Introduction to same-sex marriage op-ed pieces
Christians should support the legalization of gay marriage by Kellan Day and Daniel Camacho
Support for same-sex marriage contrary to God’s will by Connor Sterchi
This week Chimes is running two pieces about same-sex marriage and Christian ethics, prompted by the Supreme Court’s current case about its constitutionality. These articles will treat the sides of the topic better than I can in my editorial, but I would like to argue that the discussions around same-sex marriage are an opportunity for the views people hold about Christianity ought to interact with life as a whole to poke through the surface.
For those of us that are Christian, Calvin might do a good job of integrating faith and learning, but we each need to come to our own way of integrating faith and life. This will make a difference for what careers you will find worthwhile, what you will spend your money and time doing, who you will live with and whether you have a family: in general, the role in the world you will shape yourself to fill. The strategy of integrating faith and life in all these important practical ways then dictates how you approach theoretical or policy debates.
The articles this week are dealing with the policy debate around same-sex marriage. They come to different conclusions, but they share the same central premise about the relationship of faith and life: that Christians ought not to capitulate to the culture around them.
Camacho and Day’s article identifies marriage as a sacrament. Because sacraments require a robust Christian theology to make sense of, they claim that Christians “cannot expect people outside of the church to understand or desire Christian marriage.” Additionally, marriage as sacrament implies that Christian marriage is not just between two people, but always situated in a church community.
This article draws from Stanley Hauerwas’ views on marriage, which he exposited in his essay “Sex in Public.” There he writes, “I believe that we cannot expect to begin to develop an adequate Christian sexual ethic without starting with the insistence that sex is a public matter for the Christian community. … How we order and form our lives sexually cannot be separated from the necessity of the church to chart an alternative to our culture’s dominant assumptions.” Insisting that marriage is always situated in the church means that the church is refusing to understand marriage on American culture’s terms, since it treats sex as individual and private.
Sterchi’s article argues that what Christians think about homosexual practice has bearing on what they should advocate about same-sex marriage. There is a difference between saying something is wrong for an individual and that the law should prescribe it. In this case, Sterchi claims that the same moral argument against individual homosexual practice applies as against same-sex marriage.
Even for those that have had their fill of the culture wars, this line of argument cannot be dismissed. It is not controversial to claim at Calvin that certain practices lead to a better, more flourishing life, and that Christian ethics describes how to live this flourishing life. Patience is a Christian virtue, and it would not be controversial to claim that the world would be a better place if everyone, whether Christian or not, in the church or not, was more patient. Moral claims have a universalizing aspect built into them, so is it consistent to say that homosexual practice is wrong but same-sex marriage is not? Sterchi’s answer is no, which again does not sit well with American culture’s tendency towards a live-and-let-live moral attitude.
Therefore, both articles identify a contradiction between culture’s values that bear on same-sex marriage and Christian sexual ethics, and choose the Christian in opposition to culture’s. This comes out of a way of faith influencing life that takes passages that tell us to “not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of our minds” seriously.
I believe there are other responsible ways to approach integrating faith and life that might explore different directions when grappling with same-sex marriage. Andy Crouch in “Culture Making” argues that the only way to transform culture is to make more of it. One way to follow this line of thought is to claim that what it means to make good culture, including good laws, is the same for Christians and non-Christians. This kind of approach to same-sex marriage would focus less on marriage reflecting norms of sexual ethics and more about the pragmatic effects of same-sex marriage on society.
The point that I would like to make is that the way that faith shapes your life is prior to the way faith will shape the answers to theoretical or policy questions like same-sex marriage. Therefore, discussions around same-sex marriage are opportunities to reflect on how faith influences the practical ways you live. For most people, this is more important and more urgent to figure out than a stance on any controversial topic. It is also messier and harder to talk about, and for that reason, something we need to discuss.