I know many people who feel strongly about World Vision rescinding its decision to allow for the employment of those who are in same sex marriages. I’ve had the occasion to lurk online and read all of the bombast and hurt that surrounds this. Though I considered responding in a small way to some of these I have not been able to do so only because I have never viewed who to hire as something that need be dependent on the marital estate. For me World’s Vision decision was wrong in that it was more a matter of employment discrimination than religious belief. Still World Vision’s decision moved potently in the realm of how we define marriage, which has a lot to do with belief.
The hard truth is marriage is a thing of belief. You are never going to convince everyone that same sex marriage is really marriage just as you are not going to convince everyone that a remarried person is really married. Marriage is defined in these instances as a thing of sacrament and not civil definition. For World Vision, this is a problem.
World Vision is an evangelical organization and evangelicals, like all Protestants, make marriage a civil matter and as such the question needs to be asked what happens when the state definition of marriage comes into conflict with what a particular religious group believes to be marriage. If that group believes same sex marriage is valid then there is no conflict, but if they do not…..then they are quickly coming up on the day when they will find themselves saying the state is not in God’s realm. For the evangelical this causes a big problem for it strikes at the heart of a Protestant worldview that holds the state responsible for doing God’s will in the act of keeping order and maintaining society through peaceful governance and if need be, compulsion.
This is why there is much in the way of rancor for allowing same sex marriage in many jurisdictions because ultimately when you speak of marriage, you speak of belief and put the state in the position of having to acknowledge it must decide on matters of belief meaning the state either upholds God’s will or it does not. In classic Protestant thought, when the state does not do this, it loses its’ legitimacy to rule.
This brings us to the rather entangled matter of the separation of Church and State. This is one of the most misunderstood parts of the American ethos. That concept was not born of the Enlightenment as many believe, but from the Reformation. It was called “the doctrine of two kingdoms.” Luther taught and most other reformers concurred that humans needed order to reel in the total depravity that resulted from the Fall. The state was charged in this matter and the Church was left to administer the means of grace and preach God’s word. God was present in both of these “kingdoms” and his will was to reign in both. In the case of marriage, which was not considered eternal or commanded by Scripture, this meant the state (or the church with the state’s blessing) would exercise the right to marry people that they be kept free of sin, that children had the rights of legitimacy and families rather than religious communities would be the building blocks of society.
When the Enlightenment did occur, it was not so much that the Reformation’s view on church and state had changed as it was the idea of God had changed. Enlightenment thinkers for the most part adhered to the idea of a clockmaker God who dispensed with grace and put everything in motion in a natural realm where he left a beautiful rather than fallen creature in charge of calling the shots. Whatever that creature decided was appropriate in this natural, but ungraceful realm was okay by God. Fast forward 240 years and the debate of church and state is still being had and nowhere more potently than in the legitimacy of same sex marriage.
This is stating the obvious, but the variety of belief on the matter can be broken down like this:
- Only the “Church” matters when it comes to marriage: This is the stance of most of the world’s religions, though in the United States it is most often associated with Catholicism. It is often tied to reproduction and as long as that remains in the equation then same sex marriage is out.
- Only the State matters when it comes to marriage: This is why secularists usually have no problems with same sex marriage, though believe it or not there are still some who do as it leads to no creation of life and therefore issues like probate and legitimacy of inheritance or what have you are not fully present. Most often, however, the argument comes down to same sex attraction is not wrong, so why not.
- The State matters but it follows the edicts of God, who we say never changes his mind: I’m guessing this is the world of most, but not all, evangelicals. Marriage is a civil affair, but in keeping with the Reformers it also alleviates sexual sin. As same sex attraction and everything that proceeds from it is considered sinful, same sex marriage is out. (Interestingly God did seem to change his mind about contraception, which means this argument only has morality to fall back on.)
- The State matters and follows the edicts of God, who seems to change his mind: This is the most convoluted argument, because those who are in this camp can’t decide anything about marriage. They belong to groups (the EC, ELCA, and a surprising number of evangelicals) that acknowledge same sex attraction and celebrate human love, yet never get to allowing for same sex marriage until the state says it’s okay. As God rules over the state, same sex marriage becomes possible when the state decides to make it so.
World Vision falls into the world of the last two arguments that come out of a “two kingdoms” approach to the world, but ultimately the organization failed at the two kingdoms thing. They entangled a belief about marriage with the right to work. Their initial decision got it right….God’s left hand of order and compulsion permits everyone employment and the just reward of labor. When the hardcore turned to their litmus test and made this a matter of the vocation of marriage and not the vocation of ministry to those in need, World Vision took the bait. In doing this they forced their supporters, particularly in the evangelical community, to take sides on the issue of marriage pulling them away from the issue of hiring the most qualified people to bring God’s justice to a hurting world.