Conversation with Evangelicals for Marriage Equality

On September 14, I extended an invitation to Evangelicals for Marriage Equality to have a dialogue on the nature of marriage and whether evangelicals should support same-sex marriage. After a number of emails behind the scenes, I am pleased to announce that Michael Saltsman, one of the co-founders of EME, will be joining my Bible & Moral Issues class tomorrow (October 15) on the campus of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

In addition to being one of the co-founders of EME, Mr. Saltsman is research director at the Employment Policies Institute in Washington, D.C. He has published a number of articles on minimum wage and employment policies. His articles have appeared in prestigious publications, such as the Wall Street Journal.

Some may wonder why I would allow someone with whom I disagree substantially on a significant issue to have an hour or so of my precious class time. In some respects, I have already answered this question in a previous post regarding my selection of books for one of my classes. I chose a text that espouses positions that I fundamentally oppose on a particular ethical issue. This is a very similar exercise. In that post, I noted:

For most of my academic career, I have heard Dr. Paige Patterson (president of my seminary) say that students need to know the arguments of the best thinkers who disagree with our positions.

Before inviting EME, I approached Dr. Patterson seeking his permission to extend the invitation. He told me it was my class and that he trusted me. In essence, I am doing what he taught me to do. This time it just happens to be live and in-person rather than in book form.

Am I afraid that my students will be swayed to support same-sex marriage? Not really. Could it happen? Anything is possible. Do they need to hear what EME has to say? Certainly. If some of my students are convinced to support same-sex marriage as a result of this conversation, then I have done a poor job of making my case this semester (granted, I still have about 7 more weeks left this semester to change any of their minds). It’s humbling to invite someone into my classroom whose goal is to convince my students that I am wrong. But it is a healthy exercise for both student and professor.

I am looking forward to a healthy discussion regarding our differences of opinion related to marriage. I have also invited all of my students from other classes to join us tomorrow morning. If you happen to be around the SWBTS campus at 8:30 in the morning, you are welcome to join us in Truett Conference Room.

Guest Post: Hope from a Stump

This is a guest post from my wife, Melanie. She originally wrote this post for Biblical Woman, the blog site for the Women’s Programs at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The post originally appeared here.

Last spring, we noticed something odd growing in the middle of our crape myrtle tree. This particular tree is on the side of our house where we hardly ever play or walk, so we hadn’t paid much attention to it in the 6 months we had lived here. If you know crape myrtles, you know that there is not one trunk, but many smaller trunks that grow in a circular-type shape. What made this particular tree quite odd was in the center of the crape myrtle trunks was a small live oak tree. I say small tree, because live oaks can become a mammoth of a tree, but this one was only about four inches in diameter, but had many branches and leaves already growing heartily. Because I knew the two trees could not co-exist for long, and quite frankly I did not appreciate the live oak “bully” taking over my pretty crape myrtle, we chopped it down. All that was left was a small, rough, crude stump. The job was complete. We walked away and forgot all about it.

Many times in the Old Testament, judgment is described with the analogy of chopping down trees. At the end of Isaiah 10, it describes the judgment by “cutting down thickets of the forest with iron.” This is where we find God’s people during and after the exile, in the midst of living in the consequence of their sins. We can also find ourselves here if we are living a life without Christ. A broken, crude, naked, barren stump.

BUT, “There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots.” (Is. 11:1)

Two weeks ago, I walked over to that side of the house again, probably the first time since back in the spring. I glanced over to check on that stump to make sure it was leaving my pretty crape myrtle alone. However, much to my surprise, the stump had not died, but had sprouted long branches of bright green leaves. The stems were small but healthy and even the tips had new buds on them with the expectation of further growth.

During the darkest time in history, God sent his Branch growing out of the roots. Notice that Isaiah did not refer to Christ as from the line of David, although He definitely is. This passage goes all the way back to Jesse, before the kings were corrupt, to show that this King is different. “The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.” (Isaiah 11:2) God’s people were familiar with kings who were wise like Solomon, but Solomon did not have the fear of the Lord to put away the gods of his many wives. God’s people were familiar with kings who were mighty to rule like Rehoboam, but lacked the ability to listen to good counsel. Christ has all of these traits as the perfect king and will rule justly, with righteousness and faithfulness.

I know there are no kingdoms that are perfect today. Most are very far from it, but are only filled with corruption and evil. I am tempted every day to fall into fear. Fear for our safety. Fear for my country. Fear for my children’s future. In my limited vision, all I see are a field of stumps cut down. “Where are you, Lord?” I cry out every time I turn on the news. But then, the Lord is kind and reminds me of the branches that come from the broken stump.

The Rod of Jesse is not dead! The Branch is not slumbering.

Christ is patiently waiting until, in the fullness of His wisdom, He declares that it is time to burst forth with life and newness and growth. In the meantime, I have hope in the promises of my God and King.

What’s In a Name?: Evangelicals and Marriage

bible-cover-pageThis post is the second installment of a multi-part series reflecting on my recent radio discussion with Brandan Robertson, spokesperson for Evangelicals for Marriage Equality. The audio of that radio “debate” can be found here. The first post can be found here.

In Shakespeare’s classic play, Romeo and Juliet, the “star-cross’d lovers” are destined for a life apart from each other because of a long-standing feud between their families. In act 2, scene 2, Juliet proclaims these famous words to Romeo:

‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.

Is Juliet really right? Just by changing his name, can Romeo escape the wrath of the Capulet family for loving Juliet? Would they not still know exactly who he is?

As part of my ongoing interaction with Evangelicals for Marriage Equality (EME), I have become intrigued with their use of the term “Evangelicals” in their name. What makes an evangelical?

The term “evangelical” is admittedly hard to define. Many have taken up the task, and some have reached disparate conclusions. However, there are some common elements that seem to mark the use of the term evangelicalism.

First, evangelicals typically stress the authority of the Bible. They believe that it is the inspired Word of God and is profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness (2 Tim 3:16). The first half of the doctrinal statement of the Evangelical Theological Society reflects this emphasis as it states, “The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs.”

Second, evangelicals stress the atoning work of Christ in personal salvation. The term itself derives from the Greek word εὐανγγέλιον (evanggelion), which means “gospel” or “good news.” It should come as no surprise that a people who claim to be gospel-focused exhibit a concern for personal salvation.

Third, evangelicals tend to stress preaching and proclamation of the Word. This goes hand-in-hand with being gospel-focused people. Part of this preaching would involve calling people to live in accordance with the Scriptures.

In light of these basic characteristics of evangelicals, I find it difficult to reconcile the use of the term “evangelical” for a group of people who are promoting a lifestyle inconsistent with Scripture.

I have written in a number of places about the immorality of homosexuality, but I do not want to focus on that particular activity here. Instead, I want to focus on Jesus’ definition of marriage compared to the statement of belief from Evangelicals for Marriage Equality (EME).

The EME statement concludes, “You can be a faithful evangelical Christian and at the same time support civil marriage equality for same-sex couples.” They specifically avoid making a theological case for same-sex marriage and intentionally choose civil marriage as their battleground.

As we saw above, however, evangelicals stress the authority of God’s Word. If we go to Scripture, we find a very clear statement from Jesus on the nature of marriage. He says, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate” (Matt 19:4–6). If Jesus declared that marriage is between male and female, just as God designed it from the beginning, I find it difficult to imagine how self-proclaimed evangelicals could promote something that Jesus expressly excluded from marriage.

The reason for EME’s promotion of same-sex marriage, in my opinion, comes not from their desire to adhere to the authority of God’s Word, but instead from a hermeneutical commitment to elevate experience over Scripture. In most of my conversations with Christian proponents of same-sex marriage, they make an appeal to the personal experience of a friend who was (or could be) hurt by the church’s opposition to his desire for same-sex marriage. While I do not doubt the other person’s experience, I do question the wisdom of allowing our experience to subvert the authority of the text. If we elevate experience over Scripture, then there is no limit to what behavior we can justify.

In addition, Brandan Robertson and others have appealed to a standard of love as the reason that evangelicals should support same-sex marriage. They believe that showing love will win over those who would not otherwise want anything to do with the church. However, I am drawn back to the definition of love in 1 Corinthians 13. In the midst of his extended treatise on love, Paul declares, “[Love] does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth” (1 Cor 13:6). Since Jesus stated that marriage is between one man and one woman for a lifetime, then we know that to be truth, and in that we rejoice. Any departure from the pattern made clear in Jesus’ words is a departure from the truth resulting in unrighteousness. In this we cannot rejoice. So EME is left with a choice. They can either rejoice in the truth of what Jesus has said about marriage or rejoice in unrighteousness. To rejoice in unrighteousness, however, is not to express love in a biblical sense.

In many respects, this conversation about a name comes down to the authority of Scripture. If that is truly a mark of evangelicals, then we must abide by what Scripture says. EME cannot consistently use the term evangelical and also promote something that Scripture forbids. To do so is internally inconsistent, unless of course they mean something entirely different by “evangelical,” a term not defined in their statement of beliefs.

Perhaps Malcolm Yarnell has already provided us some insight into their use of the term. In his book, The Formation of Christian Doctrine, Yarnell traces the changes to the word “evangelical” and concludes that “the term has lost the substantive meaning it once possessed” (xvi). In fact, he cites Darryl Hart’s opinion that “‘evangelicalism’ is little more than a marketing construct demanding a minimalist understanding of the Christian faith” (xvi).

If that is how EME uses the term “evangelical,” then it is no different than their use of “marriage” that I discussed in the previous post. Thus, it is a term with no meaning. It is a name with no substance. It does not describe who they really are.

I, on the other hand, am happy to claim the characteristics of evangelicalism, not the least of which is to stand on the authority of God’s Word.

_________________________

For further discussion of the term evangelical, see Malcom B. Yarnell III, The Formation of Christian Doctrine (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2007), xiv–xvi; and James Leo Garrett, Jr., “Who Are the Evangelicals?” in Are Southern Baptists “Evangelicals”? eds. James Leo Garrett, Jr., E. Glenn Hinson, and James E. Tull (Macon: Mercer University Press, 1983), 33–63.

Words Have Meaning: Defining Marriage in the Marriage Debate

same sex marriage graphcThis post is the first installment of what will be a multi-part series reflecting on my recent radio discussion with Brandan Robertson, spokesperson for Evangelicals for Marriage Equality. The audio of that radio “debate” can be found here.

Words have meaning. In order to have a conversation with another human, there must be some sort of shared language by which ideas can be communicated. This language can include everything from words to sounds to non-verbal expressions. The key, however, is that it has to be a shared language. If it is not, then communication will be misunderstood or not received at all.

In my discussion with Brandan Robertson of Evangelicals for Marriage Equality (EME), our shared language was clearly the spoken English language. In that language we used terms that have easily recognized meaning. However, it became clear early on in the discussion that we were using one particular word in a different way. That word was “marriage.”

As part of the discussion, we were both asked to define marriage. On behalf of EME, Brandan said:

We do not take a single theological view on the sacrament of marriage. . . .

Civil marriage is a marriage solemnized with a civil contract by the government without a religious ceremony. It is a legal status afforded by the government to individuals who contract to live with one another and form a family unit with one another.

Let me offer a few observations about Brandan’s definition. First he used the word to define the word. He said that “civil marriage is a marriage. . . .” This is a subtle, but circular way to avoid defining a term. It exacerbates the mystery of the word because it never defines the word. If civil marriage is a marriage, then what is marriage?

Second, he inserts another similar term into the definition without offering an explanation of what he means. He says that marriage is “a legal status afforded by the government to individuals who . . . form a family unit with one another.” What is a family unit? Historically, a family unit is formed by marriage and expanded through procreation and the rearing of the next generation. In this instance, though, Brandan has excluded procreation from his definition of marriage because same-sex couples are biologically inhibited from procreation. The act of procreation requires a man and a woman. Thus, it is probably a safe assumption to say that Brandan does not believe procreation and the rearing of the next generation to be a public good of marriage. I could be wrong on this point, but it would require Brandan to offer a definition of the family unit to prove so.

Third, Brandan’s definition of marriage diminishes it to a legal status afforded by the government. Limiting marriage to a legal status actually diminishes the importance of marriage. If marriage is just a contract affording a legal status, why does the government make it so hard to get a divorce? If marriage is just a legal contract, then is it more significant than my cell phone contract? I have agreed to enter into a relationship with AT&T for cell phone service, but breaking that contract is relatively easy by comparison. Even if EME only want to talk about civil marriage, there should be recognition that marriage is much more than simply a contract that grants a legal status.

Fourth, even though Brandan and EME claim no single theological position on marriage, they are still making theological commitments. In their very name and the words of their statement of beliefs, they declare that Bible-believing Christians should support marriage for same-sex couples. This requires at least two theological commitments. First, it requires that one not view homosexual behavior as a sin. If it were a sin, like any other sin we read about in Scripture, Christians should not encourage and support others in the practice of that sin. Second, it requires a hermeneutical commitment to prioritizing experience over Scripture. EME constantly returns to the refrain of justice or fairness. However, such calls are based upon personal experience, not the Word of God. In a future post, I will work out a biblical understanding of justice that demonstrates that these current calls for justice come from a weak theological perspective of God’s attribute of justice.

In contrast to Brandan’s definition of marriage, when asked to give my own definition, I said:

Marriage is a comprehensive union of a man and a woman in an exclusive, monogamous, covenant relationship designed to endure for a lifetime and directed toward the rearing of the next generation.

As I mentioned on the radio, there is no fear on my part admitting that my definition of marriage flows from a theological context. I believe we can see all these elements of marriage in Genesis 2. I also believe my definition is consistent with Jesus’ teaching about marriage in Matthew 19 and Mark 10 and Paul’s teaching on marriage in 1 Corinthians 7 and Ephesians 5.

In addition, I also believe that my definition of marriage is consistent with the government’s civil understanding of marriage. Marriage laws in civil society have historically limited marriage to a relationship between one man and one woman. The relationship is considered to be on-going until death unless the individuals take legal action to end it. Marriage laws limit the age and consanguinity relationships of those who can get married in large part due to legal consent and procreation. All of these limitations are consistent with my definition of marriage. I believe my definition actually offers a more robust understanding of marriage even from a civil perspective.

Even civil marriage is much more than Brandan offered in his definition. But as an evangelical, I also declare from the rooftops that marriage is not simply a civil ordinance—it is a creation ordinance instituted by God. Since God is the one who created it, he is the one who has the right to set the parameters. I, for one, am not ashamed to admit that.

Radio Interview Follow-Up

Last Thursday, I had the privilege of participating in a debate, of sorts, with Brandan Robertson who is the spokesperson for Evangelicals for Marriage Equality. The debate was hosted by Kevin Boling on his radio program, Knowing the Truth. I just had the opportunity to go back and listen to the audio, and I will be writing my thoughts on the interaction in the coming days. However, there are a few thoughts that I want to offer to you to consider as you listen to the audio of the debate.

  1. Words have meaning. You cannot have a conversation if you are unwilling to define your terms.
  2. If civil marriage has no limitation on gender, then on what rational basis can the government limit number or consanguinity? Appealing to the “traditional definition” or “historical understanding” of marriage is inadequate if there is no gender limitation.
  3. What is a family unit? What role do children have in this unit? Is there a significant connection between children and the definition of marriage?
  4. What is the fear in providing a theological definition of marriage for evangelicals?
  5. What is justice? Is justice fairness?

These are simply thoughts to be considered as you listen to the audio here. You can also read a summary of the debate produced by the fine writers in the Communications Office at Southwestern Seminary.