Thursday, September 28, 2006

Response to Tony Campolo on Marriage, part II

Undoubtedly, Campolo believes that the application of true moral principles by government is impractical because he thinks our society is fundamentally immoral. In some ways he may have a point here. Our use of pornography, abortion, adultery and divorce clearly indicates that our society, even the Christian portion of our society, is a long way off from what a truly good society would look like. But this is not to say that we should abandon all hope of reforming or improving society.

Jesus said that the people of God are like salt. They are “the salt of the earth.” As many pastors have pointed out before me, salt has a sterilizing and preservative effect as well as making things taste better. Jesus asks “if the salt has lost its savor,” is it good for anything? If Christians fail to have a purifying and preserving influence on society, they have lost one of their major functions. God has left Christians in the world not only to share the Gospel with others, but to be a preserving influence and a light to those in darkness. If God merely cared about our eternal well-being, He could use the Holy Spirit to bring people to salvation and then remove them from the world as soon as their eternal security was secured. But God does not do this. He leaves Christians in the world to be both salt and light, to be a positive influence and a beacon of hope. If we give up attempting to influence society through laws, customs and ethics, it will not only be bad for society, but perhaps God will not judge our omissions kindly or we will have forfeited one of our major purposes in the world.

This is not to say that there is an identity between the kingdom of God and government. There is not. The kingdom of this world is always a compromise and is never in full submission to the kingdom of God. But this is not to say that the kingdoms of this world cannot be influenced positively by the people of God and by the kingdom of God moving in and among those involved in the business of government.

If Campolo’s desire is put into action, the result will not be good. If marriage is entirely under the auspices of religious organizations and has no legal effect, the practical results will be devastating for both families and children. Not only will the rate of marriage plummet in the United States, but it will create a crisis in deciding who is properly entitled to a role in a child’s life, care and education. The end result will strengthen the state’s claim over children because there will be no authoritative God-ordained institution (the family) recognized in human law that has a countervailing claim against the artificial claims of the government. Eliminating marriage from the law will necessitate the elimination of the Judeo-Christian family from the law, and this will in turn necessitate an ignoring of the claims of the family. The result will be something entirely different from what our society has hitherto experienced.

Marriage has a long history in the West. In the ancient world, such as ancient Greece and Rome, marriage was a civil as well as a religious institution. There were human laws which governed marriage. But of course there was not true separation of church and state. The gods of the Greek and Roman religion were the gods of the state. Some cities emphasized some gods while people worshipped others, but the official religion was the one sanctioned by the state. After the growth and expansion of Christianity in Europe, Christianity became the dominant religious force in European life up until the 18th century. During the Middle Ages, the church was responsible for the law of marriage. The state largely recognized the dictates of the church in regard to marriage, family law, child rearing and education. The church had its own courts, its own legal system, its own legal rules, and the state backed up their enforcement. Ironically, the church’s powerful quasi-legal status made it in some ways more separate from the state than it has ever been. The church was like a giant empire over all the Christians of Europe transcending state boundaries and borders and enforcing a common family law throughout Western Europe. In the Reformation this all began to change. Many of the reformers believed that the church had overstepped its bounds by becoming a legal authority. Martin Luther, for example, believed that the business of the church was grace and that the business of the state was law. He did believe that the law of God should guide, enlighten, and inform the law of the state. But he did not believe that the church should be in the law and coercion business. As a result, family law in German principalities and Scandinavia came to be governed by the state with advice from the church. In England, Henry VIII divested the church of its ability to govern the family through a variety of parliamentary legislation designed to allow himself to obtain divorces unobtainable in the church. Eventually, in England a situation in which the Anglican Church was the official church of England under the king of England came to pass. The state was ultimately responsible for finalizing and enforcing laws regarding marriage and child care, but the church had a great deal of say in it. In 1552 and 1557, the church published revisions of the church laws governing issues related to marriage. The state and the church worked in cooperation with one another. In colonial America, we inherited the British approach to the relationship of church and state. But that approach did not last. Over time, the colonies got rid of their own established churches. The United States under its Bill of Rights was to have no established church. But the founders would have been shocked by the claim that principles of morality have no place in government because of a “separation of church and state.” Such a principal has never been the law of the United States. Even during the most liberal years of the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court never enforced such a notion. So should we now divest the state of all rule in marriage in order to strengthen it as a religious institution among religious believers?

No comments: