Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Repost from Archive: Thoughts on "an Orthodox Defense of Gay Marriage"


          There is, of course, an immense supply of nonsense and twaddle freely available online, and responding to all of it would be a task dwarfing the cleaning out of the legendary Augean Stables.  Usually when I read such things and am tempted to respond, a little voice from “Firefly” plays in my head, saying, “Just keep walkin’, preacher man”, and I leave well enough alone.  But when I read a post purporting to be both learned and Orthodox (the author is a Ph.D, and describes the piece as “An Eastern Orthodox Defense of Gay Marriage”, I found that I could not just keep walkin’.  Despite the disclaimer, “the views expressed in this post belong solely to the author and are not representative of the Orthodox Church”, the unwary reader might think that the views are at least consistent with historic Orthodoxy.  The author, after all, does have a Ph.D. in theology.
            I refer to the July 13 post of Mr. David J. Dunn, PhD, in the Huffington Post, entitled, “Civil Unions by Another Name:  An Eastern Orthodox Defense of Gay Marriage”.  The author’s main point, it seems, is that all marriages outside the Church are in effect “civil unions by another name”, and not marriage as the Church understands it.  Mr. Dunn speaks of secular marriages such as are performed “by a judge in a courthouse” and then asserts, “strictly speaking, our theology does not recognize the legitimacy of such marriages.  They are not sanctified by the Spirit in the church.”  He does not suggest, however, that “people married in secular ceremonies are not ‘really’ married.”  He allows that “for practical purpose we tacitly recognize these civil marriages even if they don’t quite meet our theological standards.”  Mr. Dunn, drawing on the distinction between Christian marriages and non-Christian ones, asserts that “all marriages performed outside the church are civil marriages”.  I assume by “civil marriages”, he means the “civil unions” referred to in his title, as opposed to true marriages, for obviously marriages performed outside the Church are civil marriages—that is what the word “civil” means.  His point seems to be that they are not true marriages.  Rather, “all marriages granted by the state for tax and inheritance purposes are just civil unions by another name”.
           Mr. Dunn seems to recognize only two categories for two people living together in a publicly-recognized lasting commitment:   the sacramental marriages performed in the Church by the Holy Spirit, and mere civil unions performed outside the Church by the State. 
            Mr. Dunn is of course entitled to his opinions and to posting them anywhere he wishes.  But it is nonsense to bill them as “Eastern Orthodox”.  They are utterly alien to the understanding of the Orthodox Church.
          My first clue about the eccentric nature of his “Orthodoxy” came when he referred to the Holy Spirit as “she” in his fourth paragraph.  “She”?  Was this a typo?  Had Mr. Dunn been getting his theology from The Shack?   My second clue was when he used the adjective “Constantinian” as a theological swear word.
        This, I think, reveals the ideological DNA of Mr. Dunn’s make up.  When he says that, “When Constantine legalized Christianity in the early fourth century, some began to see an almost godlike authority in the state.  An increasing number of Christians found it difficult to tell the difference between the things that belong to Caesar and the things that belong to God”, I know I am reading Anabaptist literature.  Menno Simons would’ve been proud, and could’ve written this.  Never mind that it is historical nonsense, and is the type of stereotypical pseudo-history spouted by the likes of Dan Brown.  My point is that it is also a thoroughly Protestant approach.
         An Orthodox and historically nuanced approach sees value in the Byzantinesymphonia of Church and State, and in Constantine’s contribution in particular.  (That is why we refer to him liturgically as “St. Constantine the Great, God-crowned and equal-to-the-apostles”.  We are not referring to his personal sanctity, but to his vision of the world.)  Unlike classical Protestantism, Orthodoxy sees the world as shot through with divine grace.  All persons, Christian or secular, partake of the divine image, all receive life from God (He is, after all, the only source), and all human acts of kindness, Christian or secular, reflect and gladden God’s heart.  The Reformed tradition asserted the contrary, and said that everything outside of the Church was tainted and sinful.  “Works done before the grace of Christ and the inspiration of his Spirit,” saith the Protestant Thirty-Nine Articles, “are not pleasant to God, forasmuch as they spring not of faith in Jesus Christ...We doubt not but they have the nature of sin.”   This is the dour voice of classical Reformation Protestantism.  It is not the song of the Fathers or of the Orthodox.  Obviously there is a line between the Church and the World, between this fallen age and the Kingdom.  But even in this age we find God’s grace enlivening, brightening and leading all that He has created.  That is why, for instance, we bless the rivers and lakes of the world at Theophany.
       This historic Orthodox appreciation of God’s grace in the world and even in the institutions of the world (such as the State), did not begin with Constantine, Mr. Dunn’s suggestions to the contrary notwithstanding.  St. Paul himself referred to the State as “instituted by God” and “appointed” by Him (Rom. 13:1f).  The secular civil servant he called “God’s servant” (Greek leitourgos, a term elsewhere used to describe priests and apostles).  The pre-Nicene Church, for all its struggles with a persecuting State, did not fall into the error of a Manichean pessimism about the world God created.  It still confessed with the seraphim that “the whole earth is full of His glory” (Is. 6:3).  The State possessed a kind of divine authority from God for the restraining of evil and the prevention of social chaos.  The institutions of this age (many of which were regulated by the State, such as marriage) partook of the reflected glory that God generously imparts to all that He has made.
         Thus, a Christian in today’s secular and pluralistic society will recognize not two but three possibilities for public union of persons:  Christian marriage, celebrated in the Church by a priest; marriage in the world, as was celebrated and lived by all cultures and ages even before the coming of Christ; and civil unions properly speaking, which do not conform to the timeless and universal understanding of marriage, but for which the State wishes to make provision in terms of “tax and inheritance purposes”.
        The question is:  what is the essence of marriage, and why should the State care about it?
        Marriage is the union of two persons who have publicly agreed to live together and care for one another for the purposes of creating family.  (The fact that some married couples cannot have children is irrelevant to this definition; the historical purpose of marriage remains, even if some couples cannot fulfill it.)   The children resulting from such unions are the responsibility of the parents, and can only grow in physical, psychological and emotional health if both father and mother together raise them in a healthy way, so that the children in turn learn what it means to be a man or woman, a daddy or a mommy.  Usually in history, children in a family were the fruit of this co-habiting commitment between husband and wife (i.e. through sex), though of course adoption was also practiced. 
       This historical link between relationship and procreation is one of the things humanizing us. Creating children through pre-arranged one-time sexual unions or through government test-tube factories (such as we find in SF stories) is recognized as less than human—that is why they became the stuff of SF stories to begin with.  Whether we find it convenient in today’s culture or not, the rhyme “First comes love (or at least meeting), then comes marriage, then comes Mommy with a baby carriage” is the song and history of the world.  It is what the world, at all times and in all cultures, has meant by marriage.  The world has never thought of fixing or changing it, because the world has seen that it is not busted or in need of change.
          Today we have more or less completely sundered the link between sex and procreation, which is why we can talk at all about such an oxymoron as homosexual marriage.  But marriage, Christians and other monotheists think, was not created by society, and cannot be changed at whim by society.  It was created by God for His creation as the means of fulfilling it, enriching it, and sustaining it, and as the only authentic matrix for producing and raising children.  Because it was created by God to work in a certain way, we cannot change its fundamental character or purpose, or amend it, as if it were a clause in the US Constitution.  The State can, of course, come up with other models for lasting and hopefully mutually nurturative co-habitation, such as homosexual civil unions.  But we should not call these models marriage or equate them with marriage as timelessly practiced, for marriage has to do with the potential creation of families through sex, and this possibility is excluded in homosexual unions.
         Thus, marriage is the historical institution that produces children, and it is because these children are the building-blocks and hope for any society that the State recognizes a responsibility to and an interest in the institution producing them.  In this sense, the State indeed has legitimate business in the bedrooms of the nation (the assertion of the Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau that it does not is historical nonsense, though it did make for a good political sound-bite in 1970s Canada).  Marriage, as we have seen, is not just a Christian or Orthodox institution.  It is a human one, and one that can enrich the lives of all citizens of the State whether they are Christian or not.  Thus the State has a rightful duty to regulate it and protect it, since the health and preservation of the institution forms the foundation and future of the society.  If the State concludes that polygamy is harmful to the healthy raising of children, it has the right to step in.  (Are you listening in the town of Bountiful, B.C.?)  If the State discerns that pride of place should go to unions that produce children, it should act in accordance with this discernment.
        “Calling upon the state to protect our sacrament” (to quote Mr. Dunn again), is not “an act of extreme unfaithfulness”.  It is asking the State to do the duty given to it by God for the preservation of the health of the family and the traditional understanding of gender which alone can create healthy family.  It is nonsense to assert that “denying civil marriage to homosexuals does nothing to protect its sanctity”.  That sanctity (or health, to use a more accurate word) is under attack from all quarters.  Declaring homosexual marriages to be true marriages, equal to classically-defined marriage has the immediate result of blessing homosexuality itself, and furthering the disastrous division of sexuality from procreation.
        The full dimensions of the disaster will not be immediately apparent, so that people like Mr. Dunn can assert that allowing gay marriage does nothing to hurt the marriages of non-gays.  It is true that if the State allows gay marriage in July 2011, all those people already married will not feel themselves impacted by suppertime.  They will not feel their marriages impacted at all.  The establishment of homosexual marriage is not a problem because of its impact on these people, or on those who will be married soon thereafter.  It is a problem because it fundamentally changes the nature of our understanding of sexuality and of the complementarity of the sexes in marriage required to create and raise children who have a healthy understanding of gender roles.  These changes will not be apparent in society in a year or even in a few years, and during this time liberals can truthfully and cheerfully report that those in traditional marriages still find their lives untouched.  But over the course of generations, the impact will be felt, and far-reaching results never foreseen or intended will surely come.  I cannot elaborate further on what these unforeseen results will be, or they would not to unforeseen.  But sexuality and gender is so basic to our nature (regardless of what gay propaganda says) that such a change will certainly be broad and far-reaching.
        In this the situation somewhat resembles the liberalization of divorce laws in Canada in the 1960s.  There may have been good reasons for the liberalization which made divorce easier than before.  The foreseen and intended result was the support of suffering spouses and meeting the need to shorten and end that suffering.  The unforeseen result was the present culture of divorce and the explosion of the number divorces after but a few years of marriage, with heart-break for the divorced spouses themselves and latent long-term instability for the children who see their worlds torn apart.  Yet another result has been the rise of single-parent families with its almost inevitable financial pressure and the much-lamented “child poverty”.   These results were not foreseen nor intended, but they can be traced back to the change in divorce laws nonetheless.
        In the same way, creating a category of homosexual marriage inevitably will alter the perception of sexuality in the succeeding generations in ways we cannot foresee.  It is true that the Church can remain aloof from society, and hunker down in its bunker while society around them experiences the problems traced back to its having shifted its basic foundations.  We can say, “We still maintain our traditional marriage practices, even though society around us doesn’t, so we don’t care what society does.”  We would score high in purity of doctrine, but quite low in being our brother’s keeper.  The Church does have a stake in what secular society does (contra the Anabaptists and Mr. Dunn).  That is why we Christians urge society to do things which will help all those in society, whether they are Christians or not.  We urge the State to help feed the poor.  We urge to State to educate its young about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse.  And we do this urging, not just because we are concerned that Christians be fed and saved from drug and alcohol abuse, but because we want everyone else to be fed and saved too.  In the matter of fundamental truths in society, we are our brother’s keeper.
        It is true that changing the laws to allow same-sex marriage will not immediately result in a flood of such marriages, since the homosexual part of North American population seems to run at between 1 and 4%.  That is not the point.  The point is that we changing our cultural understanding of what gender means, and the logic of this change will work itself out in many unforeseen ways in the coming generations regardless of marriage stats in 2011 or the decades after. Our children’s children, looking back at us in a hundred years’ time, will not rise up to call us blessed.

1 comment:

  1. The separation of Marriage and Family life creates a distortion in human societies that go in and out of social volatility. When the Old Hellenic culture and religions imploded, it created a great void in society as exemplified by the Apostle Paul's visit to the Aerogapus. The Ancient Church, in a very practical and convenient way filled this cultural void, and provided an opportunity for every individual to be a part of a family with Christ as its Head through its parishes and monasteries. Human societies go in and out social volatility for various reasons which has a direct effect on home, marriage and family life. The Church continues to offer a family sacramental life to any person who desires to grow into the Image and Likeness of Jesus Christ.

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