In a recent article on CNN Albert Mohler responds to complaints that conservative Christians have an unwarranted focus on homosexuality. He aptly parses the difference between the laws that governed ancient Israelite society and the principles that govern the lives of Christians, and provides a solid basis for Christians to maintain strong opposition to normalizing homosexual behavior.
What I find lacking in Mohler’s argument as well as most Christian’s discussion of homosexuality is the fact that human sexuality is firmly rooted in our design. In Scripture our sexuality doesn’t emanate from Old Testament law or even the teachings of Jesus, but in our very natures. Christians find this in Genesis 1 commanding the first humans to “be fruitful and multiply” and also in the description of a monogamous life-long marriage in Genesis 2 that pronounces that a man “be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.” This is the understanding of marriage that was later reiterated by Jesus.
As it turns out the Christian argument for the preeminence of heterosexual relationships transects the secular one. There is no doubt about the importance of the reproductive aspect of heterosexual relationship, from the aspect of maintaining the human species. Marriage however is equally important in this respect. As I have noted elsewhere the long term relationship between men and women who parent children together has physiological impacts on adults and children which facilitate the investment necessary to raise a child.
And on a societal level a healthy nuclear family is perhaps the greatest indicator of success in one’s life in terms of education, employment and later relationships. The income and education gaps in our society often fall along the lines of marriage success.
And the failure of the traditional family has notably pernicious effects. As Steven Pinker details in his recent book on the history of violence The Better Angels of Our Nature, the Free Love and anti-authority 60′s had a dramatic impact on the American family, and a corresponding dramatic increase in violence in the following decades. A diminished commitment to the marriages and families had a decivilizing impact. In many ways this explains why older adults oppose gay marriage in higher numbers than younger do. These people were the free-loving hippies of yesteryear – and they remember the damage such social experimentation did to our society.
In his letter to the Romans Paul employed the argument from design when he described what happens when we move away from the purposes of marriage for which we are created:
For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.
In this sense law and morality are merely descriptions of our ‘natural functions’. The laws in Scripture governing sexuality then aren’t arbitrary at all but flow from understanding the behaviors that allow for human flourishing. Thus we can no more confer marriage on homosexuals than we can confer the ability to breastfeed on men. And attempts to pretend men can breastfeed would be as harmful to child rearing as ignoring the importance of traditional marriage was in the 60s – or today.
So while there is certainly warrant for a Christian to oppose homosexual behaviors and the idea of homosexual marriage from Scripture, we also have an appeal to nature and to the benefits of supporting monogamous, committed heterosexual relationships as a basis for healthy parenting and human flourishing, an idea which is well supported by data and history.