Friday, April 19, 2013

Gay Marriage: the End of the World as We Know It

Anyone who opposes gay marriage is assumed to be a bigot, hopelessly ignorant or so deluded by outdated religious notions that they have no place in the modern world. The truth of the matter is far more troubling.

The thinking is that just as black Americans were long denied full citizenship benefits because of  race, homosexuals today suffer the same fate because of their sexual orientation. The result has been that their status—especially when it comes to marriage—has become widely perceived as a civil rights struggle.

And in America, once the status of any group becomes framed as a matter of civil rights, the outcome is a foregone conclusion. Make no mistake, gay marriage will be the law of the land, if not this year in the very near future.

Evangelical Christians opposed gay marriage when it first made its appearance. Our convictions regarding the authority of God’s Word left us no other option. But much to our surprise, our position has rapidly changed. As the issue gained so much traction so quickly (it was only seventeen years ago that Congress passed and President Clinton signed into law the Defense of Marriage Act that was to have codified heterosexual marriage into federal law), we evangelicals found ourselves in a quandary. 

Opposition to a cause so widely embraced across the country discredited many evangelical leaders. When framed as a civil rights issue, the popular culture labeled as hypocrites those religious leaders who dared speak out against gay marriage.

Another factor in the loss of evangelical witness was the rout evangelicals suffered in the last two presidential elections. The days of the Moral Majority are long gone and today’s electorate is much more secular than ever before. Religious voices are more and more pushed to the periphery of American life.

Throw one more log on the fire: younger evangelicals often have little concern about gay marriage. In fact, several younger, high profile evangelical leaders have actually come out in favor of it. Rob Bell, for instance (if he has any evangelical convictions left), now claims to support it.

The net result of all this is that at the very moment when America is confronted with the most significant moral issue of the last several generations, there are few Christian principles influencing the course of events.

Which is why Rod Dreher’s article “Sex After Christianity” is so important. You can find the link at Dreher, an Orthodox journalist, goes beyond the cultural, political and even moral considerations of gay marriage and bores down to the foundational issue. Gay marriage is possible only in a country that has abandoned a Christian cosmology and embraced instead something far different.

Dreher begins his piece with an extended quote from an article published in The Nation in 1993 at the very beginnings of the gay rights movement:

All the crosscurrents of present-day liberation struggles are subsumed in the gay struggle. The gay moment is in some ways similar to the moment that other communities have experienced in the nation’s past, but it is also something more, because sexual identity is in crisis throughout the population, and gay people—at once the most conspicuous subjects and objects of the crisis—have been forced to invent a complete cosmology to grasp it. No one says the changes will come easily. But it’s just possible that a small and despised sexual minority will change America forever.

Note the telling phrase, “…forced to invent a complete cosmology.” Astronomers use the word to describe the physical laws that apply to stars, galaxies and all the other bodies of the heavens. But theology and philosophy used the word long before modern science appropriated it. “Cosmology” in the deeper sense has to do with the basic moral order within which humans live. A more popular word for it is “worldview.”

According to the old, Christian cosmology, the universe was created by God with a certain moral order and we’re responsible to live within that order. The universe is God-centered. Dreher points out how gay marriage represents—more clearly than any other modern practice—the abandonment of that cosmology:

Same-sex marriage strikes the decisive blow against the old order. The Nation’s triumphalist rhetoric from two decades ago is not overripe; the radicals appreciated what was at stake far better than did many—especially bourgeois apologists for same-sex marriage as a conservative phenomenon. Gay marriage will indeed change America forever, in ways that are only now becoming visible. For better or for worse, it will make ours a far less Christian culture. It already is doing exactly that.

The secular forces long at work in western culture reach their culmination in gay marriage. The Christian world view is gone. In its place we have placed the self: the personal desires of the individual unchecked by any outside principle. We have moved from a theo-centric universe to a self-centered universe.

Dreher again:

Gay marriage signifies the final triumph of the Sexual Revolution and the dethroning of Christianity because it denies the core concept of Christian anthropology. In classical Christian teaching, the divinely sanctioned union of male and female is an icon of the relationship of Christ to His church and ultimately of God to His creation. This is why gay marriage negates Christian cosmology, from which we derive our modern concept of human rights and other fundamental goods of modernity. Whether we can keep them in the post-Christian epoch remains to be seen.

I don’t know if Dreher meant to put on a prophet’s mantle, but he does anyway. His insights into the current debate and its likely outcome are so on-point—and so direct—that it makes the whole issue much more important than a legal or political exercise. This moment in American life really is a tipping point. The old order is gone, swept away by the flood of a new cosmology, a new worldview. God is no longer in charge. Instead, each individual and their own desires are the center of the universe.

Gay marriage is the end of the world as we know it.

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