When Christian Leaders Capitulate on Marriage, Innocent Children Suffer

When Christian Leaders Capitulate on Marriage, Innocent Children Suffer

There is no need to rehearse the litany of evidence that children raised apart from their married, biological mothers and fathers fare worse on all manner of social, educational, and developmental outcomes. But it might be necessary to start speaking forthrightly about the more specific emerging evidence that children conceived via donorship suffer from “profound struggles with their origins and identities” and that those raised in same-sex households are more likely to experience depression, anxiety, and sexual abuse.

Learning this month that 12 Senate Republicans had signed on with Democrats to advance the misnamed Respect for Marriage Act left many Christians stunned. Most shocking was the “yes” vote from Roy Blunt, a practicing Southern Baptist who served for three years as president of a small, private university in the theologically conservative denomination.

How, many wondered, could a political leader with such deep roots in one of the most traditional branches of evangelicalism so publicly undermine the foremost human institution created by God? Those asking must not have been paying attention to the shift that has taken place in elite evangelical circles in recent years.

Christianity Today’s Initial Concession

One of the earliest signs that the commitment to defend biblical marriage was weakening came from Christianity Today CEO Timothy Dalrymple. In 2012, seven years before he took the helm of the publication founded by Billy Graham, he went on record arguing that it might be “time to stop opposing same-sex marriage as a matter of law.”

Dalrymple assured his readers that he’s among those who believe “it’s biblically and theologically clear that marriage was created and ordained by God for the union of male and female.” But he also encouraged them to “humbly acknowledge the limitations of our knowledge, and recognize the possibility that we are mistaken.”

Calling marriage an issue of “secondary importance,” he went on to say that Christians need to ask themselves “whether it is still wise to press for American law to recognize only heterosexual unions.” He worried that continuing to insist on marriage as founded by God would “harm our witness” and suggested the church’s credibility might be better spent on more important issues.

Note, Dalrymple was suggesting believers should capitulate on the issue of marriage three years before the Supreme Court discovered that gay partners have a constitutional right to have the government’s blessing on their affection (though, interestingly, only months after former President Barack Obama announced he had evolved on the question of whether the state should legalize gay marriage).

A key factor, Dalrymple said, is that homosexual unions don’t have clear victims, as abortion does. He closed the essay by intimating that he was still working out his views on whether it is worth continuing to argue for the biblical definition of marriage.

By February 2019, three months before he officially ascended to the top position at Christianity Today, there were signs he had settled those views. It was then that Dalrymple traveled to Mexico to attend the wedding ceremony of a gay co-worker officiated by prominent LGBT-affirming pastor and author Jonathan Merritt.

The pictures posted on a public website are festive, even reverent, showing Dalrymple and his wife participating in a candle-lighting processional and hitting the dance floor with abandon in honor of the two men. It seems worth reiterating that the wedding involved not a relative, but a co-worker. Thus, Dalrymple was presumably under no familial pressure to attend. The wedding was also in another country, providing a fairly obvious excuse to decline if he wanted to avoid hurt feelings. Yet still, he went.

Celebrating Sin

As the question of attending same-sex wedding ceremonies and celebrations has become more pressing, many theologians have said that Christians actually discredit the faith by agreeing to participate.

Dr. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has written that Christians cannot celebrate what they know to be sin. “At some point, attendance will involve congratulating the couple for their union,” he said. “If you can’t congratulate the couple, how can you attend?”

Pastor and author John Piper has addressed the issue in likeminded terms. “To celebrate this lifestyle is to celebrate the destruction of human beings, and that is hateful,” he said. “It would be like saying, ‘Let’s all have a meeting and celebrate greed. Let’s all have a meeting and celebrate adultery.’ Anybody that joins in celebrating sin is sinning.”

What’s the relevance of Dalrymple’s decision to celebrate a gay union three years ago and write about abandoning the legal fight for traditional marriage 10 years ago? It is how his outlook may be influencing the framing of the Respect for Marriage Act in evangelicalism’s flagship publication today.

The only essay Christianity Today has published regarding the bill has been in favor of it as a necessary concession in a pluralistic nation. “All in all, RMA is a modest but good day’s work. It shows that religious liberty champions and LGBT advocates can work together for the common good,” writes law professor Carl H. Esbeck. (I reached out to Christianity Today to ask about Dalrymple’s views and his decision to participate in his co-worker’s same-sex wedding and did not receive a response.)

Like Dalrymple’s 2012 article, Esbeck spares little thought to how subsequent generations may be affected by this “good day’s work.”

Nor does the President of the National Association of Evangelicals, Pastor Walter Kim.

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