How important is marriage to culture and society? According to the Bible, marriage is a part of the created order for humankind. When Jesus was asked challenging questions about it, he stressed the critical importance of marriage and its basis in creation:
“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (Matthew 19:4–6)
What is traditional Christian marriage? How is it to be defined? The catechism of the Anglican Church of North America, which I would uphold, succinctly defines it this way:
“Marriage is the exclusive, lifelong, covenantal union of love between one man and one woman, and a reflection of the faithful love that unites God and his people. Marriage is therefore holy and should be ‘held in honor among all’ (Hebrews 13:4; see also Genesis 2:18–24; Matthew 19:4–6; Ephesians 5:21–33).”1
In June of 2015, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the fundamental right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples. Though time has passed since that controversial decision, people continue to ask me various questions about it. Thus, I would like to share some of my thoughts about how I think Christians might best influence culture when it comes to controversial social issues.
Christians and Cultural Change
I wonder if evangelical Christians have possibly placed a little too much emphasis and hope on the high court’s deciding in their favor concerning critical moral and social issues. I say this even in light of the Supreme Court having had three conservative justices join its ranks in recent years. I certainly think Christians should allow their worldview to guide their civic responsibilities of voting prudently and supporting legal challenges to imprudent, improper decisions and, especially, those that violate biblical morality. But it seems to me that there may be a more effective way of influencing culture on social issues or at least a way of buttressing the efforts that are made through the courts.
Let’s look at abortion as an example. It seems to me that the pro-life perspective that historic Christendom strongly affirms has made considerable gains against abortion over the last couple of decades. Such progress has come not through the courts but by changing minds—one at a time—through rational, moral, and theological persuasion. Rationally, advancements in scientific understanding (modern human reproductive biology) and in medical technology (obstetric ultrasound) have helped to show that the unborn human is human from the moment of conception. Morally and theologically, seeing humans as being made in the image of God grants them unique dignity and genuine moral worth that competing philosophies cannot possibly match. So, while Roe v. Wade remains the law of the land and our country remains divided over abortion, “both the CDC [Centers for Disease Control] and Guttmacher [Institute] show significant recent drops and sustained declines over the last 25 years.”2
Of course, that is not to say that abortion doesn’t remain a moral violation that robs precious children made in the image of God of the gift of life. But by marshaling arguments from science, philosophy, and theology, the Christian pro-life ethic has changed minds and hearts on this critical moral issue.
Maybe Christians can achieve similar progress by upholding traditional marriage. Christians can promote the sanctity of marriage by upholding their marital vows. Churches can encourage Christians to promote traditional marriage by offering good premarital counseling and by addressing marital conflicts with faith, hope, and love. Spouses learning to live in the grace and forgiveness of the gospel can overcome problems that could potentially lead to marital separation and divorce. Christians can stress the biblical-theological truth that marriage is a metaphor for Christ’s relationship to his church (Ephesians 5:31–32) and thus marriage is sacred.
Since the Bible clearly teaches that God is sovereign (Ephesians 1:11), then we know that God has allowed—for reasons we don’t know—traditional marriage to be challenged in contemporary culture. So, let’s consider two things:
First, Christians can align with the Christian worldview by voting for sound pro-life and pro-traditional marriage policies and candidates. Second, Christians can focus on using the godly example of their lives and vibrant families to morally persuade people of the value of traditional Christian marriage. Studies show that the children of traditional marriage are generally healthier, happier, and more well adjusted.3 Both are necessary.
These are some of my thoughts for your reflective and prayerful consideration about Christianity and culture.
Reflections: Your Turn
What obligations do Christians have when it comes to seeking to influence culture? Visit Reflections to comment with your response.
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1. To Be a Christian: An Anglican Catechism, Approved Edition, ed. J. I. Packer and Joel Scandrett (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2020), 104–105.
2. National Right to Life, “Reported Annual Abortions, 1973–2018,” accessed June 17, 2021.
3. United States Congress Joint Economic Committee, “The Demise of the Happy Two-Parent Home,” July 23, 2020.