One of my most vivid memories of childhood is standing with my grandfather, looking out on the landscape after a hurricane had passed through our town. Growing up in Florida, I knew to respect the great storms, but I was not prepared to see how much the landscape had been changed. I can remember thinking that I had underestimated the storm – a mistake I was determined not to make again.
Something similar is happening to many Christians in America today. We look out on the horizon around us and realize that our culture has been radically changed. In this case, the storm is a vast moral revolution, and that revolution is not even close to its conclusion. In fact, there will likely be no conclusion to this moral revolution within our lifetimes, or the lifetimes of our children and grandchildren.
We are now witnesses to a revolution that is sweeping away a sexual morality and a definition of marriage that has existed for thousands of years. This is the morality and understanding of marriage that has been central to societies shaped by biblical witness and the influence of both Judaism and Christianity. But, it is important to note that marriage has been understood throughout human history – in virtually all civilizations – as the union of a man and a woman.
We Cannot Be Silent is a book about that revolution, how it happened and what it means for us, for our churches, and for our children. It is important to trace the revolution, and understand that the most heated controversies of our day did not emerge from a vacuum onto the daily headlines. Every revolution has a story, and the story of this revolution is one that we can now trace. To put the truth plainly, this revolution did not start with same-sex marriage, and it will not end there.
The revolution that is centered on transforming sexual morality and redefining marriage has succeeded faster than its most eager advocates had even imagined, as they themselves now admit. But this revolution could not have achieved such a velocity if the ground had not been cleared by developments that came long before same-sex marriage. We will look at what came before same-sex marriage, and we will look into the future to what will come after.
Every Christian church – and every Christian – will face huge decisions in the wake of this moral storm. When marriage is redefined, an entire universe of laws, customs, rules, and expectations changes as well. Words such as husband and wife, mother and father, once the common vocabulary of every society in its own language, are now battlegrounds of moral conflict. Just consider how children’s picture books have to change in the wake of this revolution. As those who demand this revolution make clear, there will be no model of a normative family structure left in its wake.
But this revolution has also reached into our churches. Some are arguing that Christians need to revise our sexual morality and definition of marriage in order to avoid costly and controversial confrontations with the culture at large. Are they right?
Faithfulness to the Gospel and to the authority of Scripture will not allow such a revision.
So, how did we arrive at the momentous challenge? In We Cannot Be Silent we trace the revolution and its vast impact. Like a hurricane on a radar screen, this massive moral shift can be seen in its development and its storm track. We cannot tell this story without looking at how secularized our society has become. It turns out that the secularizing of the culture is central to the moral shift.
But this moral revolution would not be possible without massive moral and technological changes that came long before same-sex marriage even entered into public conversation. In order to understand this, we must look at the arrival of birth control and divorce, and at the fact that few Christians seemed to understand at the time that these developments were setting the stage for a total redefinition of marriage and the family. You can’t have a sexual revolution without easy contraception and so-called “no fault” divorce. By the early 1970s, both were largely in place. Christians seemed to take little notice of either.
The development of the homosexual movement and the amazing velocity of this cultural shift must be put within the context of that moral revolution. Those advocating for the normalization of same-sex relationships and behaviors built upon the momentum of the sexual revolution, and they did so with spectacular success.
Still, the question haunts us: How is it possible that marriage itself could be redefined to include a man married to another man or a woman married to another woman? We know that a majority of Americans now affirm what just a decade ago a vast majority rejected – the legalization of same-sex marriage. What does this mean? What will it mean? These are questions that I consider closely in this book.
To all this the transgender revolution must be added. In the long run, the redefinition of sex and gender will have even more far-reaching consequences than the redefinition of marriage. Are there any limits to where the transgender revolution will lead? None are yet in sight. This is a fundamental reordering of society at the very level of gender and personal identity. The transgender revolution is like a vast moral tsunami that will leave no dimension of the culture untouched and largely transformed.
Are we looking at the end of marriage? What will marriage mean when virtually anyone has a “right” to marry anyone, regardless of gender or sex? What can it mean? Some voices on both sides of the same-sex marriage controversy agree that, whatever else may happen, marriage will never be the same. Indeed, marriage as a privileged and respected institution – even as an expectation of normal adulthood – is disappearing before our eyes. And the stage was set for the end of marriage by heterosexuals, who disregarded and redefined marriage long before same-sex marriage proponents arrived to make their demands.
Understanding the moral revolution and its cultural transformations is important, but not enough. For Christians, the more urgent question is: What does the Bible really say about sex? For biblical Christians, this is the most important question of all. We will look at the Bible’s understanding of sex, gender, marriage, and morality. The Bible will establish the framework for our consideration of marriage, identity, and sexuality. As we will see, the Bible presents a clear understanding of sex, gender, and marriage as among God’s greatest gifts to humanity – to be honored as he intended.
I also wrote We Cannot Be Silent because of the very real and urgent challenge to religious liberty we now confront. These challenges jump right onto the headlines virtually every week, and the list of issues headed for courts and legislatures is long and getting longer. Will Christian colleges and universities be coerced into violating Christian conviction? Will individual Christians be denied their religious liberties? What will same-sex marriage mean for your church and its freedom?
Ultimately, how do we understand this moral revolution in light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ? When faithful, Christians always know that the gospel is our constant frame of reference. In that light, the moral confusion of our day represents a real opportunity for courageous Christian witness. If we have confidence in the gospel, we will have confidence in the compassion of truth.
I end the book with a large section of issues and answers. Should a Christian attend a same-sex wedding? Is sexual orientation a choice? How do we balance truth and compassion? Would you allow your child to play at a home with two moms or two dads? Why do none of the ancient Christian creeds define marriage? Should government legislate morality? These are just a few of the questions now pressing upon us. How should we answer?
I remember so well standing with my grandfather, looking at a rather big boat sitting on its side, far from the lake. I didn’t have to ask how it got there. The hurricane explained everything.
We cannot understand our times without looking honestly at the moral hurricane sweeping across our culture, leaving very little untouched, if not radically changed, in its wake. But understanding is just a start. When it comes to marriage and morality, Christians cannot be silent – not because we are morally superior, but because we know that God has a better plan for humanity than we would ever devise for ourselves.
Beyond that, we cannot be silent because we know that Jesus Christ is Lord and that he came to save us from our sins. We cannot rightly tell people about the gospel of Jesus Christ if we do not speak rightly about sin and its consequences.
As I have said, I stood there with my grandfather, determined never to underestimate a hurricane again. We dare not underestimate the scale, scope, and significance of this moral revolution. Even more urgently, we cannot underestimate the gospel of Jesus Christ. This book is written in the hope that the church will be found faithful, even in the midst of the storm.
We Cannot Be Silent: Speaking Truth to a Culture Redefining Sex, Marriage, and the Very Meaning of Right and Wrong is released today nationwide by Nelson Books of Thomas Nelson Publishers. It is available at your local bookstore and through online retailers including Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.
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Publication date: October 27, 2015