Why you should fight for marriage

August 25, 2014

NOTE: Sherif Girgis will be one of the speakers at the ERLC National Conference: “The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage.” The conference is designed to equip Christians to apply the gospel on these issues with convictional kindness in their communities, their families and their churches. This event will be held at the iconic Opryland Hotel on October 27-29, 2014. To learn more go here.

We are all called to defend marriage so that the truth can change hearts, minds, and lives. As the early pro-life activists did, we must invest the long-term political, legal, cultural, and spiritual capital to win down the line.

One might grant, as I argued in my last two articles (here and here), that philosophy matters in general and on marriage—and that, with the right help, it can influence culture—but still wonder whether the marriage fight is worth waging. Isn’t it lost, given political and legal trends? Isn’t it peripheral to the Christian mission anyway?

A Live Battle

The pro-life cause was doing worse in the 1970s than the marriage cause is now. We are winning the first because an earlier generation refused to give up. Why, then, give up on marriage?

Around the time of Roe v. Wade, public opinion was moving swiftly for abortion on demand. Pro-life politicians (like Ted Kennedy and Bill Clinton) were “evolving,” and pro-lifers were aging. They were accused of being anti-woman, warned of being caught on history’s bad side. And of course, the Court’s decision in Roe made substantive protections impossible for the foreseeable future.

But a few pro-life leaders were undaunted, and their intellectual and cultural work has paid off. My generation is more pro-life than my parents’, and my children’s will likely be still more.

While the spirit of the Supreme Court’s recent decision striking down DOMA’s federal definition of marriage gives liberalizing judges all the premises they need to remake state marriage laws, it doesn’t require this, as Roe required abortion on demand.

Maybe it was meant to trigger a cascade of successful challenges to state laws so that when the Supreme Court later returned to impose genderless marriage nationwide, it would be riding faster cultural currents. But this would mean that Justice Scalia’s dissent was right: the Court will do on marriage just whatever it thinks it can get away with. Might it flinch from imposing redefinition if it fears the fury of a vibrant marriage movement? The answer depends not on impersonal currents of history but on what we do. That is why continued argument and advocacy on the whole range of marriage and family issues—including this one—remain crucial.

A Battle Worth Fighting

Not only does social action make long-term legal defeat less likely; it also serves the broader value for which legal victory is just a component and condition: the shaping of hearts and minds—and lives—in line with the truth.

After all, our freedom to live out and pass on our views of marriage is also more threatened after the DOMA decision. By deeming conjugal marriage supporters bigots, the Court makes it easier for lawmakers and courts to use anti-discrimination laws and public education to drive us to the margins of public life. And then it will be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than, say, for my own (future) children to pass through college with a sound marital ethic—even as an earlier generation’s efforts made it easier for me to be pro-life.

So the DOMA decision heightens the value of winning, while lowering the odds of a near-term win. What to do then? Christians can’t pick and choose what to defend; the Great Commission is not selective, nor subject to judicial veto. Moreover, this isn’t just about theological witness, but about duties we owe to the least of our brothers and sisters, Christian or otherwise—especially to see to it, by our cultural norms, that children know the care of the man and woman whose love gave them life.

Indeed, though some try to draw a razor-sharp line between them, the fight for marriage serves the fight for life. The redefinition of marriage and the abortion license flow from the same cultural lie: That the individual, but not the family, is of basic social and moral value. That personal adult fulfillment trumps the needs of children—who can be deliberately deprived of their own parents, or extinguished, if only our sense of fulfillment demands it. That sex has no inherent procreative significance and no value besides its power to please.

Redefining marriage would more formally and finally elevate those untruths into law, giving them greater cultural currency. It would also make it harder to rebuild the broken marriage culture that increases the demand for abortion. Just as family life fulfills marriage, so robustly protecting life calls for protecting marriage. That is another reason we can’t give up on the latter.

Nor, to tie this discussion to the first essay in this series, does any Christian principle diminish the importance of a good philosophy and policy of marriage. Yes, Christians have the broader mission of bringing all into God’s household, his endless feast of life and love for the marriage of Christ and the blessed. But as I have argued, even that mission is served by good moral philosophy—and by the freedom to preach, and the healthy culture on which grace can build, that just laws promote.

Yes, for the Christian, truth is prior to action. But it’s quite another thing, hardly Christian, to posit a divorce of truth from action. Christ did not show us the Father so that we might have better seminars. The early Christians didn’t wage battle and shed blood over solemn dogmas and definitions just to preserve an “enchanted” metaphysic. As with any invitation to love, every bit of God’s self-revelation is meant to shape our lived response. That response includes claiming what we can of this culture for the moral as well as spiritual truths revealed in Christ.

Yes, for the Christian, too much focus on public affairs has risks. The allure of Caesar’s courts, the love of money or applause can choke spiritual life. Our modern bureaucratic bent can promote an idolatry of the national and contempt for the local that undermine the very love of family and neighbor we would champion. The lecture circuit can enable the peculiar hypocrisy of preaching the values of family at the expense of one’s own. These are arguments for encouraging prayer and ascesis by and for cultural advocates—not against the advocacy.

In short, my disagreement is not with those who want the Church to tend more to her own, or with those who want it to be more aggressively evangelical, but with their shared assumption that we can best do just one or the other. We must do both.

But if we cannot forfeit the cultural fight on marriage, and recent developments block any immediate victory, we must take the long view. We must do on marriage, even before we get a full-on “Roe on marriage,” what we’ve been doing for years on life issues, even after the actual Roe: investing the long-term political, legal, cultural, and spiritual capital to win down the line. And if redefined marriage is built upon a lie—about the human good and the common good—then it will eventually take its place on the ash-heap of history alongside so many other “inevitabilities” (like Marxism, or settled support for abortion access) built on lies. But to play our own part in dismantling the lie, we can never flag in bearing witness to the truth.

Even before we achieve visible success—broad impact in this world—we know that the fight, the witness, even the peaceful endurance of defeats will make its own lasting contribution, through character and other spiritual fruits, to thelongest-term project of all, for that greatest of common goods called the Kingdom. This greater battle is not one that our temporal opponents can make us lose; it is won if we stay on the field, and lost if we flee.


One critique of natural-law argumentation, by theologian David Bentley Hart, ends with this:

For what it is worth, I am in the end quite happy for believers in natural law theory to continue plying their oars, rowing against the current (so long as they do so in keeping with classical metaphysics), but I do not think they are going to get where they are heading; so I shall just watch from the bank for a while and then wander off to the hills (to look for saints and angels).

He doubts the “rowing” philosophers will get where they’re heading but declines to jump in. He boasts of “wander[ing] off” in search of “saints and angels,” as if his freedom to search weren’t secured by those going “against the current” in the courts and the public square.

No doubt we are all called to contemplation amid the saints and angels. But for most of us, desire for their everlasting hills bids fidelity, here and now, to a call in the world: to stay in the boat, and put out into the deep, at the demand of the Lord who commands the wind and the seas of history.

Originally published at Public Discourse. Reprinted with permission.

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24