Marriage 101:  Expanding or Redefining?

October 21, 2015

In our marriage debates today, we must remember an important principle:  there is a difference between allowing more participation in something and changing its essence. As Christians we can encourage participation in marriage, but we cannot change its essence.

Sometimes an illustration from everyday life can be helpful. Say we were in charge of little-league soccer and we wanted to help more children to participate. It is one thing to say, “Let’s develop a program to help children in poorer neighborhoods play in our league.” But it would be another thing altogether to say, “Some children would really rather pick up a soccer ball and run with it; let’s change soccer’s rules to include this.” In the first instance, we would be allowing more people to participate in soccer as it is; in the second instance, we would be changing the sport into something that’s no longer soccer. Soccer by its very nature is a sport where only the goalie can touch the ball without penalty; to change this would be to make the game an altogether different sport altogether.

Unlike sports like soccer, marriage isn’t something that we have created or something that we can change with a vote. Marriage is a reality created by God, and he has written this reality into our very bodies and hearts. By its very nature, marriage is a complete gift of self between a man and a woman. As a complete gift of self, marriage has three essential aspects: it is an exclusive relationship with one spouse, it lasts until death, and it involves a sexual giving of self that is open to children.

In our recent cultural debates about marriage, proponents of change have quite brilliantly framed things in terms of increasing participation: “We want to allow all people to be married.” This appeals to our American sense of equality and fairness. But by abandoning the principle that marriage is between a man and a woman, we are not simply expanding marriage to include more people; we are actually changing marriage to become something that it is not.

We Christians need to change the conversation. Our position is not one of exclusion, it is one of affirming certain basic truths about marriage and our nature as human beings. Only a man and a woman can unite as one flesh in the marital act, their bodies operating as one even on a biological level. Only the union between a man and a woman can bring about new life, with a child that is genetically their own. Children are meant to have a father and a mother, and to learn from them what it means to be a man and a woman, and how to treat someone of the opposite sex.

As I shared in the last column, we are called by Christ to show great care and love for our brothers and sisters who experience same-sex attraction. We want to journey with them as they, too, follow Christ and seek their peace in him. But just as we can’t change the Scriptures or the law of gravity, we don’t have the right or the ability to change God’s plan for love and marriage.