Gilles Bernheim, Chief Rabbi of France, writes in the current issue First Things about “homosexual marriage” as a “Trojan horse” which will be used to “deny natural sexuality” and “erase sexual differences.” Here’s his conclusion:

I am one of those who believe that a human being is not an autonomous construction with no given structure, order, status, or role. I believe that the affirmation of freedom does not imply the negation of limits and that the affirmation of equality does not imply the leveling of differences. I believe that the powers of technology and of the imagination do not require that we forget that being is a gift, that life is prior to all of us, and that it has its own laws.

I long for a society in which modernity would have its full place but without implying the denial of elementary principles of human and familial ecology; for a society in which the diversity of ways of being, of living, and of desiring is accepted as fortunate, without allowing this diversity to be diluted in the reduction to the lowest common denominator, which effaces all differentiation; for a society in which, despite the technological deployment of virtual realities and the free play of critical intelligence, the simplest words—father, mother, spouse, parents—retain their meaning, at once symbolic and embodied; for a society in which children are welcomed and find their place, their whole place, without becoming objects that must be possessed at all costs, or pawns in a power struggle.

I long for a society in which the extraordinary dynamic that is at work in the encounter between a man and a woman continues to be established, under a specific name.

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12 thoughts on “Freedom Does Not Imply the Negation of Limits”

  1. Bev C. says:

    Man and Woman in Christ by Stephen B. Clark written over 30 years ago and currently published by Tabor House in East Lansing is a lengthy treatise on men, women and their roles as designed by God that is also well worth the read.

    Protestants have much to learn from Rabbis and Catholics as to how to thoroughly study some issues from the Word.

  2. Matt says:

    I don’t think that most gay people would deny that they have a “given structure, order, status or role.” Quite the contrary, many are happy to proclaim that they were “born this way”.

    Rather I think that most gay people would claim that their given structure is simply different than the structure of heterosexuals.

    If that’s the case then it’s actually Gilles Bernheim who is asking gays to deny their given structure and not the other way around.

  3. Matt says:

    The Rabbi longs for a society that discriminates.

    I, on the other hand, long for a society where gays and lesbians are granted their basic human rights.

  4. Matt says:

    Let’s bear in mind that the Rabbi’s holy book calls for the outright execution of gay people.

  5. Wesley says:

    Based on the comments thus far, it appears – on the whole – that this is an exercise in missing the point.
    It seems he is merely saying that the push for equality appears to have morphed into something else now; something that denies even good and obvious differences between things. I don’t think that’s a place any of us want to be or live.
    Great quote. Thanks KD.

  6. Indeed, there is an acceptance of actual differences but we must respect the obvious difference. Even with the dynamics of this new established we must adhere to common laws that continue to be an integral part of our society thus freedom should be exercised with regards to the ultimate and common good.

  7. Matt says:

    @Wesley,

    You’re correct that he is saying that the push for equality appears to have morphed into something that denies differences.

    But I think he’s wrong about that.

    The words “father” and “mother” did not lose their meaning in Iowa in 2009. I just visited Iowa with my “father” and “mother” and I can assure you that the words worked just fine there.

    In what concrete way does allowing me to marry the man I love deny “good and obvious differences between things?”

  8. Wesley says:

    @ Matt -
    firstly, he’s not saying that this denial of differences is complete but rather warning that it is coming on this trajectory. Imagine a world where those titles “father” and “mother” did not have any meaning anymore.
    second, one concrete example of the good and obvious differences between things being lost with the redefinition of marriage is that the term mother and father become blurred if not lost to children with same sex parents. WHo, in the end, is the mother and father in such a family. This is just one of a myriad of examples.

  9. Matt says:

    @ Wesley,

    It seems like your position (which apparently is shared by Kevin DeYoung and the rabbi) requires that each of the following statements be true. If even one is false then your argument unravels.

    1) There is a real possibility that the terms Mother and Father are becoming unmoored from their traditional association to a specific gender
    2) This drift in language poses a grave threat to the fabric of society.
    3) In fact, the treat is so dire that it justifies limiting the freedom to marry for thousands of gays and lesbians.
    4) Gay people are almost entirely to blame for this erosion.
    5) Banning same-sex marriage is an effective way to prevent this and other gender-atypical behavior within the GLBT community.

    I don’t think any of the 5 is true.

    But let’s crunch some numbers to see exactly how widespread that problem is.

    I’ll pick on Iowa because I live next door and they have recognized equal marriage for gays and lesbians since 2009.

    The population of Iowa is just over 3 million. (3,074,186)

    About half of the population is married. (1,537,093)

    We’d expect about 3% of married people to be in same sex marriages (46,113). I think it’s currently less than that, but over time, the gays will probably catch up.

    Divide by two to get the number of couples (23,000)

    Probably about a quarter of them have children (5,764)

    Probably less than 5% of the children call a female parent “Dad” or a male parent “Mom” (288). [I have lived as an out gay man in Minneapolis for 22 years and I know lots of kids of gays and lesbians and I don’t know of a single case where this happens. How many cases are you aware of? Are they happening in states where marriage is legal?]

    Of those children who exhibit this behavior, probably most of them would do it regardless of whether the state of Iowa recognized their parent’s relationship or not. But for the sake of argument, let’s say that it outlawing gay marriage *would* affect the behavior of 5% of those transgressing children.

    That means that by outlawing gay marriage in all of Iowa you would prevent the kids in around 14 families from calling a female parent “Dad” or a male parent “mom.”

    The largest city in Iowa is Des Moines with 6.7% of the total population. So on average we’d expect 6.7% of those 14 families (or .94 of them) to be from Des Moines.

    So let me just clarify, you’re willing to deny marriage equality to tens of thousands of gay Iowans in order to save Des Moines from one toddler who calls her lesbian parent “Dad.”

    Is that really what you’re saying?

    Wow! You’re a real stickler for language!

    You must hate it that half of all “Daddy Longlegs” are female. LOL

    It seems to me, that pretty much every baby that is learning to talk starts by calling mom and dad the same word. Do you feel that a mother shouldn’t respond positively when her baby says, “Da, Da, Da?”

    Do you want the state of Iowa to levy a $5 fine on the woman who says, “Who’s your Daddy?” after she hits a homerun in softball or the man who says, “Come to Mama” as he’s collecting his winnings at the gambling table?

    My guess is that you would oppose the slightest sanction (even a $5 fine) against straight people who mix-up the gender of mom and dad, yet you’re willing to deny one of the most important and fundamental civil rights from gay people just because of what one teenage boy in Dubuque might call his parent.

    Just as bad, it sounds like you’d be willing to withhold the real protections that marriage affords to the children of gay and lesbian couples.

    Can I ask just one more question? Do you think the State of Iowa should forcibly divorce happily married same-sex couples to prevent this travesty or is it enough that they just stop issuing new marriage licenses to gay people?

    I’d love to hear what you think.

  10. Wesley says:

    @Matt -
    to begin: I’m from Canada where gay marriage has been legal for some time now.
    2. you kinda lost me at “let’s crunch some numbers” not b/c i couldn’t keep up but b/c you draw conclusions form your data that are entirely imposed and rife with conjecture. So, in reality, you prove nothing by your mad statistician skills.
    3. to set up five provisos of your own creation and then state de facto that if all of the provisos you created aren’t true then my argument unravels, is the very definition of a straw man.

    4. To answer your question at the end, no, i don;t think Iowa (or anyone) should divorce all the happily married gay couples but i would add that – in my view – they are not truly married to begin with. Marriage is not, fundamentally a right that the government grants but a blessing that God joins together. The state/government acted in accordance – historically – with this b/c the creation of family and the subsequent multiplication of society had great benefit for civilization as well as stability for it. Basically, marriage was happening long before the government threw their hats in the pile.

  11. Matt says:

    @ Wesley,

    Thanks for the response! I really enjoy hearing how you think about this issue.

    You’re absolutely correct that I took the liberty of fleshing-out what I thought must be the underlining assumptions that led you to say the following: “one concrete example of the good and obvious differences between things being lost with the redefinition of marriage is that the term mother and father become blurred if not lost to children with same sex parents.”

    I guess I had been hoping for more concrete detail and since you didn’t offer much, I tried my best to reconstruct what I though must have been behind your comment.

    Apparently I missed the mark. Sorry about that. Can you help me get back on track?

    1) Do you think that there is a real possibility that the terms mother and father are becoming blurred or lost to children with same sex parents?

    2) Do you think that this blurring of the terms mother and father poses a grave threat?

    3) Do you think the threat justifies governmental prohibitions to same-sex marriage?

    4) Do you think that banning same-sex marriage is an effective way to prevent this blurring of the terms mother and father?

    If you answered, “no” to any one of these questions then I really misunderstood your comment about the blurring of the terms mother and father in the context of discussions about legalizing same-sex marriage. Please try again to explain what you meant.

    Regarding my “mad statistician skills”…

    I gave it my best shot to quantify the scope of the “problem.” My numbers aren’t rigorous, but I don’t think they are useless either.

    Can you explain in more detail exactly how and when the terms mother and father are getting blurred, and then give your best estimate as to how widespread it is? For example, does it happen in all same-sex marriages (even the childless ones?) If so how?

    Many children of same-sex couples have both a mother and a father. Does the difference between mother and father also get blurred for children in that situation (like my son)? If so, how?

    For children of same-sex couples that don’t have both a mother and a father is the distinction necessarily blurred? In what fraction of the cases do you think it is blurred?

    For children of single parents is the distinction necessarily blurred? If not then in what fraction of the cases do you think it is blurred?

    In what fraction of families do the children of opposite-sex couples also experience a blurring of the terms mother and father? What causes that?

    To what extent can this blurring be prevented by outlawing marriage? Do you think the blurring is significantly worse in Des Moines, Iowa (where same-sex marriage has been legal since 2009) than in nearby cities of comparable size like Madison, Wisconsin and St. Paul, Minnesota (where same-sex marriage is illegal)? If so, why do you think that?

    Do you think that outlawing marriages will somehow give the children of same-sex couples a mother and a father? Do you think that weakening the link between their same-sex parents benefits them in any way?

    It sounds like you are willing to allow married same-sex couples to stay married, but you oppose new same-sex marriages. Can you explain that a little bit? What about your argument changes for existing same-sex couples as opposed to new same-sex couples? If they represent a real threat to society then why should they be allowed to stay married?

    What do you see as the costs that denying marriage equality exacts on gay and lesbian people and their families? Are there any? I strongly feel that there is a benefit to promoting stable relationships (on a societal level) and on having the freedom to marry the person that you love (on a personal level.) Do you acknowledge this cost?

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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