I came across this reader response from Atlanta pastor Andy Stanley in the latest issue of TIME Magazine. In response to TIME’s “Is Monogamy Over?”, Stanley answers with a terrific response titled “We Crave Something Beyond Our Biology.” He writes:
Cassette tapes are obsolete. Monogamy is more like an endangered species. Rare. Valuable. Something to be fed and protected. Perhaps an armed guard should be assigned to every monogamous couple to ward off poachers. Perhaps not.
The value a culture places on monogamy determines the welfare of its women and children. Women and children do not fare well in societies that embrace polygamy or promiscuity. In the majority of cases, sexual freedom undermines the financial freedom of women. Sexual freedom eventually undermines the financial and emotional security of children.
If we are only biology, none of the above really matters. All’s well that ends with the survival of the species. If we are only biology, monogamy was probably a flawed concept from the start. But very few of us live as if we are only biology. I’m not sure it’s possible. We constantly refer to “our bodies”—an acknowledgement that we are more than “bodies.”
Apparently, there is an “I” in there somewhere, an “I” that desires more than another body with which to ensure the survival of the species. As a pastor, I’ve officiated my share of weddings and I’ve done my share of premarital counseling. I always ask couples why they are getting married. Survival of the species never makes the list.
The “I” and “You” that inhabit our bodies desire more than another body. We desire intimacy—to know and to be fully known without fear. Intimacy is fragile. Intimacy is powerful. Intimacy is fueled by exclusivity.
So, no, monogamy is not obsolete. It’s endangered. But so was the buffalo. Perhaps we happily monogamous couples should relocate to Yellowstone.
“I always ask couples why they are getting married. Survival of the species never makes the list.” What a great response.
Here’s why this matters. One of the greatest challenges facing Christianity for the foreseeable future will be explaining the rationale and purpose of Christian ethics, particularly sexual ethics, to a culture that no loner shares our basic moral assumptions. We must do a better job of articulating the relevance of Christianity’s doctrine of marriage to the social sphere. This will require us to simultaneously deepen our biblical understanding of marriage, while finding creative ways to communicate the creational basis of marriage in ways that inspire the moral imagination. We must learn how to translate our theological values using publically accessible reason. We must not shirk away from Christ’s authority over marriage, but we must also learn to articulate that the rational basis for marriage.
This matters greatly for evangelicals and ethics, particularly on the discussion related to natural law, a field whose roots do not run very deep in contemporary evangelical ethics. One reason evangelicalism has sometimes rejected natural law theory is the mistaken assumption that it requires cordoning off the Bible as a moral source or that natural law theory rejects explicit references to God. I think these accusations are mistaken both in principle and in the historical usage of natural law theory, but that’s another discussion for another day.
How does this relate to the discussion about natural law? One of my interests, and one which Stanley’s approach captures, is to show how biblical truths are demonstrable using sound logical argumentation and evidence; in short, that Christian morality—in most cases—is rationally intelligible and morally binding for good reason—because flourishing is at stake. Andy Stanley’s comments reflect this principle quite accurately. In contemporary debates over marriage, we’re sometimes prone to pit rational explanation against biblical revelation. Do we need the Bible to tell us monogamy is best, or does human experience tell us that monogamy is best? A biblical view of natural law would help us to see that biblical revelation and human experience, as it is designed to be lived, complement one another. Andy Stanley is a Christian pastor, so he believes that monogamy is the best because that is what the Bible commands, but he also believes that this is true because experience bears this out in his ministry. We shouldn’t be surprised by this.
What Stanley accomplishes in this short rebuttal, is that humanity is guided by something more than just our biology. The Bible affirms this, too. We’re more than just bodies seeking pleasure. We’re persons seeking comprehensive fulfillment. In our capacity as divine image bearers, God imprinted us with this longing; that a drive exists within us to experience something more than momentary pleasure; and He embedded marriage as a creational response to that need. The “I” and “Thou” of male-female complementarity isn’t accidental or arbitrary. Stanley doesn’t cite the Bible, but neither does he contradict the Bible. Rather, he echoes biblical teaching in Genesis 1-2 and Ephesians 5: That marriage is mysterious; that the drive for sexual pleasure is best explained in the context of deep relationship, marriage. We desire to love and be loved. Or as he poignantly says “Intimacy is fueled by exclusivity.” But here comes the next step as we do natural law thinking as Christians: As Christians, we have the obligation to always point these shadows of human experience to their ultimate horizon: The Christ-Church union; so that ultimately, when we ask the question—why does monogamy exist?— we answer with “because Christ sought a bride, not brides.” It’s the same answer we give when we’re asked why anything exists at all: Because of Jesus (John 1; Colossians 1).