The statement signed by prominent public intellectuals and published in First Things is a well-intentioned effort to avert same-sex “marriage.” In it the authors declare same-sex “marriage” a more serious matter than divorce or cohabitation. This claim should not be invoked lightly since it reflects a serious failure of leadership. This is not what Christian leaders should be saying at this crisis point in the history of modern marriage. It amounts to a concession to the fixations of the political class at the expense of ordinary Christians and others whose lives have been devastated by the Sexual Revolution.
The document does provide an eloquent reformulation of the standard case against same-sex “marriage.” But at this juncture, with that battle essentially lost, this conveys little but desperation. As many have pointed out, this document contains no constructive plan of practical action for averting same-sex “marriage.”
Same-sex “marriage” is symptomatic of a much larger and more ambitious agenda of determined and defiant sexual liberation being pushed by radical political ideologues. The destruction of true marriage and the traditional family is not merely a consequence of the radicals’ program; it is its stated purpose. And it will not stop with marriage. Other manifestations of the radicals’ growing power have already demonstrated their eagerness to incarcerate their opponents.
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
Sign up to get Crisis articles delivered to your inbox daily
This political lobby must be confronted directly. The conviction that same-sex “marriage” can be defeated merely by rehashing the same arguments, however logical, is not leadership. Christian intellectuals are precisely the ones who should be helping us to think “outside the box,” examining the larger picture, debating alternative approaches, and offering practical options to redeem our society from this folly.
Same-sex “marriage” and the radical agenda of which it is but a small part cannot be stopped on the cheap. We must accept and act upon some unpleasant but obvious truths—truths that may cost us something. And they are precisely the ones this document appears determined not simply to avoid but to deliberately obfuscate.
First, same-sex “marriage” and homosexuals did not kill marriage; they are merely picking over the carcass. Same-sex “marriage” is the direct result of precisely the divorce and cohabitation epidemics that this document tells us are less important. These brought the “abolition of marriage” and devalued it to the point that it became attractive to some homosexuals. Others have long warned that Christian leaders are shockingly silent on these matters, and their warnings now stand vindicated. Same-sex “marriage” is the logical result.
Though the statement includes the standard lamentations about the deterioration of the family and society through divorce, cohabitation, and connected ills, it stops well short of demanding or even discussing the concrete actions that are necessary and well within our grasp. Without confronting the deeper and more substantial sins that are responsible for this fiasco, objecting to same-sex “marriage” is pointless.
Unlike same-sex “marriage,” divorce can be controlled with concrete and effective measures. With enough courage and determination, a few churches acting on their own can bring the divorce and cohabitation epidemics under control and, thereby, render same-sex marriage less appealing. This document not only lets us off the hook but appears designed to do so. (Why else pass up an opportunity to take action when no Christian leaders show any inclination to undertake now any of their own?)
Same-sex “marriage” concerns tiny numbers. By contrast, divorce and illegitimacy devastate the lives of tens of millions and constitute the engine driving the welfare system that is bankrupting entire societies.
The authors evidently consider their most serious point to be that Christian dissenters “are already being censured and others have lost their jobs because of their public commitment to marriage as the union of a man and a woman.” Censured and lost their jobs? This is hardly a new phenomenon.
The numbers of these victims are trivial compared to what others have suffered at the hands of the radicals’ agenda. Under the gargantuan and repressive divorce gestapo, legally unimpeachable citizens are separated forcibly and permanently from their children, evicted from their homes, plundered for everything they possess, and incarcerated without trial for such transgressions as unauthorized meetings with their own children. Not only do they lose their jobs; they are then summarily jailed for having inadequate income. They are even incarcerated for criticizing government officials.
This has been going on for years, during which Christian leaders have been silent. It is hardly surprising that similar (but so far much less serious) authoritarian measures are now being meted out to Christians. A glance at the sexual revolutionaries’ other targets reveals that it can and will become much worse.
But callousness toward unjust suffering is only part of our neglect. For divorce and cohabitation are also the principal drivers behind the welfare state behemoth, with its multiplier costs of crime and social anomie, that is now bankrupting the western world.
Today’s sexual bolshevism is not merely the decadence of some nebulous “culture” at which we can all wring our hands and lament. It is the decided agenda of political ideologues who advance their cause by cowing, marginalizing, and silencing their critics, by accusing them of crimes and quasi-crimes so despicable that no one dares question the accusations or defend the accused, and by dividing and picking off their opponents one-by-one.
The openly proclaimed targets of the sexual radicals, both feminist and homosexualist, are (in this order):
- men, masculinity, and fatherhood
- marriage and traditional families
- Christians and other non-violent religious believers
The first group they have already emasculated and demonized into silence—and incarcerated in huge numbers. Shockingly, they have accomplished this largely with the acquiescence (if not the occasional assistance) of family advocates and church leaders. This has made it very easy to abolish the second, which is also largely accomplished, before moving on, as they now are, to the third.
It is no accident that this is seen first in the divorce epidemic. For as most marriage defenders either fail or refuse to recognize, the divorce revolution was driven from the start by feminists, and it is foremost a direct attack on the embodiment of the patriarchy: fathers. Divorce and cohabitation create the indispensable social foundation for the Sexual Revolution: fatherless, single-mother homes.
It is also apparent in the campus “rape” hoax, whose sole purpose is to criminalize male students. Heather MacDonald accurately calls the claims “preposterous.” “There is no such epidemic,” she states flatly. “There is, however, a squalid hook-up scene, the result of jettisoning all normative checks on promiscuous behavior. … There is simply no reason to concede any factual legitimacy to the rape hysterics.” Yet here too, Christian leaders have been silent, about both the hook-up culture itself and the patently unjust quasi-criminal accusations it sets up, making ourselves look irrelevant or foolish with our credulity and ostentatious displays of compassion.
Our prisons are exploding with two million men who are—effectively to a man—the sons of single mothers. Yet Christian leaders are silent on single motherhood too. Instead, the latest fashion seems to be a newly proclaimed (or throwback) compassion for “the poor”—which appears to mean expanding the welfare machinery that, in good bureaucratic fashion, creates the very poverty (and criminality) it then purports to relieve.
The “poor” of today’s affluent countries are not starving children with distended bellies. They too are the offspring of single mothers. They are the victims not of a stingy society but of a sexually indulgent one. “Poverty is chiefly predicted by family structure,” writes Phyllis Schlafly. “If single moms were to marry the fathers of their children, the children would be lifted out of poverty.” Cheap compassion for the poor without attention to their sexual morality merely exacerbates the problem. Earlier generations of Christians did not flinch from this obvious, irrefutable, and necessary principle. But who preaches against adultery or fornication now?
Having neglected these age-old truths until the family crisis attains the absurdity of same-sex “marriage,” we now want to draw a line in the sand just short of the latest, most absurd manifestation and hope we can extricate ourselves without serious sacrifice. But it does not work that way.
What the Christian political class is telling our secular patrons and everyone else is that we can all still have our divorces, live-in girlfriends, plus our friends, funders, and political allies who enjoy these sins, and the churches will hold their tongues. The only problems serious enough to elicit our opposition are caused by those homosexuals, not us. The problem is someone else’s sins, not our own. The profoundly un-Christian quality of this stance is obvious.
Individual Christian leaders who propose serious reforms are ignored and marginalized or shouted down by the Christian establishment. Mike McManus of Marriage Savers proposes a comprehensive approach to marriage dissolution that includes repealing no-fault divorce. Bai Macfarlane of Mary’s Advocates has offered a critical program to curtail the exploitations of the divorce machinery. I have recently described in Touchstone magazine precisely what the churches can and must do to reclaim their lost authority over marriage and the family (or anything else). They must interpose their voices into precisely those realms of family life where the ministry has been displaced by the gendarmerie: the family itself and the government apparat that now occupies the private realm vacated by the churches.
These measures would hit the state’s monopoly stranglehold over marriage and private family life where it hurts. Current bravado about pastors “going to jail” to defend marriage is nothing like the number that would face summary incarceration once they began to threaten the ill-gotten gains of the divorce industry by intervening to defend spouses and parents against its injustices and depredations. This is why the subject is simply off-limits for a Christian leadership that refuses to rock the boat and prefers the media spotlight.
We must all step back, take a breath, and start to take in the magnitude of the problem that has resulted from decades of neglect. We must then summon a new resolve to accept the sacrifices now required. This will begin with honest leadership with the authority that derives from a willingness to invest and risk their own political capital to tell us the truth.
When we do decide on this Christ-like approach, we will find it comes with good news: that this crisis also presents a huge, God-given opportunity for the churches to recover their lost authority over not only marriage, but everything else. For marriage is not only the life event where the churches’ authority intersects with the lives of most people; it is also today’s most momentous fault line in the churches’ continual (and losing) power struggle with the state. But above all, it is the most vivid and devastating practical consequence of our civilization’s collective decision to turn its back on God. For nowhere does God more clearly demonstrate his displeasure, and nowhere today does Satan have freer rein: in ruined lives, fatherless children, out-of-control adolescents, crime, truancy, bloated bureaucracies, swelling prisons, authoritarian police, and governments whose insatiable thirst for revenue can only be slaked by looting the most vulnerable productive households.
On these—the most fundamental matters of our society—there is now no serious leadership from any of the intellectual quarters that traditionally serve as the watchdogs on state power: universities, media—and churches. Indeed, intellectuals today are among the most enthusiastic partakers of sexual indulgence, not prophets warning of its consequences. Our pulpits and publications must summon the courage to confront swelling government power and lay it before the world as the starkest evidence of the time-bomb we all lit when we decided that our urges were a more reliable guide to happiness than God’s authority.
“When the prophets are silent and society no longer possesses any channel of communication with the divine world,” wrote Christopher Dawson, “the way to the lower depths is still open and man’s frustrated spiritual powers will find their outlet in the unlimited will to power and destruction.” He had in mind the connected ideologies of Communism and National Socialism. Accepting defeat and “moving on” was not the right choice after previous battles in the Sexual Revolution, and it is not an option now—not for Christians, not for anyone.
Editor’s note: The photo above depicts a no-fault divorce sign on a telephone pole in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1974.