I like reading Ross Douthat’s columns in the New York Times. But I found his most recent column, “The Terms of Our Surrender”, particularly disturbing. It is his take on the state of things in culture, particularly with the issue of marital definitions. There has been a full court press to change our culture’s assumptions of how marriage should be defined. From sports to politics to Hollywood, voices that affirm an expanded definition of marriage seem to be winning the day. Hence, there is a growing assumption that the battle to define marriage as strictly between a man and a woman has now been lost. Douthat suggests it is now time to determine the terms of surrender and carve out protections for dissent.
According to Douthat, either “religious conservatives” will be left to promote their view of marriage as a “dissenting subculture emphasizing gender differences and procreation, while the wider culture declares that love and commitment are enough to make a marriage”—or they will brush up against state power and pay a price. This could be harassment, fines, loss of business, etc.—given what has just played out in Arizona. This could ultimately mean churches will likely face lawsuits or lose tax-exempt status if they do not comply with what appears to be upcoming new laws regarding marriage .
All of this brings me to Malcolm Gladwell’s recent work, David and Goliath. It is a story about what happens when ordinary people confront giants. By giants, we mean everything from armies to disability, to misfortune, to oppression. And so, in each chapter Gladwell uses the story of a person who has faced an “outsize” challenge and has been forced to respond.
Over and over, Gladwell underscores that giants are not what you think. They may appear invincible, but as in the case of the biblical story, they often are not. What might seem inevitable, is not necessarily so. The powerful and the strong are not what they appear to be. David overcomes Goliath in the same way courage overwhelms lots of soldiers and weapons. Strength is not always to be found in size or weight or numbers. A significant shift in definitions does not mean that truth has replaced untruth. It may in fact be the opposite.
To push back against the prevailing assumption that same-sex marriage is a civil rights issue has the feel of a David facing a Goliath. The odds are overwhelming, for it appears a growing majority have concluded that this is no longer a moral issue. To push back has all the appearance of someone who is unintelligent, bigoted, homophobic, and graceless. To disagree with the existing norms sets one up to be criticized as naïve, intolerant, and narrow.
Increasingly, law is colliding with Christian conviction. There is a growing, irreconcilable clash between those who believe that homosexual conduct is immoral and those who believe that it is a natural and morally unobjectionable manifestation of human sexuality. As same sex marriage moves to become legalized (as well as celebrated), the potential for violations of law based upon religious conscience seems inevitable. And those who take the side that same sex unions are morally wrong will appear increasingly to have Davidic proportion–small and helpless.
But I wonder. If one holds that Scripture is our ultimate authority–and if one holds that Scripture is unambiguous and univocal in its definition of marriage (that sexual desires find their rightful fulfillment only in a heterosexual context)—and if one holds that God’s will will ultimately prevail (for God’s purposes will always be accomplished) , there does not seem to be a lot of reason to fear. Certainly, there is no need for surrender. The folly of going contrary to the Creator’s design, of creating new definitions (which by the way only open up the gate for tomorrow’s redefinitions) will ultimately come back to haunt those who are celebrating what appears to be a victory. As I noted in an earlier post, when the state determines the values of a culture, at the expense of the church, society is on a perilous course.