In the wake of the California Supreme Court’s audacious decision to legitimize marriage between people of the same sex, media outlets have been dominated by discussions on the topic. Frustrated by the lack of any cogent arguments defending the Judeo-Christian conception of marriage, a friend challenged me to pen a more thorough apologetic so that Christians might be better equipped to offer an articulate and rational defense of this essential institution.
Over the course of the next four to six weeks, that is precisely what I will attempt to do. The battle to define marriage is not over; the church must be able to speak in more convincing terms than simply “because the Bible says …” As we proceed, I would encourage you to thoroughly process the information and arguments presented here, and even consider integrating this material into your adult Sunday school and Bible study classes. If this is not practical, you might consider hosting a “Dessert and Discussion” at your home, in which you invite members from your church to gather for the purpose of reasoning together through the nature and definition of marriage as defined by the Christian worldview, and why this definition matters.
As I have said before, the Bible is true because it is the word of God and by that authority alone, it is so. However, that is not its only evidence for being the truth. All truth claims are subject to their correspondence with reality. For example, the law of gravity issues an absolute claim to a truism. One can either accept or reject this claim, but upon testing this claim in the real world—say, by inviting the skeptic to jump off the roof—all will come face to face with the absolute truth of gravity. The same is true relative to the Judeo-Christian definition of marriage. It is what it is and when you attempt to redefine it into something it is not, there will follow the predictable splat—somewhat like the skeptic who launches himself off your roof!
Marriage is far more profound than our contemporary culture would lead us to believe. It is a lifelong commitment that restrains self-centeredness, self-indulgence, and self-gratification. It is the one relationship that effectively prepares and conditions us for living in community with others. By restraining self-centeredness and promoting love of another, marriage then becomes the foundation for social order. When this commitment labeled marriage is reduced to nothing more than a mere contract between two consenting persons, one option among many, or redefined to accommodate any type of participants [or number], it ceases to provide the same societal benefits.
Marriage is Unique
The Judeo-Christian concept of marriage is as old as mankind. It serves as the very foundation of civilization itself. The marriage covenant is singularly unique in civilization; it is not simply a civil or romantic union between two people. Rather, it is an emotional, physical, and spiritual union between one man and one woman. It is emotional in the sense that two people, male and female, each with different (complementary) attributes, join together in life, assisting one another, nurturing and caring for one another, and affirming and guiding one another—in essence, completing the other. It is physical in the sense that marriage is procreative. Two separate biological beings blend together to create what neither can create on their own: children. And lastly, marriage is spiritual in the sense that we are made for this partnership that places the interest of the other (or others, in the case of children) above self—a relationship that ultimately mirrors God’s sacrificial love toward each of us and His bride: the church.
Augustine wrote in the fourth century, “peace is the tranquility that is produced by order” (tranquillitas ordinis). Marriage is the very cornerstone of moral and social order. History has proven time and again that no community can enjoy peace and harmony without following the true moral order, and marriage provides the only effective institution for perpetuating this order.
There is irrefutable evidence to support this statement relative to marriage and its role in producing not only social order but cultural prosperity as well. In 1934, the noted British anthropologist Joseph Daniel Unwin’s research demonstrated that those cultures that held to a strong sexual ethic—in which sex was strictly constrained to the marriage relationship—were as a result more productive and therefore prospered in contrast to cultures that were “sexually free” (Unwin, Sex and Culture, London: Oxford University Press, l934, 411–12, 431–32).
Unwin studied eighty primitive and sixteen civilized cultures spanning more than five thousand years of history and found this principle to be an indisputable fact (Sex and Culture, 324–326). He observed that the cultural condition of any society depends upon its “social energy, which is of two kinds, mental energy and creative energy” (Unwin, “Sexual Regulations and Cultural Behavior,” address given on 27 March 1935 to the medical section of the British Psychological Society, later printed by Oxford University Press). Unwin added, “In human records there is no case of an absolutely monogamous society failing to display great energy.” He further observed that “expansive energy has never been displayed by a generation that inherited a modified monogamy, modified polygamy, or an absolute polygamy.”
Social energy, Unwin argued, is the collective social effort that is directed toward the betterment of society and the common good. Societies with high levels of social energy were inherently more expansive, which gave rise to exploration, discovery, and progress in every category of creative growth. This would include those areas of culture such as economics, science, justice, education, arts, and so on. This social energy, he concluded, was greater within those cultures that held strong marital restraints on sex and greatly diminished in cultures with more liberal sexual ethics. More specifically, “Those cultures which allowed sexual freedom do not display a high level of social energy—their energy is consumed with meeting their physical appetites—they do not think large thoughts about the physical world—they are not interested in metaphysical questions regarding life and its meaning. In these cultures, life is for now” (Sexual Regulations). In essence, Unwin discovered that throughout history, a sexually hedonistic society is inherently less productive and lacking in social vision. Thus it fails to achieve what we would define as a civilized status.
Next week we will examine Unwin’s findings relative to those cultures that once held to a strong marital ethic (like ours) but later compromised, as we are now attempting to do.
© 2008 by S. Michael Craven
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S. Michael Craven is the founder and President of the Center for Christ & Culture
Michael lives in the Dallas area with his wife Carol and their three children.