The Pointless Campaign to “Save Marriage”

Defenders of marriage and the traditional family continue to lose battle after battle to the purveyors of sexual liberation. So predictable have their defeats become that the judicial coup at the US Supreme Court over same-sex “marriage” surprised no one.

Moreover, it finally but slowly seems to be dawning on Christian leaders that much more is at stake than even marriage, critical as that is. The awakening fear for “religious freedom,” along with attacks on peaceable Christian organizations as “hate groups” and perpetrators of “violence” reflects a growing awareness of the sexual agenda’s authoritarian designs. Now if we can start showing concern for the freedoms of others, who already face plunder and prison at the hands of the sexual radicals, we will become leaders of a constructive response. In fact, the impositions on Christians so far are very mild compared to what others have endured.

It is time to step back and look at the broader picture of what is taking place here. When we do, we will realize that we have seen all this before, and we are making the same mistakes.

The attack is being waged by a small neo-bolshevik cadre of militants. They have momentum and organization, and they use relentless, quasi-bolshevik “salami tactics” to push their way to control over both the cultural institutions and the reins of political power.

The vast majority of people do not sympathize with the militants’ zeal, even after saturation media propaganda leads many to relent in polls or referenda. Moreover, Christians also have unifying beliefs and organization—neither of which they mobilize adequately. The agitators can be effectively neutralized, but it will require changes in the fixations and habits of conservative Christians—changes that are healthy in themselves and could regenerate the larger spiritual and civic health of the West. It will also demand leadership and courage beyond what has so far been demonstrated. “The greatest tragedy is not the brutality of the evil people, but rather the silence of the good people,” Martin Luther King used to say. “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” Christian leaders like to quote King these days, but his greatest frustration was the diffidence of “do-nothing” Christian leaders, and it is hardly different now.

Niemoeller’ Warning
Matthew Staver is a perceptive Christian leader who is waking up to the seriousness of our predicament, but a little too slowly. He quotes Martin Niemoeller, the German pastor during the Nazi terror, who also famously warned of the dangers of silence:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.

Staver then paraphrases Niemoeller, updated to fit the present reality he sees:

First they came for the adoption ministry, but I did not speak out because I did not do adoptions. Then they came for the wedding photographer, but I did not speak out because I did not photograph weddings. Then they came for the baker, but I did not speak out because I was not a baker. Then they came for the florist, but I said nothing because I was not a florist. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.

But Staver is at the wrong end of the story; he has learned the lesson too late. He depicts this process as just starting, when what he is describing is in fact its culmination. For many years they have been “coming for” the others, who are already sitting in prison, while the Christian leaders (as in Niemoeller’s day) remained silent. Staver’s concern extends only to those with whom he agrees, but the essence of Niemoeller’s warning is the failure to defend those with whom we disagree. Staver is only waking up now that the gendarmes are coming for his friends. A more appropriate update might include the groups that, even now, Christian leaders refuse to defend:

First they came for the parents and daycare providers, whom they accused of child abuse, but I did not speak out because I was not accused of child abuse. Then they came for the fathers, whom they accused of abandoning and molesting their children and beating their wives, but I did not speak out because I was not an accused father. Then they came for the students and the soldiers, whom they accused of “rape” and “sexual assault,” but I did not speak out because I was not a student or a soldier. Now they are coming for the traditional Christians, and there is no one left to speak out for us.

We must wake up a little faster and cast our vision a little wider. And some critical truths must be faced.

First, we must recognize that this is no longer simply a matter of immorality or “culture.” These foolish myths have rationalized inaction for too long. We face an extremist political ideology, akin to communism or fascism, where in fact it originated. But its political currency is not social class or national identity or race: It is sex. A radical sexual ideology that began with feminism but now includes homosexualism and perhaps other sexualities has wheedled its way to the commanding heights of political power. At stake are no longer simply abstract values; basic civil liberties and constitutional rights have already been lost for many, and the jails are already filling, though this is off the radar screen of most Christian leaders. We have constructed a Maginot line against the ideologies of yesteryear, but today’s radicals easily circumvent our outdated defences.

Second, this is a broad attack on many political fronts, only a few of which have met with any substantial resistance. Christian conservatives oppose the radicals’ demands on abortion, same-sex “marriage” and a few other issues, but this is the tip of the iceberg. On the most dangerous threats, Christian leaders have been timid, self-absorbed, and silent. The same radicals pushing same-sex “marriage”:

  • fomented hysterical witch hunts over child abuse in daycare centers and the homes of innocent parents, destroying lives and sending innocent people to prison;
  • intimidate homeschoolers with similar accusations of child abuse and “educational neglect”;
  • fabricate rape accusations against heterosexual male university students, military personnel, and others and endeavor to expand the definition of “rape” to include almost everything and everyone;
  • pressure courts to separate children from their fathers through divorce and incarcerate the fathers on various pretexts.

And the same lobby also continues to expand the crime-infested and budget-busting welfare state.

These campaigns involve inflammatory sexual accusations, and Christian groups have been obsessed with themselves and shown little courage in defending others from attack. Only when we summon the resolve to confront the radical sexual agenda in its entirety—and endure the savage backlash of accusations that will ensue—will the broad public begin to understand that this involves much more than lesbian wedding cakes, and represents a deadly attack on fundamental freedoms, and be forced to choose sides.

Finally, confronting this crisis will also enable us to redeem the larger civic culture. Until now our strategy has been to hire lawyers to fight our battles for us. We pay the Family Research Council or Alliance Defending Freedom to oppose same-sex “marriage,” and then the rest of us, thinking we have done our duty, go home and watch television. Meanwhile, government officials forcibly dissolve marriages and seize children all around us—in our own communities, congregations, and families—causing very concrete misery for those closest to us: children’s lives ruined by growing up fatherless; fathers incarcerated without trial; productive households bled dry and enslaved to feed the burgeoning welfare apparat. Likewise, national defenses are weakened by sexualized militaries and trumped-up accusations against our fighting men, while our universities become expensive orgies whose hook-up culture generates more accusations, suits and counter-suits. Throughout all this, the churches (meaning all of us) avert their eyes and hold their tongues.

And then, on top of it all, our paid advocates predictably lose the battle over same-sex “marriage.”

Pretending to stand for God on the grand political stages while remaining silent as government functionaries destroy our neighbors right next to us is not righteousness; it is self-righteous posturing. It reflects a weak understanding of Christian obligation and a debased concept of citizenship. It cannot sustain our faith or our freedom.

We cannot pay others to fight our battles for us. Lawyers are professional surrogate citizens whom we pay to perform our duties of citizenship. Sometimes this is unavoidable (and the more we do it, the more unavoidable it becomes). But when we habitually farm out our citizenship to proxies, we lose it. Notice that most threats are launched using judicial or quasi-judicial machinery:

  • courts overturning democratic referenda and forcing citizens to accept same-sex “marriage”;
  • contraceptive and abortion decisions culminating in Roe v. Wade;
  • campus kangaroo courts composed of faculty and students pretending to adjudicate serious crimes like rape;
  • secretive family courts operating outside constitutional safeguards as they render children fatherless, loot families, and incarcerate parents without trial;
  • military courts resembling feminist tribunals that likewise pretend to adjudicate criminal accusations;
  • million-dollar lawsuits plundering those trying to help people overcome same-sex attraction.

It is time to stop ceding power to lawyers and start fighting our own battles: to start acting—dare I say it?—like men.

Churches Rather than Courts
Reclaiming our citizenship means mobilizing institutions other than the judiciary—above all, churches. Not only are (some) churches about all that remains outside the control of sexual radicals; more fundamentally, this is the churches’ turf. It is their role to uphold moral standards—perhaps especially sexual ones. Their failure to stand firm and speak out against both sexual debauchery and sexual power grabs renders the churches contemptible and has allowed the matter to get this far: from sexual indulgence to sexual gendarmeries.

The churches’ irrelevance is especially conspicuous in one of the militants’ most dishonest campaigns. If the feminists are to be believed, we are experiencing an epidemic of sexual violence, including rape, sexual assault, child molestation, paternal abandonment, and more. And yet the churches—the supposed guardians of sexual morality—have nothing to say about this. They undertake no campaigns to eradicate this alleged scourge of male perversion. The reason, we all know, is that the feminists’ hysteria is a hoax and their charges are fabrications, because no such epidemic exists. But neither will the churches point this out or take a stand, because they know the accusations will be turned on them as “apologists” for rape.

The churches should be saying something about this—one way or the other. But they refuse to weigh in, take a stand, or make any effort to reclaim their lost domain of sexual propriety. Reputable (and brave) scholars have finally stepped in and discredited the feminists’ charges. If Christian scholars had been among them, it would not only have demonstrated that we have a God whose power and protection gives us the courage to take a stand and speak the truth; it would also have vindicated Christian sexual morality before the world as the only alternative to the hook-up culture and all the ills coming down to us from the Sexual Revolution. But instead Christians respond to the accusations by hiding under the table, so now they look cowardly and contemptible before the world.

Is it any wonder that the churches’ meager attendance continues to dwindle? Western Christianity seems headed for extinction, and those remaining Christians feel mounting pressure to conform to such abominations as same-sex “marriage.”

Simply by taking up their calling, the churches can redeem the civic realm, reinvigorate their congregations, energize the larger population, increase their membership, and directly face down the sexual radicals.

Saving Real Marriages
While leaders correctly identify marriage as the line in the sand, we cannot save marriage in the abstract or on the cheap. We must begin where the radicals did: with actual marriages. This emphatically does not mean more touchy-feely indulgence in psychotherapy (another excuse for inaction), and it means more than prayers and help finding lawyers. Churches must adopt a new vigilance and boldness to protect marriages and families against government agents. They must demand to be the first line of adjudication in all non-criminal family disputes, whether internal among family members or external against state officials.

Whenever government officials intervene in families over non-criminal matters—divorce, child abuse allegation, child custody or homeschooling issue—the churches must be integrally and vocally involved.

The churches must intervene in the families of their parishioners before the state does, and failing that, they must intervene in the courts and social service agencies to ensure that justice is done. They must adjudicate the matter first—before the secular state sinks its talons into a family—and if they are ignored or by-passed, then they must follow the matter into the secular tribunals. For marriage to be “saved,” the integrity of every marriage and family must be protected against state functionaries, and with it the integrity of the church that consecrated it.

When couples marry in a church, they give the congregation a stake and a say in the integrity of their family. They may no longer tell church members, “It’s none of your business.” They made it the church’s business. They gave the church and everyone in it a moral obligation to defend that marriage and family against anyone who threatens it, whether it is a wayward spouse, a meddling social worker, or a family court judge.

Judgmental? The Bible commands us to uphold justice. People who want their marriages consecrated by a church must understand that it entails responsibilities to God and that the church is the authority God appoints to enforce those responsibilities. In some churches, members who refuse to allow the church to adjudicate their disputes before resorting to civil authorities can be excommunicated. Meaningful discipline is part of what it means to be a “true” church.

Intrusive? Quite the opposite. The churches’ cowardly failure to “render true judgments” has done no favors to family privacy: It has simply left a vacuum filled by government functionaries with a vested interest in multiplying the problems they claim to be solving. Their involvement is always mercenary. Churches have no such vested interest. This is why their involvement is sacrificial.

When churches summon the courage to undertake this sacrifice they will not only preserve their own marriages and therefore do immediate good; they will also become effective in saving marriage as an institution. They will also redeem their own authority from the irrelevance and contempt into which they are rapidly falling and begin once again to give glory to God.

What I am demanding is daunting, because our problem results from decades of neglect. The accusatory jeers we will encounter (as Christ did) from the radicals will confirm that this approach can be effective with another Christian principle now in short supply: steadfastness. The alternative is ineffectual gimmicks to redeem marriage and society without the necessary sacrifices.

Until we become serious about following Christ and accepting the necessary sacrifices, please do not waste my time asking me to “save marriage” from the homosexuals, who are not the ones who destroyed it. “On marriage, we will not render to Caesar what is God’s,” Staver promises. But that is precisely what we have already done.

Editor’s note: The image above is a photograph of German pastor Martin Niemoeller taken at his home in Berlin, ca. 1936.

Stephen Baskerville

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Stephen Baskerville is Professor of Government at Patrick Henry College and Research Fellow at the Howard Center for Family, Religion, and Society, the Independent Institute, and the Inter-American Institute. He holds a Ph.D. from the London School of Economics and attends an Anglican parish in Virginia. His most recent book The New Politics of Sex: Civil Liberties and the Growth of Governmental Power is published by Angelico Press.

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