Month: May 2012

Two competing visions – a debate between me and Bill Muehlenberg on marriage and the state

Recently, I commented on a blog entry by Bill Muehlenberg titled, ‘Libertarianism and Marriage, Part Two’. What followed was what I thought to be an interesting interaction between two very different views on how Christians should relate to others through the political system. I have copied the comments onto my blog because comments have a habit of not being published and being selectively edited on Bill’s blog. My final comment remains unpublished on Bill’s blog and I did remove comments from others and my replies to them simply for space considerations.

Do enjoy…


  • Lee 4.4.12 / 4pm

The alternative is you let the government decide who is married or not and what you get is our current situation, where we get to have a Culture War over homosexual marriage. Yay! Go team.

You create the rod for your own back – by giving government the weapon in the first place, you shouldn’t be surprised when it is turned against you.

You take government interference in private business (incl. the varied handouts that are corroding Australia society) and all you have is debate and discussion – no coercion of anyone. But since you want to play the game of coercing others (by dictating who can and can’t call themselves married), you get feel the consequences.

For a libertarian, Dr Morse has completely avoided talking about the self-organising character of society and spontaneous order, which is disappointing and utterly central to a libertarian vision of the world. But hey, politicians are so much brighter than the community at figuring stuff out so we should leave it up to them…

Lee Herridge

Thanks Lee

Sorry but I am not buying it. In typical libertarian fashion you offer us a false dilemma here: it is either complete open slather, or totalitarianism. Nope, history shows us there are plenty of alternatives in between. And as a Christian I believe in both the institution of marriage and the institution of the state. God created both, and they are part of his will for humanity. The institution of marriage of course preceded the institution of the state, so all the state can do is recognise this pre-existing reality. It does not define it. But if and when it does start getting into the business of defining marriage, it is because, as Morse says, we have handed that right to the state by allowing our sexual free-for-all, all in the name of individual liberty of course. And anyone with children will not take such cavalier and demeaning attitudes toward their wellbeing.

Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Lee 5.4.12 / 2pm

Where do I mention anything about totalitarianism? Not once because I don’t mention it. So much for a typical answer…

Bill, you’re wrong, the Marriage Act 1961 has defined marriage (courtesy of the 2004 amendment): it is between a man and a woman. So now we get to play political football over the Marriage Act – a situation that you all have brought upon yourselves by pushing for such an amendment in the first place.

The fact that Christian marriage preceded the nation-state by, oh, maybe a couple of thousand years, and the model it is based on for even longer, shows that marriage has never needed the ‘protection’ of the state.

The fact that you all are so keen to have the state ‘protect’ it shows how little faith you have in the power of a good idea. By removing coercion from the picture, all you have is debate, discussion and persuasion – why are you afraid for that to be the way disputes are settled? If lifelong, monogamous, heterosexual marriage is actually the best way to live (as all of us agree), why are you scared to let that debate occur in the community where it belongs, instead of fighting over it in parliament where it has no place?

As I said before, by going to the state to win the argument, you create the conditions for those who have no compunction in turning the state against their ideological enemies (ie the Greens) to take over and go much further than you ever imagined.

Where you might be happy to stop at an amendment in the Marriage Act as as far you think the state should go in interfering in private business, for people like Lee Rhiannon, it is once step in a broader agenda. They have a comprehensive vision of state interference in lives of individuals and then you all come along and beg the state to add one more area for the state to muck around with. As the saying goes, ‘live by the sword, die by the sword’ – well now the sword has come swinging towards you….

Instead of having the state interfering in the private business, you let people decide for themselves what marriage is and what marriage they should recognise or not. I, for one, would never recognise homosexuals as being married, never allow them to marry in my church and leave a church that did marry homosexuals to each other. I suspect you would all do the same.

By saying the state has no business interfering in private business, even the private business of those hurting themselves (ie anything outside of lifelong, monogamous, heterosexual Christian marriage), it also eliminates it capacity to force people to accept another person’s marriage.

But by empowering the state to get involved in more and more in the private affairs of individuals through your lobbying, you are inviting them to force us to accept their claims of marriage, which people like the Greens are very keen to make happen.

Lee Herridge

Thanks Lee

The trouble with deep and complex debates is that they can hardly be done justice with by brief comments. Almost all of what you say I find problematic, so an article or two would be needed to deal with your thinking properly. And I am not sure if you have actually read both my articles, and the four I linked to. They go a long way in making my case.

But a few quick points if I may. It is the idea that the state somehow created marriage that I am rejecting. Of course any time it legislates on marriage, there will be definitional aspects to it. That is not my point. My point is the state did not create marriage, but simply recognised it, and when it seeks to redefine what marriage is, then that work of redefinition must be challenged. Libertarians seem to think we are to just all sit back and let the activists destroy marriage, and let the radicals destroy everything else which is worthwhile, be it by legalising drugs, porn, and prostitution and so on. Sorry, some things are worth fighting for, even on the legislative level. The libertarian aversion to having the state be involved in any of this is just a cheap excuse for immorality and amorality. It certainly is not about biblical social responsibility. I am not buying for a moment the libertarian escapism and irresponsibility.

If the homosexual activists seek to use the state to redefine and destroy marriage, then I for one will certainly fight this on that level as well, and not make lame excuses about the state not being involved, or not supposed to be involved, and so on.

You say, “The fact that you all are so keen to have the state ‘protect’ it shows how little faith you have in the power of a good idea.” Marriage has always been subject of legislation, as long as states have existed. There was Mosaic legislation about marriage, and Greco-Romans laws, and so on. So did Yahweh have little faith in the good idea of marriage because he thought legislation was valid for it? One might as well argue that laws against murder should be dropped because it shows how little faith we have in a good idea.

Neither is your other cop-out of any use – at least for biblical Christians: “Instead of having the state interfering in the private business, you let people decide for themselves”. OK, let’s just have open slather, since God obviously does not give a rip about any of these matters. Consensual paedophilia? Hey, fine. Polygamy and polyamory? No worries? Incest? Bestiality? It is all just fine for the libertarians, and we are just supposed to let people do what they see is right in their own eyes. Hmmm, seems we saw that happen in the book of Judges and the outcome was very bad indeed.

This is simply a complete abdication of Christian responsibility, on both a state and individual level. Righteousness exalts a nation, we are told, and some things are worth fighting for. A complete hands off approach in moral issues is a recipe for disaster, and I care too much about my own children to have such a cavalier and unbiblical mindset. (BTW: how many children do you have?)

All societies have taken an interest in, and regulated for, heterosexual marriage, because of the tremendous benefits marriage gives to society. Marriage is a social institution, not a private contract. Thus libertarian thoughts about it are completely amiss. This is a social good which has always had social support and undergirding. And that has been entirely proper and sensible. I will always fight for the God-ordained institution of marriage, and I do not buy for a moment your ludicrous claim that in doing so I am somehow giving the Greens what they want. This is really the foolish end of libertarianism speaking, and it is as reckless as it is senseless.

Suffice it to say I am a Christian, so Christ and the Bible are my ultimate guides here, not secular libertarian ideology. If the lobby work I do on behalf of families, marriage and children is offensive to you, then I suggest you go elsewhere to spread your moral anarchy – it is not biblical and it certainly will contribute to the eventual death of any Western nation.

Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Lee Herridge 7.4.12 / 5pm


I too reject that the state has created marriage, which is the main reason why I want the state to stay out of it. You say libertarians sit back and watch activists destroy marriage but if marriage finds its value in people (like you and me), in the community, how could it ever be destroyed? That is where we depart in a substantial way: you think that culture finds its value in the state’s ‘recognition’ of it, I say that it finds its value in the collective action of individuals regardless of whether the state ‘recognises’ it or not. As it did for thousands and thousands of years, marriage did just fine through the cultural institutions that existed well before the modern nation-state.

If the strength of lifelong, monogamous, heterosexual (LMH) marriage dies, it isn’t because the state didn’t protect it – its because individuals have changed their value of it. Hollywood or Home and Away or Colin Barnett or Julia Gillard cannot singlehandedly destroy marriage – they will only reflect what the culture they live in values. The cultural shift away from LMH marriage (as you well know) has been going on for a long time (I would argue since the Enlightenment).

This is why it is pointless dying in a ditch over an amendment to a superfluous Marriage Act – it is redundant because marriage finds its power not in the state but in the people. State coercion has never changed the heart of anyone and it will not start, no matter how much you desperately wish it to.

(As an aside: it is also worth pointing out that there is no comparison between the Law of Moses and the laws of everyone else – the Law of Moses existed to show the people of God how to live as God’s people in God’s land. It has little relevance outside of that context except to show the nature of God’s character).

You seem to think that I am ok with homosexual marriage – I am personally not. I wouldn’t ever marry to homosexuals, I would never attend a church that did and I would leave a church that decided to start marrying homosexuals. The difference between you and me is that you want to force people to abide by your convictions where I want to persuade them to share my convictions (primarily through the preaching of the gospel).

You seem to think (as you have pinned me as some straw-man libertarian) that I don’t think there are things worth fighting for – I think that there are LOTS of things worth fighting for!!!! You may find this a shock Bill but I agree with your take on the destructive nature of any form of sexuality outside of LMH marriage. Those things are terribly destructive! And the reason I comment on your blog is because I appreciate that you do fight for them. You should! Where we part ways is that I think that the best way to resolve how consenting adults should live is through persuasion and debate and you think it is through coercion and state intervention.

Part of your problem is your inconsistency. I would be genuinely shocked if at any point you would say that Christianity should be legislated for all people – that by law, everyone should be a Christian. I imagine you would think such a thing anathema and you would sharply condemn any such suggestion. We would both agree that the way you get people to become Christians is by the work of the Holy Spirit in persuading them of their need for Christ, through the preaching of the gospel. You cannot compel people to become Christians – you can only convince them, and any attempt to compel them (no matter how well intended) would be completely counterproductive.

Why, then, do you think you can change any other part of culture by compulsion? If you cannot compel people to take heed of the single most important decision, how they respond to Jesus, why do you think it would be any different in any other aspect of their moral lives? If you can accept that people reject the only thing that really matters, Jesus, and live peaceably with them anyway (provided they do likewise), why can’t you accept how consenting adults respond to marriage or drugs or anything can result in people living civilly side-by-side?

We ALREADY live in the time of Judges – every man does what he sees as right in his own eyes and that will not change until the day the Lord Jesus returns. All we can do to change the hearts of others is, as far as it depends on us, living peaceably with others and by preaching the gospel faithfully. What you are promoting is the violence of the state against those consenting adults living their lives peaceably, which runs contrary to how God’s people should conduct themselves.

Lee Herridge

Thanks again Lee

But I am not with you here. I get your sort of thinking all the time here – but from atheists, anarchists and secular humanists. I expect it from them, but I sure don’t expect it from those claiming to be biblical Christians.

Where exactly do I say that “culture finds its value in the state’s ‘recognition’ of it”? Perhaps we need to go back to Politics 101 here. What is the purpose of government? Whenever we have more than one person living on the planet, we have society, and in a fallen world, God has ordained government to deal with messy social relations. It is God who said government is a good way to keep evil in check and enforce the common good. Culture is made by God, and so is government. Both are important in a fallen world, and both can help maintain a moral social ecology.

The value of not murdering others is a cultural good, but no one says it can exist on its own. In a fallen world we need regulation and the force of the sword to ensure that this cultural good is observed and maintained. Anything of value in a fallen world is fragile and susceptible to being abused, misused or overturned. Thus there is a God-given place to allow regulation and legislation to support, strengthen and if need be prop up any socially good institutions. Only dreamy-eyed romantics who reject the biblical notion of sin would decry such supporting structures. Of course government is not the only one – mediating structures play a crucial role here as well, such as church and family. These are also God-ordained institutions. But that does not mean we simply ditch government altogether here. I would think that only anarchists and radical followers of Rousseau would find a problem with any of this sort of thinking.

And as I keep having to remind you: marriage is not a private contract. It never has been. It has always been a social institution, and as such, societies and even states have a keen interest in it, especially since it deals with the next generation. Your hands-off libertarianism in regards to marriage is simply historically incorrect. Societies have always taken an active interest in the institution of marriage, and rightly so. They have always recognised, supported and even favoured this most helpful of social institutions.

As to Moses, the secular libertarians may say that morality must somehow be free of government coercion or restraint. The fact that God thinks otherwise shows the lack of biblical thinking on their part. All laws and all governments deal with morality all the time. God sees no problem with this, and neither should we. I know secular humanists don’t like this, but Christians should have no issues with this.

And please tell us all where I state that I “want to force people to abide by [my] convictions”. I am afraid your straw men, red herrings, and non sequiturs are becoming a bit worrisome here. To affirm God’s design for human sexuality, and to engage when necessary at the social, legislative and political levels to make the case for it and to defend it and promote it has absolutely nothing to do with coercing others into accepting my beliefs. It is called exercising my rights as a citizen living in a democracy. Sorry but you tend to sound far more like an atheist and a secularist here than a biblical Christian.

Moreover, there is no inconsistency on my part whatsoever. Please inform all of us where I have ever said the state should “compel people to become Christians”? We are nowhere ordered in Scripture to coerce people into belief. We are however told that God created the state and ordained the use of force to maintain justice and restrain evil. The two are quite different, so I am baffled as to why you cannot see this.

And yes radicals can do a very real and very thorough job of destroying things like marriage. It is happening as we speak. The idea that we just sit back and do nothing, because it does not fit our libertarian ideology, helps absolutely no one. With all due respect, the truth is this: when the radicals have won this battle, and destroyed the institution of marriage, and people like me have been imprisoned, websites like this have been closed down for being hate-speech sites, and my book has been banned, there will be one group of people who will have to take responsibility for all this. It certainly will not be those like me who realised what a very real threat this was, and fought it with all our might on every level possible: spiritual, cultural, social, intellectual, political, legal and legislative. My side will not take the blame for this – we did everything we could to prevent this.

No, it will be those who just smugly sat back and did nothing, justifying this inaction and apathy in the name of secular humanist notions of individualism and freedom. Their theoretical libertarian defences of these abstract notions simply resulted in a total hands off, laissez faire attitude to all this: ‘hey, it is none of the government’s business – they have no reason to get involved. So whatever happens, happens.’ It will be those folks who deserted the cause in the name of humanistic ideology that will have to answer for all this. It sure won’t be people like me.

I am so glad the libertarians and Randians were not actively around at the time of Wilberforce. They would have told him to just ease up – this is not a government issue. Slavery is a private matter, an economics issue – it won’t impact anyone else anyway. Coercion cannot stop this. So don’t use politics and legislation to fight this: it will just lead to bigger government and more tyranny. “What you are promoting is the violence of the state.” Besides, we trust the people will work it out for themselves. “All we can do to change the hearts of others.” Yeah right.

Sorry Lee, I am just not at all with you on all this. I get this unhelpful line of thinking all the time from the atheists and secularists. It saddens me when it comes from those claiming to be biblical Christians. So we will just have to agree to disagree here.

Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Lee 9.4.12 / 5pm

Your comment is awaiting moderation. (Ed: This comment remains unpublished – I presume it has been deleted as it has vanished, rather than sitting there waiting to be moderated)

Hi Bill,

Do you want do a comparison of atheists, secular humanists and radicals who favour the regulation of peaceful, private behaviour by the state? I’m sure my list of interventionists would look a lot more unpleasant than yours of non-interventionists…

You ask, what is the purpose of government? The foundations of Western democracy has been in limited government and in protecting individuals from aggression, fraud, coercion and breach of contract, which stacks up pretty neatly with what the Bible says on God’s expectations of public policy (as far the Bible goes into such things). Fairness, peacefulness and justice, not privilege of special interests and favouritism of the few. I don’t think it is inconsistent at all with the Bible’s expectations to say that in a fallen world, people should be free from the sinfulness of others trying to exploit them.

What the Bible has nothing to say on is the ‘common good’. The ‘common good’ is the concept of those who seek, not to protect one group of people from another but how to protect people from themselves. Even in God’s economy of salvation, Israelites or Jews who leave God’s people are no longer bound by the punishment of the Law – God doesn’t force one unwilling group to abide by the Law because it is ‘in their good’. God punishes their evil against himself (you could say that idolatry is an infringement on God’s private property) but there is not one case anywhere in the Bible where the nations (that is, all those outside of God’s people) are forced to live as God’s people, even though it would be ‘for their good’.

Bill, you claim it is some red herring for me to say that you want others to abide by your convictions but yet, you want others to live by how you think marriage should be conducted. God doesn’t call non-Christians to submit to each other out of reverance of Christ in marriage; he doesn’t proscribe them from de facto marriage or homosexuality; He tolerates it, knowing that they will be punished for refusing His exclusive claim to ownership of thier lives. You however will not tolerate it. In your view, they must live in a manner you think to be ‘for the common good’.

The concept of marriage might be a pillar of society and a social institution, even ordained by God, but marriages are private contracts. What occurs in my marriage is between me and my wife, and God because we have both entered a covenant (which is also a form of private contract) with him through Christ. You have no control of it – you can encourage or rebuke me but you have no ultimate say in how my wife and I conduct ourselves. And the same is true of you and your wife.

I want you (and everyone else) to promote and defend lifelong, monogamous, heterosexual marriage because it is good for all people but using coercive legislation to dictate who can and cannot call themselves married is a greater evil. Homosexuals hurt themselves when they delude themselves that their activities are ok, and indirectly others. You directly hurt others by inpinging their freedom to call their relationship whatever they like when you resort to state coercion to defend LHM marriage.

The fact you think libertarians would have opposed William Wilberforce shows how little you know about libertarianism. Libertarians oppose coercion and aggression by others and there were few things more aggressive and coercive of other individuals than West African slavery. Thomas Paine, Lysander Spooner, William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass were all American abolitions who would fit within the spectrum of libertarian thought.

You should be worried, Bill, about those who are fine with state intervention. See in my vision of the world, no one can force you to accept a certain definition of marriage – marriage is whatever people think it to be and as long as there are Christians willing to stand up for what is right, marriage as God wants it will continue on, as it has all of time.

In your vision of the world, where the state should interfere in the private lives of individuals to promote ‘the common good’, someone can tell you what to do or think – it eliminates the freedom, tolerance and pluralism we Christians need to freely live our lives in good faith towards God. You, Bill, are reinforcing the means by which the Greens and their fellow travellers will start dictating how we should live in all of our lives.

I agree that we should agree to disagree. However, in my vision of the world, that results in tolerance and freedom. In your vision of the world, where the state acts ‘for the common good’, it results in increasing levels of tyranny. I can agree to disagree in my world; in yours, I will be forced to agree with you.


Gospel and Politics – foreword

In Australia, evangelical Christians have been blessed with many many books filled with encouraging, enlightening gospel-centred biblical and systematic theology about a range of topics; Matthias Media being the main source in recent years. I don’t think I would be the Christian I am today if it wasn’t for the wonderful service those writers have given the church.

However, one area that has been substantially neglected is the interaction between gospel-centred biblical theology and political philosophy. There are probably many reasons for this: a desire by pastors to be apolitical in their preaching; an aversion to the US-style blending of politics and churches found in the Religious Right; and apathy amongst the general Australian public are just a few potential reasons.

Within that vacuum of broad leadership of God’s people in this area, a particular form of political philosophy has taken root. In my view, the conventional political thinking (as demonstrated by guys like Bill Muehlenberg and Andrew Lansdown and groups like Saltshakers and the Australian Christian Lobby) put forward in Christian circles is a mix of conservatism, big government paternalism and nationalism, with a dose of orthodox Christian theology.

What I hope to do over a semi-regular series on my blog is to put forward an alternative to that conventional view. What I think proponents of the conventional view fail to do is to form a thoroughly gospel-centred, biblical theology oriented, evangelical view of the world and to apply it consistently to how we should understand politics. Whereas they might bring bits of the Bible to bear onto particular issues, I want to ask, “how does the Bible help us to understand the world? And how then should we view our interactions with others in the political sphere?”

My hope is that over time, I can explore a variety ideas that help us to find a better approach to how Christians do politics, and in doing so, better serve the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.