We’ve thoroughly enjoyed our stay in New Zealand. In fact, the two weeks have been too brief. We didn’t have opportunity to visit the South Island with its breathtaking peaks and scenes. We couldn’t even see the entire North Island. But what we saw–Rangatoto, the glow worm caves, Hobbiton, and the Lord’s churches–all blessed us tremendously. So with some sadness, we leave Middle Earth for the land down under.
As we travel, another event compounds our sadness. Today New Zealand legalizes so-called “gay marriage.” Network news stations on airport televisions feature celebrations at various government buildings. Topless men wave rainbow flags. Two men deep kissing. Groups of same-sex couples cheer. Interviewees speak of their elation and their desire to have others recognize their “love.” It’s a scene reminiscent of others in the United States, the United Kingdom and elsewhere.
Landing in Australia, I learned that Katy Perry has “blasted” Australian politician Tony Abbot for calling “gay marriage” the “fashion of the moment,” while Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd promises that if re-elected he will introduce a “gay marriage” bill in his first 100 days. It seems this issue cannot be easily escaped.
As I’ve listened to comments on both sides of the issue, my mind wanders back about ten years ago. That’s when I think the tide changed in public sentiment and the ages-long tradition of heterosexual marriage “lost” the battle.
How Elites in Private Board Rooms Changed the Conversation
Ten years ago a number of states passed various forms of legislation to protect traditional marriage. President Clinton “betrayed” the pro-homosexuality cause by signing “Don’t ask/Don’t tell” military policies and the Defense of Marriage Act into law. These seemed at the time to be setbacks for the gay lobby. The country seemed poised to hold the line on the sexual morality most Americans held.
But there were signs of coming change. I felt the winds of change blowing in a private by-invitation-only meeting of marriage and family scholars at a prominent Washington, D.C. think tank. I’d been invited by a well-known, well-respected member of the think tank. He’d worked as an advisor to the President and as senior congressional staff in both Democratic and Republican administrations. A conservative Republican himself, he had a reputation for being fair and honest with research. Of the persons invited that day, he and I would be the only known social conservatives. He’d phoned me personally to ask if I would join the group. We had worked together before, and I think he was surprised to have found another conservative working in liberal and progressive policy groups. I agreed to attend, signed the privacy agreement and dutifully began reading the preparation materials.
It wasn’t exactly a smoke-filled room. I don’t think liberals and progressives like smoke or dark woods. The room’s only window opened onto a courtyard, though the fifteen or so attendees sat facing one another across a large wooden coffee table, exchanging views on presented papers and the social science on marriage. Turns out there were three conservatives among us, a number of people who presented themselves as impartial social scientists, a French Canadian whose work focused on the importance of traditional conjugal union in defining marriage, and a number of people who declared their pro-gay sentiments, if not an openly gay lifestyle.
We covered the very solid and long-standing research consensus on family structure. “Everyone does well or at least better when children are raised in married two-parent households.” Then the “thinking” in the tank turned political and strategic. The question of “gay marriage” surfaced. The room grew tense. Not because participants argued or tempers flared, but because everyone wanted to remain polite. People had opinions, but with the exception of one known conservative, most didn’t know where the others stood. Folks assummed, because I’m African American, that I would be supportive of a basically liberal viewpoint. Horror and surprise flashed over some faces when I made it clear that homosexual behavior was in no way comparable to the Civil Rights struggle, an analogy that was beginning to gain currency at the time.
Then it happened. The wind changed directions. If the wind could take steps, here they were:
Seize upon politeness. Turns out that being civil about indecency actually hurts the traditional cause. One of the attendees, a well-known openly-gay journalist, began to distance himself from other prominent gay activists. He rejected their militancy. He faulted their arguments as too frontal, too caustic, too beside the point. He “championed” traditional marriage and wanted it for gay couples for all the same beneficial reasons. He spoke of the research on family structure in friendly ways. He took the polite high ground and all the polite folks in the room were left with nothing but nodding.
Minimize conjugality. With most of the room nodding, he then began to divorce (no pun intended) marriage from its conjugal nature. All of a sudden, marriage was not about sex and procreation. “After all,” we were told, “there are heterosexual married couples who either cannot have or opt not to have children. So sex and procreation cannot be essential to marriage.”
Remove the “yuck factor.” Our advocate friend was keenly aware that any conversation about “what goes on in bedrooms” was death to his cause. So, he privatized those realities and their implications for what we view as “normal” or “acceptable,” and focused on other things (rights, etc.). He pointed out that most people have a visceral reaction, a gag reflex, when they think about sex between two men or two women. That deep-in-the-stomach gagging was symptomatic of an even deeper moral opposition to sodomy and other homosexual practices. He told us that this gag reflex should not and could not be allowed to affect the debate. The discussion needed to shift to other aspects of relationships. One of the great Houdini achievements of the gay rights campaign has been to take an issue all about sexual behavior and turn it into a discussion about everything but sexual behavior.
Emphasize love and commitment. Then the winds picked up. If marriage wasn’t about the conjugal relationship, what was it about? “Love and commitment” we were told. “What’s wrong with two people finding love?” Of course, this is a particularly manipulative question. The debate was never about “love.” And who can argue against “love”? But that’s the turn the discussion took in that room and would soon take in the broader public conversations. Gay marriage would be a celebration and affirmation of love and commitment, “the highest ideals in marriage” now that conjugal relationships were unimportant.
Call for “rights” and “equality.” If marriage was merely about love, and such love ought to be protected via government-recognized rights, then “gay marriage” should receive those same protections and rights.
What I’ve just described took place in about ten minutes, replete with objections answered and raised. Our homosexual interlocutor proved himself kind, winsome, insightful and reasonable. Most everyone, myself included, listened with a sense of appreciation.
Looking Back, What I Wish I’d Said
After noting my own appreciation, I attempted to offer a response in a room now deeply moved by his comments. It was a losing effort, nowhere near as smooth and multi-layered as his comments. I knew I was scrambling, just as the wider society has been scrambling for the last ten years. Though no one seemed to like my mail as much as his, I still think my basic approach is the needed approach because the “nice guys” are definitely going to finish last unless we change strategies.
Here’s what I tried to do, followed by what I did wrong:
Reject the unbiblical definition of love. I said, though it was very unpopular, homosexual marriage could not properly be called “love.” You could choke on the room’s tension. “How could I say such a thing?” I pointed out that the Bible teaches plainly that “love does not rejoice in wrongdoing” (1 Cor. 13). That the Bible also teaches that homosexual behavior was wrongdoing or sin. Consequently, though strong emotions and affections are involved, we cannot properly call it “love.” Love does no harm, and homosexuality clearly harms everyone involved. Despite the stares, I continued.
Reject the “rights” argument. It seems this ship has sailed. But a decade ago it was still in port, scraping off before the maiden voyage into public opinion. It was at this point in the conversation that I realized two things: (1) I’d been invited in part to address this particular aspect of the issue, and (2) most of the room gave me a fair amount of moral authority on the question. So I spoke as forcefully as I could about the wide difference between the sexual behavior we were now discussing and immutable skin color given by God. “Gay” was not the new “Black.” Moreover, I argued, there were all kinds of other intimate relationships (some of them sexual) that did not receive civil protections and benefits from government. Grandparents raising children, heterosexuals living together outside of marriage, etc. Sexual intimacy and affection were insufficient basis for extending government sanction and protection. And what of other sexual arrangements that claim as strong an orientation (say, pedophilia) or as strong a consensual commitment (say, polygamy) that we do not grant rights to? I tried to make the case that we were standing atop the slippery slope wearing oil-slicked Florsheims.
But I wasn’t heard. Or, rather, I was heard as a paranoid alarmist. So-called “gay marriage” would not ruin marriage. Heterosexuals had already done that. Why shouldn’t homosexuals have their opportunity to ruin it, too?
Here’s what I failed to do then and I’m convinced is necessary now:
Return the discussion to sexual behavior in all its yuckiest gag-inducing truth. Now to do this, we’re simply going to have accept the fact that we aren’t going to be liked. We’re going to be branded “mean” and “bigoted.” We should not in fact be mean and bigoted. We should speak the truth in love. But the consequence will be a nasty brand from the culture. I should say branded again because we’ve already been given those labels simply for being Christians. So, we don’t have much to lose and we just might re-gain some footing in this debate.
What do I mean by returning the yuck factor?
Consider how many times you’ve read the word “gay” or “homosexual” in this post without thinking about the actual behaviors those terms represent. “Gay” and “homosexual” are polite terms for an ugly practice. They are euphemisms. In all the politeness, we’ve actually stopped talking about the things that lie at the heart of the issue–sexual promiscuity of an abominable sort. I say “abominable” because that’s how God describes it in His word. I think we should describe sin (and righteousness) the way God does. And I think it would be a good thing if more people were gagging on the reality of the sexual behavior that is now becoming public law, protected, and even promoted in public schools.
So what are we talking about? (Warning: Obscene descriptions follow. If sensitive in conscience, skip the block quotes below and go to the conclusion)
We are talking about one man inserting the male organ used to create life into the part of another man used to excrete waste. We are talking about one man taking the penis of another man into his mouth, or engaging in penis-to-penis grinding.
We are talking about a woman using her mouth to stimilute the nipples, vulva, clitoris or vagina of another woman, or using her hand or other “toys” to simulate sexual intercourse.
We are talking about anilingus and other things I still cannot name or describe.
That sense of moral outrage you’re now likely feeling–either at the descriptions above or at me for writing them–that gut-wrenching, jaw-clenching, hand-over-your-mouth, “I feel dirty” moral outrage is the gag reflex. It’s what you quietly felt when you read “two men deep kissing” in the second paragraph. Your moral sensibilities have been provoked–and rightly so. That reflex triggered by an accurate description of homosexual behavior will be the beginning of the recovery of moral sense and sensibility when it comes to the so-called “gay marriage” debate.
I wish I had done a very simple thing in response to the journalist’s comments. I wish I had asked a question. In retrospect, after an appropriate moment to acknowledge the display of brilliance we’d just been treated to, I should have politely raised my hands and asked, “Do you mean to say we should all accept as normal and good one man inserting the part of his body intended to create life into the part of another man’s body meant to excrete waste?” And following the gag reflex, I should have then asked, “And do you mean to suggest that a man inserting his penis in another man’s anus is as “good” and “loving” as a husband and wife uniting with each other as God and nature designed it?”
The beauty of 20/20 hindsight is that it can be turned into foresight. The next time I’m in a conversation about these matters I hope to move it first principles and illicit that visceral response by asking such a question.
What we’re really talking about when we talk about “homosexuality” is not just sex gone wrong but wrong sexual behavior. Deep down we all–Christian and non-Christian, heterosexual and homosexual–know it’s wrong. The knowledge of that moral wrong repulses us because we’re moral beings, made that way by our Creator. In a Romans 1 “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” world, it becomes the Christian’s responsibility to help people acknowledge what they really know but are really suppressing. Our apologetic task is to bring to the surface what has been written on the conscience and cannot be not known. We need to do this with as much kindness, insight, warmth and fairness as the gay journalist in the private boardroom ten years ago. And we need to do this soon.
The pro-gay campaign has successfully duped many in the country and around the world into suppressing their conscience, turning the other way with the help of polite terms and phrases. And because we want to be “nice” and “liked” (who doesn’t?), we have ignored these things or willingly accepted the terms of the discussion presented by the other side. We’ve stopped gagging–at great cost.
I don’t know if the tide will wash out on so-called “gay marriage.” But if it does I suspect it’ll happen because our moral conscience is aroused by sober consideration of the behavior we’re now viewing on prime time television, celebrating on court house steps, and teaching in public schools. Time for us to wake up and shift the discussion back to what this has been about all along. The good news is our conscience will side with what we already know to be right–even the conscience of those who oppose the truth will testify against them.