Written by Sam Logan
Friday, 28 September 2012 00:00
This is how I started my blog two days ago, on Wednesday, September 26:
What is – and what should be – the relationship between civil law and Biblical precept?
That’s far too broad a question for a blog, so let’s narrow it a bit.
What is – and what should be - the relationship between civil law and Biblical precept with respect to marriage?
I then suggested three principles to consider with respect to what kind of legislation evangelical Christians should consider supporting in relation to biblical precept. I won’t repeat those principles here. One of the hottest debates in the public arenas of many Western nations at the present time has to do with the application of biblical precept to the realm of civil law with respect to gay marriage. Building on my previous blog, I would like now to suggest four things to keep in mind when we seek to apply the previously identified principles to the subject of gay marriage.
1) All of us – Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, atheist, or whatever – need to be clear on just what it is that we believe and just why we believe it. It is completely fair for evangelical Christians to be challenged to identify and defend the grounds for their conviction that gay marriage should not be legalized (in those remaining places where it has not already been legalized). Likewise, it is perfectly legitimate for evangelical Christians to seek from those who support gay marriage the grounds on which they make their claims.
2) Implementation by evangelical Christians of item #1 above may legitimately include questions such as these:
* If the argument is that there should be no civil constraints on the marriage of competent, consenting adults, why should we not revoke any legislation that denies marriage to such individuals who wish to have more than one husband or one wife? On this subject, see The New York Times - http://topics.nytimes.com/topics/reference/timestopics/subjects/p/polygamy/index.html And, as with gay marriage, this is not just an American issue; see the description of a polygamist defying a court ruling just a few days ago - http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-09-16/zimbabwe-pm-marries-under-polygamy-custom/4263736
* If the argument is that there should be no civil constraints on the marriage of competent, consenting adults, why should we not revoke any legislation that denies marriage to such individuals who may wish to marry close blood relatives? The connection between gay marriage legality and incest legality was made by many (on both sides of both issues) in connection with Lawrence v. Texas case, decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in June of 2003. One of the most thorough considerations of the likely ramifications of Lawrence v. Texas was an article in Time Magazine in 2007, entitled, appropriately enough, “Should Incest Be Legal?” See http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1607322,00.html
You gay rights advocates seem to be selective in your application of the idea that there should be no civil constraints on the marriage of competent consenting adults of the same gender. But you don’t seem to be equally concerned about similar constraints being placed on others. Please help us to understand what seems to be an inconsistency.
3) However, what’s sauce for the goose is also sauce for the gander. Implementation of item#1 above allows supporters of gay marriage appropriately to challenge evangelical Christians with such questions as these:
* If you believe that the Bible prohibits gay marriage and that civil law should do the same, why are you not working just as hard to repeal laws which permit “no fault divorce” as you are to prevent the legalization of gay marriage? After all, while Jesus seems Himself to have said very little about gay marriage, He was very clear and very specific about divorce.
In Matthew, He says this:
“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the grounds of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery. And whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” [Matthew 5: 31, 32]
In Mark, Jesus is recorded as saying this:
“From the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and shall hold fast to his wife and they shall become one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” [Mark 10: 6 – 9]
It seems that Jesus’s disciples really understood the radical nature of the requirement Jesus was setting, and the passage continues:
And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. And He said to them, ”Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” [Mark 10: 10 – 12]
You evangelical Christians seem to be selective in the application of what you understand biblical precept to be. Many of you oppose the election of President Obama because he supports gay marriage which you think the Bible prohibits but at least some of you also supported the candidacy of Newt Gingrich who has been married - how many times? Please help us to understand what seems to us to be an inconsistency.
3) But perceived inconsistency regarding divorce and gay marriage is not, in my judgment, the greatest challenge to evangelical Christians in the “marriage debates.”
The greatest challenge of all comes if we genuinely believe that every biblical prohibition is, by what the Westminster Confession calls “good and necessary consequence,” a clear requirement of the opposite behavior from that which is being prohibited.
In my previous blog, I said this,
Here are just some of the positive actions which the Westminster Larger Catechism says are required by the Fifth Commandment:
All careful studies, and lawful endeavors, to preserve the life of ourselves and others: 1) by resisting all thoughts and purposes, subduing all passions, and avoiding all occasions, temptations, and practices, which tend to the unjust taking away the life of any; 2) by charitable thoughts, love, compassion, meekness, gentleness, kindness; peaceable, mild and courteous speeches and behavior; forbearance, readiness to be reconciled, patient bearing and forgiving of injuries, and requiting good for evil; comforting and succoring the distressed, and protecting and defending the innocent.
And I concluded with these two questions:
What would laws look like which sought to require the above positive actions? What would they say about such presently debated issues as health care, poverty, and immigration policy?
My question now is this: if we believe that the Bible prohibits gay marriage, what do we think the Bible REQUIRES of us who are married? And how, if at all, should civil marriage legislation reflect those requirements? Tune in next week!
Sam Logan is Special Counsel to the President and Professor of Church History at Biblical. He is an ordained minister of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and he is President Emeritus at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. In addition to his work at Biblical, he serves as International Director of the World Reformed Fellowship ( http://www.wrfnet.org ). He is married to Susan and they have two sons and two grandsons. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/samuel-logan