The California Court on Prop 8

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.

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7 thoughts on “The California Court on Prop 8

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  1. Well, that was refreshing to read. And it is encouraging to hear a Christian say that political alignment is not the solution to the world’s problems. Well put, Matt.

  2. I think the left’s battle against the sanctity of marriage was waged against the post-industrial notion of marriage as a wage-sharing agreement giving men legal control over the wages and women an implicit dependency on men’s whims. (To paint it in broad brushstrokes.)

    The battle against sexual repression is a psychoanalytic campaign that started a long time before anyone challenged the sanctity of marriage, or the family as a social unit, in the way we understand those challenges today. The concept of sexual repression was made famous by Freud, and as far as I know he had no interest in dissolving the family —

    The distinction is important, I think, because the primary concern of the left was about the way the family became a unit of privacy for patriarchs, in which the rights of women were systematically denied and taken away. Sexual liberation is one thing, but the liberation of the entire body, the entire sense of being human, is another. In general, the left fought for the latter.

  3. Certainly the left has focused on the post-industrial family. But I do think academic feminism has carried the critique of patriarchy to a wide range of cultures and epochs. Much of the debate in mainline churches, for instance, centers on what to make of the 1st century. So the targeting of traditional relationships between men and women has been broad.

    I was thinking of the more colloquial use of “repression.” But you’re right to point out that Freud himself wasn’t necessarily trying to destroy the family. I do think his theories fed cynicism about family, though, even if it was an unintended consequence.

    In general, I think the left’s vision of liberation as autonomy is a prescription for despair.

  4. Excellent dissertation, but to this older guy approaching his 80’s, I really do not want to read voluumes to get to the basic truths.

    Those who waste our time, examining the rights of some, versus the “wrongs” of others, need to be exposed for who they are, enemies of the Cross.
    Jesus did not waste our time with lengthy commentaries on God’s will, He merely pointed to what was obvious and moved on – allowing those who believed in who He was to rely on what He said.

    Religion will never make sense to anyone until that person has evidence of their Lord’s life – based on His teachings, evident in the life of another. Now, they can tell you they believe, but if there is no evidence of that belief at work in those who claim they represent a certain belief system, it is time for the “buyer” to be aware. It was the Romans who warned us with the following, known to most who can read, ‘caveat emptor’.

    All the rest is – as the Bible proclaims, “wood, hay and stubble” to be burned in the aternal flame.

    There ought not to be any “left” or “right” in the teachings of Jesus. Paul asked the question, …”can Christ be divided?” and the answer for those who are truly “walking” with Him, is a resounding – “No!!!”

    Now, we can march on Washington, send e-mails to or call our Congress persons every hour on the hour, even beg the Pastor to speak from the pulpit, and little ever will be accomplished – for one simple reason, we have ignored our calling. It was to be His witnesses, wherever it was that we found ouurselves. Instead, we listen to the savants of our day and time and most of them are as mistaken as those who follow along.

    All we really do is – act, in Jesus’ name.

  5. I’m not completely convinced we must stop fighting for what we believer politically, though my own values tend to be strongly libertarian. I fight for the freedom to exercise my faith, and I am even willing to see issues like abortion and gay rights to personal persuasion. Having said that, you do make some excellent points.

    I have said much the same about no-fault divorce and to the cultural accommodation that Christians have been making. All my life, I have observed that fitting in and being comfortable matter more than following Christ for most.

    Some years ago, I was preparing to interview Bob Briner on whatever his latest book was, at the time. I went to the bookstore and stumbled upon “Deadly Detours: Seven Noble Causes That Keep Christians from Changing the World.” I read it and have referred to it often, ever since. I asked him why he didn’t promote that book, and he said the publisher was basically afraid of it.

    Simply stated, he says we should be wary of anything we do or support that would keep us from showing the love of Jesus Christ to someone on the other side. I highly recommend it, if you haven’t read it (and if you can find a copy).

    I’m posting this to my friends on Facebook. Thanks.

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