My, how things change! That is essentially how McDowell and Stonestreet begin their defense of the historic definition of marriage. The two thoughtfully take us through the unprecedented changes we have witnessed in the definition of marriage and the perception of homosexuality. For those of us on the other side of forty, we remember the days when homosexuality was talked about in hushed voices and even when it was listed as a psychological disorder by the American Psychological Association. Not so anymore. “For the high school and college students we work with today – even the most conservative, churchgoing ones - homosexuality is not a far-off issue like it was for us,” they write.
As Christians who hold to the inspiration of scripture the authors call us back to the biblical definition of marriage. While warning against discrimination or hatred to those who disagree, it is still critical to remember that words matter. “Marriage can’t mean everything, or else marriage means nothing,” they claim. They continue, “Excluding same-sex couples from marriage isn’t necessarily an act of animus or hate, any more than it would be to exclude college roommates or elderly, single sisters from marriage. They are excluded because their relationship, though sincerely loving and affectionate, just isn’t marriage. Marriage has a fixed nature, and by definition 'is something only a man and woman can form.’” (This book was written before the Supreme Court Case Obergefell v Hodges which ruled that same-sex couples do have the fundamental right to marriage. Some of the content of the book has to be understood with that in mind).
A substantial part of the book is dedicated to getting back to Scripture and reclaiming the definition of marriage that has been accepted almost unanimously by every culture in every age. They clearly communicate their conclusions using scripture and reason. In essence, we must know what biblical marriage is and understand to some extent why it is what it is and should stay that way.
The authors do a fine job of helping us understand how we got to where we are, primarily through the gay/lesbian’s strategy of presenting themselves as people just like everyone else – not any different than straight people, simply people who love differently. Through music, movies, television, and a carefully orchestrated media blitz homosexuality lost its “edginess”, so to speak, in our culture. I found this chapter in the book very enlightening.
The second part of the book (Part 1 is What Marriage Is and Why Does it Matter and Part 2 is What Can We Do for Marriage) addresses the Christian response to where we find ourselves. Real-life scenarios are discussed to help us live with wisdom in the awkward and difficult situations we may find ourselves in. (eg., how do I respond to an invitation to a gay wedding?) These are most helpful! Included are more general helpful directions we can take as churches and individuals as we defend the historic view of marriage. Another beneficial feature of this book are the brief but helpful interviews scattered throughout the book with other influential church leaders.
For an overview of what is at stake in this matter, I highly recommend this work. McDowell and Stonestreet do not exegete the familiar passages we often turn to in defense of traditional marriage, but that is not their intent. There are other books that do a great job at that. What they do is call us back to a biblical understanding of marriage and prepare us to live out that belief faithfully, lovingly, and compassionately. Both Stonestreet and McDowell are leading and respected evangelical voices in this and other cultural issues Christians must face and they well-deserve our attention.