A sculptor was once asked how he created a statue of a horse. “I simply chisel away everything that doesn’t look like a horse.” The recent Supreme Court ruling striking down the Defense of Marriage Act is chiseling in reverse. It’s reducing an exquisite work of art to a formless lump of rock.
Two weeks ago, the United States Supreme Court struck down much of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). This should be of concern to Christians, as heterosexual, permanent, monogamous marriage is the central and most public metaphor for the gospel. Metaphor is how people make sense of truth. The gospel is truth. This ruling chisels away at the marriage metaphor, saying it is unconstitutional to differentiate between homosexual and heterosexual unions. Ironically, this is a reversal of creation.
Genesis Chapter One is the account of differentiating an undifferentiated mass. In Genesis 1:1 the Earth is described as “formless and void.” It’s an undifferentiated mass. This disordered and chaotic environment has ominous overtones of God’s judgment.1 The image in Genesis 1:1 is that something is not quite right. Things are disordered.
The disorder is due to a disaster. Before the Earth existed, Lucifer and his legions rebelled (c.f., Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28). They lost and were cast down to the Earth. This is where the Book of Genesis begins – with a disordered “formless and void.” Over six days God begins to order the disorder. Humans are to enhance God’s order. This is why the Supreme Court ruling matters. It is chiseling a differentiating metaphor (heterosexual vs. homosexual unions) into a formless lump of rock. This is a reversal of Genesis Chapter One. We’re heading back to undifferentiated mass, or disorder.
In a disordered culture, the consequences are not pretty. Conscience becomes corrupted. What in the past would have called chaos is now confused for “common sense.” Conscience and common sense are cited in a recent New York Times column featuring David Brooks and Gail Collins. Brooks writes how Justice Anthony Kennedy “outdid himself with some basic common sense on the subject of gay marriage.”2
I hope recent history is teaching a lesson to all those politicians who knew DOMA was wrong and that gay marriage was right but who went the other way for political reasons over the last two decades. The lesson is don’t try to be too clever. Go with your conscience or history might just run you over.
Uh, not quite. What constitutes “basic common sense” is actually a culture’s sense of right and wrong. Words like “basic” and “common” are products of inculturation, an individual’s gradual acquisition of the norms of a culture. Disordered cultures yield a disordered “common sense.” Disordered images play a significant role in this.
Brooks is also naïve in urging readers to “go with your conscience.” This is another consequence of a disordered culture where everything is undifferentiated. The Bible differentiates between four kinds of conscience – clear, arrogant, wounded, and seared. You’d be nuts to “go with” three of them. In chiseling away everything that looks like properly ordered marriage, the Court is contributing to a catastrophically disordered culture.
There is a lesson here for the faith community: start over. In his book To Change The World, James Davison Hunter writes: “If one is serious about changing the world, the first step is to discard the prevailing view of culture and cultural change and start from scratch.” For too long, the prevailing view among Christians is that ideas change the world. If we get enough facts published, we’ll win. The gay community knows better. Changing the world is less about facts and more about frames, planting compelling images in the public imagination. The gay community gets this. So do a few Christians.
One example is an excellent primer produced by the John Jay Institute. Clink this link: YOU’VE BEEN FRAMED: A NEW PRIMER FOR THE MARRIAGE DEBATE. The John Jay Institute is educating a new generation of principled men and women for public leadership. This would include, Lord willing, developing a new generation of Supreme Court justices. They would be sculptors. Pray for the John Jay Institute. For even if we’re left with a formless lump of rock, good sculptors can always reverse the damage done by chiseling in reverse. They can chisel everything that doesn’t look like traditional marriage. We could one day be once again looking at an exquisite work of art.
1 Allen P. Ross, Creation and Blessing: A Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1988), p. 106.
2 “As the Court Turns,” The New York Times, June 27, 2013