We live in a world where issues arise in the news and culture daily. Behind every issue, however, is a person—a person made in the image of God. This new ERLC Podcast series, “How to Handle,” will tackle tough issues for today with the hopes of equipping the church on how to handle the topic, care for those struggling with sin and temptation, and care for those who have been hurt.
As one who has built his career upon plying and defending the First Amendment’s provisions of free speech, I watched with interest the now viral Golden Globes speech of Theo Kingma, president of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. His words, given as a welcome to what may otherwise be considered an overpriced dinner accompanying one of the greatest acts of self-congratulation in media marketing, were inspiring.
Kingma’s words stand out in recent memory as unmatched by any Hollywood insider: “Together we will stand united against anyone who would repress free speech anywhere from North Korea to Paris.
It was this principle of free speech that helped fuel the Revolution in this country and, as enshrined in the First Amendment to our Constitution, is “a beacon that has reflected across the globe,” as Kingma so rightly describes. So synonymous is the concept of the American brand of liberty with the freedom of speech that one fails to distinguish between them.
As Kingma must appreciate, it is this freedom of speech that has actuated the very industry he addressed as they gathered in award celebration. Could Hollywood exist in Mao’s China? Stalin’s Russia? Hitler’s Germany? Would it find itself as unbridled in terms of speech and artistic expression as it is permitted here if it were relocated to today’s Syria? Yesterday’s Iran? Or tomorrow’s North Korea?
Kingma understands that the answer to such rhetorical questions is undoubtedly, “No.” That is precisely why his speech brought the luminaries of the silver and small screens to their feet. It is right and proper for us to stand against the suppression of the freedom of speech. Mr. Kingma is to be commended for setting his jaw squarely against the enemies of free speech.
It is in that spirit that I offer the following challenge: To any actor, producer, director, or member of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, I challenge you to demonstrate your ongoing support of the freedom of speech by tweeting your support for marriage between one man and one woman.
If one does so and successfully avoids Hollywood’s infamous blacklist, you will complete my respect of your industry’s appreciation for free speech.
Let me give you a helping hand as those in the press association contemplate my challenge. Your tweet could express support for former New England Patriots running back and ex-Fox Sports play caller, Craig James. It might look something like, “Craig James should never be fired for supporting marriage between one man and one woman as a GOP candidate in a GOP primary in Texas.” Even though Craig lost that campaign and was subsequently fired by Fox Sports, perhaps it is the support of Hollywood that Craig needs to clear his good name. Surely your support of free speech compels your support of a man wrongly fired for expressing – through speech – his personal, religious beliefs.
Bob Eschliman could use the support of your august, free speech-loving press association. This award-winning journalist and editor-in-chief of the small town Newton Daily News spoke about his religious beliefs on his own blog and on his own time, yet found himself unceremoniously marched out the door of his newspaper – fired for speaking online about his beliefs. A, “Je suis Bob” tweet from a Hollywood Foreign Press Association reporter would be a profound morale boost to this middle-America, Navy veteran, husband, and father of two who has been standing in unemployment lines for almost a year just to keep food on the table for his family. A journalist, fired for something he wrote: such is the very antithesis of free speech.
Perhaps you would like to rally behind an African-American gentleman who was first in his family to complete college, let alone his two doctorates. This may make the best opportunity for any Hollywood insider, because it was free speech in support of a Hollywood writer that led to Dr. Eric Walsh being run off of the speaker’s dais at Pasadena Community College’s graduation ceremony. But, that free speech did not translate to Dr. Walsh. As a lay minister when he is not a professional in the field of public health, Dr. Walsh was fired by the State of Georgia because of his speech – speech in the form of religious sermons. Your tweet of support might look like this: “I support Dr. Eric Walsh. No one should be fired from their job because of what they say in their pulpit. #SermonsAreSpeech.”
In each of these cases, speech has been pitted against freedom. In each case, the speaker ought to be protected as fully and finally as any movie that salaciously depicts a head of state. Yet, what each person has received instead has not been freedom, but loss of employment, ridicule, and, generally, exile from those who consider themselves the bulwarks of polite society. Do only those with a Golden Globe receive the freedom of speech?
If the members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association are unwilling to take up my challenge, I have reason to question their dedication to the principles of free speech. If Kingma is willing to grant freedom of speech to Charlie Hebdo, but not Kelvin Cochran, then perhaps his press association agrees more with the regulated free speech Frank Bruni described recently in the New York Times, willing for people of faith, “to believe what they do and say what they wish – in their pews, homes and hearts.”
Of course, putting religious speech on heart, house of worship, and home confinement is not free speech. It is tyranny: freedom for thee only if you agree with me. That seems to be the reigning – and false – notion of free speech today. That is why, I suspect, my challenge will not be accepted. A society committed to free speech should welcome the opportunity to disagree, but not punish, someone with whom they disagree. Presently, and to our great chagrin, ours is a society in which speech is not so free.
Were a member of the Hollywood elite to accept my challenge, chances are good that they would meet the same fate as Craig James, Bob Eschliman, or Eric Walsh. They would be ridiculed and belittled – side effects, certainly, of a healthy society dedicated to the freedom of speech. But, the response would go further, like Craig, Bob, or Eric, he who would accept my challenge would be punished by his employer and branded, “intolerant” in an industry that praises tolerance as the highest, greatest virtue. In other words, the free speech “from North Korea to Paris” that Kingma praised would somehow bypass Hollywood.
Standing ovations for freedom of speech are welcome, but limiting the beneficiaries of that basic of First Amendment guarantees only to those with whom we agree belittles the very fabric of the free speech upon which Kingma’s industry so rightly depends. In prime time, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s president has rightly hailed the benefits of free speech and the international response has been rightly supportive. After the champagne glasses have been stowed and the Golden Globes placed atop the recipient’s mantle is when words of inspiration are tested for their sincerity. Now is the time to test our resolve for free speech.
Will our collective commitment to free speech extend beyond the ballroom and permit the marketplace of ideas to be the economy that fuels our collective search for Truth? Or will we permit freedom of speech to be shackled to modernity’s intolerance of tolerance?
Only time will tell. Yet, as my boss, Kelly Shackelford and Dr. Albert Mohler wrote recently:
The First Amendment protects one’s religious belief — and also the speech that communicates such beliefs. Our world lacks diversity, not to mention courage and compassion, when freedom of speech is one-sided. Only when the freedom of speech is unfettered can we give voice to the causes that animate our souls. Because of free speech, we are able to understand our differences and, out of those differences, find unity — or, as the Founding Fathers put it: “E pluribus unum — out of many, one.” Unity is not uniformity.
Perhaps President John F. Kennedy’s advice is most apt, “The best road to progress is freedom’s road.” Kingma’s aspiration sends us down that road; Bruni’s illiberal and constricted version of free speech sets us back.
The golden moment of the Golden Globes may just be that Kingma helps us rediscover something that we never lost: a freedom that not only protects speech, but celebrates it.
That would truly be award-worthy.
In a few months, my wife and I will celebrate our twentieth wedding anniversary. With this milestone approaching, I have found myself thinking more and more about the benefits of participating in the institution of marriage. While there certainly are many benefits to marriage that can be experienced by believers and unbelievers alike, I have found my mind occupied with the benefits of Christian marriage. More specifically, I have been meditating on certain spiritual benefits related to the revelation of God’s character and mission that can be learned within marriage.
The idea that sanctifying knowledge of the Lord may be gained through participating in the institution of marriage is both an experiential and a logical conclusion. While the Lord employs various analogies in the Bible to reveal himself and to communicate his mission to the world, there is none more prevalent in Scripture than the husband/wife marriage analogy. This can be seen in the Old Testament use of the marital relationship to depict the God/Israel relationship and the New Testament employment of the husband/wife union to describe the Christ/church union, as well as the many passages in both the Old and New Testaments that invoke the language of sexual sin to describe a breach in the spiritual relationship that exists between God and his people.
One specific aspect of the relational dynamics of the God/believer union that may be learned through the institution of marriage is the concept of God as the husband of his people. Scripture often uses this image in describing the relationship between the Lord and his followers. For example, when addressing God’s people, the prophet Isaiah writes, “For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name” (Isa. 54:5), and elsewhere, when pleading with his bride, God himself declares, “Return, O backsliding children . . . for I am married to you” (Jer. 3:14). While this revelation is available to any reader of the biblical text, it is only through participating in the institution of marriage that man can fully understand the depth of this teaching. To elaborate, within the institution of marriage, when a man feels the natural burden of being a husband (literally a “house-band”—one who holds a family together), which includes leading, protecting, and providing for his wife, it is then that he can truly appreciate the picture of God as the husband of his people. In other words, it is uniquely from within the institution of marriage that the biblical truth of God as husband can be practically realized and appreciated.
The relational dynamics of the God/believer union become even more evident when in the midst of marital difficulties—thankfully, a rarity for my wife and me—a husband embraces the biblical teaching that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). It is during times of difficulty that passages which call for a husband to display Christ-like love for his wife can have full impact. For example, when the prophet Hosea’s wife went astray, God commanded him, “Go again, love a woman who is loved by a lover and is committing adultery, just like the love of the Lord for the children of Israel” (Hos. 3:1). Later, perhaps with the Lord’s instructions to Hosea in mind, the apostle Paul wrote, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her” (Eph. 5:25). Recognition of the self-sacrifice needed in order to show love for a sinning wife—the same kind of love a sinning husband would desire to receive—can be incredibly revelatory in understanding the depth of Christ’s love for his bride, the church.
While trying circumstances are not pleasant and should not be actively sought, quite possibly it is those who experience marital difficulties who have the greatest opportunity to grasp the full truth of God as the husband of his people. Indeed, just as the only way for a husband to purify a sinning wife is through self-sacrificial love and washing with the Word of God, so the way in which Christ made possible the purification of his church was through his self-sacrifice on the cross (cf. Eph. 5:25–28). It is one thing to possess this knowledge in theory; it is quite another to gain it through the trials that are incumbent to marriage in a fallen world.
A complement to the relational dynamic of God as husband is the picture of the church as his bride. While this is not a truth about God per se, it is a corollary to the revelation of God as husband, and it informs the church how to interact properly with God. Throughout the New Testament the church is referred to as the bride of Christ, sometimes even being called the body of Christ. Moreover, as the bride, whose body is not her own, the church is frequently described as being under the authority of Christ, who is her head.
As with the doctrine of God as the husband of his people, the notion that the church is the bride of Christ is a truth accessible to any reader of Scripture. Yet, within the institution of marriage, a wife has a unique opportunity both to understand and to embrace the fullness of this teaching as she submits herself to her husband’s servant leadership. Furthermore, this aspect of the relational dynamics that exist between God and his people is available not only to wives through submission, but also to husbands who witness and benefit from such conduct. Indeed, as Peter notes, somewhat remarkably, the actions of a submissive wife may be so revelatory in regard to the character and mission of God that an unregenerate husband is won to Christ “without a word” (1 Pet. 3:1; cf. 1 Cor. 7:16).
A final aspect of the revelation of God as husband that can be learned through the institution of marriage is the reality of divine jealousy. The Bible repeatedly communicates the fact that God is jealous for both his name and his glory. Scripture even records Moses’ command to “worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (Exod. 34:14). While the Lord is willing to share and give nearly all of his resources to his people, including the sacrifice of his Son, the one thing that God will not share is his glory. The prophet Isaiah reports the Lord’s declaration, “I am the Lord . . . My glory I will not give to another” (Isa. 42:8), and Jesus instructed his followers, “Pray then like this: Our Father in Heaven, let your name be kept holy. . . . For yours is the . . . glory forever” (Matt. 6:9, 13).
Given the primacy of God’s glory and name, it stands to reason that the Lord would be jealous for his people, for they are created in order to glorify his name. Indeed, this is what Scripture records as in reference to his people God proclaims, “I am jealous for Zion with great jealousy” (Zech. 8:2). Additionally, a host of passages demonstrate the truth that when the Lord’s people begin to glorify other gods, it is then that his jealousy is most clearly aroused.
Within the institution of marriage, spouses have the unique opportunity to experience relational jealousy, thereby enabling them to understand the truth of God’s husband-love for his people, as well as the intensity of divine jealousy. In fact, the potential for jealousy in marriage is so great that the Old Testament civil law contains procedures for regulating a husband’s jealousy toward his wife (cf. Num. 5:11–31).
Of course, it is possible to feel and to express relational jealousy outside the bonds of marriage, as well as to experience unrighteous jealousy within marriage. Yet, knowledge of the righteous relational jealousy described in Scripture between God and his people can best be gained through participating in the institution of marriage. Indeed, when marriage partners desire to be with their beloved and to protect the purity of their marital relationship there is great opportunity to learn about the depth of the Lord’s love for his people. Viewed from the perspective of marriage, then, passages that detail God’s righteous jealousy for his bride can potentially take on new meaning. This is all made possible through the sanctifying revelation of God that has been incorporated into the divine institution of marriage.
In conclusion, then, through being a husband—indeed, a Christian husband—for nearly two decades, my knowledge and understanding of God’s role as husband to the bride of Christ has deepened. The self-sacrifice, servant leadership, and godly jealousy I have experienced within the institution of marriage are benefits for which I am grateful. May those of us who have been called to and blessed with Christian marriages reap the benefits of this divinely designed institution, and display our individual marriages to the watching world in such a way that the marriage of the Divine Bridegroom to his people is properly revealed.
What constitutes true marriage? Does marriage really have to be between a man and a woman? Or is love between any two adult partners all that is needed? Does marriage have to last a lifetime?
Can we trust the church in its understanding of marriage? If we can’t, then what can we trust the church with?
Ironically, there is significant confusion in the Church. I’m thinking of the church of which I am a part, the United Methodist Church. A number of our ministers have performed marriage ceremonies between same-sex couples, knowing this is a violation of our understanding and doctrine of marriage. At the 2012 General Conference (the only body in our church that speaks for the whole denomination), the policy forbidding the blessing of same-sex unions was challenged but upheld. The conference delegates also left in place the church’s official doctrine declaring support for “laws in civil society that define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.”
At this 2012 General Conference, it was reaffirmed that marriage is between a man and a woman by stating:
We affirm the sanctity of the marriage covenant that is expressed in love, mutual support, personal commitment, and shared fidelity between a man and a woman. We believe that God’s blessing rests upon such marriage, whether or not there are children of the union. We reject social norms that assume different standards for women than for men in marriage. We support laws in civil society that define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
Though numerous clergy have violated the position of the church on this issue of marriage, recently it reached an almost unbelievable level of violation. A retired bishop disregarded the request of the Resident Bishop of North Alabama and the Council of Bishops and performed a blessing of the wedding of a same-sex couple in Alabama. That retired bishop now faces formal charges, at the urging of the Council of Bishops.
Another bishop of our church responded to the whole issue by acknowledging that we United Methodists are divided in our understanding of the nature of Christian marriage, and pleaded that we live civilly with our differences. The way he stated this was shocking to me.
As I have stated many times in the past, I acknowledge my human sinfulness, and do not presume to believe that my position is the unequivocal truth. I cannot know God’s Truth on this issue, and can only stand on my limited conviction of what I believe. I will not force my convictions on those who believe the opposite.
My question to the Bishop is, given your admission that you “cannot know God’s truth on this issue,” why can’t you trust the Church? And if you can’t trust the Church on this issue, how do you determine when to trust her and what you can trust her with?
Who are our chief shepherds and teachers in United Methodism? Our pastors and bishops are our chief shepherds and teachers. The General Conference is the only body that can speak for the church in defining who we are and what we believe, thus the General Conference establishes the doctrine and discipline of the church.
We don’t need theology based upon our personal opinions. As John Calvin pointed out, the human heart is an idol factory. If we are going to be a church that is a part of the Church, what we need is biblically informed theology so that we can stand against the tide of humanism as the “people of God” set apart to represent God’s Kingdom.
We United Methodists are united with nearly all Christian authorities and bodies across history and culture in how we view marriage: as a relationship instituted and ordained by God for the lifelong relationship between one man as husband and one woman as wife. From the beginning the church has considered marriage the most intimate of human relationships, a gift from God, and a sacred institution. Protestants consider it to be sacred, holy, and even central to the community of faith. Catholics and Orthodox Christians consider it a Sacrament. Biblically, it is to be “held in honor among all. . . .”[Heb. 13:4]
In his teaching, Jesus Christ underscored the importance and sacredness of lifelong marriage between one woman and one man. He stated that God had created mankind as male and female, [Genesis 1:27] and that in marriage “‘the two will become one flesh’. So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”[Matt. 19:5b-6]
This is the corporate, and continuing witness of the Church throughout history. We need to keep in mind that how we think must not be restricted to random feelings and even individual interpretation of Scripture. We need to be in harmony with the whole Body of Christ and all the saints now and forever.
I was pleased that recently the United Methodist bishop in Oklahoma was quoted defending natural marriage in his state along with the Catholic archbishop there and a Southern Baptist leader. Theirs was the true unity of the Body of Christ.
If we can’t trust the church in our understanding of marriage, then whom are we to trust?