The Case for Marriage
In this episode, Mikel Del Rosario and Dr. Sean McDowell discuss building a compelling case for natural marriage, both in the church and the public square.
- McDowell’s involvement in building a case for natural marriage
- How building the case for natural marriage relates to defending the faith
- Developing conviction and compassion in LGBTQ engagement
- What led up to today’s public square conversations on marriage?
- What is “Natural Marriage?”
- Natural law and the existence of God
- The societal shift from discovering truth to creating truth
- A definition of natural rights
- A biblical case for natural marriage
- Natural marriage in personal conversations
- A case for natural marriage in the public square
- How moms and dads parent differently
- How pastors can be more sensitive to same-sex couples
- The importance of supporting singles in the church
- Resources on building a case for natural marriage
Mikel Del Rosario: Welcome to the table, where we discuss issues of God and culture. I'm Mikel Del Rosario, Cultural Engagement Manager here at the Hendricks Center, and our topic today is Building the Case for Marriage, and my guest, coming to us live via Skype is Sean McDowell. Sean is Professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University; he's been on the show before, so we call them Veterans of Foreign Wars at this point, or Dr. Bock does. Thanks for being on the show Sean.
Sean McDowell: Mikel thanks for having me back, this is a treat.
Mikel Del Rosario: Yeah it's very cool to have you back as well. Well we're talking about building the case for marriage, and I wanna start out just by asking you to give us the back story to how you even got involved in talking about the biblical case for marriage in the public square and helping to train other people on how to build that case.
Sean McDowell: Yeah I'm glad you started with that question, because if somebody went back maybe – probably six years and said, "Hey Sean you're gonna write a book on same sex marriage and address cultural issues tied to homosexuality," I probably would have laughed and said, "You've got the wrong McDowell."
And that's because I just had no intention of writing or weighing in to this issue. It's such a contentious topic; no matter what you say, someone gets offended and gets angry, and I just didn't have an interest in weighing in to it. And then around 2013 I was actually working on my dissertation on the fate of the apostles, which we talked about earlier on the show. And around that time, it was leading up to the Obergefell decision, the Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court ruling decision in 2015.
And it really felt, to me, as I traveled around the country, as I looked on social media, as I talked to Christians, there's kind of a sense of despair, like, "We've lost; it's over; the Christian movement is ending." I mean, this is the sense that people had, and I thought, "Gosh we really need some Christians with a little bit of courage, with some clarity to speak truth graciously," and since I was studying the apostles, I looked at their lives. I mean, they were being beaten, and thrown in prison, and threatened, and they said, "We're not gonna stop talking about Jesus and all that entails, because we fear God more than we fear men," you see that in Acts 4 and 5.
As I looked at this topic I thought, "There's not a lot written making a clear compelling case for marriage from the Bible from outside of Scripture." And I didn't have time, working on my dissertation, but I contacted a friend of mine, John Stonestreet, from the Colson Center. And I just said, "You know, I've been throwing this around, what do you think about doing this together?" And it turned out that we wrote that book, Same Sex Marriage together, and I started writing on it, speaking on it, and kinda haven't looked back since.
Mikel Del Rosario: So Sean, how do you see this tying in to Apologetics, in to a defense of the Christian faith? Normally people think of things like arguments for the existence of God or answering the problem of evil, and this is – hasn't been on many people's radar, but it's starting to come up. How do you see those things tied together?
Sean McDowell: Well I think the primary question people are asking today is not, "Is Christianity true?" They're asking, "Is Christianity good?" or more importantly, "Is God good?" So a lot of people won't even entertain questions about the resurrection, the reliability Scriptures, the existence of God if, in the back of their mind, they think, "Well Christians are just bigots. The Bible's an antiquated book that just frankly doesn't understand how love has changed today."
So I think it's kind of a preliminary question, and frankly it's the elephant in the room. Everywhere I go, Christian audiences, at camps, conferences, when I was speaking up at Berkley, speaking to Christians and non-Christians, one of the top questions relates to gender, sexuality, marriage, and how Christians think about this. So if Christians and Apologetics were making a case positively for the Gospel but removing roadblocks, so to speak, and this is one of the biggest roadblocks that people have.
So I think Apologists need to keep – I think Apologists need to do two things: 1) we need to deal with the essential issues even if people aren't asking them: resurrection; deity of Christ; reliability Scriptures; problem of evil. But then there are certain issues of the day that are pressing; we have to address those as well. And I think marriage and sexuality is really that pressing topic right now.
Mikel Del Rosario: Definitely, definitely, not only a very polarizing issue, a very sensitive one, and I think as Christian ambassadors we need to be able to address these things in a way that's both charitable and where we stick to our convictions but have compassion just like Jesus did when He spoke to people. On this show we've done shows on the New Testament Scriptures about this, the Old Testament Scriptures, and then we've had people on just to talk about their stories. People like Wesley Hill, people like David Bennett from when he was working with Ravi Zacharias, Rosaria Butterfield, a variety of people – Christopher Yuan.
And so hearing these people, hearing their stories, I think is a good first step in developing some of that compassion. 'Cause I think a lot of Christians have this tension that they feel, right, there's a tension between holding your convictions on one hand, and then engaging with compassion on the other. How do you help people put those things together?
Sean McDowell: Well I think you're right that we need to hear the story of people like Christopher Yuan and Wesley Hill, Christians with same sex attraction.
Mikel Del Rosario: Mm-hmm.
Sean McDowell: I think we also need to hear the story of people with same sex attraction who define themselves as gay, lesbian, bi-sexual or transgender who aren't even Christians. Because sometimes Christians have the perception that every single person with same sex attraction has this agenda to destroy marriage, to destroy the church, and that's just simply a straw man.
Mikel Del Rosario: Mm-hmm.
Sean McDowell: There are activists like that, they have a lot of money, they have a lot of influence, they have time, and they have power, and incentive, and they're the ones actively changing the culture. In my experience, a lot of people that I've talked to want the same things, broadly speaking, that you and I do. They want relationships; they want freedom, education, opportunity, and sometimes just hearing the story of even non-Christians gives us that compassion and helps us to not see the other as the enemy.
So it's vital to sit down with Christians and people on all sides of this issue. And I would also say, to add to this, I'm glad you guys have had stories on thetable but also theology and philosophy, because our culture hasn't been changed primarily by philosophical arguments for same sex marriage. It's been changed by story, it's been changed by seeing people, and that's why one of our best ways to push back gently is to just tell stories as well.
Mikel Del Rosario: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm. Well when we take a look at this situation we find ourselves in, you mentioned the case that legalized same sex marriage in the United States, people wonder, "How did we even get here?" You wrote a piece for an upcoming book that's gonna be published talking about this. Can you kinda share with us how we got to this place in our society?
Sean McDowell: Well this is a huge, huge question that we can unpack for the rest of the podcast and beyond, and there's also different ways we can look at this. We can look at how technology has shaped this. We can look at how views of human nature shaped this; theological, philosophical shifts; there's a lot of different angles by which we can approach this question.
And I would first – in that chapter in the book, as well as in the book Same Sex Marriage, I start off by rather than pointing fingers at secularists or people outside, I think the church needs to pause, and we need to look within and ask ourselves, "How have we contributed to this?" I think it's only when we do this that we'll be gracious towards other people, we'll be appropriately broken, and we'll be humble. So it's not lost on the wider world that pornography, for example, is a massive issue within the church; many people don't talk about it; many people don't address it.
It's not lost on the wider culture that divorce is a massive issue within the church. Now without parsing the biblical justifications for divorce, it's certainly the case that when it comes to most, if not many, Christian churches, it's okay to get divorced and remarried and nobody questions it. But same sex marriage is unequivocally condemned, I mean, _____ the Scripture has some pretty strong things to say about divorce.
So I think some of this we need to look inside the church and say, "Have we been living out marriage? Have we been teaching marriage? Have we been telling stories of marriage to the culture? Have we been modeling marriage for our neighbors?"
So I think we need to first look within and ask ourselves where we failed and repent before we point fingers. But of course that's not the whole story of how marriage has changed. I think if we go back early as – this story is at least a century and a half old, if not older. Now this surprises people, 'cause it felt like in a span of maybe two to three years this rapidly changed, and I don't think we've had a quicker cultural change on an issue I can think of than on the issue of same sex marriage and homosexuality.
But these changes have been brewing for decades and decades and decades and a century plus. I would even take it back to the 1800s when you had this secular movement and a change in what it means to be human. So John and I lay this out in the book, that we used to think of human beings in a religious sense, that human beings how we answer the big questions of life, "Is there a God? Is there a life after death? Is there a meaning to life?" defined who we are.
But that really started to change around the time of Darwin where now there's nothing fixed about human nature; we're not on a religious search. We are evolving and changing and adapting over time; we're just complex animals. And you have other thinkers come along like Freud, and Freud starts to argue, you know, now you're in to the 20th century, things like, "It's actually sexual" – sexual repression is bad and you should live out these sexual inclinations and proclivities that you have. And this idea of boundaries and guidelines given by a God is too simplistic and it's destructive.
And then Margaret Singer, another deeply influential thinker, who founded Planned Parenthood, starts to argue ideas, like, actually liberation and salvation is found through sex and sexuality. So it's no longer not just a repression; salvation is found in it. You have thinkers like Hugh Hefner, who started to talk about, "No it's actually the good life that's getting away from biblical commands, and guidelines and truths, and just live according to whatever feels right to you." You see this explode in the time of Hugh Hefner.
Now there's a ton of other thinkers that I've left out here, and there's also some technological change. I think arguably, I can't think of any technology that's done more to change how we view the _____ of sexuality than the pill. And we don't have to have the debate about whether Christians should have birth control or not. We can come back on another podcast and talk about that later.
But regardless of your views on that, the pill essentially permanently separated sex from procreation, and it launches this sexual revolution that we are still feeling the repercussions of today. So I think we go back really 150 years to what it means to be human, how we view relationships, how we view marriage, how we view sexuality, how we view the good life. There have been changes brewing for a long time that really came to an eclipse in the past three or four years, around the time of the Obergefell decision.
Mikel Del Rosario: Yeah, yeah, wow. Well I like how you started out that – your answer with turning the attention inward first, taking a look at what is it in the church that we need to repent of, that we need to take a second look at. There's a great tradition in the Judeo Christian tradition of looking inwards like the Jewish prophets. You think of the Jewish prophets, these people were pro-Israel, but they had no problem critiquing themselves and calling for repentance, and I think that's just fair and right to do to start.
But we have seen some of the Christian influence weighing in society, and we've seen some of these naturalistic kinds of philosophies and thinking influence the way many people think about sex. Now you used the term, 'natural marriage,' and I find that very interesting. Can you unpack the term, 'natural marriage,' for us?
Sean McDowell: Yeah I thought a lot about what term I would use to describe same sex marriage, and I've heard some terms that I just wouldn't use because I think they're unnecessarily offensive to people. Like I've heard the term, 'pseudo marriage,' used, and I actually think there's some accuracy in that. But I don't use that term with people when I'm discussing it, 'cause immediately walls go up, and I also don't talk about same sex marriage, because that implies that a same sex union is actually a marriage, and I don't think that it is.
Mikel Del Rosario: Mm-hmm.
Sean McDowell: I really don't think that it's marriage. I think marriage is something – and we'll come back to this – theologically, and philosophically, and biologically is a union of one man and one woman in a committed relationship for life. So a man and a man cannot get married; we can give them a marriage certificate. We can call that relationship a marriage, but it's simply not a marriage.
So I use the term – I don't use the term, 'traditional marriage,' because that also carries baggage there. Well you can just believe in it because it's been tradition and all that goes with kind of using the term, 'tradition,' and traditional. I believe in tradition, but I'm trying to think of a term that's least offensive and most accurate, and I found that natural marriage does that. Because it's saying that there's something about – within nature itself.
There's something true about the kind of thing that marriage is, and we're not actually just coming up with this; we're not defining it. We can't define or redefine marriage; we are recognizing something that's already there. So gravity is already there; certain biological sexual differences are already there, and a marriage is a kind of union that we don't come up with and invent. We recognize something that exists.
So I just found the term, 'natural marriage,' has the least baggage, it's the most accurate, and it invites the question many times in conversation, "What do you mean by, 'natural?'" And then we can talk about natural law.
Mikel Del Rosario: Yeah interesting, and so you're driving towards this idea of, "Is there a God who created people, who created everything really, to function in a certain way?" And if there is a God, then there is a way things should be, right? Because if there's no God, then there is no should; if everything was just matter behaving according to law and random chance, then there is no should.
How do you – do you see this driving toward the moral argument as well too?
Sean McDowell: Well there's kind of two ways to look at this: 1) if there is no God, I think _____ _____ is right, all is permissible. Ultimately, and again as Hume said, "You can't get an aught from an is." So when it's all said and done, if there is no God, then marriage is up to us. Which is why Genesis begins with, "In the beginning God created," if something is created; it has a purpose and a design, a way it's supposed to be lived out.
Which is why I think the creation/evolution debate is so hot and sensitive is because people kinda sense, "Wait a minute, either we've been designed to live a certain way, or we get to come up with whatever that way is we want to live, we get to write the rules." So when it's all said and done, whether there is a God or not, really is at the heart of the question. But I don't start there when I'm making a case or when I'm speaking with people.
I'm just simply saying, "Is there something" – so that's kind of a top down way to look at it. When I talk about natural marriage, I wanna say, "Is there a bottom up way which ultimately leads to God but doesn't begin there?"
Mikel Del Rosario: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.
Sean McDowell: So is there something fixed about the way the world operates? Is there something fixed about where children come from and where children are best raised and gender differences? Yeah we are recognizing something exists. However it got there is secondary; whether it's evolution or God created us.
There is something fixed within nature that we don't come up, we recognize it. And then that begs the question, "Okay if there is design, if there is some kind of purpose of nature, where did this come from?" So that's the question that follows up from it. But somebody doesn't have to technically believe in God to recognize that there is certain inherent purposes and processes within nature.
Just like your heart is best functions when it pumps blood, and that's how it's supposed to operate. Well the same is true with families, and with kids and with marriage.
Mikel Del Rosario: Mm-hmm.
Sean McDowell: So I'm inviting that question in a preliminary fashion, although it does lead to, like you said, the ultimate question, "Is there a designer? Is there a purpose? Is there really a God?"
Mikel Del Rosario: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm. That's a good distinction to make. So there is the world view level where you can come top down; and then there's the, "Can we just see it in the created order," that these are not things – that marriage isn't something we just made up as a society where we can just change the rules whenever we want. But it's something that we recognize, something we discover that's already there.
Sometimes – you know, my wife went to a wedding where people like to write their own vows. And at this wedding the vows were, like, "I like you; you like me; we could have a lot of fun together." Like, are you guys promising anything to each other? But it seems like this kind of mentality allows us to just rewrite the rules for anything. And truly, if there is no God, no creator, no way things should be, then why can't we just rewrite the rules for something we made up?
But we're discovering something that's actually there in nature that God has put there. You talk about natural rights –
Sean McDowell: Can I jump in here –
Mikel Del Rosario: Oh go ahead, sure.
Sean McDowell: – real fast before we go back to that, 'cause you spurred something on this story of how we got to same sex marriage is this sense of deep individualism so profoundly embedded in our culture, which I think has secular roots. That there's no source outside of me guiding and directing how I'm supposed to live; this meaning and purpose comes from within. So if it feels right, do it; if I wanna do it, do it.
In fact, Anthony Kennedy famously did it in his Supreme Court ruling, he said, "Each individual has the right to define his own sense of meaning, existence and purpose in the universe."
Mikel Del Rosario: Wow.
Sean McDowell: So we have shifted from discovering truth outside of us to creating truth internally within, and this is a shift that's taken a long time to get there. This is why we see the challenge of gender, we've seen the challenge of marriage. As long as I feel this is true for me, on moral and particular sexual issues, then it's true for me, because the individual is utterly autonomous.
I think that's the underlying world view, that if people don't see that and they just make arguments against, say, same sex marriage, or for a natural marriage, and they don't understand the underlying issues beneath it, they're not gonna make any progress at all.
Mikel Del Rosario: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm, that's right. And I think there is a little bit of some of the post-modern thought in our culture that has seeped in where you can create your own reality through the way that you use language, through the way that you think about yourself. Which also gets us in to the discussion of gender identity versus biological sex, and things like that. That's how you can have a transgender man win a girl's dash, for example, right, and then there's lots of discussion about that.
If you could give me a quick definition of what you mean by a natural rights when we ask the question, "Is same sex marriage a natural right?" We'll come back after the break and discuss that.
Sean McDowell: Yeah simply I'm asking the question, "Is there a right within nature itself that I don't create?" So I would say that there's certain rights that are pre-political. The government doesn't invent them; the government recognizes them. So it's a right to life; you could argue a right to privacy.
But I would also say a right for a kid to know his mom and his dad, all things being equal. So if you apply that to marriage, marriage is not something the government invents; marriage is something the government recognizes. It's a pre-political institution at the heart of any well-functioning society.
Mikel Del Rosario: But right now I wanna take a look at – you talk about two ways to do this: 1) there's the biblical case that we can make; then there's the case that we can make in the public square without starting with the Bible. So let's start with the biblical case in terms of how do we know what the Bible actually teaches about marriage? 'Cause you've been to seminars where people are saying the Bible teaches the opposite of what we believe the Bible teaches about marriage.
How do we build the biblical case Sean?
Sean McDowell: Well the first thing to realize is the Bible begins with a marriage, a wedding, specifically in Genesis 2, "A man shall cling to his wife," not to a woman, his wife, it's talking about a marriage. And the Bible ends with a marriage, referring to God, and in particular Jesus and His bride. So weddings, marriages matter profoundly in the Scripture.
I think the best place to go, since we're looking at questions of design, is back to Genesis. If you look at Genesis 1, first chapter in the Bible, we're told that God made male and female in His image. He says, "Populate and fill the earth." So male and female, both reflect the image of God, equal image bearers, and they're commanded and blessed, I would argue, to multiply and fill the earth.
Skip to Genesis 2, I think where it hones down specifically on day six in the creation of male and female, and it says, "A man shall leave his father and mother, cling to his wife, and the two shall become one." Now notice something, the man leaves his father and mother, so the household is not his father and mothers; it's not his father and his father. There's a pattern here reflecting Genesis 1, given the commandment to procreate and fill the world that says the household is meant to be one man and one woman.
Now of course the patriarchs and others failed to live this; that just shows that God uses failed people. That's a different point. And so when the man leaves his father and mother, the implication is he'll cling to his wife and they will continue this pattern of having children and filling up the earth. Now marriage is about much more than having kids, but it is about no less than having kids.
That's one of the functions of marriage is procreation. Now some people say, "Well that's the Old Testament; that's Genesis." So I'll say, "Well if that's the case, then Jesus didn't get the memo." If you go to Matthew 19, Jesus was asked a question about divorce. So He's not asked about same sex marriage or homosexuality, He's asked about – and I would argue He's asked because we know exactly what Jesus believed about this; there was no debate from the left to the right.
But He's asked about divorce, so we're in the realm of marriage. And what does He do? He cites Genesis 1, He says – this is Verses 3-4, He says, "God made them male and female," and then He cites Genesis 2. Basically saying, "The guy leaves his father and mother, clings to his wife, the two shall become one." And Jesus says, "What God put together let not man separate."
Now here's the interesting question when you look biblically, to answer the question about divorce, what's all that Jesus needed to answer the question, Genesis 1 or Genesis 2? The answer is He only needed Genesis 2, "What God puts together let them not separate." But rather what does Jesus do? He cites Genesis 1, which is the creation account that God made them male and female.
It's as if Jesus is going out of His way emphasizing the point that marriage is a gendered institution, and it's meant to be one man one woman for life. Now we see that passage cited in Ephesians 5 and in other chapters throughout the Scripture, and the underlying assumption is always that God's creation account back at the beginning is still normative for how we're supposed to live, and the function and purposes of marriage. Now much more can be said, but I like to go back to the person of Jesus, because everybody wants a piece of Jesus, and I think Jesus is pretty clear in terms of what He thinks about marriage.
Mikel Del Rosario: Yeah, no I think that's a great, great place to start is to just hone in on Jesus and what did Jesus think. If you hold the perspective of Jesus, in our society it's getting less maybe, but I have not come up in a conversation with somebody where they say, "Jesus is just wrong on that one," you know? Jesus – no one says, "Jesus is a homophobic bigot." They always wanna say Jesus believes pretty much what they believe, and so I think showing what Jesus believed about marriage is a great way in to the conversation about what the Bible teaches.
Now we talked about how the Scriptures can show us very clearly what the – you know, what Jesus thinks about this. But when we talk about the public square conversations, you wanna start somewhere else. How do you start with public square conversations?
Sean McDowell: Well that depends on whether I'm on a forum, or some kind of debate, or in a personal conversation. So if I'm in a personal conversation, I'm typically gonna ask questions and listen more than I'm just gonna make a lot of statements.
Mikel Del Rosario: Mm-hmm.
Sean McDowell: Especially if I sense that the person holds a view different than my own. I'll just probably ask questions like, "What do you think marriage is? How do you think we know what marriage is?" And someone's gonna give an answer, "Well it's two people who love each other."
Then I'll probably just say, "Could two brothers who love each other get married? What about all the marriages throughout history of people who actually didn't love each other, it would be news to them that they're not married." I would just ask questions, and not trying to catch the person, but I found the best conversations are really listen to people, understanding what they're coming from.
And my assumption is that any world view apart from the Christian one, at some point is gonna self-destruct, at some point it's gonna be incoherent, at some point it's gonna be contradictory. And I look at it like this, here's my favorite illustration, if you take a beach ball and you push it underwater, it's gonna keep popping back up.
Mikel Del Rosario: Mm-hmm.
Sean McDowell: Well atheists, secularists, people who don't believe in natural marriage still live in God's world, and their world view tries to push down certain things about gender, about marriage, et cetera, about culture but it keeps popping itself up. So I'm in conversation with them, but I just ask a lot of questions, and look for these tension points, and just ask, "Well how do you make sense of this?" And oftentimes I learn a lot, listen, have a good conversation.
I've found most people are willing to talk if you just treat them the way that you would want them to treat you. So that's how I interact with people personally. If you want me to – do you want me to make the case what I would do, like, publically if I was in a debate, like, how I would present it, is that what you mean?
Mikel Del Rosario: Yeah there's a little three step approach that –
Sean McDowell: Okay.
Mikel Del Rosario: – I've seen you talk about, and maybe we could just walk through each one of those steps. Because there's some pretty self-evident things that you talk about that we kinda have to start there, in a place that might not be so obvious.
Sean McDowell: Gotcha, and I love that you said self-evident. Because I sent out a tweet not long ago quoting John Wooden who said, "The best way a man could love his kids is to love his kids' mom." I tweeted that; I thought that was powerful. And somebody said, "Wait a minute, are you saying kids need a mom and a dad? How arbitrary."
And you rightly chuckle; so did I. But I thought we've come to the point where some very common sense things are no longer common sense to an increasing group of people; we actually have to flush this out. So the first step is – and I didn't come up with this, Maggie Gallagher came up with this, so I wanna give her full credit.
Mikel Del Rosario: Okay.
Sean McDowell: But I love the three steps that she gives.
Mikel Del Rosario: Mm-hmm.
Sean McDowell: Number one is that sex makes babies. Sex makes babies. Now rightly you and I laugh and go, "Okay step two," but just recently I saw that the Babylon Bee, which is this satirical fake newspaper said – they put out this study that said, "New study from the government reveals that those who have sex are more likely to get pregnant."
And I laughed so hard, because we've come so far in the culture that we think sex has nothing to do with having babies. We think it's purely a recreational activity, and that it's not about having kids. So the first step is just to remind people, whether a kid results or not, sex by its very nature is a procreative act. Our sexual organs exist towards a certain end, and we don't invent that, we recognize that.
Mikel Del Rosario: Mm-hmm.
Sean McDowell: So sex by its very nature is a procreative act; sex makes babies. Start there and make sure that sinks in for people. The second one is, we'll say, society needs babies, and this one tends to be a little bit less controversial. But studies actually show for a society to continue from one generation to the next, there has to be a certain replacement rate of children so to work enough, to financially support, to physically care for, and usually it's about 2.2, somewhere around there.
Well the problem is there's been such a devaluation of kids and an elevation of career, and money and other things that countries across the world, many in Europe and in the US, are having less kids. So this raises dire concerns for the future, so much so that in places like Japan right now, they have such a low replacement rate that they're experimenting with robots that will care for the elderly; they don't have enough. So if every couple has 1 kid, the next generation has 50 percent as many people, and you can see how a generation – how a culture begins to disintegrate.
Mikel Del Rosario: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.
Sean McDowell: So sex makes babies, number two: society really needs babies. And by the way, this is why the government has ever been interested in marriage in the first place as opposed to, like, your tennis partner, formalizing that relationship.
Mikel Del Rosario: Yeah.
Sean McDowell: They got marriage, 'cause it produces kids, and they need kids to flourish as a government and society in to the future. The third one is what gets controversial, is that babies need a mom and a dad. Babies need a mom and a dad. There is no question, from the research that I've done, that kids thrive the most with a mom and a dad in a relationship with each other and a relationship with those kids.
Now, anybody who's listening, please don't hear me say I'm criticizing single moms or single dads. I don't know how single moms and single dads do it; many of them are my heroes. My wife and I have a hard enough time with our kids, and it's the two of us at times, 'cause they're normal kids.
But I think any single mom and single dad will say, "Guy it's not optimal, and it's tough, and I wish my kids had the father or the mother present in the home." Now there's a lot of studies that are arguing that there's a no significant difference between same sex parents and between opposite sex parents. And I've looked at these studies in depth, Mikel, and either they have real biased sampling the way that they do it, or the study is so small, and it's not careful.
In the past two or three years there's been a number of studies that have come out and have said, "Wait a minute, these kids are disadvantaged who don't have a mom and a dad." And I'm – so we all know that there's differences between males and between females; we know it; it's obvious. But we have to remind people of this, and catch them in the contradiction to make the point that we know moms parent differently than dads do.
So I'll give you a quick example. President Obama – former president was the first president that came out in favor of same sex marriage. Well what's interesting is if you come out in favor of same sex marriage, you say that moms are essentially no different than dads. Kids don't need a dad in the home and they can have two moms; they don't need a mom in the home and they can have two dads.
Gender is irrelevant for the institution of marriage; it doesn't matter. But then Obama had a chance to nominate three Supreme Court Justices; two got nominated. Both of them were women, the first two. Now why did he nominate women? He said, "Because they bring a different perspective; they see the world differently."
Mikel Del Rosario: Yeah.
Sean McDowell: And you see exactly where this is going. I thought, "Wait a minute, you can't turn around and say to marriage, 'Gender is irrelevant 'cause men are equivalent to women,' and then when it comes to the Supreme Court and say, 'Actually we need a woman because she sees the world differently and votes differently than a man would.'"
Mikel Del Rosario: Mm-hmm.
Sean McDowell: This is the kind of contradiction that we're seeing all over our culture right now on gender issues. And I think when it comes to the case for marriage, sex makes babies, society needs babies, babies need a mom and a dad. And I could talk about – we could go in depth if you want to, but there are different ways that moms and dads parent and contribute to the development of your kids.
But I think probably most listeners recognize it because most of those ways are pretty obvious.
Mikel Del Rosario: Yeah, yeah. You know, in a same sex relationship if you have children growing up in that kind of home, it seems kind of difficult to imagine how they could begin to appreciate the diversity that is inherent in a male and a female, you know, mom and dad run home. Because you can see how a woman parents differently, how a man parents differently. Why don't you just share a couple of things that we can see how mom and dads parent differently?
Sean McDowell: Well yeah I think that's right, and anyone listening to this is gonna get – who's probably not a Christian, doesn't hold this view of marriage, get so offended, and get so angry, and personal attacks. I've received so many personal attacks for this, and I'm just asking the question, "What's best for kids?" I've asked people _____ _____ this, I said, "Are you gonna really look me in the face and say that two dads are equivalent to the emotional, physical and relational needs of a daughter as a husband and a wife? Are you really gonna dig in your heels and concede that?"
And they have to because of their position, but I know deep inside of their heart a lot of people know, "Man, kids need a mom and a dad." And again, that's not to down play people who grow up with single parents." And I'm also not saying that gays and lesbians can't be good dads and good moms. I think sexual orientation is irrelevant to whether you're a good mom or to whether you're a good dad.
That is not my point, but you better believe I have 3 kids; my son's 14; my daughter's 11; then I have a son who's 5. I relate to my son who's 14, I have a deeper voice, I'm bigger, I _____ _____ bigger than my son and my wife. I can set certain boundaries and have a certain authority; it's harder for my wife to have. And also my daughter, who's 11, who's a pre-teen, my wife understands and gets certain things, how her body is changing, her emotions are changing.
I don't get it. I'm like, "You handle this one; I got nothing here." And yet I also know how teenage boys think, and I can see things maybe my wife doesn't, and also relate to my daughter as a man should. So this is back to the way God designed the family to be. So I actually – we often hear that if you're not in favor of same sex marriage you're bigoted, and you're hateful, and love should win out.
I don't think there's any truth behind that, but that's a rhetorically powerful argument. I actually think if we start by saying, "What's best for kids? What's really loving?" Then there's no way you can make a case that we shouldn't be in favor of the government doing everything it can to preserve and restore and strengthen natural marriage.
Mikel Del Rosario: Mm-hmm, I agree, I agree. You know, you talked earlier about the pornography and technology just influencing these things, and I know in Japan there's a problem where kids don't even wanna have sex anymore. They just wanna use their computers and consume pornography instead because it's too much commitment to have another person in your life. And that's why they have these issues now with not enough young people to care for the aging population, and so it's really sad.
But I think what I'm detecting here in the shift of presentation is, rather than starting with the Bible in the public square, and saying, "It's true because it's in the Bible," that we shift our perspective a bit and help people to see that it's in the Bible because it's actually true. And then we see that in the created order that God has shown us these things in the created order. What if you're having a conversation with somebody, think about – let's say a pastor, how can a pastor be more sensitive toward this topic with people who come to the church, maybe a same sex couple that comes to the church to check it out?
Maybe people who are in the church now who are same sex attracted, or actually in a same sex relationship, how can pastors be more sensitive on this issue?
Sean McDowell: I think pastors need to ask two questions: 1) am I willing to teach biblically and clearly what Scripture teaches about marriage? That's the first thing a pastor has to do. There are a lot of people who are gay who've talked to me and said, "I go to conservative churches 'cause they preach the Gospel. I know where they stand on marriage, so gracious and loving, but I wanna hear the Bible actually taught." I find that interesting.
I think there's a lot of pastors that feel like, "If I really lay out biblical truth I'm gonna turn people away." I think that's a mistake on a number of levels. Now we shouldn't go out of our way to hammer that more than we do gossip, or greed, or all the other issues Scripture talks about. But pastors must clearly teach on this issue unequivocally, as they must life and other issues as well.
So I don't think what turns people away is the biblical teaching. This is what progressives have been arguing, "You need to soften the message, and the mainline church has faded, and the conservative church has stayed strong." So we don't need to change our message necessarily to be inviting, but I do see a lot of pastors who speak on this and set up at church, and they really haven't done their homework. They really don't understand issues like can you be born gay?
They haven't really thought through questions of the language that they use, and how that language can just influence somebody and shape that person negatively. They haven't had enough conversation with people to just hear their stories so they speak with compassion when they approach this topic. So I think – I would love it if pastors, anyone listening, I guarantee you you have people with same sex attraction in your church, gays and lesbians.
Take them out to lunch, and just ask them, say, "Tell me your story. When did you first uncover that you had a same sex attraction? Who's the first person you came out with? How did people treat you? What are things people did well? What are things that were not helpful?"
"What do you see us doing as a church that's helpful? What things can we get better at?" And you might not agree with everything the person says, just like you wouldn't agree with everything that somebody says on any issue.
Mikel Del Rosario: Mm-hmm.
Sean McDowell: But that listening posture is an inviting way to get people to even just consider the ministry of the church, and also really to learn, "Gosh, here's something I need to get better at." So to answer your question, I think every pastor should just take people in their church out to lunch and just ask them, and just listen, and don't be quick to judge, just try to understand. And I think a lot of eyes will be opened to things we as a church can do better.
Mikel Del Rosario: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm, I agree. I think – I know people who have left the church, and they have found more love in the gay community versus in the church where they were. And I think we can be more loving than the gay community that rejects the Bible because: 1) we have Jesus as our example; and Jesus spoke with conviction and compassion. And so we don't have to give up our biblical stance in order to love people well, 'cause Jesus was able to do that, to have conviction and compassion.
Sean McDowell: You know something we don't do well, Mikel, is we don't support singles in the church –
Mikel Del Rosario: That's right.
Sean McDowell: – well at all.
Mikel Del Rosario: Yes.
Sean McDowell: Whether they are gay or not gay, we don't support them well. The narrative is, "Come to the gay community, we love you just as you are; you'll fit in, and we'll help you to have everything you desire." The Christian narrative, whether we intend or not is, "We're suspect to that, we're gonna condemn it as sin, you've gotta come and be celibate, and we'll all be suspicious of you in the church because you're not married, for the rest of your life."
This is the narrative many people experience, a wonder many people leave the church.
Mikel Del Rosario: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm, and for those who lapse back in to sinful behavior, I know it's loneliness a lot of times people have told me. And so we do need to focus on how are we ministering to single people, not just gay single people, but all single people as well.
Sean McDowell: Right.
Mikel Del Rosario: And so I think what we've seen in this conversation, Sean, is that we can minister with conviction and compassion. We can make a case for biblical marriage in the public square without using the Bible, but we also have that biblical case that can strengthen our convictions. So thank you so much for being a part of this conversation Sean.
Where can somebody go to find out more about how they can get trained on responding to this topic?
Sean McDowell: Probably the best place would just go to www.seanmcdowell.org. I'm on Twitter, and I won't try to waste your time with money images _____ _____ and all the articles that are helpful and resources; on my website I have a ton of videos, including some on this topic. The book, Same Sex Marriage, would probably be helpful as well, as well as the book, Coming Out with Moody Academic that deals with a host of different issues on marriage.
Mikel Del Rosario: Yeah and you have a chapter in there called, "Natural" – "Defending Natural Marriage," is that correct?
Sean McDowell: "Affirming Natural Marriage," yeah.
Mikel Del Rosario: "Affirming Natural Marriage," very good. Well thank you once again Sean for being with us on thetable.
Sean McDowell: Thanks for having me Mikel.
Mikel Del Rosario: And we hope that you will join us back on thetable once again, where we discuss issues of God and culture.
About the Contributors
Mikel Del Rosario
Mikel Del Rosario (ThM, 2016; PhD, 2022) is Associate Professor of Bible and Theology at Moody Bible Institute. While at DTS, he served as project manager for cultural engagement at the Hendricks Center, producing and hosting The Table podcast. You can find him online at ApologeticsGuy.com, the Apologetics Guy YouTube channel, and The Apologetics Guy Show podcast.