Sean McDowell and John Stonestreet. Same-Sex Marriage: A Thoughtful Approach to God’s Design for Marriage. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2014. 176 pp. $9.99 on Amazon
The gay rights movement has been picking up speed over the past few decades, but in the past five years, the gloves have come off and a minority movement in America received what seems to be a decisive victory in the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision, which strikes down state bans on same-sex marriage. While this decision was not necessarily the legalization of so-called same-sex marriage, it was a historic decision, which declared any bans on such unions as unconstitutional. Summer 2015 changed the landscape of American culture forever.
We have already seen the predicted tension between the Obergefell decision and religious liberty in such persons as Rowan County (KY) clerk Kim Davis, as well as the legal nightmare of further lawsuits on similar ground from those in polyamorous relationships.
Further, more than a shift and genesis of cultural breakdown, we are seeing Christians faced with a crisis of faith. Public perception of Christians who do not accept the status quo when it comes to so-called same-sex marriage is increasingly negative and hostile. Christians opposing same-sex marriage are being lumped together historically with those who opposed the civil rights movement.
So, what are Christians to do? How are we to respond? Some have simply jumped ship. Christianity clearly declares same-sex marriage isn’t even a thing, so some have come to realize they want no part of the church. Others have tried to steer the ship in a different direction. They have mutinously overthrown the Captain and steered the ship of the faith where they want it to go. For some like Matthew Vines this has meant trying to exegete the legitimacy of monogamous same-sex relationships. For others it has simply meant fleeing biblical inerrancy for a preference-based hermeneutic. But all honest and thinking Christians have had to discuss and wrestle with how to speak to this issue with biblical conviction and winsome rhetoric.
For conservative, Bible-believing evangelicals (I wish this distinction was unnecessary. I mean, what is a non-Bible-believing evangelical, anyway?) Sean McDowell and John Stonestreet have provided a helpful, intelligent, and engaging resource for thinking and talking through the issue of so-called same-sex marriage. With many possible rabbits to chase in this argument, the authors tactfully keep the discussion fixed on the most crucial question in this debate.
What is marriage? That is the question. Gay rights advocates try to create similarities with the civil right s movement, but this avoids the question. McDowell and Stonestreet strike this erroneous comparison down with an intelligent, yet swift stroke. Their argumentation is worth quoting at length.
A male of one ethnicity and a female of another can become in every sense that a couple of the same ethnicity can. And an interracial sexual union is ordered toward procreation and can abide by the same standards of exclusivity and permanence. Bans on interracial marriages wrongfully discriminated against actual marriages.
But same-sex couples cannot procreate nor can they become ‘one’ in the same sense opposite couples can. Thus, maintaining marriage as the union of one man and one woman is wrongful discrimination only if it can be demonstrated that the revisionist definition of marriage is the right one. If the conjugal view is correct, same-sex couples can’t actually be married. Claiming discrimination assumes a new definition of marriage as proof for the new definition. It’s circular reasoning (61-62).
In all of their refutations of revisionist arguments, the authors return to the crucial question: what is marriage? For the authors, the definition of marriage is entirely shaped by the Bible. They claim “marriage was designed by God to thoroughly join two image bearers in a permanent commitment, enabling them to fulfill their purpose of filling and forming God’s world” (44). The biblical view of marriage inherently fuels sexual ethics, which speaks to the heart of the revisionist definitions of marriage.
An interestingly crucial aspect of the authors’ argument is that marriage is designed for child bearing. Why is marriage a necessary institution for society? Feeding off of Maggie Gallagher, the authors say there are three “obviously true facts about the world that make the institution of marriage necessary: ‘Sex makes babies. Society needs babies. Babies deserve mothers and fathers’” (44). The authors argue that the design of marriage is for child bearing and child rearing—two things that are absolutely crucial to societal sustenance. Does every act of sex bring forth children? Is sex only for procreation? No. But the basic design of sex is for child bearing.
Even more than this, the authors believe “societies have a vested interest in supporting environments that best rears children” (45). They then reference various sociological studies that show children flourish best when they are raised by their biological mothers and fathers. Same-sex marriage inherently refutes all of this research. It says babies do not necessarily need mothers or fathers.
McDowell and Stonestreet intelligently and compellingly make their argument for traditional marriage while refuting same-sex marriage through focusing on the simple question: what is marriage? They show that marriage is not just about feelings of love, which is the primary cry of the same-sex marriage movement. Marriage has much deeper ties to society than this. So, not just from a biblical perspective, but also from historical and sociological perspectives, same-sex marriage is culturally arrogant.
While the authors’ reasoning is clear and concise, they also speak with a careful and practical tone. The first half of the book is a critique of the revisionist view of marriage, while defining marriage and showing its biblical and sociological implications. The second half of the book is a practical discussion of what Christians can and should do in the face of the apparent victory of same-sex marriage. So the first half asks and answers: what is marriage. The second half asks and answers: what should we do?
“The impulse to flee from culture, even for noble causes like staying away from evil or preserving the relevance of the gospel, tempts the Church in every generation” (81-82). One thing we cannot do is remain silent. Hiding in the bushes while the culture radically shifts is beneath a Christian committed to the universal lordship of Jesus Christ. We must not only stand for how God has defined marriage, but we must provide an example to our society of what marriage is. The role of the church as a bastion and pillar of truth is to provide a vision of marriage that counters the culture.
So we must speak and act with biblical integrity and consistency when it comes to marriage. But we also must repent where necessary. Let’s be honest. The church hasn’t historically extended a loving ear to hear the concerns and struggles of the gay community. We have at times responded with hatred that isn’t consistent with the Savior we follow. McDowell and Stonestreet ask, “Might it be possible to maintain our convictions about homosexual behavior and same-sex unions while building bridges instead of walls?” (104).
Same-Sex Marriage belongs in the hands of every pastor. Pastoral staff and elders need to work through this book as it provides philosophical principles for thinking through the arguments of same-sex marriage while also offering a practical paradigm for addressing the issue on a daily and weekly basis in the life of the church.
Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Books through the Baker Books Bloggershttp://www.bakerbooks.com/bakerbooksbloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.
Mathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is the Children’s Pastor at First Baptist Church in East Bernstadt, KY. He is an M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their son, Jude Adoniram. You can follow him on Twitter @Mat_Gilbert