After Obergefell: Ephraim Radner
July 8, 2015

Male-female distinctions define marriage in a particular direction: the gift of generation and of generations. With its decision, the Supreme Court of the United States has done its part to deny and destroy this reality, and further the modern process of legalizing child abandonment, while at the same time violating the Commandment for honoring mother and father. “Marriage equality” is a euphemism for abandoning children before a singular idol: individualized—and hence unformed, unaccountable and therefore irresponsible—adult desire.

One stream of modern abandonment has been fed by the legalization of abortion. The other stream, in which the SCOTUS decision appears to take a penultimate place, is the gradual dismantling of human marriage over the past one-hundred-and-twenty years through the vast expansion of legalized divorce. Human marriage is now no longer defined by the obligations it places upon its partners for procreative and educative responsibility. “Principle 3” in the SCOTUS decision speaks of same-sex couples as “biological and adoptive” parents in a grossly obscuring fashion that ignores mother-father parenting as a fundamental aspect of children’s rights. This form of legalized abandonment strips children of the presumptive right to be raised by their biological mother and father, and strips parents of the profound obligation to raise their own children.

Several major cultural and religious realities emerge from this evolution. First, the West has clearly ceded leadership in human rights to other parts of the world. Whether these other regions have the wisdom and strength to take up the mantle is perhaps to be doubted. But the knock-on effect here will be powerful: we are heading into a period where human rights of all kinds are likely to be abused, ignored, and disassembled. Children are always the first to go.

Second, the vitality and moral usefulness of the liberal state is increasingly in question: has this form of rule by procedural decision-making served its purpose and collapsed under the weight of its own outsized reach? We are perhaps about to enter times of political revolution and re-inventing government analogous to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Third, the Christian Church is now a secondary player in these cultural transformations. She is also intrinsically debased, so intertwined has she become, at least regionally, with larger cultural shifts and declensions. The imperative for renewal, both within the church and in her relationship with surrounding political cultures, is inescapable. Are we in need of new reformation, in line with the reformations of fourth century, the twelfth, the sixteenth, and the nineteenth? If so, we will need to reform in the direction of Christian unity, the lack of which helped to create the very ecclesial incapacities of today.

Finally, we are confronting the long-term of God’s providence. Ecclesial reformation or not, cultures are not changed in an instant, except perhaps through cataclysm (which no one wants, however regular and inevitable it is within the course of human history). We have entered Canaan and been swallowed up before Moloch in the same way that Israel was enveloped by a surrounding religion of idolatrous violence. So we affirm with the Psalmist: “When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up.”

Ephraim Radner is professor of historical theology at Wycliffe College. This was first published as part of a First Things symposium and is used with permission.

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