Why Christians Should Stand for Traditional Marriage

Why do conservative Christians stand firm for traditional marriage — one man and one woman for life? Is it because they fear change, or are bigots, or simply lack imagination?

Or is it that they believe the Bible is the Christian’s authority on the subject and it speaks to the question very clearly?

The book of Genesis alone reveals the mind of God on the matter of marriage. He is Creator over all and, as Creator, he declares marriage, as you will see, to be the union of one man and one woman for life.

Genesis begins with the account of creation, concluding with these words: So God created humankind in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them (Genesis 1:27). This declaration, repeated three times, presents who may be participants in a marriage — one man and one woman.

Chapter two of Genesis then introduces us to the timeless story of Adam and Eve, teaching that God instituted marriage as a unique human union. It leaves open no other options, ending with this summary word: For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh (Genesis 2:24). 

In chapter 3 the picture of humanity darkens. Adam and Eve are disobedient to God and the consequences are dire. They feel estranged from their Maker and at odds with one another. Their descendants must live under the shadow of their disobedience. Marriage as God intended is scarred by sin but not dissolved.

Conditions deteriorate further in chapter 4. Lamech, the descendant of Adam and Eve, married two women. This veers from God’s revealed plan, and bigamy represents a further distortion of marriage in ancient culture.

Even Abraham, the father of the faithful, had children by two women — his wife Sarah and her servant, Hagar (Genesis 16). Abraham’s union with Hagar was arranged by Sarah, according to the cultural practices of the times. But, as we see, an arrangement such as this, so contrary to God’s declaration, created great domestic stress among Sarah, Abraham and Hagar from the very start of Hagar’s pregnancy.

And in another accommodation to the culture of the times, Jacob, Abraham’s grandson, was tricked into marrying two sisters and eventually had children by them and their two maidservants (Genesis 29:31-30:23). This too was not in accordance with God’s creative declaration, and the story that follows shows the distressing consequences — family strife, jealousy and bargaining for sleeping rights.

All the while, here and there in Genesis a flag is raised in favor of “one man and one woman for life.” For example, consider Pharaoh, the pagan king of Egypt. He did not belong to the chosen people and had not been exposed to divinely revealed laws, but the account shows that he was aware how wrong it would be to invade the sanctity of Abraham’s marriage (Genesis 12:10-20).

It was so also with Abimelech, a heathen ruler in the southern regions of Philistia where Abraham and his retinue settled for a period of time (Genesis 20). Abimelech too reflects the fear of violating the union between Abraham and Sarah.

Later, in the story of Sodom, the book of Genesis speaks against homosexual practice. In Genesis 19, men in large numbers sought sexual satisfaction with men — and were violent in their pursuit. This deviation from the created order eventually brought about the destruction of Sodom (Genesis 19:1-28).

Genesis closes with the story of Joseph, a Hebrew alien in Egypt. He had no family there to support him and no faith community to guide him. His Egyptian master’s wife tried repeatedly to draw him into sexual sin. He steadfastly refused, asking his temptress, How then could I do such a thing and sin against God? (Genesis 39:6-20)

Thus, this opening book of the Bible consistently sets forth as God’s intention the vision of marital intimacy between one man and one woman. This remains clear in spite of the distorting influence of sin which brought into the general picture polygamy, adultery, incest, promiscuity and homosexuality to corrode his design.

Did the coming of Jesus many centuries later amend God’s initial design in any way? How did he speak to the issue?

We know that among the Pharisees of Jesus’ day there were two schools of thought about marriage and divorce. The liberal view said divorce was permissible for almost any cause. The other view said only adultery was grounds for divorce. These differences circulated around the interpretation of Deuteronomy 24:1-5.

On one occasion the disputants sought to entangle Jesus in this debate. They asked him which interpretation was correct. Refusing to be trapped, he went deeper than the law of Moses, calling the disputants back to the initial teaching of the early portions of Genesis.

Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘for this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh” (Matthew 19:4-6).

The possibility and fruitfulness of a marriage between one man and one woman are gifts flowing from creation. That should settle the question. If Jesus, the most compassionate man who ever walked on earth, would not amend the law of marriage as presented in Genesis, we must not either.

Admittedly, this understanding of God’s design for marriage is received in pain by many who have experienced the marital brokenness of our times. What can the church do? It must first sound forth the message as God has given it — to the young, to any contemplating marriage, to the newly married and the traumatized or forsaken. At the same time, God gives his people resources for bringing support and healing to the wounded.

With regard to marriage and human sexuality, in taking both responsibilities seriously — to uphold the created order, and to aid the suffering and desolate — we fulfill Jesus’ declaration: You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden (Matthew 5:14).

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Photo credit: Nick Kenrick (via flickr.com)

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An Unexpected Question to Those Who Favor Life Over Abortion

In his May 24 issue of Turning Point, John Stonestreet quotes a recent tweet sent out by Israeli journalist, Sarah Tuttle-Singer, who writes for the Times of Israel.

It reads: “Dear Pro-life Friend: What have you personally done to support lower-income single mothers? I’ll wait.”

Her assumption must be that pro-life advocates in general adamantly campaign against the abortion scourge but are suspected of doing nothing for “saved babies” after they are born.

That is, they crusade with a passion to spare unwanted babies from destruction at the abortionist’s hand but may do nothing to care for the needy little ones and their mothers after they are spared.

Those who stand for abortion on demand point this out and say pro-lifers should stop crusading because they don’t really care about human life after birth.

Tuttle-Singer’s question must have been intended as a ‘gotcha’ challenge, to silence pro-life advocates once and for all. But instead, her question brought an outflow of heart-felt answers — more than 13,000 of them in all.

For example, a Twitter user named Barbara wrote back, “Since I am unable to foster, I often babysit for my friends who do. I donate to a foster closet. We help pay bills for people in crisis situations and my older children help when they are able.”

Here’s another example. A Pastor named Hans replied: “Started a non-profit that gives free clothes etc. to those in need. Fostered a teen mom. Fostered another mother until she got her life back on track. Found them housing. Gave them a church family who helps and supports them.”

One might argue that these testimonials are the cream of a collection. Stonestreet believes to the contrary that the 13,000 plus responses as a whole flow in the same positive direction.

Attached to Stonestreet’s article is a miniaturized list of hundreds of similar replies as evidence that the number of pro-lifers who do care about the mother and baby after birth is large and credible.

And even these numerous responses do not tell the whole story. Stonestreet draws attention as well to the nation’s many pregnancy care centers. They outnumber Planned Parenthood and other abortion venues three to one.

Alabama alone has 70 of these centers dedicated to saving preborn life. Take the individual actions illustrated above together with the large number of crisis intervention centers, and one can see that pro-life advocates obviously care in a very active way. Thirteen thousand is a large number.

The controversial abortion issue appears to have taken on fresh energy in the United States — some say as much as anything due to high resolution ultrasound technology that shows us that what is being aborted is not a “fetus,” but more accurately a preborn baby!

This flow of pro-life responses — individual actions, pregnancy crisis centers, and legislation — shows that support for the unborn is not just rhetorical. It is a movement undergirded by compassion and hard work. Support for the dignity and humanity of the unborn cannot be quelled after more than 40 years of attempts to do so.

Abortion to many may be just a word signifying something about which they never think seriously. Some may turn away with a shrug; others insist it is every woman’s right and at her discretion alone; while Christians see it as a horrific offense against humanity and their opposition and response of mercy will never cease.

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Sex Education in Sexually Confusing Times (Part Two)

The Garden of Eden by Erastus Salisbury Field, circa 1860.

In the past seventy years our culture has made major social and legal shifts, purportedly to allow greater personal freedom to all. But these changes have created a quagmire that increasingly bogs society down and brings confusion to civic life.

Consider some of the shifts: traditional marriage reduced in priority, easy divorce, living together unmarried, same-sex marriage, casual sex without commitment, addiction to pornography, abortion as a “convenience,” and now transgender experimentation.

Where should Christians start in foundational teaching of our children on this subject?

For starters, we must remember that in the Christian community the Bible continues to be the primary sourcebook on what we must believe and how we must live. It is an ancient book but not scorned by wise people who find its counsel on such matters surprisingly contemporary.

The Bible does not say anything about techniques regarding sex, or the science of conception, or the practice of “safe sex” but it gives a good foundation to believers on the basics of reality and morality in this arena.

Consider how the story of creation is put forward at the threshold of the Scriptures (Genesis 1:1): “In the beginning …” There was a beginning. God was there already and he spoke. He didn’t need a box of tools because by the power of his word creation sprang forth with its unmeasured vastness and wonder. And, at the outset, it was very good.

Think of this introductory passage as a hymn to creation. Here is its climax: Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground” (Genesis 1:26). We are created to be stewards.

It gets even better: Notice that in the verse that comes next the word “create” is used three times. Notice also that God creates two distinct genders — male and female. Neither more, nor fewer: So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God created he them, male and female he created them (1:27).

For Christians, this is where sex education begins, in the simple but profound declaration made by the God of creation. That’s why we respect our bodies and give God thanks for his provision of the fundamentals of our beings. These simple foundational points can be taught early in Sunday school, and especially in Sunday-morning services when God is worshiped in truth.

Chapter 2 of Genesis tells the creation story differently from chapter 1 but without contradiction. It begins with God’s creation of Adam and his assignment to care for the Lord’s park-like garden. Then comes a further provision: The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” (2:18). This picks up on a theme in chapter 1 cited above: male and female created he them.

The Lord God then created animals and brought them to Adam to see what he would name them. But among them there was no creature suited to be the helper the Lord God had promised. There follows the story of how Adam got his wife so widely known but never boring to repeat with color. And from that ancient presentation there are profound hints about love and sexual attraction today.

This opening of the Bible does not end with a clean, idealistic account of the sanctity of marriage. It is equally candid about fallen man’s misuse and abuse of God’s holy gift. The issues of bigamy, polygamy, adultery, fornication, scandalous unfaithfulness to covenant — all these are addressed but never approved. The Bible gives us Jesus’ word that nothing in succeeding centuries erases God’s intention as addressed in the story of creation (Matthew 19:3-12).

Our Lord calls his followers to purity of heart (Matthew 5:8). The Apostle Paul exhorts believers to purity and fidelity in the strongest of words: But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people (Ephesians 5:3).

The story of creation twice told ends with these affirming words: That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife and they become one flesh (Genesis 2:24). The Bible has much more to say about our sexuality but it all begins here.

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Sex Education in Sexually Confusing Times (Part One)

The task of sex education is to help growing children, at the level of their understanding, to know that their sexuality undergirds and shapes their view of the world.

Their sexuality is not an aspect of being human that can be separated out and experienced independently. It is integral to the whole of their humanness.

Of course, there is a case to be made for the decisions about sex education to be the purview of the family and faith communities — and by a school only with parental consent.

But leaving that question aside to deal with the general matter of children’s education, the issue is not so much what information is taught as what assumptions and belief system underlies the information.

Society no longer universally holds to the Christian belief that human beings are far more than animals who are socially advanced and intricately developed. Biblical teaching is that all humans are unique creatures among God’s creative order bearing his image and accountable to him for their behavior.

Again in the general case, though with exceptions that prove the rule, a family of mother, father and children, provides the best environment. Wholesome sex education begins in the loving, respectful attitude of parents to one another and the children from infancy onward.

That doesn’t mean family relationships are always free from stress but that love and respect govern or “reign”. And it doesn’t mean that sex education is necessarily substandard in homes limited by the deprivation of one parent.

Christian sex education is based on the revelation that God created humankind to be male and female, each bearing fully his image (Genesis 1:26,27). From birth onward this differentiation of humans into male and female has serious implications. Sex education should help us to understand and rejoice in what God has created us to be.

Sex education can be enhanced in the home by the use of Biblically-based literature, videos and whatever other Christian resources are recommended by a denomination’s resources center. It’s best to let growing children acquaint themselves at times privately with whatever is made available to them, and as well at times in conversation with parents.

The intimate aspects of sexuality may thus be taught in a gradual way according to a growing child’s ability to understand. The Christian faith maintains that there is a mystery and metaphysical and spiritual aspect to sex and this must be respected in growing children.

Modelling is the means by which children are best helped to develop a sense of responsibility concerning their sexuality.

Because the sex act gives intense pleasure, some secular minds tend to treat it as nothing more than the satisfaction of a physical appetite. For such persons, the psychological and spiritual aspects may be ignored or devalued.

Those who promote such a view seem concerned primarily that sex be practiced safely, using the best of modern technology to avoid sexually transmitted disease or pregnancy.

Christian wisdom is contrary to such a view. The Scriptures hold that sex within marriage is honorable while sex outside of marriage is labeled adultery or fornication — each regarded as serious sins (Hebrews 13:4). The Bible speaks forthrightly against premarital or extramarital sex as follows:

But among you there must not even be a hint of sexual immorality (promiscuous behavior) or any kind of impurity (the wider range of illicit sexual conduct) or greed (insatiability) because these are improper for God’s holy people (Ephesians 5:3).

In this very personal arena of our humanness the grace of God (His undeserved generosity) must be emphasized. It is His grace that enables sexual purity. And for those who have failed or are failing, he offers the grace of  repentance and forgiveness. In Christ, wholesome attitudes toward sex can be recovered and purity restored.

Photo credit: Márcio Binow da Silva (via flickr.com)

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A Childless Society is Not the Answer to Today’s Terrifying Fears

One night recently a large group of women appeared on television to pledge that they will not have children. They represented a developing movement centered in Great Britain.

I have since seen their leader back on screen twice for interviews. An interviewer wanted to know what was behind this group’s drastic intention. In essence, the leader said their resolution was nothing short of an act of despair.

Their particular concern was climate change and the obvious lack of alarm on the part of the public and politicians. In their opinion, all too soon the climate crisis will see the lights of civilization fading.

Indeed, climate change in the minds of many is a grave peril. But there are also other frightening trends in our world that threaten civilization as we know it — the pervasive breakdown of marriage and family, the alarming decline of civility in society, even the threat of massive destruction from determined enemies of Western civilization.

This week I have been comparing this dark view of the future with the bright light of hope found in the prologue to the Gospel according to John (the first eighteen verses of chapter one).

What a contrast! On the one hand a dark pessimism that Western society has no future worth contributing to; on the other, the enduring good news that a Savior has come into the world to give us hope for both this world and the next. Present perils cannot diminish this hope.

I need to summarize again the illuminating and almost transporting highlights of St. John’s prologue because they so profoundly neutralize despair.

  1. We have a Messiah — a Savior! He is the “Word” referred to in verse one. His name is Jesus, and he is coeternal with the Father. That is, whenever the universe began to be he already was. In fact, he always was and always will be.
  2. He is the agent of God’s creation. All things were made by him, declares the prologue. The Apostle Paul agrees: For in him all things were created (Colossians 1:16). But, if it is his world he will not let it be destroyed even though at times it seems ravaged by man’s evil. There is hope.
  3. Jesus our Lord is a light shining upon all mankind that cannot be extinguished. That light now shines on five continents although perceived on each to a greater or lesser degree. In some places it shines amidst persecution and even bloodshed and in many places it is suppressed by governments that threaten and persecute. Nevertheless, as shown repeatedly throughout history, the light of Jesus can be resisted but it cannot be extinguished.
  4. Sadly, the world does not always recognize Jesus for who he really is — at least at the moment of introduction. Even his own people would not, as a whole, receive him. The prologue introduces this sad information prophetically at the outset.
  5. Still, those who do hear his words and believe in him, accepting him as Creator and Lord, are given the right to become children of God! This is an event as radical as a human birth but it is a second birth, deeply spiritual in nature and initiated by God.
  6. When we know Jesus, we know firsthand what God is like. The Word (named Jesus), second person of the Trinity, forever was before time. But in time he became flesh and “pitched his tent” among us. The result? We have seen in Him, firsthand, the glory of the Father. And, like Jesus, God is full of generosity toward his creatures, a generosity that is always linked to truth.

John’s prologue closes with the marvelous statement: No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God, and is in close relationship with the Father, has made him known (John 1:18).

Does this holy Word take fear and anxiety out of modern life? Not fully, for we are human, limited, frail. But in God’s inviting love he gives grace for us to endure with joy the acute stresses unleashed by wickedness, peril, and loss; he reveals truth enough to keep us from falling on the rocks of unbelief, and he gives courage enough for us to speak hope into the darkness.

A childless world could do none of these things. It would only further impoverish humanity. But the Grace of the Savior taken as a gift from God given in hard times enriches us!

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Image info: Tamaki Sono (via flickr.com)

Prayer Knows No Boundaries

Many thoughtful people feel a quiet alarm concerning recent social trends. For example, over the past six decades marriage and the family have been severely diminished in favor of greater personal freedom; the historic understanding of gender is under attack; and this past week infanticide came back into view as a legitimate procedure under the term, third trimester abortion.

All of this prompts me to remember the saying John Bunyan is credited with — that you can do more than pray but you cannot do more until you have prayed. We have ample instruction on prayer in the Bible. Consider the Apostle Paul’s instruction.

From his cell in Rome, he writes to the Ephesian believers as “an ambassador in chains.” Beginning at verse 18 of chapter 6 he includes a detailed paragraph calling believers to constant and effectual prayer. He believed prayer had a reach that could not be limited by shackles.

Having used the Roman soldier’s armor as an analogy earlier in the chapter, he makes a strong appeal for the fuller use of the Christian’s ultimate spiritual weapon — prayer. Consider what he commends.

Pray in the Spirit on all occasions (6:18a). Paul would say, for example, we should pray when we get up in the morning, when we retire at night, when we sit down for a meal, when we leave for work or school, or when we meet in a committee. The Spirit makes our prayers living communications.

Pray with all kinds of prayers and requests (18b). What does Paul mean by this? He suggests that our prayers can take many forms. We can extrapolate that they may be private or public prayers; or prayers of petition, prayers of thanksgiving, intercessory prayers, prayers of penitence. They can be prescribed prayers such as the Lord’s Prayer or Psalm 4, or impromptu ones. There is a kind of prayer for every situation.

Be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people . . . (18c). The implication here is that we are to be attached to a company of believers. Paul would know nothing of lone ranger Christians. Our attachment may be to a rural congregation, a city church, or a prayer cell.

Beyond these specific fellowships, however, we belong to all the Lord’s people throughout the globe — the persecuted in one locale, the hungry in another, the war-scattered in yet another. These are set before us as subjects the Spirit would remind us to remember.

Pray also for me, he adds, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel . . . Pray that I may declare it fearlessly as I should (19). The single-mindedness of the Apostle and his focus on making the mystery of the Gospel known is always evident when he writes.

To be sure, looking at just two of his other epistles, we know he wants the infant believers in the city of Corinth to mature in the faith and live like adults. And he wants the Galatian Christians to turn from their legalism and re-embrace the Gospel as they first knew it. He is pastoral toward existing churches.

But at the same time he was also looking for new situations in which he could fearlessly make the mystery of the Gospel known to people who had not yet heard. He knew that collective prayer by many believers would be the mightiest energy to soften hearts to the reception of the Gospel.

And so when alarmed by social trends, let us take the advice of John Bunyan and the instruction of the Apostle Paul to pray in the Spirit on all occasions, with all kinds of prayers, for all God’s people, that we might be fearless in sharing the saving truth of the Gospel to those new to it.

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Photo credit: Stephen Platt (via flickr.com)

The Picture on Our Dresser and the Memories It Awakens

On the dresser in our bedroom stands the only professional picture Kathleen and I have from our wedding 71 years ago this coming December 20. In this black and white photo, we stand before the photographer’s backdrop, Kathleen’s gloved hand firmly clasping my arm. Often, when I’m in the bedroom I pick the picture up and ponder it with gratitude and amazement.

Imagine: two 21-year-olds launching a lifetime enterprise on shoestring resources but strong in their love for each other and confident God would lead them. At that time, easy divorce, living together unmarried and same-sex marriage, had not yet complicated the matrimonial landscape.

Our special day was in no way lavish. If in color the picture would show Kathleen in a brown satin dress, half-calf in length, with a corsage of eight talisman roses. I wear a dark blue suit with a white boutonniere at the lapel.

The wedding was in Niagara Falls, Ontario, in the home of Muriel, Kathleen’s sister. For the simple ceremony we stood under an arch that Mel, my best man, had tacked together from lathe I purchased at the lumberyard. The arch was brightened by colored streamers.

The simple ceremony was followed by a chicken dinner for the twelve who were present. Afterwards there was some merriment and teasing over the whereabouts of our suitcases. We had hidden them the day before in a locker at the railroad station. (Kathleen’s younger sister coaxed my best man to deliver up our secret and the key.) After we retrieved our sabotaged luggage from the locker we started for Toronto.

The 70 miles to Toronto was to be followed by a two-day train ride to Saskatchewan where I would introduce my bride to my parents, my younger sister and my older brother and his wife.

Unknown to us, however, additional family — two older sisters, their husbands and children — had decided to make the trip from British Columbia by car to meet the bride. This created a housefull. The number almost overwhelmed Kathleen but after a few minutes of family decorum mingled with ill-concealed curiosity, warm welcomes and affirmations were extended.

Imagine: a “honeymoon” composed of a two-day train ride there and back, plus a bride’s first introduction to a family, and this all set in a week of bone-chilling winter weather. But Kathleen and I had each other; we were together in a thrilling new bond. The Bible says, we were “one flesh,” a new unit in society. As I gaze at the photograph the whole event comes flooding back.

It was universally thought back then that marriage would mean children and of that we were aware. But in those winter days that thought was remote because we were enthralled with our union pledged to be ours for keeps. That was as it should be.

Ten days before our first anniversary we welcomed our first child, Carolyn. Then in time came Donald and Robert and John David. During John David’s first year we learned bit by bit from a gentle pediatrician that our baby had serious brain damage, likely from oxygen deficiency during a long delivery. He would need institutional care.

There followed three stressful years for the family and especially for Kathleen whose motherly commitment to be sure John David got loving care was boundless to the point of exhaustion. Even feeding him three times a day was an ordeal. By his third birthday we surrendered him to the care of an institution suited to his needs, and we grieved.

Our other three children grew up and married. Then, in time, seven of their children grew up and six of them married. And by this coming spring, the grandchildren in turn will be at different stages of raising 12 great grandchildren.

Including children gained by marriage as well as by birth the two 21-year-olds pictured alone on our dresser will have become a small branch of humanity numbering 32 — three teachers, two editors, two engineers, two doctors, a pastor, a nurse practitioner, financial researcher, advertising clerk, financial consultant, nurse, artist, computer specialist, and social worker — each adding their own tone to the mix making family events colorful and pleasant.

I put this snapshot together hoping that it will come to the attention of some young man today who feels badgered by the pervasive anti-male and anti-marriage sentiments afloat in our culture. He may feel badgered even to the point of avoiding serious female companionship with a possible future in mind and in doing so he may be limiting the enrichment of his own destiny.

Consider a Christian perspective. Masculinity is much more than a social construct. It and fatherhood are gifts from God. As the Bible says, God created them “male and female.” We believe the gift is given to be directed, nourished and mastered and — if God wills — to be invested in a marriage and family filled with imagination and hope.

Photo credit: Ted Rabbitts (via flickr.com)

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