Heading toward the White House Barack Obama pledged to “fundamentally transform” America. And he clearly has! Yet in many ways he has simply consummated a process launched 50 years ago by the ‘60s Generation. And one of the most significant transformations—the sexual revolution—has most deeply affected us all. Signaling what was to come, one of the leaders of the ‘60s generation, Michael Lehrner, celebrated his 1971 marriage to a teenage girl with a wedding cake inscribed with these words: “Smash monogamy!” Those words were also embraced by the Weatherman faction of the SDS, led by Obama’s friend Bill Ayers. (Interestingly enough, Hillary Clinton in the 1990s dubbed the self-ordained Lehrner her “personal rabbi”—though she obviously has resolved to preserve at least one more-or-less monogamous union.)
To address this transformation R. Albert (Al) Mohler, Jr., the president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and one of America’s most distinguished evangelical thinkers, has published an important treatise: We Cannot be Silent: Speaking Truth to a Culture Redefining Sex, Marriage, & the Very Meaning of Right & Wrong (Nashville: Nelson Books, c. 2015). Acknowledging the impact of the “vast moral revolution” which has swept “away a sexual morality and a definition of marriage that has existed for thousands of years,” he both analyzes the upheaval and offers Christians a way to deal with it, noting that Flannery O’Connor “rightly warned us years ago that we must ‘push as hard as the age that pushes against you.’ This book is an attempt to do just that” (p. 1).
Though it was oft-unperceived and lacked the violent explosiveness of the French or Russian revolutions, the cultural revolution launched in the 1960s has profoundly reshaped our world. To Roger Scruton, an astute contemporary philosopher: “The left-wing enthusiasm that swept through institutions of learning in the 1960s was one of the most efficacious intellectual revolutions in recent history, and commanded a support among those affected by it that has seldom been matched by any revolution the world of politics” (Fools, Frauds and Firebrands: Thinkers of the New Left). Consequently, says Mohler: “We are facing nothing less than a comprehensive redefinition of life, love, liberty, and the very meaning of right and wrong” (p. 1).
While the Supreme Court’s recent (2015) redefinition of marriage (Obergefell v. Hodges) has vividly illustrated the sexual revolution, Mohler insists “it didn’t start with same-sex marriage.” Indeed: “Any consideration of the eclipse of marriage in the last century must take account of four massive developments: birth control and contraception, divorce, advanced reproductive technologies, and cohabitation. All four of these together are required to facilitate the sexual revolution as we know it today. The redefinition of marriage couldn’t have happened without these four developments” (p. 17). Though Evangelicals have generally avoided the implications of at the first three of these four, Mohler devotes separate chapters to each to demonstrate the validity of his thesis.
At the dawn of the 20th century eugenicists such as Margaret Sanger began promoting birth control as a means to purify the race—“More from the fit, less from the unfit.” Though contraception had hitherto been condemned by all major branches of Christianity, accommodating modernity was in the air and the Church of England led the way by endorsing birth control (within marriage) in 1930. Most all Protestants quickly followed suit. Indeed, by 1960 few evangelicals even considered it a moral issue. Nor did they pay much attention to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1965 decision in Griswold v. Connecticut that granted married Americans the right to purchase contraceptives. Issuing that decision Justice William O. Douglas admitted that nothing in the Constitution justified the decision, but he insisted, there must be somehow somewhere therein a “right to privacy, including the right to access to birth control, in what he defined as ‘penumbras’ that were ‘formed by emanations from those guarantees that help give them life and substance” (p. 20). The Court’s rationale in Griswold would soon be wielded first to justify abortion in Roe v. Wade and then same-sex marriage in Obergefall v. Hodges. “Erotic liberty” was declared a constitutional right!
Along with contraception, divorce had been “inconceivable for most Christians throughout the history of the Christian church” (p. 22). But during the 1960s no-fault divorce—first signed into law by then governor Ronald Reagan in California in 1969—soon made it easier to terminate a marriage than to dissolve a business partnership. The disastrous results—broken families and fatherless children—were clearly unintended but ultimately momentous. But most churches failed to either anticipate or deal wisely with it. “No-fault divorce is a rejection of the scriptural understanding of covenant that stands at the very heart of the Christian gospel. Nevertheless Christian churches generally surrendered” to the culture “and abdicated their moral and biblical responsibility to uphold marriage in its covenantal essence” (p. 24). Indeed, by failing to strongly resist no-fault divorce evangelicals lost “credibility to speak to the larger issue of sexuality and marriage” (p. 25). In yet another realm—reproductive technologies—few evangelicals have showed either understanding of or sensitivity to the ethics involved. So just as the Pill allowed sex without babies so too in vitro fertilization, surrogate motherhood, and other technologies allowed women (independently of men) to have babies without sex.
Only when dealing with the fourth of Mohler’s factors—cohabitation—have evangelicals seemed alert to the sinful nature of the sexual revolution. But on this score they now occupy an increasingly small segment of the culture. What was once condemned as “living in sin” or “shacking up” has become widely accepted in America. Most women under 30 who now bear children do so while still unmarried. Thereby they virtually insure their children’s failure in many important areas, and they represent what Tom Smith says “‘is a massive change in one generation, a change that is so great that the majority of parents of young children today were raised in a different type of family than they live in today’” (p. 3).
Having scanned the historical components of the sexual revolution, Mohler turns to the recently rapid successes of the homosexual movement, culminating in the redefining of marriage itself. Though in 2004 eleven states passed defense of traditional marriage initiatives, less than a decade later “not one effort to define marriage as the exclusive union of a man and a woman succeeded” (p. 34). Younger people in particular approve same-sex relationships and activities. A monumental moral revolution, fueled by the entertainment industry, is in process. Its success was carefully crafted and implemented by cunning activists who especially worked within academic disciplines and liberal churches to validate their cause. Remarkably: “‘Homophobia’ is now the new mental illness and moral deficiency, while homosexuality is accepted as the new normal” (p. 41). Liberal churchmen now declare it not sinful but an optional lifestyle, and many evangelicals (e.g. Brian McLaren and Tony Campolo) who are all too frequently biblically compromised and anxious to be compassionate, have joined the chorus supporting the new morality which is now established in the legalization of same-sex marriage.
Consequently, Christians committed to a deeply-biblical and traditional ethic must now awaken and begin patiently responding to the revolution. So, Mohler reminds us: “In the Christian understanding, same-sex marriage is actually impossible so we cannot recognize same-sex couples as legitimately married” (p. 54). Christians must remember that no government can create or define marriage—that’s already been done by God and revealed in both Nature and Scripture. “Evangelical Christians, in particular, should recognize natural law as a priceless testimony to the comprehensive grace God, a testimony that displays his glory and pattern for human flourishing” (p. 63).
Turning to the latest expansion of sexual rights, the “transgender revolution” promoted by Oprah Winfrey et al., Mohler notes that “an entire civilization” has been turned “upside down” by severing “gender” from “sex.” Decades ago the politically correct establishment decreed that though there are only two biological sexes there may well be a variety of self-selected genders. So some schools now ban gendered nouns (boys and girls) and pronouns (he and she). This is because they assert, as Katy Steinmetz explains: “‘There is no concrete correlation between a person’s gender identity and sexual interests; a heterosexual woman, for instance, might start living as a man and still be attracted to men. One oft-cited explanation is that sexual orientation determines who we want to go to bed with and gender identity determines what you want to go to bed as.’” (p. 68). Reality is whatever we want it to be! And we now face an “omnigender” collage that includes “Queer/Questioning, Undecided, Intersex, Lesbian, Transgender/Transsexual, Bisexual, Allied/Asexual, Gay/Genderqueer”! Just whatever!
Amidst all this confusion, defenders of traditional marriage face a daunting challenge! Fortunately, the Bible provides a solid basis for beginning to rebuild families that nurture healthy children within the context of a divinely-blessed, lifelong, monogamous covenant. There is, in fact, only one way to live rightly together as men and women! Whatever transpires in the surrounding culture, God’s people have been given clear commandments regarding sexual relations. And we must also struggle to preserve the legal “right to be Christian” in an increasingly anti-Christian country wherein “Erotic liberty has been elevated as a right more fundamental than religious liberty” (p. 124). It’s important to listen carefully when President Obama and his administrative enforcers shift from the language of the Constitution—the “free exercise” of religion—to the freedom to “worship,” which can easily be confined within the walls of a “house of worship.” Certainly we must always to speak the truth in love and seek to reach all men and women with the grace of the Gospel. But to “bear witness to Christ and the gospel in contemporary culture,” as Robert George says, means “to make oneself a ‘sign of contradiction’ to those powerful forces who equate ‘progress’ and ‘social justice’ with sexual license.
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The sexual revolution, now culminating in the legalization of same-sex marriage and celebration of transgender declarations, triumphed within a culture devoid of a Natural Law ethos. Though slowly giving way to an evolutionary worldview, wherein there are no established essences to things, the Natural Law (rooted in Aristotle and Cicero, Augustine and Aquinas and America’s Founding Fathers) still provides a rationale for and defense of heterosexual marriage that forever makes sense. Conjoined with an earlier treatise he co-authored with Robert George and Sherif Girgis—What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense (New York: Encounter Books, c. 2012)—Ryan T. Anderson’s Truth Overruled: The Future of Marriage and Religious Freedom (Washington, D.C.: Regency Publishing, c. 2015) merits serious study and distribution. “With its decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court of the United States,” Anderson asserts, “has brought the sexual revolution to its apex—a redefinition of our civilizations’ primordial institution, cutting its link to procreation and declaring sex differences meaningless” (#80). Five unelected, elitist judges have rashly claimed the power to trash the most important association known to man! They not only “decided a case incorrectly—it has damaged the common good and harmed our republic” (#1009).
Consequently, folks who dare declare their support for traditional, heterosexual marriage are now pilloried as bigots (akin to racists) committed to immoral forms of sexual discrimination. Christians espousing heterosexual monogamy and everyone who dares condemn sodomy are now instructed “to take homosexuality off the sin list.” Facing the fact that the ground has shifted around us, Christians must, Anderson says, clearly think through how to respond, taking to heart the patience and perspicuity of the pro-life movement. We must, first, identify and reject the judicial activism so evident in both Roe v. Wade and Obergefell v. Hodges. Poor jurisprudence can, and must be, refuted on the highest of intellectual levels. Then we must take steps to preserve our constitutionally guaranteed freedoms “to speak and live according to the truth” (#209).
To do so, Princeton Professor Robert George says: “‘We must, above all, tell the truth: Obergefell v. Hodges is an illegitimate decision. What Stanford Law School Dean John Ely said of Roe v. Wade applies with equal force to Obergefell: “It is not constitutional law and gives almost no sense of an obligation to try to be.” What Justice Byron White said of Roe is also true of Obergefell: “it is an act of ‘raw judicial power.’” The lawlessness of these decisions is evident in the fact that they lack any foundation or warranting the text, logic, structure, or original understanding of the Constitution. The justices responsible for these rulings, whatever their good intentions,are substituting their own views of morality and sound public policy for those of the people and their elected representatives. They have set them selves up as super legislators possessing a kind of plenary power to impose their judgments on the nation. What could be more unconstitutional—more anti-constitutional—than that?’” (#1031). Importantly, Professor George’s strong critique of the Court can be found, in equally emphatic language, in the four justices’ (John Roberts; Antonio Scalia; Samuel Alito; Clarence Thomas) opinions who dissented from Obergefall.
The author’s “goal is to equip everyone, not just the experts, to defend what most of us never imagined we’d have to defend: our rights of conscience, our religious liberty, and the basic building block of civilization—the human family, founded on the marital union of a man and a woman” (#237). “Whatever the law or culture may say, we must commit now to witness to the truth about marriage: that men and women are equal and equally necessary in the lives of children; that men and women, though different, are complementary; that it takes a man and a woman to bring a child into the world. It is not bigotry but compassion and common sense to insist on laws and public policies that maximize the likelihood that children will grow up with a mom and a dad” (#267).
To declare this truth we must first insist that words mean something. Marriage can only describe a conjugal union, the fleshly union of a male and female human being. To accept the Supreme Court’s verdict is to grant its faulty “assumption that marriage is a genderless institution” (#288), nothing more than an agreement between persons to enjoy some sort of emotionally rewarding relationship. The Court’s position was, of course, largely set in place by the sexual revolutionaries who promoted cohabitation, no-fault divorce, single parenting, and the hook-up culture dramatically evident on university campuses.
Still more, as a conjugal union marriage is designed for and ordered to procreation, a fact vociferously denied by sexual revolutionaries. In the marital act two become one flesh. It’s not an etherial, spiritual bond between “loving” persons but an intensely physical act, uniting a man and woman in a thoroughly “comprehensive” manner. Note, Anderson says, this “parallel: The muscles, heart, lungs, stomach and intestines of an individual human body cooperate with each other toward a single biological end—the continued life of that body. In the same way, a man and a woman, when they unite in the marital act, cooperate toward a single biological end—procreation” (#407). Bringing children into the world entails forging intact families suitable for their rearing. “Marriage is based on the anthropological truth that men and women are complementary, the biological fact that reproduction depends on a man and a woman, and the social reality that children deserve a mother and a father” (#470).
To redefine marriage in accord with the sexual revolution charts a dire course for our future, says Anderson: “The needs and rights of children will be subordinated to the desires of adults. The marital norms of monogamy, exclusivity, and permanence will be weakened. Unborn children will be put at even more risk than they already are. And religious liberty—Americans’ ‘first freedom’—will be threatened” (#692). We already see the harms done by single parenting, whereby children suffer on almost every score—increased poverty, abuse, delinquency, substance addictions, dysfunctional relationships. So too a “study undertaken by sociologist Mark Regnerus of the University of Texas demonstrated the negative impacts among children being raised in the context of a same-sex home” (#1509).
And there’s more to come as proponents of erotic rights envision moving beyond same-sex marriage to “legally recognizing sexual relationships involving more than two partners” (#765). The California legislature recently passed a bill allowing a child to have three legal parents. Though the governor vetoed it, such legislation will quickly cascade from similar chambers in the wake of the Supreme Court’s recent decision. Yet other theorists propose temporary marriage licenses—leasing a spouse, much as you lease a house, for as long as he or she suits you. Once marriage has been reduced to a “lifestyle option” valued primarily for its benefits to autonomous adults, little remains to that most essential “little platoon,” the family. And precisely that, for the sexual revolutionaries, has been the purpose all along. As Michael Lehrner and the Weathermen said, “smash monogamy.” It all fits nicely into the agenda of Marx and Engels, who placed the abolition of families high on their list in order to create a pure, socialist society.
Turning to the question of what we can now do, Anderson leads us back to the carefully-wrought, timelessly true theological position of the Christian Church. The creation account in Genesis provides a wonderful prescription whereby a man and a woman form a divinely-ordained covenant best illustrated in “God’s own covenant-making love in Jesus Christ” (#1670). This new covenant of grace reaffirms the old covenant, with its rules regarding sex and marriage. “Sex, gender, marriage, and family all come together in the first chapters of Scripture in order to make clear that every aspect of our sexual lives is to submit to the creative purpose of God and be channeled into the exclusive arena of human sexual behavior—marriage—defined clearly and exclusively as the lifelong, monogamous union of a man and a woman” (#1739).
Today, of course, there are revisionist thinkers within the religious world who explain away the clear words of Scripture and insist the modern world requires a new morality better attuned to its desires. In their view, convictions rooted an antiquity have no more value that pre-scientific notions regarding astronomy or immunology. To such thinkers—and the many churches embracing their views—orthodox believers “must speak a word of compassionate truth. And that compassionate truth is this: homosexual acts are expressly and unconditionally forbidden by God through his Word, and such acts are an abomination to the Lord by his own declaration” (#1778). Strong words! But compassion need not walk weakly, extending approval to everyone in every situation! Without a mental toughness, we will fail to resist the sledge hammer blows now bludgeoning traditional marriage.
Similarly, we dare not stand aside (under the auspices of kindness and tolerance) while this nation’s religious liberties are attacked. Revolutionaries of all sorts, sexual revolutionaries included, know they must establish their ideologies in a people’s legal structures. No one thinking clearly about America’s recent history can avoid concluding that Christians who dare deviate from the erotic revolution’s dictates will be punished. Given the decades-long shift to administrative law courts (invisible to many of us), people are increasingly fined for failing to measure up to the precepts of sexual “equality” or mouthing “hate speech.” So florists and bakers and photographers refusing to participate in gay weddings have been found guilty and harshly fined for their conscience-bound commitment to traditional marriage. “Erotic liberty” outweighs religious liberty and threatens to entirely subvert it.
Rightly read, Truth Overruled and We Cannot Not Be Silent should prompt us to share their truths and support their proposals if we care for our families, churches, and a good society.