It’s been a fairly gruelling period for Bible believing Christians. Despite the many petitions, letters, radio interviews and other attempts to argue the Christian position on Marriage – Westminster, The Church of Scotland (and undoubtedly Holyrood next) are pushing full steam ahead on recognizing and legislating for Same Sex Marriage (SSM). The air of triumphalism in the media is palpable – the arguments for SSM on the grounds of equality are now seemingly so invincible that anyone who argues otherwise is generally pilloried. Evangelicals on this issue are the comic-book Nazis in Indiana Jones films – fit only for unqualified contempt (witness the onslaught against Ian Paisley Jnr on a recent edition of Question Time). Now, of course, the debate is not completely over and we should all get behind The Christian Institute and others as they continue their work in the House of Lords and elsewhere.
However, for now it’s plain that the arguments for a ‘traditional Christian' understanding of Marriage have by and large failed to ‘get traction’. This, in hindsight, was perhaps inevitable in a society that has drifted so far from its Christian heritage. Christians, of course, recognised this and as a result often felt compelled to argue not on Christian/Biblical premises but on secular ones. We were aware that arguments ‘from the Bible’ would be largely dismissed as invalid by our secular society – so we attempted to argue on grounds we thought would be more credible and acceptable, e.g. health, societal, cultural. It was a valiant effort but all too often it got bogged down in a quagmire of claim, counter-claim, anecdote and statistics.
Indeed if the highest value that could be employed in such debates was an essentially humanistic view of equality – then frankly Christians were doomed to appear wanting and out of touch. If the Christian tactic was largely to cite cultural traditions or appeal to notions of ‘normality’ - then a society that esteems individual freedom as its most precious value was always going to reply, ‘You do your thing if you want, but don’t stop us doing our thing’. Thus the Achilles Heel of much of the recent Christian approach to SSM was the felt need to argue not on core Christian premises but on secular ones.
The great Christian Apologist Alvin Plantinga argued that non-believers can only make their anti-faith claims on the basis of ‘borrowed capital’. That is, the very notions of logic, linear argument and reason rest on a Christian understanding of the universe, i.e. that the universe has sense and rationality at its core and there exists transcendent truth that is knowable and attainable. This means that, for example, the anti-faith (materialistic) premise that the human brain is simply a haphazard conglomeration of random events and processes, actually nullifies any claim to objective reasoning made by those who argue for it. It means that Christians can push back the angry question, 'How can you can say XX is wrong?', with the reply, 'How can you say anything is wrong?'.
So where now for Christians in the aftermath of our failure to convince a humanistic and secular society that not having SSM will be good for them? Well let me suggest we need to go right back to our most basic premises. We need to ‘come clean’ that our objection to SSM is at core a religious or faith belief. We need to be upfront that our view on Marriage is based on a belief in a God who is the Creator of humanity. That this God has revealed Himself and given a disclosure about how humans should relate to each other in the world He made and will hold accountable to Himself. That God has made it clear what is good for men and women and what is not. We need to be very clear that this is our premise and that without it we accept that everything becomes relative and negotiable. The argument then becomes is the existence of such a God believable and is the Bible credible in those terms – which is the debate, of course, we would all much rather have.
Now, of course, we may not get that debate – the very mention of God and the Bible is likely to be met by Mars Hill-esque ridicule. Nevertheless we’ll be honest about our starting point, be consistent in our reasoning, and – an important residual benefit – be clear that we are a people of faith convictions and ‘the Law’ will have to persecute us on that basis should Parliament choose to do so.
Sadly, we have compounded our failure to defend Marriage by too often giving the impression that our beliefs are flimsy and arbitrary – borne out of preference, traditions and even fear. We too often vacated our ‘capital’ and accepted ‘terms and conditions’ set by opponents that left us with little more than references to opinion polls and demographics. We will not win the SSM debate by such means, we may not win it at all, but we can be clear that such matters go to the very heart of how we understand humanity and the existence of the universe. We need to move our arguments back to the ground we have most confidence in – Scriptural revelation.