Pastoral Letter Extended: Is this a big deal?

Anyone who has joined us for a Sunday morning when I preached will probably not be surprised to know that there is much more that I would like to have said on the subjects covered in my recent pastoral letter than time or space allowed. Given how complicated each piece is, I’d like to give a little more attention to each of the eight major points I discussed by expounding  them in a series of blog posts. This is the first in that series.

If you haven’t seen or would like to revisit the original sermon or summary blog post, you can find them here:
Sermon video and blog post

We fear what this decision may signal about coming days.

Both inside and outside the Church, some people wonder why others think that the recent Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage is a big deal. While many people will have different answers to that question, I suggest that it signals three concerning things.

First…

these events signal a loss of cultural rationality. When a culture falls into an emotive way of thinking – when we are driven on the basis of what our intuition and emotion tells us must be the case – it will always call to power to accomplish its desired ends. This is on display throughout the history of Western civilization. And when, supposedly on the basis of reason, one cannot distinguish a difference between a man and a woman, when someone looks at men and women and identifies a distinction without a difference, one worries that rational arguments are not being given proper priority. It has been suggested that one must be very educated to believe there is no rational basis for identifying a difference between men and women, because that belief is contrary to the natural observation and experience of any human not predisposed to believe otherwise. One can argue about the significance of a difference, but to deny the existence of a difference stirs a fear that rationality has lost its voice in our cultural decision-making.

When arguments cease to be persuasive on the grounds of rationality, emotion and power become the go-to motivators. When we base our arguments on reason, we rely on truth to persuade. Without that, we look primarily to emotion and power to persuade. That is always a dangerous recipe, regardless of what idea those appeals advance, and it is particularly alarming when appeals to emotion and power are made in the name of reason.

Second…

and related, when a law determines something to be a “right,” dissenting citizens lose their leverage. When we declare something to be a “right” today (as opposed to in 1776), we essentially mean, “You aren’t allowed to disagree with this anymore. The discussion is over.” Disagreement becomes not just unpopular, but morally abhorrent, ignorant, and legally stifled. It’s not just acceptable to dismiss someone who disagrees; it becomes morally expected that any decent person will stigmatize anyone who fails to affirm that “right.” It doesn’t matter what political or religious persuasion motivates it.

We expect that this shift will invite decades of litigation against religious institutions that resist this government mandate and any to follow. It is also very reasonable to expect that within two years, churches will be among the first organizations to lose their non-profit status which will, on a financial level, threaten to put most American evangelical and Catholic churches out of business.

Third…

this signals a further weakening of marriage and public virtue, by changing the definition of marriage. It may seem trivial to some, but many, including myself, maintain that in order for us to behave rightly in relation to something, it is critical that we can first think rightly about it.

Marriage matters. Even leaving out a full expression of its theological significance, a robust understanding and practice of marriage is necessary for a healthy and free society. It produces health, virtue and care – things that, if we could properly generate for ourselves, would make the State only marginally necessary.

Certainly our definition of marriage has already fallen far from the Biblical standard with divorce and infidelity, the wedding industry, political policy, etc. The argument here is not that homosexual union is threatening to destroy marriage single-handedly. We’ve been doing a fine job of that in heterosexual marriages in America for decades. In this case, though, we are altering the core definition of marriage, which affects people’s perception of the nature of marriage and our expectations for ourselves within it. When we distort a definition, we in turn distort our conceptualizations about it, our motivations toward it, and our ability to be disciplined in it. Is the legalization of same-sex marriage as detrimental as our actions in the divorce revolution? Probably not, but it still matters.

Written with contributions by Hannah


Feel free to comment below. Please be respectful and use appropriate language so the dialogue can continue.

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