Is Christianity Today Raising the White Flag on Marriage?
“Yes, we all loved Mr. Wiggles, so very much,” says the mother to the distraught child in her arms who whimpers as he stares at the goldfish floating belly up. Making eye contact with her husband, she silently mouths, “I’m so glad that stupid fish is dead,” before wiping away the crocodile tears. Ah, there will be no more worrying about feeding the finned one every time the adults want to go someplace new and exciting. I refer, of course, not to a childhood memory but to the latest cover story from Christianity Today. It declares, “By many accounts, orthodox Christians have lost the culture wars.” The Supreme Court, we are told, “placed gay rights firmly within the moral tradition of the civil rights movement” and “evangelicals need to adjust their emphasis on sexual ethics.”
To those of us who marched and wrote and tried to persuade the Court and our fellow citizens, it can feel as though co-authors Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner, who did little to none of that, are condescendingly treating us like toddlers and the public institution of marriage as something that can simply be flushed down the toilet. Gay nuptials were never such a big deal, you see, and once those of us who are currently upset mature a bit more, we will see that as well. Its death as a public issue, the thinking goes, will free us for joyful obedience, walking hand in hand with our married gay friends as we combat a range of truly important ills from AIDS to ISIS. Sure, Gerson, Wehner and the editors of CT who decided that this was the message American evangelicalism needed to hear at this moment don’t directly say as much, but the undercurrent is there.
Now, for the disclaimers. CT is an important outlet — one I have written for in the past and I hope to again in the future. I’m certainly not cancelling my subscription. Also, Gerson and Wehner are generally voices worth hearing, and even here specifically they provide much useful food for thought. Nevertheless, scriptural support is lacking as they hold a frustrated Franklin Graham, son of CT founder Billy, up as an example of what not to do and conclude that “many evangelicals have sex too much on their minds.”
Yes, as Jeremiah exhorted the exiles in Babylon, we should indeed seek the “welfare of the city” but why does that preclude working to reform a warped vision of sexual ethics? Should the Apostle Paul have “rebalanced” his various vice lists that repeatedly begin with sins of a sexual nature? Did Genesis “put the accents in the wrong place” in focusing on “male and female he created them” in the image of God? Is the complementarity of sexuality really just a relatively minor biblical theme that we have overblown, or, as Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry argued in The Week, is it “a piece of a much broader vision of what it means to be a human being that Christianity will never part with”?
Gerson and Wehner’s lengthy feature never makes any case for maintaining longstanding Christian teachings on sex in either the ecclesial or civic contexts. And Gerson especially has long been silent despite being blessed with one of the freest perches whence to reach cultural elites. Throughout the great gay marriage crescendo, the former George W. Bush presidential aide has written twice a week on topics of his choosing for the Washington Post, still one of the most influential media outlets in the nation. He also has gotten to say what he wants to the cameras of PBS NewsHour and Face the Nation. If he ever once used those opportunities to lovingly try and talk our culture makers off the same-sex marriage ledge, I have yet to come across it (and I have looked hard).
As the contest of ideas proceeded pre-Obergefell, rather than put his weight behind the validity and value of traditional marriage, Gerson unhelpfully described the scene as an “unfolding victory for gay rights.” Today, he advises Christians to just clear the political field on marriage completely and be content with defending their place in the stands. And sometimes a mere seat at the back of the bus is sufficient. (Gerson did find the time to pen a column entitled “Kim Davis is No Rosa Parks.”)
Two months ago, the CT cover-boy was Russell Moore, the Southern Baptists’ top voice on public policy. Like Gerson, Moore is looking to expand the pie of issues that evangelicals can talk about. He too is under no illusions that evangelicals are currently part of a numeric moral majority, instead describing Christians as a “prophetic minority.” But, unlike Gerson, on this issue Moore is willing to use his public platform to actually do the work of a prophet — namely, proclaiming uncomfortable truths to those who often do not want to hear them. Before and after Justice Kennedy’s single vote swung the nation, Moore was not just preaching encouragement to the choir — though he was doing that, sharing at First Things why “Evangelicals Won’t Cave” — but also engaging liberals and others outside the pews with a straightforward message about why Christians would continue to foster in the cultural and political realms what they saw as the universal realities of sexuality.
Moore pointed to the post-Roe pro-life movement as a model for the future and told the Huffington Post, “I believe the sexual revolution can’t keep its promises.” Moore’s former seminary boss Al Mohler is even trying to help fellow Christians better talk (not mock) the LGBT talk so as to better walk the traditional Christian walk. To love your neighbor, you need to know your neighbor. That is the sort of public witness we need, not one that declares restoring traditional marriage “a massive cultural project” and then promptly looks for easier and more socially acceptable work to do elsewhere.
John Murdock writes from his native Texas and can be found online at johnmurdock.org.