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We editors at WORLD have had a hard time—not with knowing where we stand on gay marriage but knowing how to punctuate it.
After several readers chastised us for using the term “gay marriage” as though it were a legitimate phrase, we decided to put inside quotations the word “marriage” when it referred to a union between a man and a man or a woman and a woman. In time—and with the increasing need to use it—we’ve wearied of seeing “marriage” that way: It looks more snarky than serious and gives the impression we have doubts about any concept of marital union.
In this issue’s cover story and in our online and print coverage moving forward, we generally will use the term gay or same-sex marriage without quotes, recognizing it as a now understood cultural construct (similar to the way a term like “wired” acquired altered meanings or the way we’ve learned what’s meant by “casual sex”). The task of Christian journalists is to report the world the way it is, while keeping in mind the way we wish it to be. But the context of our reporting and commentary shows that gay marriage is not a construct we buy.
The lexicographers have succumbed to pressure to amend their definitions of “marriage” (Merriam-Webster added “being united to a person of the same sex” as a secondary meaning in 2003, but a petition drive is underway to make it part of the first listed meaning). For Christians, “marriage” between members of the same sex—no matter who redefines it—is an ontological impossibility, and not only because the apostle Paul condemned homosexuality in Romans 1.
Marriage is woven purposefully and intimately (if you will) into the narrative of the Old and New Testament, enfolding the entire canon of what is accepted as the basis for the belief system known as Christianity. It is the created order of humankind in Genesis 1, celebrated as a gift leading in turn to the gift of children in Genesis 2, confirmed by Jesus in Matthew 19, set as a picture of the relationship between Christ and the church in Ephesians 5, and the visual used to capture the final scene of time itself in Revelation 21. In every instance it’s the distinctives of the parts, male and female, that make the whole.
So it follows logically, as one organizational statement on the LGBT movement affirms, to say: “Homosexual desire itself is contrary to the design of God for human sexuality. In that sense, it is rightly thought of as a fallen condition and, in general terms, a consequence of sin and brokenness.”
And quickly we must add: All have sinned and fallen short. It was the couple yoked in marriage according to God’s order in the garden, after all, who led us into the fall and all sins that have followed. Homosexuals have no corner on sin, but the practice of homosexuality is sinful.
That’s why the silence and acquiescence in many evangelical churches is so profoundly disturbing and dismantling. The refusal of too many pastors and seminaries to teach clearly on why homosexuality cannot be the basis for marriage—the fear to be accused of bigotry—has left shrill voices and violent haters filling the public square. And it’s left many Christians and normally astute thinkers bewildered, unsure.
To be sure, the climate is fearsome. The organizational statement quoted above is a profound and helpful document distributed internally to guide employees of a national Christian organization. But we’ve agreed not to name the group at this time or publicize the statement—as helpful as we believe it could be—because that group has a legitimate fear for its staff and of legal action from pro-gay activists.
And for pastors, as Louis Giglio learned in January, preaching on homosexuality even 15 years ago gets you disqualified from giving the inaugural benediction. But silence and retreat (including our own) has allowed distortion and exaggeration to carry the day.
Far beyond leaving a few editors in stylistic limbo, the failure to speak boldly, accurately, and kindly does damage not only to the church but to the gay community, and to American society at large. We do no one a favor, no matter how many ships Rob Bell proclaims have sailed, to permit by our actions or inactions what contradicts so deeply what God has designed.