The followring letter from Bishop David Anderson first appeared in the June 28, 2013 edition of the AAC's weekly email update. Sign up for this free email here.
Fifteen or more years ago, I was still busy in pastoral ministry as the rector of a large Episcopal church in California and taking some continuing post graduate level coursework as well. As a part of one course, a few of us arranged an interview with the pastor of the Methodist church that then-President and Mrs. Clinton were attending. The Clintons and that particular Methodist church and pastor were all on the other side of the aisle from me on many social issues, so I was very interested in how this interview would go. The conversation eventually moved to immigration and a Christian response to it, and I had an opportunity to ask a question. Given that I was living on the Pacific Rim where a great many Asian and Middle Eastern immigrants were settling and bringing their cultural values with them, particularly with regard to women, I asked how a Christian should respond to this. Should their values be given a place in society and law just as our values have been? For a liberal, his response surprised me. He said that all people were created equal in the eyes of God, but all values were not equal. Some of their values were not equal to ours! Although I agreed with him, I could see a potential crack in his progressive world view.
All values are not created equal, and in fact some are dehumanizing and abhorrent. Yet even though there is well-founded revulsion toward some imported cultural values, the spiritual and Judeo-Christian underpinnings of our law and culture are rapidly falling away, leaving law and culture open to dramatic change. One such area is marriage, what it is and who may enter into it.
Although the Bible recounts the history of prophets, kings, and nations, and although we are given the narrative of their deeds and often their words, everything mentioned in the Bible is not intended to be a positive example for us. Consider the story of King David's murder of Uriah the Hittite because David had already committed adultery with Bathsheba, Uriah's wife, and she was carrying King David's child. In King David's mind, Uriah being dead simplified everything. This is not intended as a model, and scripture does not say "go and do likewise." Instead, it tells of the prophet Nathan recounting to the king a very sad story, and when the king was properly outraged, announcing to the king, "You are the man!"
King David had several wives and many concubines, but never does scripture say "go and do likewise." The true story of the woe that came to all those participants should warn anyone away from thinking multiple wives and concubines are a good idea. In many other examples where multiple wives were concerned, we see the sadness and tension that proceed from such relationships, with no Biblical injunction to go and do likewise. In fact, in Deuteronomy 17:17 the king of Israel was specifically instructed not to "multiply wives for himself."
The ideal since the example of Adam and Eve has been a man and woman, with love and respect for each other, joining together in a life-long union such that the care of children, if God provides, allows for the roles of masculinity and femininity in the parents to be imparted to the young. My wife and I have been married 46 years, and I can attest that I have grown more spiritually within this relationship than in any other context. God intends marriage to be between a consenting man and woman, who will love and respect one another, and keep working at it till their life's end. Governments have simply taken God's established relationship called marriage and surrounded it with law and protection. Unfortunately, the last several decades have seen a collapse in law and culture based on Judeo-Christian scriptural values and God's opinion on behavior. Pushing God out of the picture has left law and culture grasping for principles to operate on. Fairness and equal opportunity seem to have become the new scale.
Equality in marriage is such a reasonable-sounding concept. But if it allows for gay marriage, what else does it allow for? Why should consenting adults be limited to one partner in marriage? Some breakaway Mormon groups still practice polygamy, and some television programs seem to make it seem, well, so acceptable. Is it fair to tell consenting adults they can't marry several people at once, perhaps even have one or more of each gender? Is it fair to tell consenting adults that a mother and adult son or daughter can't marry if they want to? Or brothers and sisters? Marriage no longer seems to have children as a primary component, so state laws prohibiting marriage within certain degrees of blood relationship will probably be declared unconstitutional. The future seems stormy in so many of these areas, and the likelihood after this week's ruling in the United States Supreme Court is that things will get worse.
I am certain of a few things. Marriage doesn't belong to the government, and government doesn't have the right to say what is morally correct. It does have the ability to grant tax advantages, welfare relief, and other forms of monetary advancement or penalty to relationships it chooses to recognize. We will only have a moral government if there is a large-scale revival of the Christian faith in the United States, because in the long term, a moral electorate brings forth moral government, and moral government eventually brings forth moral courts. Until then, we have to live with a government and a Supreme Court that is in contempt of God.
What can you as an individual do? Actually quite a bit, but it starts in your own home. Begin to converse with God more in private. Read and study his holy word in scripture, and turn to trusted orthodox Christian leaders for help on the difficult parts. Begin to pattern your life after Jesus Christ. Ask for God's help in every situation. Join with like-minded believers to worship God and to reach out to others; there is a reason that Jesus sent people out to witness two by two. Trust that he knew what he was doing. Be as pleasant as you can, and as articulate as you possibly can, and yet stand your ground on the critical issues of faith, and be willing to pay the price that your faithfulness might bring. My greatest hope is that in doing so our heavenly Father will look upon our witness and say, "Well done, good and faithful servant" (Matt. 25:14-30). I find that in times of trouble, Luther's great hymn, Ein Feste Burg, "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God", gives me solace.
Times have been better and times have been worse, but this game is still very much in play, and you and I are God's chosen and blessed players on the field. Let us not disappoint him.
Blessings and Peace in our Lord and Savior Jesus,
The Rt. Rev. David C. Anderson, Sr.
President and CEO, American Anglican Council