Those of you who read Biblical Conservatism regularly know that I am a firm supporter of the traditional definition of marriage. The question was asked of me as an old friend was this: Why, if marriage is supposed to be sacred, do we as a society treat marriage as a throw away on TV, in movies, in life?
It’s a great question. As someone who spends so much time arguing for the Biblical definition of marriage, it’s a question that frustrates me significantly. My answer, however, is one that focuses on two groups. You see, I don’t see hypocrisy unless I see the same people being ok with “Who wants to marry a ,” quickie marriages, and signing prenuptial agreements for their own marriages then arguing for traditional marriage.
The groups who are generally the most opposed to calling something other than one man plus one woman marriage generally aren’t the people who are okay with the things I’ve named above. It’s not those who are both conservative and religious who are fine with calling two women or two men marriage. It’s those who are either loose with their beliefs or not people of faith at all…it’s not conservatives who are okay with both, generally, but those who are socially liberal.
It’s a very important distinction. As a society, we’ve failed to stand up for what marriage really means, no question, but those of us who aren’t playing with the meaning aren’t the ones who are to blame. It does stand to us, however, to be sure that the world isn’t deciding our values. As Christians (or, in the case of the friend who asked me the question, as Jews) we’re called to be set apart, to be different, to live to a higher standard. We’re going to fail, no question.
I’m a Christian, I serve Jesus Christ, but that doesn’t mean I’m perfect as He is perfect. I’m also divorced. I know how this world gets in the way sometimes. Sometimes one person is willing to fight for the marriage and the other isn’t…trust me I’ve been there. However, what we have to do is continue to stand up for the high standards, for the real meaning of marriage.
Now, there’s a catch-22 here: We’re also Americans, and we also don’t have the right to deprive other free people of their rights to liberty and pursuit of happiness. However, as people of faith, we have the right to stand up for our institutions as separate and request that a religious institution not be co-opted by others who do not fit that meaning.
Nobody argues that people who don’t fight fires should be allowed to call themselves fire fighters right? That’s the definition of a fire fighter. What Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) do is similar to what fire fighters do…they rescue people after all…but they aren’t the same thing as fire fighters. They are different, and they have a different title for their jobs.
My contention is that, as a Christian, I have a right to demand that the word marriage has a definite meaning that is preserved. As an American, I can’t stop people from forming similar unions. This brings me to the concept of homosexual unions. I believe those unions do not qualify as marriage. I also believe that I don’t have the right to tell people they can’t form their own unions.
I believe my answer is simple: Just name it something else. Fire fighters and EMTs are different jobs. They’re similar, but they are different. My solution fulfills both criteria I’ve presented: It protects the definition of marriage, and maintains the standard that marriage requires. It also does not take away anyone else’s legal rights to liberty and to pursue what makes them happy.
It’s a very thin line we have to tread. As people of faith, we have to hold to a high standard. As Americans, we also have to hold to the high standard of the Constitution. The reality is we have to hold ourselves to a high standard. We have to hold marriage as a high institution and our marriage vows, as an Amish character said in a favorite film of mine, “That we hold second only to God.” We have to make sure we hold ourselves to that high standard. It means we cannot treat marriage as sacred. If you’ve said “I do” as a vow to your spouse and to God, then you need to live up to it.*
In the end, we’ve got to hold up that high standard. If we don’t nobody will.
*If you are divorced like me and if you’re not the one who failed to treat marriage as sacred, remember, I’m one of you. Also, if you treated your vows as sacred and your ex did not…you’re not the one who failed the standard.