Churches and the Defense of Marriage
By Tony Campolo, Author, Sociologist, Minister
St. Davids, Pennsylvania
The Defense of Marriage Amendment being proposed by the Bush administration is going to be a hot issue in this year's election.
Democrats already are contending that President Bush is introducing this proposal for political purposes and, by so doing, is polarizing the country. Republicans are quick to point out that they are not the ones who raised the issue of gay marriage, but are simply defending the nation from the onslaught of liberals and their "gay agenda."
Churches are further inflaming the controversy through their own infighting. The argument over gay marriage has put every major denomination in danger of schism. Church leaders have weighed in on both sides of debate with many contending that nothing less is a stake than the future of the family.
What is being ignored, however, is that it is not gay people who have put the family in jeopardy. The traditional family is in danger, not because so many gays want to get married, but because so many heterosexuals have chosen to get divorced.
In fact, nearly half of new heterosexual marriages now end in divorce. In addition, more than 30 percent of today's young couples choose to live together without even bothering to get married.
Churches, however, have made no headlines around these issues lately. On the contrary, when it comes to divorce, lately we Christians have had little to say.
As I listen to fundamentalist church leaders declare that the Bible requires them to condemn gay marriage, I wonder how they reconcile their claims of full obedience to Scripture with their willingness to welcome those who are divorced and remarried into their congregations.
Doesn't Mark 10:11-12 describe Jesus specifically declaring that divorced people who remarry are living in adultery? If such leaders insist on "doing the Bible thing," then they ought to at least be consistent.
It isn't fair to use the Bible to clobber gays who want to get married without also using it to exclude divorced people who want to get remarried. If they must call their members' gay sons and daughters an abomination to God, should not those preachers also start condemning the children of their congregants who are living together out of wedlock?
When I ask my fellow evangelicals to explain this obvious double standard, I am often told that when it comes to divorce and remarriage we must communicate grace above all else. To this I can only respond, "When will we start communicating the same grace to our gay brothers and sisters?"
Don't get me wrong: I am no advocate of gay marriage. All I am saying here is that evangelical churches will have no credibility if they go on condemning gay marriages without revisiting the question of what the Bible has to say about marriage itself, and divorce, and the nature of all sexual activity.
Unless they are simply homophobic, these churches will soon discover that they cannot get tough with gay people and just let everybody else off the hook.
I am not in favor of The Defense of the Marriage Amendment, but if there must be one I think it should also deal with divorce, instead of just picking on gays. After all, it's high time we made getting out of a marriage more difficult than getting out of a traffic ticket.
Again, don't misunderstand me: Divorces must remain available to those who must escape destructive situations like spousal abuse. Nevertheless, both church and state have condoned easy divorces for too many people, and these divorces have left millions of children emotionally shattered for the rest of their lives.
Am I suggesting that unhappy couples ought to remain together for the sake of their kids? Absolutely.
As far as I am concerned, innocent boys and girls are the best reason to really defend marriage.
Note: This article was published in Baptists Today (May, 2004) and is reprinted by permission.