The God-Given Marriage Initiative Asks, What Really Is Marriage Anyway?

Oct 25, 2019 by David Fowler

family having fun
This week the organization of which I am a part launched a new initiative, God-Given Marriage. Some will say the U.S. Supreme Court settled the “issue” of marriage in 2015 in the decision known as Obergefell v. Hodges. To the contrary, I believe the Court may have stoked the fires of another reformation, if not yet in culture, in what is called “the church.”

To assert, as the initiative does by its very name, that marriage is God-given will initially be denied, abused, and scoffed at by many. Next it will produce among them downright anger and hatred, even among some professing Christians and pastors, because it will be seen as “dogmatic,” the one thing our touchy-feely culture cannot stand from anyone.

Responding to the Dogmatic Deniers of Dogmatism

In response to the charge of dogmatism, I turn not to the Bible—because opponents won’t believe it anyway—but to Alexis de Tocqueville, the French sociologist and political theorist who came to America in 1831 and in 1835 published his observations about America in a still influential work entitled Democracy in America:

Under no circumstances will dogmatic belief cease to exist, or, in other words, men will never cease to entertain some opinions on trust and without discussion. If everyone undertook to form all his own opinions and to seek for truth by isolated paths struck out by himself alone, it would follow that no considerable number of men would ever unite in any common belief.

So, those who complain about Christian dogma and people like me—particularly when it comes to marriage—need to get over their own dogma before they start complaining about mine. To paraphrase Bill Clinton, “It’s all dogma.”

The Importance of Dogma to the Social Order

Having dismissed the dogma claims of the dogma deniers, consideration needs to be given by all to an additional brilliant and commonsense observation by de Tocqueville about the importance of a common belief (dogma) to the social order: 

Without such common belief no society can prosper; say, rather, no society can exist; for without ideas held in common there is no common action, and without common action there may still be men, but there is no social body.

So, it’s not a question of whether we will have dogma; we need dogma. The question is “What dogma?”

Where Dogma Comes from in the United States

Later, in this same vein, de Tocqueville made this crucial observation about the formation of belief—dogma, if you will—in a democratic age and in America in particular:

In the United States the majority undertakes to supply a multitude of ready-made opinions for the use of individuals, who are thus relieved from the necessity of forming opinions of their own. Everybody there adopts great numbers of theories, on philosophy, morals, and politics, without inquiry, upon public trust. (emphasis added)

Then he made what was a very damning observation about Christianity in America, even in the 1830s, that time has shown to be true:

If we examine it very closely, it will be perceived that religion itself holds sway [in America] much less as a doctrine of revelation than as a commonly received opinion. (emphasis added)

How Christianity Became the ‘Unthinking American’s’ Dogma

Opinions come and go and change with the wind, and so has been the case with respect to that which is labeled “Christianity.”

Beginning in the late 1700s, the influence of the Reformation with its emphasis on “sola Scriptura”—Scripture alone—began to wane. A doctrine based on revelation gave way to feelings and emotion as “Christianity” tried to stay relevant during Enlightenment with its emphasis on reason and science.

Perhaps the person whose theology most influenced modern evangelicalism is someone few have heard of, Friedrich Schleiermacher, who in 1799 published On Religion: Speeches to Its Cultured Despisers.

Schleiermacher, to “save” Christianity from its “cultured despisers,” reduced Christianity and religion to a sense or feeling we have of dependence on God. In other words, he said something like, “Let’s stop worrying about revelation and doctrinal dogma and focus on feelings, which no one can deny.”

This “feeling” and “experiential” form of Christianity led to the theology of a man admired today in many evangelical circles, Charles Finney, who created the so-called “anxious bench”—the pew down front of everyone—to help generate feelings of guilt and conviction in regard to sin against God, thereby producing conversions.

Those who saw doctrinal problems and bad future consequences with emotion-driven Christianity were drowned out by thunderous threatenings of hell (the existence of which I am not denying).

Christianity Left Blowing in the Wind

Now, however, the cultured despisers, using Schleiermacher’s terminology, have even more power and influence, and they don’t like religion at all. “Christian feelings” don’t hold up very well when those who hold those feelings are despised by an increasingly large number of people.

Christianity in the 20th century was one of those “ready-made opinions for the use of individuals, who [were] thus relieved from the necessity of forming opinions of their own.” But a “spiritualized” Christianity based in emotion and experience without any solid revelation-based, objective doctrinal teaching regarding the being and attributes of God, Creation, the image of God in man, and the Incarnation paved the way for a new cultural opinion—incredulity toward religious dogma—which has now taken sway as the “ready-made opinion” of the democratic majority.

So, today, we have a rise in the “Nones”—those with no religious identification. Today’s cultured despisers have blown away those feel-good opinions about Christianity that held sway until the 1950s and, with them, those who were willing to identify with “Christianity.”

what is God-Given Marriage?

It is into this atmosphere God-Given Marriage is being launched. It is our prayer that it will cause the good people of Tennessee to look beyond the ready-made opinions being given them by our culture and ask some important questions that we’ve not considered for a long time.

We’re not alone in this; in fact, one of the more important questions raised about marriage is the one Chief Justice Roberts mentioned in his opinion dissenting from the opinion of the majority in Obergefell: “The real question in these cases is what constitutes ‘marriage,’ or—more precisely—who decides what constitutes ‘marriage’?”

But let’s make that question a bit plainer:

Is marriage an institution created by government or by God?

The answer to this, the first question, will determine your answer to all the other questions we’ll be asking over the next two months.

The United States Supreme Court answered by saying, “Government.” I think they got it wrong. God-Given Marriage thinks the Court got it wrong. But what do you think, Governor Lee? What do you think, members of the General Assembly? More importantly, what do you think, Tennessee, because they were elected to represent you? Over the next few months, we’ll find out.

And in the process, we’ll find out what we think, not feel, about God and, depending on how the Church answers this question, another reformation just might be sparked.
David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. 

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