Why the Death of DOMA doesn’t surprise me

I’m not much a one for politics.  Maybe once upon a time I could have gone down that road; but now I think theologically, and I’m committed to that.  And so, with a hint of societal examination along the way, here are my thoughts on the US Supreme Court’s latest blockbuster rulings.

It is only a matter of time before same-sex marriage is accepted, legalized, and codified in this country.  The removal of obstacles like the Defense of Marriage Act is a necessary step in that process.  But it was a doomed piece of legislation from the start and I’ll tell you why I think that.

It begins in the mid-20th century with what’s often called the Sexual Revolution.  Many Americans, particularly non-religious persons, finally realized that sex before marriage had no superstitious downsides, only the social stigma.  And since there were a lot more people that cared about enjoying themselves than enjoying the worship of God, the movement caught on, so to speak.  Aided by improvements in contraception technology (which itself has a long history in the first half of that century), the revolution was really able to take off.  And along with it soon came many married people seeking a second (or third or fourth) chance to find a better partner.

I don’t mean to assert that every case of divorce was solely about sex.  But the separation of sex and marriage was a huge change through the 1960’s and 70’s.

And, since pregnancy sometimes still happened even with contraception, another method of prolonging the obsessive enjoyment of sex was pursued: abortion.  Now, yes, once again, there were many other reasons for legalizing abortion – rape, abuse, women’s health among the most prominent.  But when you look at the numbers of people getting abortions, the % of those categories are really quite low.  Rather, the primary proponent of abortions is revealed in their major tag-line: “pro-choice.”  It’s about choosing when to have children and when not to have children.  Or, on the other side of that coin, it’s about enjoying as much sex as you want without interruption or repercussion.

Although these movements may well have started in primarily non-Christian circles, many of them caught on among Christians pretty quickly.  How many churches today accept birth control?  Virtually all of them, except for the Romans.  How many churches today accept divorce and remarriage?  Well, look at the divorce rates among Christian marriages; they’re hardly that different from the general population.  Same with abortion and homosexuality, although the types of churches that have accepted those tend also to accept more problematic heresies like universalism and unitarianism.  If we’re going to get on our high horse about abortion and homosexuality, we need to make sure we face up to our theology and practice concerning contraception, divorce, and remarriage as well.

A moment on the contraception topic – it’s hardly ever talked about in Protestantism these days, so the defense arguments for it are pretty shallow, generally amounting to “God wants us to be smart about having children.”  Sure, it’s logical, but that’s not enough to prop up proper Christian thought.  Where’s the Scripture and theological history in that dialogue?  Anyway, as I don’t have a clear position on contraception, I’ll limit my comments to this: why is it so well-accepted?  So we can be “responsible” about having children, or so we can enjoy sex without consequences?  I’ve known good Christians who’ve given both answers.  But is an intentionally childless marriage actually biblical?  I’m not so sure.  But that’s for another post.

The point I’m driving towards is this: the legalization of contraception and abortion, and the widespread acceptance of divorce and remarriage, is best summed up in the popular two-word slogan: free love.  That’s what American society has been pursuing for the past 50 years.  Possibly the past 100 years.

Today’s debates around homosexual relationships are framed as matters of equality.  This baffles many Christians because we view homosexual behavior as a violation of God’s law.  When a kid steals candy from the candy store we don’t  demand we make minor thefts legal.  But to the movement that society has developed these past few decades, it is a matter of equality, because the underlying pursuit is that of “free love.”  The goal is to let people have sex with whomever they want with minimal consequences.  In that framework, marriage is little more than a formality.

(Yes, there are a ton of legal rights tied up with marriage right now, but in the pursuit of free love, marriage is not exactly a useful concept.  If the free love movement continues for a while longer, expect civil marriage to go away after a while.  But don’t quote me on that, I’m not much of a political analyst.)

And thus we find another reason DOMA was doomed from the start.  Just look at it’s name: “Defense of Marriage Act.”  Christian marriage was already on the defensive in 1996.  That was, interestingly, 7 years before the first state (Massachusetts) legalized same-sex marriage in 2003.  Let’s face it, historic Christian theology is not the driving force behind American culture.  It lost that battle to free love over 50 years ago.

Actually, I’d go so far as to say that historic Christian theology never was the driving force behind American culture.  Sure, Christian values were embedded into the Bill of Rights, and Declaration of Independence, and other such foundational documents of this country, but values are meaningless without theology.  The theology of America began with a mix of Christianity, Deism, and Secular humanism, which at the time conveniently share the same sets of values.  Such is not the case today.

So, fellow Christians.  Before you dive into the fight to defend or re-take or otherwise revive Christian marriage in America, start with the basics.  What is your theology of contraception?  What is your theology of abortion?  And most importantly, what is your theology of marriage and divorce and remarriage?  Then look at your own marriage(s), and the marriage(s) in your local church.  Does the practice of you and your fellow parishioners match that theology?  Chances are, there are a lot of people in your church operating on the free love principle under a Christian guise.  We must deal with the splinters in our own midst before we have any right or ability to help society with its own log.

As Psalm 51 says, “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.  Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice.  Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.  Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.  Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.  Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.  Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.”

Repentance, confession, forgiveness, and amendment must be undertaken before we can expect any sort of revival to leave the church walls.

About Fr. Brench

I'm an Anglican Priest and a sci-fi geek. Therefore, I write about liturgy & spiritual formation, theology & biblical studies, and Doctor Who. But I keep those blogs separate so I don't confuse too many people!
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3 Responses to Why the Death of DOMA doesn’t surprise me

  1. Matt, thank you for this very thoughtful summary of the issues. I think you are spot on in your analysis. Your post conjured the following thoughts from me as I was reading, and I offer them to you here, only one of which is a very slight push back and some others are really additions:

    1) You identify the separation of sex and marriage in the 1960s and 70s as a huge factor in the decline of marriage in our culture. I would add that the separation of sex from procreation was another and perhaps even more significant factor. Once sex was separated from childbearing, it didn’t really need the marriage bond anymore and was free to be experienced at any time.

    2) Your analysis of abortion in our country is spot on, and reinforces the point I made above.

    3) Somewhere along the lines Christians got it in their heads that divorce rates among Christians are the same as those of the larger culture. This is not entirely accurate. This information came out of a Barna poll which found a correlation between SELF-IDENTIFIED Christians and the divorce rate (I think people were asked to self-identify as “born again” or not, a somewhat amorphous category in its own right). Now, don’t get me started about Barna; they often use very skewed questions and methodology to portray the church as more compromised and hated than it actually is. According to UConn sociologist Bradley Wright in his book “Christians are Hate-Filled Hypocrites… and Other Lies You’ve Been Told,” when the correlation is between REGULAR CHURCH ATTENDANCE (rather than mere self-identification) and divorce, divorce rates are actually significantly lower than the culture at large. (Wright has plenty of his own words to share about Barna’s truthfulness.) THAT BEING SAID, divorce and remarriage is still much worse in the church today that it was in previous decades, and the best we can say is that the church is BEHIND the culture a bit if not totally on par with it, and it seems to be heading in the same direction at any rate, so your overall point is still generally valid. Another interesting note is that the correlation between regular church attendance and traditional sexual mores IN GENERAL among Roman Catholics in particular is also very high, a statistic that is evidenced even by the convictions of the various members of the US Supreme Court, appropriately enough.

    4) The idea that America at its founding was influenced (at least in part) by Christian values but that these values are really vacuous without an undergirding theology is quite profound. I think you’re on to something there, especially in light of your note that secular humanists/Deists once had generally the same set of moral values as orthodox Christians, but this is no longer the case.

    5) Finally your concluding comment about the need for repentance as a precursor to prophetic witness (with excellent exegesis of Psalm 51 to boot) is absolutely spot on and quite convicting.

    Overall, thank you for sharing this. Very well said indeed.

    • Dcn. Brench says:

      Thanks for the encouraging feedback, brother Deacon! I was intentionally vague about the Christian divorce statistics because I’d heard conflicting reports, which you helped clarify for me in point 3. As for your first point, that’s why I brought contraception into the discussion; thanks (again) for clarifying what I was alluding to there. Cheers!

  2. Pingback: Marriage as a Sacrament | Leorningcnihtes boc

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