At the conclusion of my series In Defense of Marriage this past August, I wrote that the outcome of California’s Proposition 8 would figure prominently in the future of marriage in America. If the proposed amendment establishing that “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized” was defeated, I predicted it would be nearly impossible to halt the radical homosexual movement and their efforts to redefine marriage and the natural family.
In a momentous turn of events, Proposition 8 passed! The citizens of California—forced by circumstances—have codified what has been a self-evidential social norm throughout human history. Similar measures passed overwhelmingly in Florida and Arizona, bringing to 30 the total number of states that have amended their constitutions in order to protect marriage from special interest revisions. And in Arkansas, citizens voted to protect children by barring their adoption by homosexual couples. We should all be mightily encouraged by these events.
However, these political victories will be temporary if we do not strengthen the cultural understanding of and commitment to marriage. There is a distinct difference between politics and culture, one that I think we in the church often fail to understand. Politics always follows and reflects culture — it does not create culture. This has been the case throughout history. A demographic breakdown of the vote relative to Proposition 8 equally confirms this point. Six out of ten voters over 60 supported the measure; among those between 30 and 60, the margin was slightly more than half. Among those under 30, sixty percent opposed Proposition 8. Zogby International surveyed high school seniors and found that 85 percent believe homosexuality is an “acceptable lifestyle.” The next generation will not hold this line against homosexual marriage unless there is a significant change in their worldview.
You can see the trend. There has been a failure to transmit the values, customs, and beliefs (i.e., culture) of one generation to the next, and this cultural shift is then reflected in their politics. So how do we accomplish true cultural change versus only temporal political victories, which evidence indicates will only diminish?
For the last two millennia, the Christian community, educated with ideas drawn from Scripture and applied to every area of life and reality, has been the most powerful culture-forming agent. In other words, the church is the instrument by which God brings forth His kingdom and as the kingdom spreads, the culture is Christianized. In a world of false ideas competing to explain the world, it was Christians, armed with the energy of an all-embracing life-system (i.e., Christian worldview) that shaped Western culture. This energy—now severed from its historic understanding—has been depleted in recent generations through spiritual sloth, theological ignorance, anti-intellectualism, and cultural apathy.
If we hope to preserve the biblical and historic understanding of marriage, we must create a culture that honors marriage in the form established by God. To be clear, this effort is not collateral to the gospel and therefore dispensable, but rather it is an essential part of the gospel.
Drawing from the words of Jesus, the gospel cannot possibly be understood apart from the kingdom. Jesus always described the gospel in relation to the kingdom. In Matthew 24:14 Jesus says, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world …” Matthew described Jesus’ ministry by saying: “And Jesus went about all Galilee … preaching the gospel of the kingdom …” (4:23). Matthew reiterates this theme again in chapter 9 verse 35 when he writes, “Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages … preaching the gospel of the kingdom …” (NKJV, emphasis mine).
Jesus told his disciples to “preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (Matthew 10:7). Mark writes, “after John [the Baptist] was put in prison, Jesus came … preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God” (Mark 1:14, NKJV, emphasis mine). Clearly, by Jesus’ own words and the testimony of the apostles, Jesus was preaching the good news that through him God’s reign (i.e., the kingdom) has been initiated.
The gospel (or good news) is the fact that in Christ, the reign of God is at hand and is now breaking into the world. His kingdom, which has come, continues to come forth and will be fully consummated on the day of Christ’s return. This is the good news! The promotion of God’s design for the family is part of that kingdom come that penetrates and transforms the fallen world in which Christ is making all things new.
So how do we, the church, create a culture that embraces the kingdom view of marriage and family? First and foremost, we bear witness to the kingdom by living under the authority of the king within our own lives. This means we do not engage in sex outside of marriage. It means we do not cohabitate prior to or in place of marriage. It means we properly prepare those in the body of Christ for marriage and all of its responsibilities. It means we fight as a community for every marriage within the body that is in crisis. It means we exercise church discipline when necessary and it means we exalt and teach the biblical view of sex and marriage to the next generation so they are inoculated against the fickle cultural winds.
It is our own conduct within the church that must set the example and thus define marriage first. It is the height of hypocrisy to attempt to instruct others about sexual ethics and marriage when our own behavior falls so short. Numerous studies reveal that premarital sex, cohabitation, divorce, and pornography are as pervasive within the American church as they are among the unchurched! A compromised church cannot produce a chaste and moral culture that upholds and honors marriage, much less advance the kingdom.
Finally, this compromised state undermines an essential part of the Christian witness. Jesus himself established the fact that our conduct and relationships are a necessary component in our witness to the world (see John 13:35, 17:21–23). If we continue to fail on this vital point, the political winds will continue to shift, marriage will falter, and in the absence of this crucial cornerstone, our society will follow the path to ruin like so many before.