by Matthew Raley
There is only one issue that concerns me anymore.
I went through a conservative optimist phase in my not-so-distant youth, when I thought American society was salvageable by political means. I also went through a conservative pessimist phase, during which I groused about how days gone by were better than these.
I remain a conservative, but I follow the issues the way a sportsman follows athletes — without a sense of personal investment. Today, I’m unimpressed with the teams of both right and left. Neither offers a coherent vision of what our culture should be.
The religious right is convinced that gay marriage is the tipping point for culture, where we shoot off the slippery slope into free-fall. So evangelicals across the country have poured resources into this battle appealing to the average American’s supposed traditionalism.
Take that point of view apart.
1. The tipping point for our culture came decades ago. There was not a Christian campaign against no-fault divorce in California, the innovation that actually pushed the institution of marriage off its foundations. If evangelicals want state law to reflect marriage as God designed it, they should campaign for “One man, one woman, til death us do part.”
Evangelicals won’t be campaigning that way anytime soon because they’ve embraced the divorce culture. Statistically, as has been documented many times, there is no difference between the practice of evangelicals and other Americans. Anecdotally, I learned about divorce as a child by watching the splits of my parents’ church friends.
Consider the consequences of so many broken evangelical families.
When the world says life is about personal fulfillment not personal holiness, we apparently agree. Christian counselors are sending couple after couple to the divorce courts on this basis — and it’s not as though this is a secret among evangelical church-goers. Our counseling center routinely helps couples who lost hope because of their Christian psychologists. In living this way, we have taught several generations of children that evangelical religion is about crying out to God on Sunday and being selfish during the week.
We have, indeed, manufactured the unbelieving majority in our country. The cynicism of young voters about traditional values was learned from church, not from Hollywood.
Gay marriage is not the tipping point. That point is long past.
2. Having entered the political fray with a fractured base — a base that opposes threats to marriage in principle but that is under the thumb of family courts in fact — the religious right has little option but to find enemies and blame them. That’s elementary, abc stuff. If the base is not united, your tool is fear.
So the enemies are homosexuals.
This strategy is Pharisaical. Which is to say, it is the wrath of man leveraged to produce the righteousness of God. And like all works of the Pharisees, it is doomed to ignominious failure.
Gays are not my enemies.
3. Appealing to the self-righteousness of the average American is anti-Gospel. The Bible teaches that the average American does not need a Savior from the sins of others, but from his own.
So much for the team on the right. The left has its own problems.
1. Not so long ago, the left was portraying the family as an oppressive institution. Academically, many analyzed family relationships in terms of economic power. Politically and culturally, many more worked to eliminate the legal and economic incentives to marry and stay married, to “educate” young people out from under sexual “repression,” and to stigmatize the traditional family as a relic of 1950s conformism.
To a great extent, the left has succeeded in blasting away the living culture of marriage. But now that the oppressive structure has been overthrown, it seems to have an Arcadian mythic elegance. I sometimes wonder if same-sex marriage is leftism, wistful for bourgeois tenderness, bringing a picnic to the evocative ruins.
2. Last fall the response of some to Prop 8’s victory was to search out its supporters and harass them. This was condemned by many gay marriage supporters for what it was, thuggery. But there is still an unwillingness, most recently expressed by the New Hampshire legislature, to codify religious protections into law with regard to this issue, as if those who oppose gay marriage, as I do, should be compelled to endorse it.
This elevation of gay marriage over the health of civil society will inflame, not persuade.
The maneuvering of left and right leaves me cold because it obscures the one issue I care about.
Marriage is an expression of Jesus Christ’s redeeming love for his church. I care that his power to transform and nurture is exhibited deeply in my relationship with my wife and sons. I care that his power is exhibited in the congregation I serve. I care that his power should reach people who at this moment may be antagonized by his name.
I’m grateful to the homosexuals who have come to the church, and those who’ve admitted me into their lives as a friend. In a time of rancor, I appreciate the chance to show respect and care even in the face of profound disagreement. I am confident that Christ can and will show himself in this way.
The California Supreme Court’s decision yesterday contributes nothing to this overriding project.