chance of winning this battle or of maintaining a proper definition of marriage in the public arena. I believe it is now a foregone conclusion that marriage has already been redefined; if not technically or politically, it has been redefined for all practical intents and purposes in the minds of the masses. Our dictionaries will reflect it soon. The true Church and Scripture will not. What are the implications of that?!
Will this redefinition of marriage create a situation where churches and pastors like me are going to have to say, “‘gay marriage’ is just a legal status; it is not real, it is not true, and it is not recognized by God or the church. The Bible defines marriage as between a man and a woman.”
Will saying such things be considered illegal one day? Will it be a hate crime, or a violation of the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment, to publicly declare that we believe someone’s ‘marriage’ is invalid (and immoral)? Or will I be allowed my right to religious freedom in the first amendment to publicly disagree with and contradict the legal definitions and the legislative mandates that are almost certain to be law soon? Will some cantankerous homosexual with the financial backing of the ACLU decide to sue me, or the church, for refusing to officiate at their ‘marriage’ ceremony or allow them to use our facility? Would they do this simply to make a point, or even to maliciously destroy our ministry?
It is going to get sticky. And it all starts with definitions!
We should have never let the government get into the marriage business!
I was doing a little study in preparation for our elder’s retreat this weekend, and ran across these punchy observations regarding a difficult passage (1 John 2:19 – “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us”). It should be observed, he is making observations largely as it pertained to England, which has the Church of England, a state recognized church. Even so, I don’t think his analysis is any less applicable to American Evangelicalism.
We may think, as we look at the modern Church, and as we compare and contrast it with what appertained earlier this century, that we have fallen upon evil days and that the Church is no longer the Church of God. But look at it like this: at one time everybody went to church, and the churches were packed and crowded. But are we to assume from that that everybody who went to church was a true Christian? There were people who went to church for very strange and curious reasons; it was a habit or a custom; it was a social thing; it paid for people to go to church [socially or for reputation]. No, we must not assume that because the churches were packed they packed with Christians…
…The ultimate test is that we are OF the Church. That is how John puts it — ‘they went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us.’ What does this mean exactly; how may I know whether I am really “of” the Church or not? Well, it surely means this: True Christians are those who are in vital union with the Church. They are not loosely attached to it; they have not just got their names on the roll. They do not merely recognize a general sort of allegiance once a day or on some special Sunday. No, they are bound by vital bonds of union. In other words, they have life in them; they do not have to force themselves, but rather, they cannot help themselves. It is the difference between a member of the family and a great friend of the family; there is something within them that tells them, ‘This is my life; I am bound to them; these are my people.’ For them it is the big thing; they are bound by bonds of life itself; it is an organic and vital union, and the result is that they are in true fellowship with other Christians. They feel bound to them in a sense that they are not bound to anybody else. They feel that they understand them in a way that they do not understand anybody else; they feel that the Church is their home in a sense that nothing else is their home — “of us!”
There, it seems to me, is the vital distinction. So we ask ourselves a simple question: where do these things come in my daily life? What exactly is the place and value of these things in my experience? What is my attitude toward the whole thing? Is it central and vital, or is it something on the periphery of which I constantly have to remind myself? The people who are not ‘of us’ are the people who are on the fringe…
Wow! Programs, visitation, thank you cards, visitor packets, membership classes and suggesting to newbies that they “get plugged in” to ministry cannot CREATE this kind of relational vitality in the soul. Either the Spirit of God has joined you together with Christ to His spiritual family, and you enjoy this experience. Or, there is no experience of it, because the Spirit of God is not there. That is not to say that the things above cannot, or should not, be used to further cultivate those vital relationships (they can be deepened). Certainly, they can and should be sought and cultivated. But let’s be clear…it cannot create them.
His analysis summarized: “Those who do not love the church (it’s people, not its structures), do not love the Lord of the church. Pure and simple!”
This is part 4 of a 5 part series. This series was written for my friends in the cardiac-rehab program at Valley Regional Hospital.
The Principle of Prayer
Praying to God for help is similar to a child asking a parent for help. The child struggles and struggles while the parent watches patiently, aware of the struggle, waiting for the child to just ask. When the child asks, the parent complies and gladly lends a hand. Sometimes, the way the parent helps is not exactly what the child expected. A good loving parent will provide the help needed in the exact time. The help provided is not always what the child thinks is needed, but what the parent thinks is good and right.
Prayer is communicating with God. It is not informing God of our situation, because God is omniscient, (which means “all-knowing,” God already knows everything). Compared to the small child, we are infinitely more in need of God. Compared to the parent, God is infinitely more able to provide help because He is all-powerful and all-knowing which means He knows the perfect solution. When we pray to God we are verbally expressing our dependence upon God for our needs. Prayer is expressing what is so very true and an ever present reality, which is, we are completely dependent upon God. To not recognize our position of need is sinful negligence. This is why the Apostle Paul tells us to pray without ceasing; because we are in continual need of God’s help and God’s supply. We are totally dependent.
How then does praying help our stress? The Bible says, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7). Supplication is a petition. In effect, we are to pray a petition of our needs to God, with thanksgiving. We do so with thankfulness because we know God is providing, and we are to be thankful for His provision. The result when we do this the peace of God will guard our hearts and minds; it will guard them from being anxious. What a wonderful result. People who are anxiety ridden can receive peace (I know of nobody who can be stressed-out and peaceful at the same time).
How is this? How can prayer provide peace to an anxious heart and mind? What if my prayers are not answered the way I want? When we pray, do we expect God to provide our list of requests, like a great big vending machine in the sky? The reason we experience peace is because we are casting our needs upon a God who is good, perfect, merciful, faithful, just, and loving. We can know God has our very best in mind always. It is taking a list of worries to a God who is fully capable, fully trustworthy, and fully knowing the best outcome at the best time. It is saying, “I really don’t know what to do about this, but I know You do. Can you please help? Thank you Heavenly Father! I knew I could count upon You for I know You love me and care for me.” After we pray, we are to continue living our life in humble obedience to God’s ways knowing God has everything under control.
Prayer is communicating with God and recognizing God is in control. However, if we do not surrender to God control of our life, if we are living in rebellion to God – God will not heed our prayers. The Bible says God does not regard the prayers of the rebellious. “Oh, but I am not rebellious,” you might respond. “I am a good person. I don’t steal, I don’t lie (most of the time) and I never murdered anybody. Of course God will heed my prayers.” If you think this way, read the next installment in this series.