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The Failure of Secular Arguments for Marriage

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While Christians welcome specific secular arguments for marriage that contribute to sound public policy, our civilization can’t eventually avoid a head-on clash between Christian sexual ethics and non-Christian sexual ethics as they play themselves out in our culture. The problem with secular arguments for sexual ethics (including arguments for “traditional” marriage [= marriage]) is that they spring from the same root as arguments for same-sex “marriage”: human autonomy. Able secular proponents of “traditional marriage” argue for “the common good” and “human flourishing” — only marriage gives us happy, well-balanced children; strong family bonds; and useful citizens. The problem is that many advocates of homosexuality (for example) see a society that discriminates against same-sex “marriage” as not a “common good,” and, even were they to grant that “traditional marriage” fosters more well-adjusted families, they would still insist that a sexually discriminatory society must be abolished. For them, the right of homosexuals to marry is part of “the common good.” For these homosexuals and their heterosexual allies, what constitutes “good” is not held in “common” with “traditional” marriage advocates. It’s not, therefore, “the common good” or “human flourishing” to which Christians must ultimately appeal, but to the word of God.

Therefore, the Christian stake in the same-sex “marriage” debate isn’t merely to preserve marriage as an institution — it’s to recover the biblical worldview and its religious presuppositions that demand marriage. Sexual ethics are a single cloth woven of many strands, and to remove one is eventually to unravel the entire cloth. The Enlightenment got rid of the Bible as binding revelation. Romanticism elevated the individual’s feelings and emotions as paramount to the “authentic” life. Existentialism resituated ethics as human choice. Postmodernity and multiculturalism undermined “meta-narratives,” including ethical and sexual meta-narratives, and glorified moral relativism. Pluralism installed the libertarian ethic best expressed in the aphorism: “I’m OK and you’re OK, as long as your OK doesn’t infringe on my OK.” In such an ideational climate, rife on TV and the Internet and in elementary schools and universities and in pop culture and, yes, too often in the church, same-sex “marriage” is a logical and reasonable social and legal fact. Indeed, not to have same-sex “marriage” in such a climate would be odd and counterintuitive. Same-sex “marriage” isn’t compatible with Christian sexual ethics, but it is fully compatible with the guiding presuppositions and plausibility structures of Western civilization in the 21st century.

In the end, there can be no convincing argument for marriage and against same-sex “marriage” not rooted in religious presuppositions disclosed in creation and crystallized in the Bible. Therefore, the task of Christians committed (as they must be) to Christian sexual ethics is a robust Gospel life — the Christian worldview summarized in the creation-fall-redemption paradigm.[1] We must tell and show our sin-sick world that God’s way isn’t simply the best way among many, but the only way that doesn’t end in civilizational degradation and eternal damnation. Christian sexual ethics aren’t repressive — they’re beautiful, because a loving God’s way is infinitely preferable to a sinful man’s way of ordering man’s world. What would this change look like? Gertrude Himmelfarb draws a picture . . .

 

where motherhood and domesticity are as respectable a calling as the profession of law for the practice of business; fatherhood (present, not absent fatherhood) is identified with manhood; sexual promiscuity is as socially unacceptable as smoking; the bourgeois family is an object of esteem rather than derision; and the culture is not diluted by the familiar euphemisms that dignify out-of-wedlock birth as “an alternative mode of parenting,” or cohabitation as a “relationship,” or an unmarried mate as a “significant other.”[2]

 

We’ve tried man’s sexual ethics for several generations now. Amid rampant divorce and broken families and fatherless children and the objectification of women and sex-minus-love college students and “gender” chaos, how about Christian sexual ethics in our culture?


[1] Herman Dooyeweerd, Roots of Western Culture (Ancaster, Ontario, Canada: Paideia Press, 2012), 28–36.
[2] Gertrude Himmelfarb, One Nation, Two Cultures (New York: Vintage, 1999, 2001), 58.
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Top 10 Movies of 2016

1. La La Land — old-fashioned musical, unabashedly heterosexual, grown-up, pitch-perfect in almost every way 

2. Zootopia — mesmerizing, and oh those sloths manning the DMV 

3. Hell or High Water — revisionist modern Western, gratifyingly slow-paced with exquisite character development 

4. Eye in the Sky — uncharacteristically balanced treatment of modern warfare, and almost unbearably tense 

5. Arrival — like all good sci-fi, the science and CGI are subordinate to the absorbing human drama 

6. Rogue One — best Star Wars since Return of the Jedi

7. The Green Room — dark indie thriller with a menacing Patrick Stewart 

8. Sully — totally straightforward biopic that wins via plot and Hanks

9. The Infiltrator — Bryan Cranston is one of the finest living actors, and the story really proves the adage that truth is often stranger than fiction

10. The Accountant — Ben Affleck is a fine actor (and director), but this one succeeds on plot. And J. K. Simmons is always a delight to watch

Honorable Mention:

10 Cloverfield Lane 

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them 
Weiner 

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Social Justice Isn’t

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We hear a lot about social justice these days. The January 21, 2017 Women’s March in Washington D.C. and Atlanta was billed as championing social justice. We even hear the expression “social justice Christians,” that is, Christians interested in social justice since, presumably, other Christians are not. Cru, the ministry once known as Campus Crusade for Christ, wants to interweave the Gospel and social justice. The Christian Reformed Church (CRC) even has its own Office of Social Justice. This shouldn’t surprise us, because the expression was invented in the first half of the 19th century by the Italian Roman Catholic priest Luigi Taparelli D’Azeglio.[1] “Social justice” began in the Christian church.[2] At that time it meant what we today term private associations (families, churches, businesses) working to alleviate social problems. That’s not by any stretch the meaning of social justice today, since it has come to mean something like: a Leftist worldview secured by political coercion.

Redundancy

The first main fact to notice about social justice is that the expression is a redundancy — all justice is social. There’s no justice necessary for a person stranded on a desert island. Justice pertains to how people treat other people. There can be no solitary, nonsocial justice. If we are to retain the expression “social justice” at all, we need to bear in mind this redundancy. There are different views of social justice, but all justice is social.

Justice = Righteousness

A second fact is that, in the Bible, justice is equivalent to righteousness. In fact, every time we encounter “justice” in our English Bible, it’s the same word that’s translated “righteousness.”[3] As Christians, if we use the expression “social justice,” we actually denote “social righteousness.” The reason most people don’t use “righteousness” in this context is likely that “justice” has a religiously neutral ring to it. We can be atheists and still cry out for social justice — and some social justice champions in fact are. But if we use the language “social righteousness,” people will know that we have some religious presuppositions in mind. Since the acceptable cultural stance in our time is separation of religion from culture, it’s much less offensive and embarrassing to refer to “justice” than “righteousness,” though in the Bible they’re the same thing. The Christian conception is righteousness/justice.

God’s standard of justice

Third, if to act justly is to act righteously, we might ask: who or what decides what is righteous or just? The answer is not hard. Righteousness/justice is adherence to God’s standard. That standard is his moral law revealed in his word (Dt. 4:8). If we treat others according God’s moral law, we are treating them justly, or righteously. If we do not, we are acting unjustly/unrighteously toward them. This means that justice isn’t subjective. It’s defined by God. You and I don’t get to make up what justice means. God has already revealed what justice means.

Unjust “social justice”

For this reason, much of what’s called social justice today is the opposite of social justice.[4] An obvious example is “reproductive justice.” While it might be assumed that this nomenclature was developed to describe only widespread contraception or the quest for additional abortion rights, it actually has been used to include in addition “gender identity issues.” In the Bible, both abortion and “gender identity” ( = inventing one’s “gender”) are unrighteous. Righteousness includes protecting innocent human life from murder. The preborn child is innocent human life (Ex. 21:22; cf. Ps. 139:13–18), and, therefore, willingly to take it is murder. It is the opposite of justice or righteousness.

The great champions of genuine social justice (if we do opt to use that expression), therefore, are the pro-life, pro-family, and pro-economic liberty champions. On the other hand, the great social oppressors today are the supporters of (for example) abortion, same-sex “marriage,” and state socialism.

Similarly, God made humanity as male and female (Mt. 19:4) limiting legitimate intercourse to the husband and wife (Gen. 1:28–30), and there is no third option. To confuse the two sexes or to support homosexual acts or worse yet, the marriage of homosexuals is therefore unjust or unrighteous, since they violate God’s only standard of justice, his moral law. The pro-abortion and pro-homosexual agendas are ones of injustice and oppression. They oppress preborn children and the family, which is assaulted by perverse sexual acts (and also by abusive husbands and rebellious wives, as well as by premarital sex, adultery, pornography, and all other forms of fornication).

“Economic justice”

Another subgenre of social justice is “economic justice,” which is defined as requiring state socialism. But this is the opposite of biblical righteousness/justice. The Bible protects what we today term private property (Ex. 20:15) and prohibits the state’s theft of property (1 Kin. 21). The socialistic society is, therefore, the unjust, oppressive society.

“Environmental justice”

Moreover, social justice includes “environmental justice,” which largely means enforcing the regulations of the Environmental Protection Agency. But many of these regulations pose great burdens on the poor, who are the least equipped to bear those burdens and for whom God manifests special care. “Environmental” justice is consequently an agent of unjust oppression.

The actual oppressors

These are only a few of the ways in which social justice is actually social injustice and unrighteousness. The great champions of genuine social justice (if we do opt to use that expression), therefore, are the pro-life, pro-family, and pro-economic liberty champions. On the other hand, the great social oppressors today are the supporters of (for example) abortion, same-sex “marriage,” and state socialism.

Needed: Young Social Justice Warriors, the Right Kind

Last week I spoke with a long-time friend, a devout older Christian with many years of experience in both Christian ministry and in the business world. He told me that in recent years he knows of only two Christian young adults in his well-known West Coast city that grew up in church and still are strong, conservative, Bible-believing Christians. All the rest have either embraced “progressive” (= contorted) Christianity or walked away from the Faith altogether. Most are vocal champions of social justice.

Thousands of young adult Christians inculcated in the church and Faith flocked to the January “social justice” Women’s Marches. They loudly criticize Donald Trump (and who denies that he often deserves criticism?), but they wouldn’t have been caught dead criticizing Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, both of whom endorsed the injustices of elective abortion, same-sex “marriage,” and state socialism. It would be simplistic to suggest only one factor contributing to this betrayal of the Bible, but one incontestable factor is the unwillingness of pastors and other Christian leaders to speak boldly, frequently, forthrightly, and thoughtfully about biblical justice. Gratifying exceptions like the Blackstone Legal Fellowship, Summit Ministries, and the Wilberforce Academy are far too few. A primary agenda item for churches, home schools, Christian schools, Christian colleges and universities and seminaries must be to teach young Christians God’s moral law in the Bible and show them how to apply it in society today. Let us train an entire new generation of “social justice warriors.”

Let’s just make sure they know where the standards of justice are found (the Bible) and what they are (God’s moral law).


[1] Michael Novak, “Social Justice: Not What You Think It Is,” Heritage Lectures, October 29, 2009, 5.
[2] For a Christian assessment, see Ronald H. Nash, Social Justice and the Christian Church (Milford, Michigan: Mott Media, 1983).
[3] H[arold] G [S]tigers, “(sedek), justice, rightness,” Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, R. Laird Harris, Gleason L Archer, Jr., Bruce K. Waltke, eds. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), 2:752–755. In English, “justice” is almost entirely Old Testament language while “justification” and “justified” and “justify” are New Testament language. But all are virtually synonymous with “righteousness” or its cognates.
[4] On the conflict between modern, alleged Christian, interpretations of justice and the biblical view, see Joseph Boot, The Mission of God (St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada: Freedom Press, 2014), 157–160.
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