Secularism on the March: The Abolition of Marriage and Family
Note: I was invited to give the annual public lecture, sponsored by Uganda Christian University and its Africa Policy Centre, on the topic “Secularism on the March: The Abolition of Marriage and Family.” I delivered the lecture on 24 October 2018 at the Sheraton Hotel in Kampala, attended by 400 and followed by a vigorous time of questions. Rev Dr Stephen Noll
Why would a Vice Chancellor, a former Vice Chancellor, have any particular qualifications to speak to you today about marriage and family? I’m glad you asked. Let me count some ways.
First of all, I am a son, a husband, a father, and a grandfather. I used to boast at UCU about having an “African family.” We have five children and seven grandchildren, with more, we hope, to follow. We have an African daughter-in-law (from Kenya) and an African granddaughter (from Uganda). Peggy and I celebrated our fortieth anniversary at UCU in 2007 – I preached a sermon to the students then – and we celebrated our fiftieth anniversary a year ago August.
Secondly, our house in Mukono was a stone’s throw from the Cathedral, and every Saturday we were entertained with the music and ululations of couples getting married. We attended kwanjulas, weddings, receptions, and baptisms. I remember us being invited to sit in a circle of the elders giving advice to John Senyonyi’s daughter and her betrothed.
Thirdly, I helped arrange two “mass weddings” at UCU, where staff members who were in customary relationships were asked to be married in church. Afterward, they came to the VC’s garden for a reception. The happy photos of the bagole rotate onto my computer screen, which I enjoy immensely.
Fourthly, I was pleased to invite Dr. Jean Chamberlain Froese to found the “Save the Mothers” programme at UCU in 2005 and I became Chairman of the USA support society for that ministry after we had returned to the States. This programme has graduated more than 100 professionals who have taken their expertise throughout Uganda and beyond to promote maternal and child health.
Finally, I regularly reminded new students at UCU that while many important things happen to them in university – academic, professional, spiritual – the relationships they form may stay with them for a lifetime, including possibly one with their future husband or wife. These talks were always met with good cheer.
Since returning to the States, I have been appointed Chairman of the Task Force on Marriage, the Family and the Single Life of the Anglican Church in North America. In this office I have been involved in a gigantic battle within our culture, the culture of the West, and within our Anglican Communion over the nature of sexuality and marriage. I believe this battle is fundamentally a spiritual battle, such as St. Paul describes when he states: “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). It is what I would call a worldview war. Hence my topic today is: “Secularism on the March: The Abolition of Marriage and Family.”
Secularism and Ideology
Before we begin, I’d like to make a crucial distinction between “secular” and “secularism.” The Latin word saecula means “world” or “age.” In common jargon, I suppose, to say someone is “secular” is to say he is focused on “this world or “this age” only,” that is a world without God. The Bible labels such a person a fool:
“The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God” (Psalm 14:1).
But the opposite of “worldly” is not “unworldly” at least in the sense of someone unconcerned about and uninvolved in this life, as is said: “he is so unworldly to be of no earthly good.” Christians should be “secular” in the right way because we – and indeed other religions, including Judaism, Islam and many African traditional religions – believe that God made the world, and He made it very good. For the same reason, Christians and most religions believe that God ordained marriage and He made it good.
So how can secularism be seeking to abolish marriage and family? The secret, I shall argue, is in the little -ism tacked on to the word secular. An -ism is usually a tell-tale sign of an ideology, as opposed to a philosophy or a theology. The word ideology itself is revealing: it is related to the word “idea.” For the ancient Greeks, “idea” refers to the invisible reality underlying the outward appearance (the phenomena) of things; for them “ideas” were highly complex, and philosophy entailed a life-time of questioning others’ simplistic opinions about reality. Ideology, however, is a simplistic idea – take the battle cry of the French Revolution, “liberty, equality, fraternity” – which sets itself up to explain everything else, and in so doing it distorts truth and reality and in effect creates an idol. The primary secularist ideology of our age is Marxism – note the -ism – which claims that all human institutions are by nature oppressive and must be destroyed and replaced by an all-powerful state. Twentieth century Marxism focused on class as the primary enemy; 21st century cultural Marxism has focused on the family as the source of all evil. In both forms of secular Marxism, the true enemy is God Himself and His created order as revealed in the Bible.
Every worldview – note “world” here – has an accompanying narrative. A secularist ideology is based on the idea that there is no God and no fundamental human truths. Man evolved biologically as an advanced ape and he progresses morally beyond primitive religion to some higher consciousness. The problem with this narrative is that if man is only an evolutionary machine rather than a divine creation, there is no morality or higher consciousness. Life then becomes, in Macbeth’s famous words “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” The social utopia of secularism is in fact a dystopia as described by the poet Yeats: “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;/ Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”
The Biblical Narrative
The only way to combat the narrative of secularism is to return to the narrative of the world found in the Bible. The true way to understand and resist secularism is not to reject “the world” but to understand the world as God made it and to see how God planned and ordained marriage and family within it. In order to do this, I propose to take you on a brief tour of the early chapters of Genesis, where God’s Word speaks directly to these matters.
“In the beginning, God made the heaven and the earth,” that is, the world (Genesis 1:1). God’s cosmic design predates any human history or invention, and the climax of God’s six-day creation is this:
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:26-27)
God made Mankind uniquely in His image and in particular, He made them male and female, two distinct sexes. Sex is unchangeable, written into the genetic code. Every fertilized egg will be XX (female) or XY (male), and there will be one male for every female born on earth.
Mankind (Adam) will be God’s unique covenant partner in ruling the earth. The earth being a big place, man will extend God’s kingdom by reproduction:
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:28)
Filling the earth will take a long time, with generations and generations of children and grandchildren. This explains the long chain of “begats” in Genesis (Genesis 5:1ff.), which inaugurates human history.
The second chapter of Genesis zooms in on the story of how the first family came to be. I call it “Adam in search of a wife.” Adam having found all other animals wanting, God performs surgery on Adam’s torso and makes a “helper according to his opposite.” When Adam awakes to see the woman God has formed, he joyfully exclaims: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man” (Genesis 2:23). Man and woman come from one flesh and come together as one flesh to pro-create new flesh, their seed or offspring.
Scripture goes on to say:
Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. (Genesis 2:24-25).
The pleasure and intimacy of sex and marriage are all part of God’s fatherly delight in Adam and Eve. There will be distinctive elements in the two sexes: the man will initiate and the wife will receive in her body the future seed, as she is the mother of all living (Genesis 3:20). This verse is the charter of the so-called nuclear family of father, mother, and children, and from this nucleus the extended family of grandparents, uncles, aunties and cousins develops as the family increases and multiplies.
I hope all this teaching from the Bible is commonplace to you here in Uganda. I am sorry to say that many Western ideologues have lost the thread of the story altogether.
Adam and Eve are tempted by Satan (the serpent), disobey God’s command and fall into sin. The Fall has consequences: pain in childbirth, toil and hardship, and finally death: as God says: “for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” The innocence of sexuality is also fallen, and the couple, now ashamed of their nakedness, cover themselves with fig leaves. God provides for marriage, even under the curse, with these words to Eve: “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” (Genesis 3:16). Some may take these words as the charter of male domination and abuse of women. I would read them more charitably. God is putting a hedge around fallen desire. The wife’s desire to have children and the husband’s duty as father will be restricted to one family unit. This verse is the charter of monogamy in principle. Two sexes, one flesh, one “nuclear” family.
Sin and its consequences spread like a hereditary disease, as St. Paul describes it: “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). The first family’s story takes a tragic turn when Cain kills his brother Abel. God curses Cain but also preserves his life, and Cain goes on to found the first city for his clan. The city, the realm of politics, has a necessary role in regulating marriage. The philosopher Aristotle was clear that the family is the foundation of civic life. It is a simple fact of history that when civilizations decline and fall, they are preceded by disorder in the family, including practices of incest, prostitution, divorce and homosexuality.
One such practice is polygamy. Cain’s grandson Lamech takes two wives (Genesis 4:19), and this leads to tribal warfare, as he boasts to his wives: “I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me” (Genesis 4:23). Polygamy has been present in numerous societies, from biblical times to the present, but never has a polygamous society become civilized in the fullest sense. Polygamy violates the arithmetic of marriage, 1+1=1. Usually the rich and powerful are winners in polygamous society, and women and some men are losers.
Genesis 6 and 11
Genesis chapters 6 and 11 depict two perversions of God’s order for marriage and family. The first perversion involves those who would exalt sex into something divine; the second and opposite perversion involves those who would demean sex and replace it with technological ingenuity.
Genesis, chapter 6, sets the stage for the great Flood:
When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. Then the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” (Genesis 6:1-3)
This is a strange story about fallen angels called “sons of God” who try to mix up God’s order of creation by mating with human women. Some would call this story “mythical,” and indeed the ancient world had other stories of gods impregnating human women and giving birth to super-heroes. The modern Romantic temptation is to make sexual desire into an idol, even adulterous sex. Erotic love and sex outside marriage, according to the Bible, is ultimately egocentric and narcissistic, and a society built on such illusions will destroy itself, as in the days of Noah.
If Genesis 6 is a warning against transcending marriage with Romanticism, Genesis, chapter 11 – the Tower of Babel – is a warning against seeking to replace marriage with technology. The story of the people of earth trying to build a tower to reach God is well known. There is one verse, however, which I would like to interpret: “The people said to one another: “Come let us make bricks and burn them…” (Genesis 11:3). The height of the tower was only possible due to burnt bricks, which were sort of like steel girders in modern office buildings. But the Hebrew word “bricks” sounds like the word “sons.” As I interpret it, Babelonian technology was a rebellion against God’s architecture for the human race. The first civilizations, rather than building families, created slave societies and built colossal monuments upward, using engineering insights and technical devices. If I may paraphrase for our day: “let us build robots rather than sons so we can control them.” God judged that impulse by scattering the nations and separating them into ethnic groups.
Now I come to one final foundational passage about marriage in the book of Genesis. The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah stands out throughout the Bible as a warning example of rebellion against God, incurring His judgement. Note that Sodom and Gomorrah are cities, entire cultures, that have corrupted themselves, so much so that their sin “cries out” to God much as the blood of the murdered Abel did. The most notable of their many offences was what the Letter of Jude calls “going after strange flesh” (KJV). And the offense against God was, above all, a violation of his design for marriage and reproduction.
The story begins by identifying the two “men” who arrived in Sodom as “angels,” i.e., messengers of the heavenly world (there is another world, but it is closed off to us for now). But the men of Sodom were blind to the angels’ identity and demanded of Lot: “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that we may know them sexually.” Suddenly God turned their blindness of heart into literal blindness, and they stumbled around groping for the door.
Let me make several clarifications here, because I know “sodomy” has been an issue that has made Uganda notorious in recent years. First, God’s judgement falls on the entire culture, not on individuals. Secondly, the culture was noted not only for violating God’s law but for the violence, especially toward strangers, that proceeded from it; by contrast Abraham and Sarah and Lot had hosted the same angels unawares (cf. Hebrews 13:2).
Thirdly, when Jesus speaks of Sodom and Gomorrah, He contrasts them favorably with those cities in his day who hardened their heart against His message (Matthew 11:23-24). Followers of Jesus must be clear-eyed in seeing the corruption of God’s way for the sexes, but they also must oppose violence and extend care and hospitality to those caught up in sexual sin. They must search their own hearts as to how their lack of sympathy may “cry out to God” and call for repentance.
Nevertheless, the final example here of fallen sexuality describes the chaos that occurs when a society rejects God’s order for the world, and the sin of Sodom is particularly egregious in that it involves the illusion that two like sexes can come together in one flesh. Twenty years ago, I wrote a book titled: Two Sexes, One Flesh: Why the Church Cannot Bless Same-Sex Marriage. I chose that phrase “cannot bless” because same-sex marriage is not simply wrong but it is impossible. The same thing is, sadly, true of the latest fad in the Sexual Revolution, “transgenderism” (again note the -ism). A male can think he is a female, can call himself a girl, can dress like one, and can even change his birth certificate, but he cannot change his genetic code and he cannot bear a child.
Jesus and God’s Design for Marriage
God’s design for marriage in His world is, I believe, laid out in these first chapters of the Bible. The Lord Jesus affirms the narrative of Genesis when He says:
From the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. (Mark 10:6)
Jesus further clarifies two elements from Genesis. Marriage, he says, is monogamous and it is lifelong, not just in principle but in practice. Thus in the early Church, divorce and polygamy died out altogether. Jesus provides for one other possibility, that of living a holy life outside marriage for those who become “eunuchs for God’s Kingdom” (Matthew 19:12). This is a liberating message for those who, by choice or chance, serve Him in the single life.
Secularism and the New Narrative
Now let’s turn from the biblical narrative and take a look at the narrative of secularism. I am going to cite several influential scholars, who articulate the ideas behind the ideology. Most people will not recognize their names, but their ideology is conveyed everywhere in sugar-coated form: in movies, in rock concerts, in advertising, and in social media.
Some twenty years ago, Professor Anthony Giddens, a noted sociologist and former Director of the London School of Economics, established himself as an evangelist of the Gospel of Sexual Intimacy with his book The Transformation of Intimacy. “Sexuality” and “intimacy,” according to Giddens, are terms that convey a revolutionary new meaning.
Giddens speaks not of “two sexes, one flesh” but rather of plastic sexuality. Giddens does not use “plastic sexuality” as a pejorative term, suggesting artificiality. On the contrary, it represents the emancipated varieties of sex “severed from its age-old integration with reproduction, kinship and the generations.” The two marks of plastic sexuality, Giddens observes, are female sexual autonomy and the flourishing of homosexuality.
The advent of plastic sexuality, he says, makes possible confluent love. Confluent love is an opening of one person to another for the purpose of self-realization and self-enhancement. Specifically, confluent love makes mutual sexual satisfaction the sine qua non of an intimate relationship. “Confluent love is active, contingent love, and therefore jars with the ‘for ever’, ‘one-and-only’ qualities of the romantic love complex.” Whereas romantic love fastens on one “special person,” confluent love is realized in one or more “special relationships.”
The kind of relationship formed by confluent love is termed by Prof. Giddens the pure relationship: “In the pure relationship, trust has no external supports and has to be developed on the basis of intimacy.” Intimacy or commitment in this sense must continually be negotiated in what Giddens calls a “rolling contract.” Lest intimacy slide into codependency, partners in a pure relationship must be willing to grow or break apart: “It is a feature of the pure relationship that it can be terminated more or less at will by either partner at any particular point.” No-fault divorce, adopted across most of the West, embodies this principle: either husband or wife can separate at will “because the relationship has broken down.” Cohabitation may even be a better way by avoiding the legal fuss.
Giddens notes that heterosexual marriage has no special claim on love and intimacy as he defines them. In fact, marriage is problematic because it carries with it the baggage of the past, e.g., the expectation of bearing children and of life-long fidelity. Hence, according to Giddens, homosexuals are the pioneers of the dawning age of pure relationships, because “in gay relationships, male as well as female sexuality can be witnessed in its complete separation from reproduction.” For this reason, it can also be separated from exclusive fidelity, and in most “committed” gay relationships partners agree to have nights out with someone else.
With a shrug of the shoulders, Giddens avoids the logic of his own view: intimacy as he defines it is not truly intimate but is individualistic and narcissistic. The chaos of the sexual revolution is not transitional to some happier state but is bound up with the rejection of marriage as a genuine union of persons. The sexual utopia, like the Communist withering away of the state, will never come; rather, we will experience more of the same sexual and social dysfunction until the society as a whole cries out, “Enough already!” – or falls apart.
In a recent book titled Cheap Sex, Mark Regnerus, an American sociologist, looks back at Giddens’s prophecies after twenty years and concludes that they are being fulfilled, especially in the decline of marriage. He points to this astounding statistic from the USA: in the year 2000, 55% of adult men were married and 34% unmarried, while in 2015, 42% were married and 52% unmarried. So within a 15-year period, marriage went from being a majority phenomenon to a minority. The same revolution is true in the UK and Western Europe. And there is no reason, Regnerus argues, to think the trend will reverse itself. Marriage, he concludes, has been de-institutionalized in the West. What God has joined together, secularists have put asunder. The decline of marriage begins with an ideology that denies God, and it ends with a society that has abolished God’s good institution.
Regnerus addresses the decline in marriage in terms of market economics – people will buy something cheap over something expensive. “Cheap sex” has been facilitated by contraceptives and abortion, which remove risk of having unwanted children, and pornography and masturbation, which make emotional engagement with a real human person unnecessary.
Regnerus sees cheap sex as appealing primarily to men, who can fulfill their sexual needs with multiple short-term partners, real or illusory. He notes that some women also benefit in this market as they pursue their careers without sacrificing to the demands of husband and children. But the overall effect on women is to push them to accept short-term “hook-ups” and “relationships,” which are heading nowhere. Women are being tempted to deny their fundamental maternal instinct in order to “be in play” in the sexual slave market.
There are many other losers in the Sexual Revolution: victims of AIDS and other STDs, victims of marital violence and break-up, and victims of loneliness, as people approach the decline of desire, the inevitability of aging, and the dust of death. The Bible has advice for them: “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth” (Ecclesiastes 12:1). For those who fail to do so in their prime, the only way out often seems to be suicide or euthanasia, which is skyrocketing everywhere. Whole societies today are committing suicide as their populations dwindle or are replaced by immigrants.
Another huge class of losers is children. The premise of the ethic of intimacy is that sex and reproduction are accidentally conjoined. The inevitable consequence of such an ideology is that children are devalued. Not surprisingly, the absence of fathers, physical and psychological abuse of children, and the proliferation of pedophilia, child pornography, prostitution and sex trafficking are exploding worldwide, frequently with the wealthy exploiting the poor. And then there are the children who never see the light, who are aborted and cast off as useless “fetal material.”
The Politics of Secularized Sexuality
Some may imagine that what goes on in the bedroom is a purely private matter. If some people want to have a traditional marriage and family, they say, that is their lifestyle choice. But the promoters of secularism know better. In 1970, Kate Millett wrote a ground-breaking book titled Sexual Politics, and about the same time the phrase “the personal is the political” became the banner of radical feminism. As I have said, marriage and family have been foundational to personal and civic health, i.e., to politics. But that is not what the feminists mean: for them the separation of sex from marriage is the goal of sexual politics. And indeed the politics of sex in the West has led to no-fault divorce, cohabitation, same-sex marriage, and the devaluing of children.
A political regime is just insofar as it exercises its God-given authority. It is unjust insofar as it abuses its power in the service of a lie, in this case a false ideology. This is no time for the church to remain silent. The church has a prophetic duty to call the state to accountability when it transgresses the law of God. The bishops of my church, the Anglican Church in North America, meeting on the very day the U.S. Supreme Court made same-sex marriage the law of the land, stated this:
Marriage is established by God for the procreation and raising of children and for the good of society. For this reason, governments have an interest in marriage and have delegated authority from God to protect and regulate it. But no court, no legislature and no local magistrate has the authority to redefine marriage and to impose this definition on its citizens.
The United States of America, so its founders believed and taught, is a nation under God whose citizens’ fundamental rights are derived from the Creator. There is no right to a relationship which is contrary to the Creator’s express design. We cannot accept the Supreme Court’s decision purporting to find a fundamental right to same-sex “marriage” any more than we can accept its claim to have found a right to destroy human life in the womb. We will work with others to overturn this decision, and we pray that others will join with us in this effort.
In the United States, the courts have proved a battleground of sexual politics. On the one hand, they have imposed abortion and same-sex marriage. On the other hand, they have upheld religious liberty. As I prepared this lecture, a court in Georgia vindicated and awarded damages to a man – an African-American – who had been fired from his position as fire chief because he had written a book upholding the Bible’s view of sex and marriage, and such a book, in the eyes of the secularists, is called “hate speech.”
The role of the courts in these matters explains the immense public controversy recently that surrounded the appointment of now Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, who was accused by one uncorroborated witness to have abused her 35 years ago. To understand this battle, one has to strip away all the “he said, she said” theatrics. The key to understanding why this appointment has been so fierce and divisive is that it concerns the Sexual Revolution. The secularists have controlled the Supreme Court for fifty years and have legitimated abortion and same-sex marriage. The swing vote in these cases has been Justice Anthony Kennedy, who upheld the right to abortion in 1992 and wrote the same-sex judgement in 2015. Kavanaugh will replace Kennedy and is likely to vote to qualify or ultimately overturn the abortion and marriage mandates on grounds that they exceed the authority of the Court. Because secularists believe there is no higher court than that of this age, they have been willing to use any tactic to prevent a return to the biblical norm, and hence they were willing to smear the reputation of an eminently qualified jurist.
The International Dimension of Sexual Politics
Since the cultural Marxist ideology of sexuality makes the same universal claim as its Communist forerunner, it is hard to contain sexual politics to one country like the USA or UK or even one region like the West. Hence it has been the determined policy of many Western donor nations and NGO’s to wean, as they see it, developing countries from their primitive views of marriage and child-rearing by teaching that it involves a violation of “human rights.” This policy involves a basic reversal of the biblical foundation of what it means to be human and also the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was strongly influenced by this biblical worldview and which stated that “the family is the natural and fundamental group of society and entitled to protection by society and the state (Article 16).
The bureaucrats of the United Nations have now tried to overturn these principles with a new set based on Giddens’ s “transformation of intimacy.” The so-called “Yogyakarta Principles,” named for a 2007 UN conference in Yogyacarta, Indonesia, define sexual orientation in terms of “each person’s capacity for profound emotional, affectional and sexual attraction to, and intimate and sexual relations with, individuals of a different gender or the same gender or more than one gender.” These various sexual preferences are now lumped together as “human rights,” and any person or nation that rejects these is seen as oppressive, “hate-filled,” and should be disqualified as a member of the wider international community. The Yogyakarta agenda is being promoted by the United Nations, the European Union and many Western-funded NGOs, and it includes legal, educational, and social mandates, usually tied to financial incentives. The Governments in the USA and UK have both threatened to deny aid to any country that does not promote this agenda.
Some national governments have stood up to the international secularist agenda; others have been in a sense bribed to import it, often not realizing where it is all headed. (Let me add here, that a similar struggle is going on within the Anglican Communion, where the Western Establishment, which mimics the secularist regime, is bribing Global South churches to “walk together” with a view of sexuality and marriage that is “incompatible with Scripture,” as the 1998 Lambeth Conference phrased it. I commend the Church of Uganda for its courageous and costly stance against this agenda.)
Conclusion: Some Thoughts for Uganda
In conclusion, I am arguing that there are two incompatible worldviews and narratives at war today. One of them laid out in the Bible, sees marriage and family as God’s unchangeable plan for mankind, which is designed for personal happiness, social cohesion and hope for the future. The secularist worldview, on the other hand, sets out to abolish God’s good plan for the sexes, marriage and the family, and is leading to sexual confusion, sickness, loneliness, and social dissolution.
My friends and colleagues in Uganda, my wife Peggy and I lived here happily for ten years, and I have been back and forth since then. I do not feel qualified to give you detailed advice as to how you should respond to this crisis affecting marriage and the family. Here, however are a few general commendations for your consideration. Since this is a public lecture, I am addressing the wider public, not merely those with whom I have been associated.
Uphold Uganda’s religious identity. Uganda is a religiously founded nation. When we sing “O Uganda, may God uphold thee!” we must mean something important. Not all Ugandans are born-again Christians, Torah-observing Jews, or Sharia-abiding Muslims, but there is a common religious sky under which we live, and this sky is laid out in the Book of Genesis. God is the Creator of heaven and earth, and therefore certain truths about life and about marriage in particular are self-evident. Abandon that foundation and all hell will break loose.
Uphold monogamy. My wife and I brought home from Uganda and hung in our bedroom a water-colour painting of two crested cranes. As Peggy recently reminded me, crested cranes mate for life. This has been the standard of Uganda’s public marriage ethic and laws. I would urge that civil marriage maintain that standard. It may be necessary for law and custom to accommodate divorce and polygamy, but let the standard be that of the Creator: “Therefore a man shall leave father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will be one flesh.”
Uphold God’s standard of two sexes, one flesh. For this reason the law and cultural mores should not treat the various secularist practices that go under the banner LGBTQ as having normative status in law and custom. Having said that, a Christian ethic based on the Sermon on the Mount would caution against a kind of Pharisaism (another -ism to avoid) that is quick to cast stones and impose harsh punishment for one particular sexual vice while ignoring the multiple wrong desires that proceed from the human heart.
Uphold reproduction and the extended family. Young couples, family planning does not mean family extinction. Many born-again Christians follow Jesus’ Great Commission to go make disciples. But you cannot be born again until you are born! Unlike most Western and even many Asian countries that are dying out with fertility rates under 2 per couple, Uganda’s is eighth highest in the world at a vigorous 5.5! There is, however, a demographic disparity hidden in this statistic. Educated middle-class Ugandans are marrying later and having fewer children. I worry that these couples may be seduced to make educational and occupational success an idol and may follow the Western elites down the road to childlessness.
Uphold the African family. One thing that strikes Westerners particularly is that marriage in Africa is not just between two individuals but two families. Such a tradition is not contrary to the nuclear family of husband, wife and children. It is close indeed to the biblical world and it deepens it with a secondary web of relationships. As you move away from your homes and families of origin, do not neglect to respect them and include them in your festivities.
Finally, defend Uganda’s heritage against militant secularism. Secularism is prevalent or dominant among many Western governments and international organizations and charities. “Be strong and of good courage,” as the Lord commanded Joshua. Africa is a target of its former colonizers, who come bearing gifts, including the gift of education. Time and again I have exhorted students at Uganda Christian University that a university education includes more than a degree, more than a professional credential. A university education should ground young men and women in universal truth, and that truth is founded on God the Creator of all. The Psalmist says:
Yours are the heavens; the earth also is yours;
You laid the foundations of the world and all that is in it.
Righteousness and justice are the foundations of your throne;
Love and truth go before you. (Psalm 89:11,14)
It is on this foundation that a couple and a people can find happiness. So the Psalmist concludes:
Happy are the people who know the festal shout!
They walk, O Lord, in the light of your presence. (Psalm 89: 15)
And when Uganda seeks to walk in this light, it will fulfill its high calling prophesied by Winston Churchill as the Pearl of Africa.
Anthony Giddens, The Transformation of Intimacy: Sexuality, Eroticism and Love in Modern Societies. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 1993.
Gabrielle Kuby, The Global Sexual Revolution: Destruction of Freedom in the Name of Freedom. Kettering, OH: Angelico Press, 2015.
Jonathan V. Last, What to Expect When No One’s Expecting: America’s Coming Demographic Disaster. New York: Encounter Books, 2013.
Kate Millett, Sexual Politics. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1970.
Stephen F. Noll, Two Sexes, One Flesh: Why the Church Cannot Bless Same-Sex Marriage. Solon, OH: Latimer Press, 1997.
Mark Regnerus, Cheap Sex: The Transformation of Men, Marriage and Monogamy. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017.
Featured Image: Eugene Delacroix, “Liberty Guiding the People”