Friday, April 2, 2010

The Necessity of Marriage

Last night I attended  the Veritas Lecture Series at Southern Evangelical Seminary in Weddington, NC (suburb of Charlotte). The guest speakers were Dr. Robert George, professor at Princeton University, and Maggie Gallagher, co-founder and president of the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy (IMPP). The title for the evening's presentation was "Marriage: Why It Can and Must Be Saved."

It was an amazing opportunity to hear two of the most important leaders in America in the fight to preserve the institution of marriage in its traditional (one man, one woman) form. Dr. George was the primary writer of The Manhattan Declaration (see next post, below) and they were both instrumental, especially Gallagher, in the passage in November 2008 of "Proposition 8" (California Marriage Protection Act) that amended the California state Constitution to read, "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California." They were told that the Proposition had absolutely no chance of passage, but through their efforts—and the efforts of many other grass-roots groups—it succeeded.

It's amazing to listen to people who have such experience, knowledge, and intellectual horsepower, combined with grace and faith. Dr. George's c.v. is exhausting just to read—graduate of both Harvard (law and divinity schools) and Oxford (philosophy of law) Universities, admitted to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court and lower courts, author/editor of more than a dozen books—all focused on the defense of personal liberties and moral foundations consistent with a biblical worldview. Gallagher (Yale grad) has authored five books on marriage and has the dogged, not to be deterred nature of a dog with a bone. I would not want to be on opposite sides of either in an intellectual fight. The two work together through IMPP (and in other venues) in addition to many other individual pursuits.

They were introduced by Dr. Alex McFarland, president of Southern Seminary:


Dr. Barry Leventhal, Dean and professor at the Seminary, gave the invocation. He and I chatted later about the impact he had on my life back around 1971. I was a pretty young Christian, in graduate school at the University of Alabama, and growing in my faith through Campus Crusade for Christ. CCC sponsored an evangelistic evening in one of the campus fraternity houses (SAE, I believe—my own fraternity at Birmingham-Southern College), and Barry was the main speaker. He had been a standout on the UCLA national champion football team and was a Jewish convert to Christ. He gave a hilarious talk—perfect for an audience of skeptical frat guys and sorority girls—and while I was already a believer, I remember being greatly encouraged by his talk. He was appreciative of the memory, and also graciously insisted we get together soon to see if I can't finish up my own lapsed doctoral studies through Southern Seminary. I basically just lacked the dissertation when I had to drop out of a Doctor of Ministry program at Fuller Seminary in 1985. Don't know if it will work out to conclude those studies at Southern, but he was gracious to invite consideration. He and I both graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary (where he also earned a doctorate), so share that cultural connection.

I snapped this picture of Dr. Levnenthal while he was praying, thus his closed eyes:


The speakers spoke conversationally in an interview fashion with Dr. McFarland, rather than lecturing:


Dr. Robert George:


Maggie Gallagher:


During the Q and A session following the talks, a young man identified himself as the editor of a local gay/lesbian newsletter and asked an accusatory, but polite, question about the speakers' positions. I thought, "Yo boy" wondering if he knew what he was getting into. I snapped Maggie Gallagher's posture as the young man spoke . . .


They weren't in the least put off by the question/accusation. She and Dr. George were completely gracious and complimentary to the young man for his honesty in identifying himself (in a decidedly partisan crowd) and did the best they could to address his concerns. They have spent so much of their lives in hostile settings that they have apparently learned how to handle objections and accusations with graceful aplomb—speaking the truth with love. Indeed, Dr. George's last exhortation of the evening to the mostly-Christian audience was the necessity for maintaining an attitude of love and grace when dealing with those who disagree. Very impressive stuff. 

Even more impressive was a long answer he gave to another question about the use of biblical doctrine as a defense of his positions when dealing with people who don't recognize the authority of Scripture. He explained that it's not enough to quote the Bible. You have to understand why God revealed the positions that Scripture takes. That is, why did God say that a man and a woman should become one flesh (Gen. 2:24)—"one flesh" being a literal, not metaphorical, reference to the sexual dimension of marriage (available, by natural law, to only a man and a woman). It might be possible for marriage to have emotional union, as same-sex couples do without the ability to copulate naturally, but only one man-one woman unions have the ability to satisfy every dimension of creative union: spiritual, emotional, and physical. He pointed out that philosophers like (Greek) Plato and (Roman) Musonios recognized this without the benefit of biblical revelation and came to the same conclusion as the Bible based purely on philosophy and reason, not revelation. I haven't done his words justice, but after he apologized for the long discourse in answer to the question, the audience spontaneously applauded—as much for, I think, the scope of George's answer as for the answer itself. 

So—a stimulating evening in many regards. It's rare to get this close to folks of the stature of Gallagher and George, yet it was also a reminder that they are "just folks." All of us can be involved at our own levels and with our own gifts to stem the erosion of the foundational values on which coherent and cohesive societies depend.

Thanks again to Daniel for the heads-up on a meeting I otherwise would have missed. (Turns out one of Daniel's professors from the University of South Carolina had recently lectured on natural law at Southern Seminary. This professor, Dr. Christopher Tollefson, and Dr. George coauthored Embryo: A Defense of Human Life [2008]). 

1 comment:

  1. Hey, great report! Sounds like an evening well spent. I wish I could have been there. Thanks for posting this,