President Obama’s recent “coming out” on the issue of same-sex marriage has led to a renewed discussion of the issue. Obama’s explanation for his “evolution” (which, in reality, is unlikely an evolution at all) is that his Christian beliefs require it:
When we think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the Golden Rule, you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated.
Now, I have no issues with the Golden Rule properly applied, but I resent that it’s come to be used not as an imperative for disinterested compassion, but as a bludgeoning tool for legitimizing particular behaviors and supporting an anything-goes moral outlook. At a fundamental level, such a view of “equal treatment” requires us to rid words of meaning and rip truth out of justice, should that particular truth be so awful as to offend so-and-so’s individual choices.
Through this understanding, the President’s refrain goes something like this: “Want to change the definition of an age-old institution? Well, if I wanted to do that, I would certainly want to be appeased.”
And there’s the biggie: I. I. I.
When the Golden Rule is contorted as such, it illuminates how much we’ve come to elevate self-satisfaction and self-affirmation in our society-wide contemplations about morality and justice. Rather than look to things like history, experience, science, or God himself (gasp), we base our actions and outlooks around what we might prefer. And alas, even when we do choose to look at the right sources—as Obama so keenly attempts with his “faith”—we tend to limit their value only insofar as it allows us to throw they’re broader purpose out the window.
The mindset is captured well in Collin Hansen’s analysis of the recent goings on, in which he sums up our current cultural outlook as follows:
- God made me this way.
- He wouldn’t deny my natural desires.
- And I don’t have to explain myself to you or anyone else.
Yet such cultural erosion is by no means epitomized or even made clearest by this frequent battle over whether homosexuality is right or wrong. The push toward homosexual marriage is just one logical step in what has been a decades-long journey down a road of obsessive me-centered self-affirmation, and it certainly won’t be the last. That we’ve come to view homosexuality as the primary issue in the larger debate is unfortunate, yet it is perhaps due to the fact that many Christians don’t seem to think there is a “larger debate.” As Hansen puts it, “The pursuit of self-fulfillment covers a multitude of adultery, divorce, and pornography in our churches. Why shouldn’t it also cover homosexuality?”
Yet there is just as big of a need to re-re-re-(re?)-emphasize the former: Why shouldn’t it also cover the rest?
When we look beyond the issue of homosexual marriage to issues of heterosexual sex, whether we’re talking pre-marital sex/contraception, pre-marital cohabitation, pornography, adultery, or whatever, we see the church becoming more and more comfortable with a version of “love” and “covenant” centered around Individual X’s abstract personal desires and less and less attached to (or interested in) the truth of the Bible and the Gospel. It should come as no surprise that Christians who are fine and dandy with sinful heterosexual lifestyles feel the need to affirm homosexual ones. By their own framework of “truth” and set beside their own moral outlook, such a move does indeed constitute “justice” and “equality.”
Thus, while the question of whether one favors homosexual marriage is indeed an important one for public debate, for the Christian in particular, such popular calls have a deeper cultural root we’d do well to dig up and of which we are all guilty of building upon — most specifically this notion of “self-fulfillment” on our own debased terms.
For those of you who read this blog, you know that I apply this critique just as aggressively (and far more frequently) to the economic realm. For indeed, all of this is intertwined—our tendency toward self-centered, short-sighted, me-centered morality, whether in sex, family, money, vocation, or anything else.
As Hansen concludes:
Romans 1 reveals the horrifying outcome of this idolatry, when we deny God his divine right as Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, and Judge. God can do nothing worse to sinners than grant their desires. So Christians do not so much fear the hostile imposition of gay marriage as its so-called flourishing. In this world God created, such idolatry produces neither life, nor liberty, nor happiness (2 Peter 2:19). It will only spread the regret and frustration “Reggie” and his generation of sexually liberated young adults confessed to Smith and his fellow researchers. So why hasn’t freedom resulted in happiness?
Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24; see also Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23). These hard words point us toward the only source of abundant life: “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:24; see also Mark 8:35, Luke 9:24). For presidents and paupers, gays and straights, there is no other way to true happiness than the one Jesus traveled, the way that ended in the agony of the Cross and the ecstasy of the Resurrection.
It’s all idolatry, and in all of these matters, we sinners will get nowhere by asking ourselves, as the President did, “If I were an idolater how would I want my idolatry to be affirmed?”
The President is right about one thing: Christ denied his natural desires. But he did so that we might live. We mustn’t pretend that life comes any other way.