What Do We Do Now?
About the Guest
Same-sex marriage has arrived. Now what? Authors Sean McDowell and John Stonestreet remind believers that same-sex marriage isn't the root of the problem, but the fruit of the sexual revolution that began decades ago. Together they delve into the meaning of love as defined by our culture and the whole theory of sexual orientation.
Authors Sean McDowell and John Stonestreet remind believers that same-sex marriage isn’t the root of the problem, but the fruit of the sexual revolution that began decades ago.
Bob: We are not the first sexually-permissive culture in the history of the world. Think about Ancient Greece and Rome. Yet, John Stonestreet says, “Today, there is something very different.”
John: You can go back in history to those cultures that even promoted, and celebrated, and tolerated extramarital sexual activity, including homoerotic activities—didn’t see any moral problem with it at all. They still didn’t call it marriage because it clearly wasn’t. It was perhaps a guilty pleasure / maybe their true love; but it wasn’t the same as that relationship, which is this public institution, that produces children and best preserves and promotes the future of a civilization.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, April 20th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. Bob Dylan famously sang, “The times, they are a-changin’.” For us, as Christians, the question is: “Where do we need to change, and where do we need to stand firm?”
We’ll talk today to John Stonestreet and Sean McDowell about that. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You had a chance, back last fall, to be with more than a thousand pastors in Nashville for an event that was focused on what we’re talking about today; right?
Dennis: I gave a plenary address in what could have been a very controversial meeting, but I’ve got to tell you, Bob—I was really proud of the spirit and the tenor of a meeting that was called The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage. There was really a tremendous, winsome spirit. In fact, if anything, I thought there were a number of occasions when speakers really went overboard to say, “We want to do a better job of knowing how to love people who are broken because we, too, are broken.”
One of our guests was also there at that event. John Stonestreet joins us on FamilyLife Today, along with Sean McDowell.
Welcome to the broadcast, guys.
Sean: Thanks for having us.
John: Thank you.
Dennis: John Stonestreet is the Executive Director of the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview, co-host of BreakPoint Radio, author and a speaker. He and his wife Sarah have been married for 12 years and have 3 children.
Sean McDowell has a PhD from another seminary, other than Dallas Theological Seminary—it is called The Southern Baptist Seminary. He’s an author and a speaker, as well—professor at Biola University—and married to his wife Stephanie for 15 years. He has 3 children.
And together, these guys have co-authored a book that is pretty controversial. It’s called Same-Sex Marriage. You guys have waded off into some deep waters here. I mean, things are upside down compared to where they were 20 years ago.
Sean: We both felt like we were at a place in our culture where this was no longer something on the horizon. It was something in the present. In fact, right now, more people live in states where same-sex marriage is legal than those who live in states where it is not recognized.
Of course, we were always under the threat of another shoe dropping from the Supreme Court or another activist judge making some decisions for us.
So, the question is: “What do we do now? How do we think about this?” and “How do we live in this particular culture?” So, we wanted this book to be very clear and also very practical.
Bob: Well, in fact, that’s what you say on the front cover, Sean. You say: “Same-sex marriage is here. It went from unthinkable to legal in a dizzying pace. The question is, Now what?”
Sean: Well, in 2013, when the Windsor decision came down, overturning DOMA—Defense of Marriage Act—it felt, to me—in my conversations with Christians / my research, online—that Christians just felt like the wind had been taken out of their sails. There was almost this sense of despair.
I mean, John has this great story of a youth pastor, who says to him—looks at him—says, “We’ve lost!” And the question is: “We’ve lost what?” Jesus is still risen from the grave. God is still sovereign.
Yes, we might find ourselves in a different situation, culturally, that makes us uncomfortable; and it is starting to cost us something. But this is an opportunity for us to seize. Same-sex marriage is here. How do we respond graciously, humbly, truthfully, and, ultimately, with sight of respecting and elevating the gospel?
Dennis: I think what the Lord is doing is taking all of us to the school of love and truth—how you can stand for something that you believe, confidently, that’s based on the Bible, but also stand in a way that expresses the heart of Jesus Christ because, when He stood over the woman who was caught in adultery, He chastised those who were about to stone her and, then, told her to go and sin no more. He protected her, but He also loved her enough to speak the truth to her.
Bob: Well, here is the challenge that we face today—if you say, “I think same-sex marriage is biblically wrong,” there are some who would say:
“If that’s your view—if that’s antithetical-—holding that view and being loving cannot exist in the same person.”
John: And what it’s led to is a lot of Christians choosing to be silent and kind of sitting this one out because it does feel like these things are in conflict—truth and love. The fact of the matter is—the same God, who is the Author of truth, is the Author of love—so, if it’s a conflict, it’s a conflict in our minds—
Dennis: Yes, it is.
John: —not from God—“If I love God, I’ve got to believe what He says about marriage; but, if I love my neighbor, I can’t actually say that out loud.”
So, we’ve got to recognize, first of all, “What does Scripture clearly say about marriage?” and if that is the case—okay, that’s where we’ve got to stand. That means we can actually love our neighbor. If we’re not speaking truth, we are not loving / if we’re not loving, we’re not speaking truth. These things are both sourced out of the same person, Jesus Christ. So, we’ve got to move forward and figure out how to do this.
Dennis: There are a number of groups that are listening to us, right now, at different ends of the spectrum of what they believe and how they feel about this.
One group is a group of people who would describe themselves as homosexual or as those who struggle with same-sex attraction.
Sean, you tell a story about an encounter you had at the Olympic Park that I thought, “We just need to begin with that story because we all need to go near people who need Christ.”
Sean: This was back in 1996 when the Olympics were in Atlanta. I was working at the only t-shirt stand within Centennial Park. If you’ve ever been to the Olympics, people wear flags from whatever country they are from, proudly, all over the world. This man came up, wearing a big rainbow flag. I knew what it meant; but I thought, “Here is an opportunity to get in a conversation with somebody I could have an interesting dialogue.”
So, he came up to me—and I couldn’t think of anything better to say—I said, “Hey, that looks like an interesting flag. What country are you from?” He looked at me, and he said, “Oh, it’s a queer thing,”—that’s the word he used. I said, “So, you wear that so people know that you’re gay?” He said, “That’s right.” I said, “Do you mind if I ask you a question?
“You wear this flag, proudly and boldly, so people know that you are gay. Do, sometimes, people either make rude comments or insult you because of that?”
He looked at me and said, “Yes, it actually happens somewhat frequently.” I looked him, right back in the eyes, and I just said: “I am so sorry that people would treat you that way. That’s not right that someone would just disrespect you, as a human being.” I remember just looking at him. He looked, and he stopped, and he said: “Thank you. You’re the nicest person I’ve met at the Olympics. You mind if I get a picture with you?” I said, “Well, of course not!” In the minds of so many people, who either have same-sex attraction or describe themselves as homosexuals, Christians are the enemy—we’re the bad guys / we hate them.
Maybe, he’ll take that picture / put it up on his fridge—and just remember—I didn’t bring up the gospel. I didn’t say anything about the Bible—but I treated him with the dignity that we are to treat all human beings, as image-bearers. Maybe, he’ll see that and, someday, recognize who I am.
It’ll break his perceptions that Christians are hateful and go: “Oh my goodness! He was loving / he was caring.” And that’s just one way that I tried—even though, at times, I’ve fallen short—to love all sorts of broken people.
Bob: And the person, who would say: “You missed the opportunity to confront him with the gospel. Why did you let that go, and why did you just smile and take a picture with him?”
Sean: Well, first off, I was working. Someone was hiring me, and I had about 30 seconds. [Laughter]
Sean: And there just wasn’t time. I didn’t feel like the opportunity was ripe for it. I made a point / got a picture with him. I might have, at the end, said—you know—“God bless you,”—something like that. Then, I had to get back to work.
Bob: John, Dennis talked about people who struggle with same-sex attraction. We have a new phenomenon of people who don’t struggle with it. They experience same-sex attraction / they have a love for Jesus, and they don’t see any conflict between those two. In fact, they say: “I don’t struggle with same-sex attraction. I embrace my same-sex attraction, and I’m living it out to the glory of God.” What do we say to them?
John: Well, this is a really interesting dynamic that’s happened—
—even in the last several months—where many high profile folks, who claim to be evangelical and have a high view of Scripture, even, will claim, then, that it is completely okay to act on same-sex attraction. Typically, most of them would say, “…if it’s a committed, loving, monogamous sort of relationship”—and they say, rightly—“Jesus never talked about same-sex marriage, and Jesus never talked about homosexuality.”
That’s true; but Jesus did talk about marriage, and Jesus did talk about gender diversity. He did it very clearly in a passage in Matthew 19, when the Pharisees, who were teachers of the Law, asked Jesus specifically what Jesus, as a rabbi, thought about the Jewish Law in regard to divorce. And Jesus said, “Well, this is what the Law says; but don’t you know what was true from the very beginning?” He takes them back to Genesis, and that’s one of the places I think that is really important.
We spend a lot of time on that in the book because what God’s norm was—as He created is the given—that’s the created intent. And that’s exactly where Jesus went. He went back to the Garden.
He said: “Don’t you know what was true in the beginning? God created male and female”—so, He identifies both sexes there—“in His image, and what God has put together, let no man put asunder,”—that that sexual relationship, between a man and woman, is to be in the context of marriage, and is to be exclusive, and is to be procreative, and is to be permanent. So, these are the kinds of aspects of marriage and sexuality that the Scripture, rightly, defines.
Now, G.K. Chesterton said: “There are a lot of ways to fall down. There is only one way to stand up straight.” Homosexuality/same-sex attraction—LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender] sorts of things—these are the ways we are seeing the fall-down—but we’ve had a fallen-down in no-fault divorce, with porn addiction, with adultery, with walking out of marriage, with not honoring sexuality in its whole purpose before God in Christian marriages. But the thing is—Jesus points back to the norm. That’s where Scripture begins. That’s where we should begin.
Bob: Yes, I had a chance—I was speaking to a group of pastors, back last fall, about this subject.
I said: “You know, the definition of marriage—it’s now just currently being redefined. We can go back a couple of generations, when we started to say, ‘Well, marriage is primarily about romantic attraction to another person,’—we redefined it, at that point. Then, when we said, ‘If it’s not working out, you should be able to get out of it without any fault on anybody’s part,’—we were redefining marriage. We’ve been redefining marriage for decades. This is where the path has brought us; and it’s only now that we’re saying, ‘Well, wait—time out!’”
Sean: One of the points that John and I really emphasize in the book is that same-sex marriage is not the root of the problem—it’s the fruit of the problem. So, this sexual revolution has been taking place for decades, going back, probably, to the 40’s—if not earlier. There are certain ideas that our culture has to buy into; and when they buy into these ideas, same-sex marriage makes perfect sense.
For example, we’ve divorced sex from procreation—you can have babies without sex / you can have sex without babies.
We’ve also broken down the distinction between males and between females.
Sean: And then, marriage is just about my soul fulfillment and my pleasure rather than my responsibility to society. So, if we adopt these ideas—which we’ve seen in movies / we’ve seen in culture—then, why would anybody hold back and resist same-sex marriage?
Dennis: There is another group, who is listening to us today—that I want to just speak to for a moment. That’s a group of people that go: “Why are you guys trying to take a stand on something that really ought to be a civil right? It just ought to be something that everyone should be able to go do. You guys are just—you’re bigots. You’re really filled with hate because you don’t want people to be able to be happy.”
John: Well, we’ve gotten those tweets—I can assure you—but the deeper question here is: “Is it accurate to identify sexual orientation with a civil right?” Now, Sean was mentioning the definition of marriage really has undergone a pretty dramatic shift.
It’s no longer an institution that’s connected with procreation, and with a future of civilization, and so on. It’s about whether a relationship meets my own personal happiness / my personal needs.
Now, this is really radical—it’s really new. You can go back through history—and we do a lot of that in the book—to those cultures that even promoted, and celebrated, and tolerated extramarital sexual activity, including homoerotic activities—didn’t see any moral problem with it at all. They still didn’t call it marriage because it clearly wasn’t. It was, perhaps, a guilty pleasure / it was, maybe, their true love; but it wasn’t the same as that relationship, which is this public institution, that produces children and best preserves and promotes the future of a civilization.
What’s happened in our culture—and Sean identified the fountainhead of it—is the sexual revolution. There have been two things that have really shifted in our cultural understanding. Number one is our understanding of love. Scripture talks about different types of love—the highest being the agape love—
—which has nothing to do with self-serving / it’s self-sacrificial.
In our culture, almost all love has been boiled down to either sentimentalism/emotional feelings or sexual love/erotic love. A lot of times, when kids grow up in this culture, all they hear is eros, eros, and eros; right? I mean eros is okay—“Express yourself.” And when eros and sentimentalism combine, I mean, there really is no sense of agape in that framework, at all.
The other thing that’s really shifted is that we have now embraced a brand-new understanding of the human person, almost exclusively, on sexual terms. There is a whole history to this—but if you think about it—in our culture, someone’s strongly-held orientation and attraction, only when it comes to sexuality, is now equal to their deepest sense of identity. Then, that, therefore, demands or justifies their behavior. That’s a radical shift in what we understand the human person to be.
If we grant that category—
—that humans are nothing more than the sum total of their sexual attraction and inclinations—first of all, identity becomes really flimsy. Secondly, then, it does seem like a civil right.
Now, the last thing I will say on this is—I think this brings up a remarkable opportunity for the gospel—because to define someone down to their sexual inclinations and attractions, I think, is a very small view of the human person—it’s very dehumanizing. Scripture gives us a much bigger, richer category—that humans are made in the image and likeness of God. They have inherent dignity, from the moment of conception, to the moment of natural death. Sexual orientation and attraction has to be fit into a larger understanding of what makes us truly ourselves.
Dennis: Let’s talk about that for a moment because—at the conference that we talked about, here at the beginning of the broadcast, that I spoke at and you did as well—The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage—I spoke about how I felt like we’d reached the tipping point in our country.
I see Christians wringing their hands, going: “Oh my goodness! Look at what’s happened!”
I think there are two ways to look at it. You can either wring your hands and be afraid in a corner and say, “Goliath is in the land;” or you can decide to use that opportunity, as you just said, to speak to the spiritual and the needs of the soul—which every man/every woman is made in the image of God and has a desire to know God. This is an opportunity—unprecedented opportunity—for us, as we raise our children / as we go in the marketplace, to represent Christ in fresh ways around really tough issues.
John: Dennis, I’m so glad that you taught on that; and you are exactly right. Christians have been kind of stumped by this, “We’re on the wrong side of history”-thing; and it’s kind of defeated us. But the sexual revolution is like what Jeremiah talks about, when he says: “There are cisterns that do not really satisfy.
“There are wells that aren’t really…” Remember the story of Jesus with the woman at the well? This is kind of a picture of what Jeremiah was talking about there. You know—“You’re drawing water. Let Me tell you about a well that will never run dry and the springs of living water,”—and all these sorts of ways that Jesus talked about this.
Sexuality, when it’s made the primary purpose and goal of all of existence and life, will leave us unsatisfied, as people and as cultures. Sociologists have studied this. We are seeing signs in our culture of sexual exhaustion. For example, three parliamentarians in the EU, last year, put forth legislation to ban pornography because they see it, rightfully, as an assault on the dignity of women and children.
We have college students—Sean and I work with college students—who even—they are not Christians and they are choosing chastity because they see how broken their fellow classmates are. This is a wonderful opportunity for the gospel to bring restoration, and redemption, and wholeness.
Bob: Sean, there are some who look at this human rights aspect of the gay marriage issue and they say:
“Well, wouldn’t it just make sense if the government issues marriage licenses for civil marriage and the church can have a marriage license for Christian marriage? We’ll just say, ‘Look, if the society wants to define it their way, that’s fine. We’ll define it our way. It’s the separation of church and state issue.’” Is that a good way to go?
Sean: Well, my concern with that is that marriage is not just a Christian institution. When you look in Genesis 1, He’s not creating marriage for the church. He’s creating marriage for mankind. We make a case in the book, biblically, for marriage from Matthew 19 and from Genesis 1 and Genesis 2; but you can also look, outside of the Bible, and make a case for why marriage has been recognized as a man and a woman in a committed, monogamous, exclusive relationship for life.
And we quote Maggie Gallagher, who has been an outspoken proponent on this issue. She says: “Sex makes babies. Society needs babies, and babies need a mom and a dad.”
Sean: So, even if I were not a Christian, and I was simply looking at society and what’s best for children, what’s best for religious freedom, what’s best to have a smaller government that’s less invasive, I would be in favor of natural marriage. I think Christians, who make the case that you said—that we should have Christian marriage and a public marriage—are doing it with the right intent but, maybe, have not fully thought through the implications of what will follow when we go that route for the culture.
John: Sean is exactly right. Neither the government nor the church creates marriage. We are both responsible to recognize it.
Two other things that kind of concern me with the idea that we separate these two is that, at that point, the church will be out of the public square, no longer proclaiming to the public square: “This is what marriage is.” And the church does have a prophetic role in culture—not to be, as Chuck Colson used to say—“We don’t impose. We propose.”
One of the great gifts the church can give back to the world, right now, is marriage as a solution to all of this sexual exhaustion and sexual brokenness. So, I think that’s right.
The other thing, too, is—I think it would, then, leave parishioners to have to go get civil marriage documents on their own. If we’re saying that it confuses the categories for clergy to sign a civil marriage document—it’s wrong for them to kind of conflate civil marriage and sacred marriage—then, it would also be wrong for the parishioner too; wouldn’t it? I mean, I think we’re kind of leaving parishioners hanging out to dry on that front.
So, I think Christians might, at one point—I think it’s quite foreseeable that it’ll be time to get out of the public square—and we’ll know it because we’ll have a hand in our back, pushing us—but let’s be pushed out. Let’s be gracious, and thoughtful, and kind.
Bob: Keep our voice for as long as we can.
John: As long as we’ve got it.
John: That’s right.
Dennis: As I think about this subject, there are really several application points I want to highlight here. One is repentance.
For those of us in the Christian community, we need to repent of the arrogance that we might have to think we’re less broken than another person.
Secondly, I think we have to maintain a good balance of love and truth as we speak into this subject. We’ve got to know what we believe / what we stand for, but not sacrifice it on the altar of love. We have to love people while speaking the truth. And finally—third, I think parents really have to do a thorough job of equipping their sons and daughters to know how to address this issue.
I’d encourage parents to get this and read it and, perhaps, even engage over the dinner table with their kids. This is really an apologetic for marriage. This is a defense of marriage in a positive, powerful way. Christians should be defenders of the first institution God created.
Bob: The book is called Same-Sex Marriage: A Thoughtful Approach to God’s Design for Marriage.
It’s a book that we’ve got in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. Go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com, if you’d like to order a copy. FamilyLifeToday.com is the website. When you get there, click the link at the top of the page that says, “GO DEEPER.” You’ll find information about Sean McDowell and John Stonestreet’s book, Same-Sex Marriage: A Thoughtful Approach to God’s Design for Marriage. You can also request your copy of the book when you call us, toll-free, at 1-800-FL-TODAY. That’s 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY.” Again, ask about the book, Same-Sex Marriage, when you get in touch with us.
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In fact, right now, if you can help with a donation, we’d like to say a special “Thank you,” by giving you your choice of a couple of books. You can either request Scott Stanley’s book called A Lasting Promise, where he talks about how to address some of the most common issues couples face in a marriage relationship. In fact, I mentioned, recently, that I was talking to a friend who told me this book was the turning point in their marriage. Again, it’s called A Lasting Promise. Or you can request a copy of the book, The Smart Stepfamily, by Ron Deal. His book has been revised and updated recently. We are happy to send you a copy, either for yourself or to pass along to someone you know who could use the encouragement / someone who is in a stepfamily.
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We’ll talk more tomorrow with our guests, John Stonestreet and Sean McDowell, as we talk about the issue of same-sex marriage. Hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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