BDS activists in 2009 © Getty Images
Same Sex Marriage and BDS
Presbyterians Embrace Terminal Irrelevance

Two votes at this year’s Presbyterian Church USA General Assembly show the favorite mantra of liberal Protestants—”speak truth to power”—is still at work. But who exactly is the power and what is the truth being spoken here?

Published on: July 2, 2014
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  • Evan Seitchik

    “Once marriage is available to consenting adults of any sexual orientation, why the quantitative restriction?”

    This is an especially boring argument against gay marriage. Furthermore, it reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the reasons why supporters want gay marriage. To prevent two consenting adults from formally recognizing their lifelong commitment to each other is an injustice–to allow polygamy is also an injustice.

    • Marty Keller

      Gosh, that an argument is boring doesn’t mean it isn’t an argument; it usually means the dissenter doesn’t want the bother of refuting it. This unwillingness to refute is similarly boring.

    • S.C. Schwarz

      To whom is group marriage an injustice? Naturally, when we discuss group marriage in this context we assume all involved are consenting adults. Who then is hurt and why is it anyone else’s business?

      • FriendlyGoat

        The one(s) loved less is the one(s) who is hurt. Thankfully, almost no one in the USA agrees with your apparent lack of thoughtfulness on this.

        • S.C. Schwarz

          How can you presume to know the minds of those who would wish to form a group marriage? Remember, we are talking about a voluntary association.

        • B-Sabre

          So each person has only a finite amount of love? And all people require the same amount of love? Have you empirically measured this? What is the quanta used to measure love? Hearts? Amours? Can you measure it by thermography? Quark detectors? Ouija boards?

        • Breif2

          In a marriage consisting of two people, it will be very rare for the two partners to love each other equally. Therefore, marriage must be outlawed. Thank you for your thoughtfulness.

    • Enemy Leopard

      Berger wasn’t arguing for or against anything. He was asking a question, and a good one, since history bears out that people who call themselves Christians – but who deviate from Christian orthodoxy in significant ways – often endorse polygamy. E.g., the early Mormons, the Oneida community, the Branch Davidians.

      Remember that this is a post about religious belief, not one on the social merits of gay marriage. If the PCUSA is going to disregard certain Biblical prescriptions in their definition of marriage, then Berger’s point that they’re going to have to rely on “presumably secular” reasoning to arrive at a new definition stands.

    • geoffrobinson

      translation: answering this question shows how bad arguments for same-sex marriage were

  • qet

    I am confused by the very statement that Evan Seitchik quotes. I am confused as to what point Berger is trying to make there. Berger indicates the quantitative aspect is from a conservative definition, one that presumably (because it is conservative) is never going to be amended to include same-sex unions in any quantity. Is this quantity reference also part of the mainline/liberal definition? I also do not see the difference in meaning between a definition using the indefinite article and one using the term “one.” In the context “a man and a woman,” the quantity of one is clearly implicit. But overall I am just not certain what Berger is driving at in those sentences.

  • Makaden

    If you’ve ever read his “Movements and Revolutions, you’ll see this article is classic Dr. Berger. He hasn’t changed a lick in 50+ years of scholarly writing.

    I will quibble with these points:

    Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism should not be considered synonymous. When Dr. Berger suggests that “orthodox evangelicals” are biblical inerrantists, he is surely mistaken. Most evangelical institutions of higher learning, for instance, have moved beyond the inerrancy debate and settled for some claim of divine inspiration. Consider Fuller Seminary, the flagship evangelical seminary in the U.S.:

    “Scripture is an essential part and trustworthy record of this divine self-disclosure. All the books of the Old and New Testaments, given by divine inspiration, are the written word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice. They are to be interpreted according to their context and purpose and in reverent obedience to the Lord who speaks through them in living power.”

    This change has been around since 1971 and is not unimportant. Other major seminaries have followed suit.

    Secondly, Dr. Berger’s narrow view of covenant as “the sacred relation between God and the people of Israel, in the New Testament to that between Christ and the Church” is…very Lutheran (as is Berger’s theology and background). Rather than such narrow expression, covenant should be seen, even within the bible, as a social mechanism for contractual relations. Sometimes it was expressed between humans and God, sometimes between human and humans. Ipso facto (to use one of Berger’s favorite phrases), it needn’t have a sacred character to it.

    • FriendlyGoat

      Seminary or no seminary, most real evangelicals (those who personally care whether another person privately accepts Jesus—- for that other person’s benefit, eternal or otherwise) know that some of the passages in the Bible are hindrances to belief. The inerrant idea has always been a group-speak doctrinal thing, not something useful for one person ministering to another.

      As for the relationship between Christ and the Church, Jesus oddly had little to say about that. He seemed to speak about his relationship with individuals. For me, the entire “church” idea is overblown with very unfortunate consequences through history.

      • Makaden

        Yes. My point about Berger’s use of Christ and the Church was really to show that the idea of “covenant” needn’t be so narrowly understood in his argument about marriage. Covenants as sacraments is a pretty dubious argument.

  • ShadrachSmith

    Never look for wisdom in a church named after a cocktail. This fashionable divestiture makes as much sense as mixing Scotch and ginger ale.

  • Jonathan_Silber

    “The vote on same-sex marriage reflects the direction taken in the last decade or so by American public opinion.”

    Hardly: in most states that have held referendums on the issue, voters have rejected same-sex marriage, and overwhelmingly.

    Same-sex marriage has been imposed, in most jurisdictions, by the courts, in disregard of that expressed will of the people.

    If the American people were given the opportunity, by direct vote, to express their views again on the issue, I think they would reject same-sex marriage again, handily. It would not even be close.

  • Gary Novak

    Berger notes that support for gay marriage is increasing, while support for abortion
    is not. He doesn’t speculate on the reasons for that divergence, but, being
    more inclined to shoot from the hip, I will. There’a a bumper sticker that
    reads: “If you don’t like abortion, don’t have one.” (Otherwise, mind
    your own business.) But to a pro-lifer, that sounds like: “If you don’t
    like murder, don’t commit one.” Pro-choicers have no chance of convincing anyone
    that only busy-bodies think that murder matters. Rather, they must make a
    convincing case that abortion is not murder but the removal of unwanted
    products of conception. What is man? DNA? Spirit? Even the unaffiliated
    spiritual “nones” recognize that they have a dog in this fight.

    The sociology text I used to assign to my intro classes dealt with the case of a
    woman who had an abortion and then felt guilty because she had “killed her
    baby.” The author went to great pains to suggest that her guilt was
    socially constructed by such language. Of course, “products of
    conception” is also spin, but the author’s point was that her guilt was
    unnecessary– she only needed to be taught that reality can be linguistically
    reconstructed. (The author forgot that lesson when he explained that the U. S.
    military tells lies about “collateral damage” when it is actually
    killing civilians. Political correctness comes before logical consistency.)

    I think the only reason the author raised the dangerous issue of abortion guilt (dangerous
    for abortion supporters) is that it is too widespread not to require
    neutralization. Planned Parenthood can provide as many “counselors”
    as they wish, but, to borrow a distinction used by Martin Buber, there is a
    difference between neurotic guilt feelings and ontological guilt. That’s what
    Raskolnikov discovered in “Crime and Punishment.”

    Meanwhile, gays have been successful in framing the issue of gay marriage as one of
    equality vs. hate. People with religious objections to homosexuality will not
    be influenced by such formulations, but for many people, homosexuality is not really
    on their radar. As gays like to argue, how does the marriage of Jim and John
    affect the heterosexual couple down the street? What immediate impact does it
    have? None. Arguments about the weakening of the marriage institution or
    civilizational decadence or the next-generational consequences of replacing
    Heather’s two biological parents with two mommies seem abstract and distant.

    When I showed my class a video debate on gay marriage (between Maggie Gallagher and
    Jonathan Rauch held at UC Santa Barbara), one student questioned the need for
    such a debate: “Aren’t the only people who oppose gay marriage religious
    bigots?” As he discovered, Gallagher did not once invoke religion in her
    opposition to gay marriage. But that student’s perception is very widespread.
    So when the pollster comes around and asks if one favors gay marriage, the
    respondent HEARS: “Are you for equality or hate?”

    As Berger has pointed out previously, we don’t yet know much about the long-range
    consequences of gay parenting. We know of no societies that recognized gay
    marriage, but some of us feel justified in ignoring the social arrangements of
    people steeped in superstition, hate, and religion. History, some of us are
    sure, is on the wrong side of history. We are the people we have been waiting
    for and require no historical knowledge to know that tolerating, nay,
    celebrating, everything in sight is the right answer.

    The abortion debate is relatively long in the tooth, and most people take sides on
    a substantive basis. The gay marriage debate is more recent, and only the
    interested parties (gays and religiously committed) are really tuned in. If I
    were a supporter of gay marriage (I am not), I would be very worried that the
    increasing support for it in the polling is a mile wide and an inch deep. Obama
    has been in office six years, and while his position on gay marriage has “evolved”
    to acceptance, America’s position on Obama has evolved to rejection. Their
    support for him was symbolic; their buyer’s remorse is substantive. The
    substantive debate on gay marriage in the broad electorate has only begun.

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