THE FUTURE OF MARRIAGE
Written by Doug Ponder on June 26, 2013
The End of Marriage?
On Wednesday, June 26, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which previously defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman at the federal level of government.
In response to their decision, I have seen a mini-revival of red and pink equality images splashed across social networking sites. I’ve also seen people who claim to be Christians say things like, “Goodbye America” and “R.I.P. U.S.A.” What are Jesus’ followers to make of all this? What is the future of marriage in America?
Jesus Still Reigns
First, Christians should remember that Jesus is still on the throne. This is not a call to close your eyes, stop your ears and sing Twila Paris’ “God Is in Control” at the top of your lungs. Rather, I mean that Jesus is still the Lord. He is still the boss. His word is still law. His truth is still true. And his punishments are still just. Nothing can change this. His resurrection from the dead guaranteed that no rebellion among the inhabitants of the earth can stop the establishment of his kingdom, for one day all things will be ‘on earth as it is in heaven.’
Apples Aren’t Oranges
Second, Christians should remember that simply changing the label of something does not change the thing in itself. My apartment is just a small city apartment, no matter how much I insist on referring to it as Buckingham Palace. Similarly, you can start calling apples “oranges” tomorrow, but a new label doth not a new thing make. In the same way, gay men and gay women who have lived together up until now have always been free, from the government’s perspective, to live and love as they choose. Calling their relationship a marriage does not make it one in the eyes of the God who created marriage. This means that those who are worried about the moral fabric of our society need to realize that there are exactly the same number of gay men and gay women today as there were before this decision was passed. The only thing that has changed is a label (and a few tax and inheritance laws that recognize the new label).
Divorce Is a Bigger Problem
Third, Christians should remember that the real threat to marriage is not the redefinition to include same-sex unions, but the subtle redefinition that occurred several decades ago in the minds and hearts of most American families. Somewhere along the way, marriage shifted to being a contractual agreement between two people who love each other instead of being a covenantal union between a man and a woman for sexual expression, procreative union, and the sacramental depiction of Jesus’ never-ending love for his bride, the Church. Thus, by making marriage all about “two people who love each other” instead of keeping it focused on the glory of God, the stability of the family, and the gospel to which it points, we severed marriage from God’s design long before same-sex unions came into the picture. In fact, the sheer prevalence of failed marriages suggests that divorce, not same-sex unions, was and still is the biggest threat to the institution of marriage.
Our Mission Remains the Same
Fourth, Christians should remember that the church’s mission to make disciples of Jesus who follow him in faith and submit to him as Lord has not changed. Your neighbors, your co-workers, your family members, and your friends still need your love, your acts of service, and your healing words of kindness and truth that bring the good news of Jesus into their lives. This has not changed. To act as if your mission got harder because of the Supreme Court’s decision is to fundamentally misunderstand how sin works, not to mention it overlooks how Christianity spread at a time when the laws of a pagan empire were even more out of line with what is good and beautiful and true.
The Future of Marriage
If Christians care about the institution of marriage (and we should), then we must continue to point others to the Lordship of Jesus while submitting to him ourselves. It does little good to define marriage according to the Scriptures if we have no intentions of upholding what the Scriptures actually say about marriage. As with everything else that God has created, the future of marriage lies with the future of the church. We will not see much progress in any cultural issue without an equal advance of the gospel and the obedience that Jesus requires of us. So, perhaps the best way for Christians to preserve the future of marriage is by living the kind of marriage that God prescribes: a lifetime of love, service, fidelity, devotion, and commitment to the other person no matter what (Eph. 5:22-33), one that is full of the blessings of many children (Gen. 1:28; Ps. 127: 3-5), and one that seeks to partner together in putting our sin to death (Rom. 8:13). Should we engage others in the truth with love? Absolutely (Eph. 4:15). But “it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household” (1 Pet. 4:17). The battle for marriage won’t be won or lost in the Supreme Courts, but in our hearts and homes.
For an academic perspective on the nature of marriage from several Princeton scholars, check out What Is Marriage?
Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is the author of Rethink Marriage & Family. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.