Waving a surrender flag on gay marriage

In “Gay Marriage and Christian Imagination,” Peter J. Leithart laments what appears to be dismal and weak Christian influences in the marriage debate and then reaches two troubling conclusions.

His final thoughts are significantly inadequate and appear be part of a growing tendency to wave a flag of surrender on the marriage debate.

“Perhaps Christians are called to do no more than speak the truth without worrying about persuasiveness. Perhaps we have entered a phase in which God has closed ears, so that whatever we say sounds like so much gibberish. We can depend on the Spirit to give ears as He pleases.”

“Whatever the political needs of the moment, the longer-term response to gay marriage requires a renaissance of Christian imagination. Because the only arguments we have are theological ones, and only people whose imaginations are formed by Scripture will find them cogent.”

The first part of Liethart’s conclusion seems to say that we are in some kind of era that parallels the prophets Isaiah or Jeremiah. Certainly we believe in a God who closes eyes and ears and even turns people over to their evil passions. Ultimately God will send this kind of judgment in “a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie” (II Thessalonians 2:11).
 Yet we have no way of knowing that such a time has come.

Apart from a direct revelation from God of the kind Isaiah received, I cannot imagine a place for Christians “to do no more than speak the truth without worrying about persuasiveness.”

I get the fact that Leithart is referring specifically to truth about God’s plan for marriage and not the gospel itself. I also assume that Leithart is referring to truth spoken to influence cultural and political views of marriage. Yet we are wise to be cautious about separating truths from the flow of the narrative of revelation. 

I simply cannot think of a valid case for conceding to “closed ears” concerning efforts to persuasively enter public discourse for the common good. Frankly, I was astonished by this recommendation until I read the next paragraph.

I am not sure what to say about the second part to Leithart’s conclusion but it at least revealed why he inclined toward such an enormous concession. What exactly does he mean that, “the only arguments we have are theological ones, and only people whose imaginations are formed by Scripture will find them cogent”?

If I understand him correctly, this is a profoundly inadequate statement on a number of levels. First, theological arguments involve far more than truths about marriage. Theological arguments (as I feel certain Leithart believes) cannot be made as isolated claims. Such arguments flow through a narrative that begins with the Creator and His creation.

Secondly, we are called to be agents of common grace who are deeply committed to the welfare of the city. And such callings and concerns have profound theological foundations on at least three levels of shared life between redeemed and unredeemed alike.

  1. Common origin: God’s ownership and image as a universal reality.
  2. Common Concerns: stewardship of the earth as our shared dwelling place 
  3. Common Connections: Universally accessible truth about God, moral order and transcendence.

Concerns for human flourishing and the good of marriage as a divine gift are built on truth about Imago Dei. But the Imago Dei is also part of a theological case for believing that, “God has lawfully ordered his creation in a way that all human beings have some sort of cognitive access to that lawfulness.” (Richard Mouw). Romans 2:15-16 appear to validate this cognitive access — even among those who don’t have access to Scripture.

This is the realm of common grace and presupposes an ability to have rational conversations about the common good. Obviously in some political structures believers must accept limitations because they are not permitted to influence laws and policies. 

But as long as we live in a system that allows us to sit at the table to seek shared understandings of the good that leads to laws and policies, why would we assume that we have nothing to offer but theological arguments that will only be understood by those who have imaginations informed by Scripture? 

I cannot believe that Liethart is unaware of the vast number of lines of persuasion that do not require a biblical chapter and verse but fall within the larger theological context of common grace.

I agree that it’s weak to use “the claim that legalizing gay marriage will make the legalization of polygamy easier.” And it’s unnecessary to use the argument “that homosexuals are in any way a threat to our civilization. “

Yet there is much more to say and many different ways to have the conversation. More importantly, what we have to say is deeply rooted in the two great commands to love God and neighbor. And dialogue based in the great commands is “theologically rich” and “biblically founded” because “all the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40).

How could those who honor the Creator and care about a common good for His creatures withdraw from the table where policies and laws are formed that profoundly effect the people?

Steve Cornell


About Wisdomforlife

Just another worker in God's field.
This entry was posted in Christian worldview, Citizenship, Culture, Democracy, Democrats, Diversity, Equal Rights, Equality, Gay, Gay Marriage?, Government, Homosexual lifestyle, Homosexuality, Imago Dei. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Waving a surrender flag on gay marriage

  1. Sergius Martin-George says:

    Did you happen to watch the video of Leithart’s friend Doug Wilson debating Andrew Sullivan on gay marriage? If so, what was your take on the debate and how effective (or not) Wilson was?

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