Carl Trueman: Time to Take Marriage Seriously?

One of the biggest news stories this week is the Kim Davis saga in Kentucky. It is sad to see that Davis’s legal advisers have apparently encouraged her to continue defying court orders, with the foreseeable result that she is now in jail. Wiser legal minds—one thinks especially of St. Thomas More—might have counseled her to resign. That she has chosen defiance puts Christians who believe in the traditional Christian definition of marriage in a quandary. On the one hand, it is difficult to say anything critical of an apparently sincere Christian woman who is in jail for standing up for her beliefs. On the other hand, it is difficult to defend her without obscuring the New Testament’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage.

Wedding Rings

Over at First Things, Carl R. Trueman, a professor of church history at Westminster Theological Seminary weighs in on the controversy in a spirit that is sympathetic to Davis’s stance, while focusing on the timeless truths about marriage which the Church needs to do more to defend:

The controversy surrounding the refusal of a Kentucky county clerk, Kim Davis, to issue marriage licenses so that she can avoid sanctioning same sex unions raises a whole host of issue which will be debated for some years to come. While sympathizing with her position on marriage, I also find Ryan Anderson’s argument, that religious liberty is not in itself absolutely decisive in such a case, to be compelling.

Of course, the situation also highlights another aspect of the struggle over same-sex marriage. The woman concerned is apparently on her fourth husband and thus her critics ask the obvious, and legitimate, question: How high a view of marriage does that indicate? Her response is that she has only been a Christian for a few years and that her broken marriages are part of a life which she has left behind.

I have no reason to doubt her sincerity or the significance of her conversion. But the fact that she has only been a professing Christian for a few years scarcely defuses the power of the question. The politics of sex is the politics of aesthetic and rhetorical plausibility, and a multiple divorcee understandably lacks such plausibility on the matter of the sanctity of marriage. The only way in which her defense could be deemed plausible would be if the church in general had maintained in practice, not just theory, a high view of marriage. Then the move from outside the church to inside the church would perhaps have more rhetorical power. In fact, at least as far as Protestantism goes, the opposite is the case. The supine acceptance by many churches of no fault divorce makes the ‘I have become a Christian so it is all different now’ defense appear implausible, even if it is actually true in specific cases.

Read the whole article at First Things

7 thoughts on “Carl Trueman: Time to Take Marriage Seriously?

  1. One problem with Davis’s religious-liberty argument lies in her refusal to permit deputy clerks in her office to act in her stead. In that sense, she isn’t merely seeking an accommodation, but is seeking to use her authority as a government official to deny rights to those whom her religion condemns.

    This will not end well for religious conservatives. Davis is a patently unsympathetic figure, and her pseudo-theocratic views of “religious liberty” only confirm the culture’s suspicions concerning what evangelicals are looking for here.

    That being said, I don’t think that one can ever bridge the gap between evangelical Christianity and anything that calls heteronormative, hierarchical gender roles into question. Even identifying as a celibate gay Christian provides no comfort. Rigid, heteronormative gender roles are central to evangelical theology and culture. Without them, there is no evangelicalism.

    I like reading Tim Bayly’s blog. Bayly is the first executive director of CBMW, and his views have been influential in shaping the ways that evangelicals think about gender and sex. I find Bayly refreshing because he just says what we know most evangelical pastors actually believe about LGBT people. Bayly, like Kim Davis, is prepared to face public opprobrium for his evangelical beliefs, while many other evangelicals are not. Unlike the mealy-mouthed Tim Keller, you don’t have to guess what Bayly believes. If only other “Gospel Coalition” types were equally as candid.

  2. Maybe it’s my own hopeful right wing bias but politically it could go well for Davis . Obama picks and chooses what laws he will enforce. He doesn’t send the Mayor of SF to jail for not enforcing immigration laws yet this woman is put in jail for her faith? Did the people traveling to her office really want licenses to marry or did they want HER to give them licenses to rub her face in it?

    Like Sandra Bernheart on a Saturday night it could go either way.
    😉 (Light hearted affectionate Gay joke! Deadpan mode)

    But enough politics! I prefer to discuss religion.

    She is a Protestant and not Catholic. So I don’t expect her to have what I believe is an orthodox view of sex and marriage in the first place.

    But what gay activists don’t seem to get is what it is that Christians object too when it comes to same sex marriage or so called marriage equality.

    A ceremony that proports to unite two people of the same sex is intrinsically a profane act for a Christian to directly participate in.

    Like a worship service that honors a pagan god. It’s not something a Christian can participate in or condone. It is not the sexual orientation of the participants rather it’s the gender.

    • There are Protestant sects who do not allow and teach against the marrying of the people of God to the sons and daughters of Ham (e.g. whites marrying black folks). If you were to be a county clerk and then refused to issue such (or any) licenses, it would be the same situation. If you actively stopped any licenses from being issued, even by other clerks in your office, even if a court demanded it, you too would be held in contempt of court.

      She is paid by the taxpayer and LGBT people pay into that pot too. To not hold her in contempt would be to legalize theft from the LGBT community of Kentucky. You can follow God all you like but you can’t pilfer from the pockets of Caesar while claiming nobility.

      • Sorry for the late replies.

        I actually from a civil libertarian point of view believe persons whose religious convictions teach racism need to have their beliefs respected. As such I would not force such a person to issue a license or sign off on one if they don’t believe in it.

        He who transgresses even an erroneously formed conscience sins against God because they show a willingness to commit evil even if the act in question is not such.

        The only solution to this whole deal is to take the issuing of licenses out of the hands of clerks and give it to justices of the peace directly. Thus any Clergy can issue licenses according to their beliefs to couples they will marry. Atheists won’t be left out since one need not be clergy to become a justice of the peace.

        It’s that simple and gays can have their phony marriage and I don’t have to be involved.

        It’s a win win!

    • James,

      Gavin Newsom complied with a judge’s order to cease marrying people, even though such a cessation went against his personal convictions. In contrast, Davis chose to ignore a judge’s order.

      DOJ is not sending her to prison. She’s being sent there as a contempt sanction.

      Perhaps you should look at the facts of the case before you go around repeating the false spin of the Christian right-wing noise machine.

      • Jail or prison is a distinction without a difference & I didn’t bring up the DOJ or claim a judge didn’t send her to jail for contempt so I don’t know how this is relevant?

        Perhaps if your eyes where not blinded by the left-wing spin cycle your reading comprehension skills would be better?

    • James Scott,

      If you are a Libertarian then fair enough. My own political views are lean towards European Socialism so I totally understand where you are at insofar as it relates to being a party of a political group that has little power in the United States. I was more referring to your original point as it pertains to Kim Davis in the current system.

      The problem is that the State exists in a situation between our two preferred political systems. Caesar is so tied up into marriage that we can’t really leave it in the hands of justices or the faithful, directly. I am of the opinion that civil marriage should be a service like that, though, up for sale like one would go about making a Last Will and Testament (e.g. hire a lawyer, etc).

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