Monday, July 27, 2009

Gay Marriage and the cult of self-fulfillment

Mark Galli has a great article on gay marriage at Christianity Today.
‘Evangelicals are sensitive to this reality, but are less aware of how much we proactively participate in the culture of individualism. While stopping short of abortion, we have not given much thought to our easy acceptance of artificial contraception. I’m not arguing for or against contraception here, only pointing to the reality that contraception has separated sex from procreation. That, in turn, has prompted most couples, evangelicals included, to think that sex is first and foremost a fulfilling psychological and physical experience, that a couple has a right to enjoy themselves for a few years before they settle down to family life.

‘In essence, we have already redefined marriage as an institution designed for personal happiness. . .

‘We are, of all Christian traditions, the most individualistic. This individual emphasis has flourished in different ways and in different settings, and often for the good. . . But it is individualism nonetheless, and it cuts right to the heart of one of our best arguments against gay marriage.

‘We cannot very well argue for the sanctity of marriage as a crucial social institution while we blithely go about divorcing and approving of remarriage at a rate that destabilizes marriage. We cannot say that an institution, like the state, has a perfect right to insist on certain values and behavior from its citizens while we refuse to submit to denominational or local church authority. We cannot tell gay couples that marriage is about something much larger than self-fulfillment when we, like the rest of heterosexual culture, delay marriage until we can experience life, and delay having children until we can enjoy each other for a few years.

‘In short, we have been perfect hypocrites on this issue.’

Read the entire article HERE.


Dave Rogel said...

"We cannot tell gay couples that marriage is about something much larger than self-fulfillment when we, like the rest of heterosexual culture, delay marriage until we can experience life, and delay having children until we can enjoy each other for a few years."

This statement implies that the only way to have a non-self-centered marriage is to marry early and to have children immediately. I am a bit puzzled and even offended by that.

For two people to delay marriage until they have had time to develop a sharper sense of personal identity, increased maturity, and better skills for resolving differences non-destructively seems like a positive thing to me.

For two people to delay having children and enjoy each other's company for a few years is sheer marital delight and gives a couple a chance to strengthen their relationship and get themselves on solid footing (relational and financial) before adding offspring to the equation, should they choose to do so. Again, I don't see the downside, and I can't comprehend what kind of grinch would wrinkle his nose at the thought of two newlyweds peacefully enjoying each other's company for a time. Perhaps the author of the article had just left his wife's side to change a diaper, and grew jealous.

In addition to making sense on a personal and relational level, delays and/or exceptions can make sense on a practical level as well. For example, if my wife wanted to pursue a graduate degree in behavioral analysis or clinical psychology as part of a career helping children with autism spectrum disorders, and therefore would not be able to devote the time to a child that a child deserves...would she be 'self-fulfilling' by getting the degree (and the career)? I think not. She would be devoting her life to helping children (though perhaps not her own) and that is no bad thing.

In the article, Mark Galli laments (justly, I might add) the divorce rate among Christians, but then criticizes waiting to get married, which statistically reduces the likelihood of divorce--and not just by a percentage point or two, but quite dramatically. Check this out (specifically the first chart on page 18) to see just how much sense it makes to pull out your hair over Christian divorce rates, then turn around and chastise Christians for delaying marriage.

As someone who has waited to get married (I was twenty-seven) AND delayed having children (none currently), my question is: Does the concept of early marriage and immediate reproduction have a Biblical basis? (Sure, there is "Be fruitful and increase in number"; however, this seems to be a general edict to humanity as a whole, and is not necessarily directed to every human at every sexually viable stage of life...or so I certainly hope, lest we begin herding 16-year-olds to the chapel to get hitched...)

Also, how does this concept line up with 1 Corinthians 7 in which Paul describes marriage (vs. 8) and sex (vs. 1) as more of a concession to evil fleshly desires than an ideal?

Dave Rogel said...

Just for clarification, when I mentioned the possiblility of my wife not having adequate time to devote to children, I did not mean that she should have children and then not devote adequate time to them; I meant to describe a scenario in which she was pursuing work with ASD-diagnosed children rather than having her own. I'm sorry if, in my original post, I sounded like I was condoning career-inspired child neglect. I should have worded things more specifically.

Harley A. said...

Our social order creates unique ways for us to live out our sinful nature. The more I read history, the more I am convinced that we have always been full of sin and the current social constructs mold and shape the way we display our sinfulness. In our day and age, we are affluent, independent, and highly focused on self - that is what our culture values and what will be reflected in how we look at marriage and child-rearing. Man will always screw up marriage, whether it will be cruel arrangements for money and political power as in ancient Rome, multiple wives as in O.T. times, or our own self-centered, psychology-driven take on marriage today.

And God bless them, but can we hold up just a bit on the "Christian" marital self-help material that's being created on a daily basis! Handy helpful tips are not the problem and won't solve much.

Dave Rogel said...

I definitely agree that there is too much self-help material out there, and too much emphasis on it. When my wife and I got engaged, we were strongly encouraged by numerous friends and relations to use workbooks, tests, evaluations, etc. to determine whether or not we really should get married. That seemed (and still does seem) silly to me. If you do not understand yourself and your fiance any better than to need a Seventeen Magazine-style compatability test to "make sure it's okay", you should probably take a step back and wait a while. Mark Galli seems to think otherwise, and I wonder what he's basing his conclusions on. (He's not basing them on divorce statistics based on age at marriage.) If a person is not ready to make a decision regarding whom to spend the rest of his/her life with, it is not 'self-centered' to wait a few years, then make a good decision.

Todd Pruitt said...


I agree that we need to avoid the pitfall of marrying too early. And I usually recommend that people wait until they have completed their undergrad before marrying. However I do not think that the current trend of putting marriage off is generally not a healthy one. I am convinced that a large part of the problem is the extension of adolesence well into adulthood. Parents do not often deliberately train their children for marriage.

Again, I am speaking generally but delaying marriage is often connected with cohabitation and sex outside marriage. It also leads to families having fewer children which I also do not believe is a healthy trend.

Harley A. said...

"I am convinced that a large part of the problem is the extension of adolesence well into adulthood. Parents do not often deliberately train their children for marriage."

Todd, I think you hit on a large part of the problem.
Parents don't train kids nor do they take an assertive enough role in this area, but rather take cues from the culture on how it's done. Our current social construct of "dating" is out of control - has been for decades - it's basically sanctioned promiscuity. We throw them into the mix and say, "by the way, you need to remain chaste". We're setting them up for failure at an alarming rate. We need to separate from that nonesense and stop worrying about looking wierd for doing it. Unfortunately I don't have the answers as to how it should look, and time is running out (11 yr old daughter). Any thoughts ? I'm guessing you're already starting to deal with this, huh...