Why No One Hears Arguments for Marriage

What that Means for Us

If you have the impression that most arguments for traditional marriage fall on deaf ears, you may be right. But make them anyway. For more, stay tuned to BreakPoint.

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John Stonestreet

The writer Upton Sinclair, commenting on his loss in the 1934 California gubernatorial election, wrote, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

Sinclair’s quote came to mind after reading a piece entitled “The World Can’t Hear Us On Marriage” by theologian Peter Leithhart. It was the second of two pieces about the “difficulties that Christians have, and will continue to have, defending a biblical view of marriage to the American public.”

These difficulties don’t arise from a lack of good, even compelling, arguments for the idea that true marriage is the union of one man and one woman. It’s that the culture is increasingly incapable of hearing these arguments, much less making sense of them.

This is true even when we’re careful to avoid biblical or theological language in our arguments. As Leithhart points out, an appeal to what’s best for children or the differences between the sexes is no more likely to receive a fair hearing than directly quoting scripture.

Why? Well, part of the reason has to do with an under-appreciated aspect of culture and the forces that shape it: the imagination. What you believe is true not only shapes how you see the world, it shapes what you think the world can be, that is, it limits what you’re able to imagine.

When Christians make arguments for the traditional family, they’re invoking a world and a way of living that many people literally can’t imagine.

People steeped in liberal individualism cannot imagine a world in which marriage is anything other than a private expression of mutual affection. While most of them hope to have children, they don’t see procreation as one of the ends of marriage. Instead they see children, like marriage itself, as a chosen product based on mutual affection.

When someone speaks about the social dimension of marriage and the centrality of child-rearing, they may as well be invoking the idea of arranged marriages and dowries.

A limited cultural imagination has made appeals to marriage as an institution worth preserving unintelligible.

And it could hardly be otherwise. Our culture defines “freedom” as liberation from constraints, especially institutional constraints. So any appeal to millennia of tradition, however carefully Newsletter_Gen_180x180_Barticulated, is going to sound like “theocracy” to people who can’t imagine a world different from the one they live in.

Not only can they not imagine a different world, they’ve come to view this impoverished notion of freedom as essential to their way of life. Like Upton Sinclair’s voters, their way of life depends on their not being able to imagine an alternative.

Thus, we can expect an “extended period of dullness, when truth about sexuality and marriage will fall on deaf ears until the obvious is relearned.”

But it will be relearned. After all, “no one can defy creation forever.”

So we should continue to “defend marriage, invoke the weight of tradition, make all the arguments [we] can invent with all the passion, compassion, and cunning [we] can muster.” We shouldn’t hesitate to make “theologically rich, biblically founded arguments against gay marriage.”

Doing this even when people can’t hear us puts us “in the good company of Isaiah and Jeremiah, Jesus and Paul.”

But we should also start offering things to the culture to recapture people’s imagination about the family: like stories, songs, art, and everyday life lived in front of others.

For example, a few years ago I received a letter from a student who attended a Summit Ministries conference. It was one of those tough weeks for my family.  My wife and I had a few disagreements; my daughter, who was very young at the time, had a tough time adjusting to new living arrangements for the week. We struggled.

But the girl wrote, “I didn’t want to hear what you had to say about God, truth, and especially marriage. But when I saw you with your family, I was forced to take your talk seriously.” God is gracious. As I said, it was a difficult week, but He can speak through the imagination just like He can the mind.

Further Reading and Information

BP-Takeaction_40413Why No One Hears Arguments for Marriage - Next Steps

Watch this recent example of what it looks like when a proponent of traditional marriage (Ryan T. Anderson of the Heritage Foundation) makes all the right arguments, but is rejected and insulted rather than treated fairly and his points considered.

This is part of the process by which a dominant cultural narrative deafens people to the reason and logic behind supporting definable, true marriage modeled after the procreative union of a man and woman. Read Peter Leithart's explanation of this at First Things, where he counsels us not to give up, because preaching to the deliberately deaf is an old and venerable undertaking, as ancient as the prophets of Israel.

He also reminds us that no culture can fight against God's design forever. Eventually, they must recognize that, like the laws of gravity, the laws of creation don't care about political persuasions. The tide can still turn.

But until it does, the Church must stand firm and be willing, with love and winsomeness, to resist popular trends and hold to the truth.

To strengthen your own understanding of God's design for marriage and prepare for your moment in the hot seat, read Ryan T. Anderson's powerful resource, "Marriage: What It Is, Why It Matters, and the Consequences of Redefining It."


The World Can’t Hear Us on Marriage
Peter J. Leithart | First Things | March 15, 2013

Marriage: What It Is, Why It Matters, and the Consequences of Redefining It
Ryan Anderson | Heritage Foundation | March 11, 2013


What is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense
Sherif Girgis, Ryan Anderson, Robert P. George | Encounter Books | December 2012

Other Resources:

Fresh off his Piers Morgan confrontation, Ryan Anderson explains his ‘un-American’ views on marriage
James Weinstein | Daily Caller | March 30, 2013

Who knew Piers Morgan could be thought-provoking?
Get Religion | Patheos.com | March 28, 2013


Valuable Cultural Observation
Some of the above comments express concern over whether our proclamation of the true meaning of marriage begins with or includes God's revelation about marriage.

The main point I believe John is making in this commentary still applies. John said, "When Christians make arguments for the traditional family, they’re invoking a world and a way of living that many people literally can’t imagine." Whether we use Girgis, Anderson, and George's "conjugal view" argument or the many declarations on marriage from the Bible, the culture is still not hearing us. The message is culturally unintelligible to them.

Just as John said, this doesn't mean we Christians need to remain silent and wait. It means we use whatever valid points of persuasion we can based on who we're talking to and where they stand right now in terms of their worldview.

Personally, I think the insight expressed in this commentary is extremely helpful. Experience bears out the point. I can share Scripture. I can argue from nature. I still encounter people who hear either one as though I were indeed talking about "the idea of arranged marriages and dowries."

Let's be faithful witnesses, both in our words and in loving our spouses and children in a godly manner. Let's pray that the Holy Spirit will use both to awaken people around us to the beauty of marriage as God established it to be.

Blessings to all,
Gary Hutchinson
We cannot win the argument for marriage
By entering the public debate on homosexual marriage one is forced to assume the moral equivalence of the gay life style. If you build your argument on that false premises, you cannot create a coherent Godly position. Thoughtful Christians need to redefine the conversation.
gay marriage
For a different perspective on Peter J. Leithart conclusions, consider: Waving a surrender flag on gay marriage: http://thinkpoint.wordpress.com/2013/03/04/waving-a-surrender-flag-on-gay-marriage/
Eyes & Ears Shut
There is none so blind as those who refuse to see.
Don't leave God out
You make several points in this commentary; but at the same time you highlight the cure, you also highlight the problem. "This is true even when we’re careful to avoid biblical or theological language in our arguments:" If you want to honor the institution of marriage, it must ALWAYS be about God. The world will never listen to our arguments for marriage when the church fails to live by the Word. You've said previously that we can't change culture until we've been transformed by God's holy character, and that continues to be true. But that extends to our marriages as much as to us as individuals.

"But when I saw you with your family, I was forced to take your talk seriously." When marriages within the church are about good feelings, tradition, procreation, or morality; we miss the point, and our marriages will have a hard time surviving the storms of life. When we recognize that the institution of marriage is about two unlike beings living every day sacrificially for one another for life, we see a picture on Earth of how God wants to relate to us spiritually. Anything less denies Him the glory He deserves. And anything less will be looked on by the world as hypocrisy.