Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Definition(s) of Marriage

By Justin Wishart

Recently, a District Court Judge in Australia, Garry Neilson, made some comments that would have been unthinkable in the recent past. He speculated that in the near future, "a jury might find nothing untoward in the advance of a brother towards his sister once she had sexually matured, had sexual relationships with other men and was now 'available.'"[i] Many traditional Christians are bewildered and often at a loss for a response. Just as our society is in the process of changing our understanding of sexuality, so are we also revolutionizing our definition of marriage. We now have same-sex marriages, and many in the intellectual elite now ponder allowing incest and polygamy as marriage options. It seems as if our understanding of marriage is experiencing a paradigm shift.

What is going on? How did we get here? In Sherif Girgis, Ryan Anderson, and Robert George's book What is Marriage? Man and Woman: a Defense,[ii] it is proposed that there are two basic understandings of marriage that are at war in our society. One is called the conjugal view and the other is the revisionist view. They persuasively argue that when society picks one of these understandings of marriage, there will be fundamental consequences.

One of the first points in the book is that there's something unique about marriage, which makes society interested in regulating this relationship. The authors provide a mind experiment to highlight what they mean:

Imagine a world in which the law set the terms of your ordinary friendships: You and a coworker could not strike up a friendship across cubicles without first getting the state's approval, which it could deny you for being too young or otherwise unqualified. Having formed a friendship, you could not end it without the state's permission. You could even be forced to pay for projects once pursued with estranged friends—until your death, and under threat of imprisonment.[iii]

When we apply these regulations to any other relationships we may have, it becomes clear that there is something about marriage that we recognize as very unique. How can the state feel justified in regulating this one type of relationship? It is here where we begin to see how vitally important definitions are. However, we must first give our definitions.

The conjugal view has been the traditional understanding of marriage for the vast majority of human history. It is the idea that a man and woman combine every aspect of their being so as to create a unified whole, with the apex being procreation.[iv] The revisionist view contends that marriage is essentially a union with the person for which you have the greatest affections, or at least pass a specific threshold of affection.

With the conjugal view, it becomes instantly clear why the state would have a vested interest in becoming involved in this type of relationship. The well-being of children is of great importance to any healthy state: well-balanced children generally produce well-balanced adults, and well-balanced adults generally produce better societies. However, it becomes much more difficult to understand why the state would have any interest in marriage if the revisionist view is adopted. Many strange paradoxes instantly form. What if two brothers live together and this is their strongest bond; is this marriage? What if today my present wife is the one for whom I have the strongest affections, yet next year it is my barber? Is it good for society to have marriages so temporal and fleeting?[v] This understanding makes marriage ambiguous, and one cannot really pinpoint why the state would be interested in regulating it.

What has been done here? It seems as if the conjugal view has as its foundation the understanding that relationships are of different types. A business partner[vi] is of a different type of relationship than one's best friend. Marriage is of another type than a student and professor. In opposition to this, the revisionist view has as its foundation the understanding that relationships are of different degrees. At least, it has this view for our personal relationships, of which marriage is one. However, when one starts really thinking about the degree at which a non-marriage becomes a marriage, it is very unclear where this line is. Why wouldn't this apply to polygamous unions? Why not incestuous unions? Reducing personal unions to degrees seems to make marriages difficult, or impossible, to objectively define.

Besides a loss of coherence for what marriage is, this redefinition has some repercussions to society as a whole. As society accepts this new novel definition, it will have an influence on the young people who grow up in it. Their lives will recapitulate what they have learned. Marriage will become more ambiguous and the situation will become more acute and entrenched.

Marriages under the conjugal view tend to allow for the stability in a marriage where the spouses can relationally grow. Lasting marriages tend to make people "healthier, happier, and wealthier."[vii] However, history has shown that as we adopt the revisionist view, the very concept that marriages should last becomes less important, or even nonsensical. As one falls "out of love" with his partner, there is little reason to stop him from looking elsewhere.

This situation most acutely effects children. With the high rate of divorce and remarriage, the child will be less likely to grow in a stable environment. Children who grow in stable households will experience greater:

Educational achievement: [higher] literacy and graduation rates
Emotional health: [lower] rates of anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and suicide
Familial and sexual development: strong sense of identity, timing of onset of puberty, [lower] rates of teen and out-of-wedlock pregnancy, and [lower] rates of sexual abuse
Child and adult behavior: [lower] rates of aggression, attention deficit disorder, delinquency, and incarceration[viii]

This, obviously, will have major consequences throughout society.

Girgis and company also make a well-documented case that it is the biological male-female parent partnership that provides the best environment for child rearing, as opposed to man-man or woman-woman partnerships.[ix] They quote W. Bradford Wilcox, who aptly summarizes their scientific case:

Let me now conclude our review of the social scientific literature on sex and parenting by spelling out what should be obvious to all. The best psychological, sociological, and biological research to date now suggests that—on average—men and women bring different gifts to the parenting enterprise, that children benefit for having parents with distinct parenting styles, and that family breakdown poses a serious threat to children and to the societies in which they live.[x]

Girgis summed up the conclusion of the large-scale New Family Structures Study, undertaken by the University of Texas at Austin, as follows: "[T]hose reared by their married biological parents were found to have fared better on dozens of indicators, and worse on none."[xi]

While I have only touched on the various arguments presented in this book, it should at least be clear that how one defines marriage will have profound consequences on society. If society accepts the revisionist view of marriage, then allowing the status of marraige for all sorts of relationships cannot seem to be prevented. This severely undermines the special status that marriage traditionally had. It becomes difficult to even understand what marriage really is, and the "institution of marriage" will continue to crumble. Marriage will be devalued.

Children raised in this environment will suffer as a whole and so will society. Thus, society has a vested interest in maintaining the conjugal view of marriage as it is devoid of many of these pitfalls. It gives marriage an understandable and obtainable definition. It also tends to encourage committed, monogamous relationships, particularly when society adopts and supports this view. Finally, this view provides the best environment for children to grow into productive members of society, which is of tremendous benefit to us all.

[i] Louise Hall, "Judge Compares Incest and Paedophilia to Past Attitudes Towards Homosexuality, Claiming They Might Not Be Taboo Anymore," The Sydney Morning Herald, July 9, 2014, accessed October 13, 2014,

[ii] Sherif Girgis, Ryan T. Anderson, and Robert P. George, What is Marriage? Man and Woman: a Defense (New York: Encounter Books, 2012).

[iii] Ibid., 15

[iv] This, of course, excludes homosexual marriage because procreation is not possible biologically.

[v] The book goes through many different variations to the revisionist view, such as adding the criteria of the relationship being "sexual" and/or "monogamous." Each additional criteria is shown to be arbitrary and suffering from unique ambiguities.

[vi] It is interesting to note that government also regulates business partners, because of the state's interest in keeping financial interests stable.

[vii] Girgis, Anderson, and George, What Is Marriage?, 8.

[viii] Ibid., 42 (italics in original)

[ix] Ibid., 60-61. The authors discuss the American Psychological Association's stance that there is no difference between solid heterosexual and homosexual parenting. They cite Loren Marks conclusions that the studies the APA used to reach their conclusion were drawn from "primarily . . . small convenience samples, [and] are insufficient to support a strong generalizable claim either way." They then cite many larger studies that all indicate that the evidence favours heterosexual parenting.

[x] Ibid., 59-60

[xi] Girgis, Anderson, and George, What Is Marriage?, 61.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Thou Shalt Not Shame the Shameless

by Scott McClare

A few weeks ago, about 150 Ottawans—mostly women—held this city's fourth annual "SlutWalk." Similar events have been held in other cities throughout Canada and the United States on other dates. This grassroots movement began in April 2011. A Toronto cop speaking at a campus-rape forum suggested that women could protect themselves against sexual assault by avoiding bad neighbourhoods and not "dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized." This was not seen as helpful advice by many women. The first SlutWalk drew over 3,000 participants at Queen's Park and police headquarters in Toronto, as a reaction to an attitude seen as enabling rape culture, victim blaming, and "slutshaming." Organizers also wanted to reclaim the word "slut" as a positive term for women in charge of their own sexuality.

My Oxford dictionary defines shame as "a feeling of distress or humiliation caused by consciousness of the guilt or folly of oneself or an associate." Feelings of shame are associated with feelings of guilt, but shame is not the same thing as guilt. Feelings of guilt result from awareness that one has transgressed a law or his or her own values. On the other hand, feelings of shame result from fear of the consequences when the transgression is known by others.

Shame is misplaced when it comes about through no wrongdoing of one's own. A woman might be ashamed of her body, even though her genes are not her fault. An Olympic athlete might feel that he has brought shame on his family and country after being beaten in competition, despite doing his best. Jesus' disciples once asked him whether a man's own sin or his parents' caused him to be born blind. The question implied the cultural assumption that a birth defect was shameful because it was deserved. Jesus repudiated this assumption when he said that his blindness was not the consequence of sin, but a chance to show God's glory, and then he healed him (John 9:1-3 ESV). Jesus was not ashamed of the man, even if his culture was. We might also be shamed when we strive to do the right thing, while everyone else is doing the wrong thing, and they resent us for it.

Although there is no shortage of misplaced shame, there is also justified shame. A man who has cheated on his wife may feel so ashamed that he can hardly face her—as he should, because he is guilty of a serious sin. A billionaire financier who is caught swindling his clients' fortunes to build his own, ought to feel ashamed. If he does not, we rightly wonder what is wrong with him. In these instances, the shame is deserved because a real transgression has been committed, and it has resulted in real guilt.

This is the pattern we see in Genesis 3, in the story of the fall of mankind. Immediately after Adam and Eve broke God's law by eating the forbidden fruit, they became ashamed of their nakedness and covered themselves up. Then, they hid from God as well (Gen. 3:6-8). Sin led to real moral guilt; because of their guilt, they could no longer face God (justified shame), and they could no longer face each other (misplaced shame).

Our culture doesn't like the reality of shame. A few months ago, a woman in the States was arrested for attacking a pro-life demonstration: verbally abusing and assaulting the demonstrators and kicking over their signs. Inevitably, her vituperation and vandalism found its way onto YouTube. Criminal charges against her were later dropped, in return for paying restitution to the pro-life group for the damage to the signs. That should have settled the matter, but not long afterward, the woman's mother filed suit against the pro-life group. She alleged that the video recording of her daughter's misbehaviour had shamed her and caused "emotional distress" to her family.[i]

SlutWalk began with a valid concern about misplaced shame: a woman is not to blame for being sexually assaulted, nor does the manner of her dress lessen her rapist's responsibility for his actions. However, many women at the marches protest misplaced shame by celebrating immodesty, a cause for justified shame. They wear tight clothing or lingerie, or might even go partially nude. A woman wearing skimpy clothes in public doesn't deserve to be raped; that's a given. But as a protest against perceived sexual profiling, it begs the question, not only of how dressing immodestly is supposed to empower a woman, but more fundamentally of whether she ought to be wearing skimpy clothes in public.

Society has given a new commandment unto us: Thou shalt not shame the shameless. I wonder if this new taboo against the reality of shame has come about because many people's worldviews deny the reality of sin. If you feel you have no sin to be guilty of, you have no reason to be ashamed of yourself. But if sin and guilt actually exist, then they can't be expiated merely by saying they don't. In the Christian worldview, there is no such thing as shamelessness. "[A]ll have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). Christianity teaches that justified shame is universal, because all of us should be legitimately shameful of some acts we have committed.

Jesus Christ was the righteous man who was shamed through no wrongdoing of his own. Though he was guiltless himself, he suffered the death penalty the guilty deserved, by dying in their place by crucifixion. A Roman cross was such a shameful thing that it was never spoken of in polite society. Around 100 BC, Cicero said, in defense of Gaius Rabirius, a senator charged with treason and facing crucifixion, "the executioner, the veiling of heads, and the very word 'cross,' let them all be far removed from not only the bodies of Roman citizens but even from their thoughts, their eyes, and their ears. . . . the mere mention of them are unworthy of a Roman citizen and a free man."[ii]

Yet this infamous symbol of Roman cruelty became Christianity's greatest symbol of triumph. "[F]ar be it from me to boast," writes the apostle Paul, "except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world" (Galatians 6:14). How is this object of shame a cause for boasting? Only Christ, as the sinless Son of God, has the ability to take away the guilt of sin. He willingly accepted the curse of crucifixion: he "endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12:2). As the perfect High Priest, he now pleads the cases of sinners before his Father, who does not fail to show mercy, because his Son has satisfied his justice.

Jesus' life demonstrates that sin is real and justified shame is legitimate. Only his atoning death on the cross deals effectively with them. Shame can't be defeated by marching in the streets. It can't be wished away by denying the sin and guilt that brought it. Christ alone answers the problem of justified shame by removing its cause through the forgiveness of sins. He also answers the problem of misplaced shame through his people, the church. Ideally, we are a people who ought to welcome those who have also been unjustly shamed because of sexual abuse, family history, prejudice, or another injustice, and help them to heal—because we, too, might be shamed for Jesus' sake (Matthew 10:22). To our (justified) shame, the church has not always loved such people as we should; may we learn to do better, by God's grace. Only Christ is a solution to shame; and "whoever believes in him will not be put to shame" (Rom. 9:33).

[i] Steven Ertelt, "Mother of Abortion Activist Who Attacked Pro-Lifers Sues Pro-Life Group for 'Emotional Distress,'", August 29, 2014, accessed October 9, 2014,

[ii] Cicero, pro Rabirio Perduellionis Reo 16, tr. C. D. Yonge, Perseus Digital Library, accessed October 9, 2014,

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Un 22 juin comme trop d'autres

par Stéphane Gagné

Dimanche le 22 juin dernier était une journée splendide pour célébrer notre 23e anniversaire de mariage. Mon épouse et moi avons choisi de partager un brunch en tête-à-tête à un restaurant récemment ouvert à Granby. Bien sûr, nous devions nous attendre à y croiser des chrétiens qui sortaient aussi de leurs réunions respectives. Il faut comprendre que la ville de Granby est réputée pour ses nombreuses églises chrétiennes. En fait, c'est probablement la ville qui contient le plus haut pourcentage de chrétiens de toute la province de Québec. Deux ans auparavant je suis devenu le premier pasteur de l'histoire à me présenter comme candidat aux élections provinciales de cette province, donc, Nathalie et moi ne fûmes pas étonnés de voir des chrétiens nous y reconnaitre et arrêter à notre table pour discuter un peu.

Après les salutations habituelles, un de nos interlocuteurs me posa les deux questions les plus fréquemment demandées, sois : 1) Comment les autorités des différentes églises chrétiennes de la région avaient-elles perçu ma candidature ? Et, 2) Quelle approche utilisais-je avec les multiples journalistes pour justifier qu'un chrétien puisse contribuer à quelque chose de constructif à notre société séculière ? Cela demeurait deux excellentes questions.

Ma réponse peut se résumer à ceci : 1) certains collègues-pasteurs ont été très ouverts et accueillants, autant étaient plutôt tièdes, quelques-uns ont agi de façon cavalière (c'est-à-dire carrément grossière). Il semble que malgré mon approche, qui se voulait la moins partisane possible, le résultat fût décevant.

À la seconde question (en rapport aux journalistes et autres contactes médiatiques) je lui expliquai mon approche qui est la suivante : la Bible contient toute pleine de conseils sages pour améliorer notre qualité de vie et cela dans plusieurs domaines. Que ce soit les valeurs familiales, patrimoniales, les principes de saines gérances économiques, etc., les conseils de la Bible, lorsqu'ils sont mis en application, aideront quiconque, même si la personne qui les met en application ne croit pas elle-même en Dieu. Ces conseils fonctionnent, car ils sont vrais ! (Comment pourrait-il en être autrement puisque nous avons été créés pour vivre de la manière décrite dans ce livre, n'est-ce pas ?) Seulement, je précise toujours ceci, les conseils de la Bible aideront le croyant, ainsi que le non-croyant, à vivre une vie meilleure...mais la différence est que pour le non-croyant, ça ne pourra l'aider après sa mort. Ça ne l'aidera que dans cette vie seule et pas dans l'éternité. Mais le point demeure que les conseils de la Bible sont sages et profitables pour quiconque.

J'ai terminé en mentionnant à ce cher frère combien je crois qu'il est important que nous (les chrétiens) commencions à apprendre à devenir plus pertinents dans ces sujets qui nous intéressent afin que nous nous rapprochions des choses importantes dont notre société a réellement besoin. Il est le rôle de l'église de devenir un pédagogue pour les nations où Dieu nous a placés.

Bien que toute cette conversation ait duré au maximum trois minutes, je pouvais voir que mon interlocuteur ne s'intéressait plus au sujet. Impatient, il s'excusa auprès de nous et retourna rejoindre les autres couples de chrétiens qui l'attendaient à leur table afin de reprendre leur propre conversation, et ce de manière si audible que toutes les tables autour pouvaient les entendre parler. Quel était donc ce sujet tellement plus passionnant et que les autres clients pouvaient (bien malgré eux) profiter de cette occasion d'apprendre quelques perles de sagesse ? Les nephilims ! Mais qui étaient donc ces mystérieux personnages mentionnés dans le sixième chapitre de la Génèse ? Les femmes auraient donc eu des enfants suite à des relations sexuelles avec des démons ! En voilà un sujet important ! Ou peut-être, et surtout, plus divertissant.

Les pauvres clients de ce restaurant auront donc eu, en ce 22 juin, une occasion d'entendre des chrétiens leur en apprendre sur (encore) un autre sujet dont ils ont tant besoin dans leur vie ! (Tellement pas !) Mais, pour vous qui me lisez aujourd'hui, j'espère que vous comprendrez — même juste un petit peu plus — qu'en ce siècle des communications, parmi toutes ces voix qui courent dans ce monde, plus compliqué que jamais, l'église doit se rééduquer, développer une voix et une sagesse pour un monde qui en a besoin plus que jamais. Sortons de ces murs.