The Evangelical Alliance have released a Marriage Briefing for churches.
Once again, a Christian response to the same-sex marriage debate shows itself to be badly thought through in argument, as well as using misleading hyperbole.
Bad Argument: Use of Matthew 19
As with many of the arguments from Christians who are against redefining marriage in the UK, the text of Matthew 19 is raised. This was not a big flaw in the EA Marriage Briefing, but it is something which has frustrated me for the last few months within the debates surrounding the UK Home Office equal civil-marriage consultation.
Usually it is simply Matt 19:4-6 which is quoted, itself being Jesus quoting Genesis 2:24: A quote of a quote. Ideally the whole unit of text, Matthew 19:1-12, should be used. This is good exegesis, taking the whole context into account, thereby helping us, the readers, to fully understand the purpose and meaning of the text.
The encounter concerns the Pharisees asking Jesus about the Jewish laws concerning divorce. As with many of the questions posed to Jesus, it was intended to trick him. The contemporary argument (greatly simplified) was between the school of Shammei, who taught that divorce was only granted in the cases of adultery, against the school of Hillel, who taught divorce could be granted on any grounds.
Jesus takes the argument from Genesis 2 that those who are married should remain together, and again in response to the Pharisees, that divorce is a concession, and that divorce and remarriage, in cases other than adultery, is to be seen as adultery.
The disciples, as ever, are stunned, as seen in their response: “It is better not to get married at all!” Jesus affirms this route as being difficult, highlighting that there are many who remain incapable of marriage from birth, those who remain unmarried by the actions of men, and those who choose to remain unmarried by choice for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven.
In context, then, it is the commitment to a marriage relationship, and the theological views on divorce, which are in question. Further, the end of the text unit also suggests the legitimacy, and laudable status, of remaining single. Is it possible, therefore, that Jesus is moving the focus away from an argument concerning divorce and marriage, and towards the relational qualities and commitment of marriage, and the relational qualities of the wider community as a whole? A move away from a selfish view of getting one’s own way in marriage towards how one can best play a part in the wider group, whether that be married or single.
This viewpoint is echoed in 1 Corinthians 7, which, coincidentally, I’ve yet to see used in the current debate, despite it being the most substantial exposition in the New Testament concerning marriage in a local-church context.
Page two, under the heading ‘marriage works’ can be found the statement:
All the evidence shows that children do best with a married mother and father. Making marriage gender neutral would hamper a child’s chance to form intimate and appropriate relationships with both men and women.
I have chosen to understand this as hyperbole, as rhetorical style, on the part of the EA. If I did not, I would have to understand them as boldly lying, and misinforming many thousands of Christians who trust the EA publications.
It is difficult to collect data concerning the well-being of children raised in same-sex parent families, as many remain anonymous due to social stigmatization. However, many sociological and psychological studies of children raised in family units with same-sex parents suggest that the binary of mother and father are not the stabilising factor. One study concludes:
Children’s optimal development seems to be influenced more by the nature of the relationships and interactions within the family unit than by the particular structural form it takes. …[T]he weight of evidence gathered during several decades using diverse samples and methodologies is persuasive in demonstrating that there is no systematic difference between gay and nongay parents in emotional health, parenting skills, and attitudes toward parenting. No data have pointed to any risk to children as a result of growing up in a family with 1 or more gay parents. Some among the vast variety of family forms, histories, and relationships may prove more conducive to healthy psychosexual and emotional development than others.
It is concerning that the Evangelical Alliance, against the findings of research, will use such strong language which is only supported by their own presumptions about the functioning of the world.
It is also concerning because individuals within the church may take these statements at face value due to the reputation and authority of the Evangelical Alliance. The issues may not be properly considered, or thought through, which ultimately leads to weakened theology and a lacking of a robust theological worldview.
Contrary to many comments I receive from people when I talk about this subject, I am not militantly against those who hold a theological viewpoint which includes marriage as a union between a man and a woman only. If that is their theological conviction then I support them in it.
I will always, however, have a problem with viewpoints being held on assumption, against legitimate understandings of the Biblical text, and against other honest and serious investigations into the workings of our world.
Further, one group’s theological viewpoint should not then become normative for all people in a wider community. A theological viewpoint should be accepted and chosen, not forced upon someone.
Christian viewpoints do not need to be hidden behind, or sink into, bad argument and rhetoric. If they do, then what is being defended cannot be of much worth. Likewise, if a Christian viewpoint has worth, then this will be seen by others in the wider community and accepted when it is seen to function in the Christian community endorsing it.