Deceptive Rhetoric

A few years ago, abortion-rights groups ran an advertisement in several newspapers featuring pictures of an automatic and manual transmission. The caption read, "Everybody likes choice." Comparing automobile purchases to the most important moral issue of our time may seem absurd. But, as attendees at our recent "Christians in the Marketplace" conference learned, enemies of the traditional family often appropriate the language of the marketplace. As economist and author Jennifer Roback Morse told attendees, the assault on marriage "uses the rhetoric and language" of choice and the marketplace. It does so for the same reasons that pro-abortion forces use this rhetoric: It's "very seductive." The goal of what Morse calls the "lifestyle left" is to create "perfectly autonomous persons who are not connected to each other in any permanent way." As a result of this "deconstruction of the family," the state would enjoy more power. Of course, putting it in these terms would not make it very salable. So, instead, the "lifestyle left" has "re-packaged" their arguments in terms that Americans find more agreeable: the language of the market. Thus, marriage ceased being a covenant or a solemn vow and became a "contract." This rhetorical shift led Americans to see marriage as a voluntary agreement between two adults. If marriage is a contract, then the parties are free to negotiate the terms of their agreement, enforce those terms, and terminate the agreement whenever they choose. It's easy to see how this shift damaged the family. It not only opened the door to "no-fault" divorce, but it has done the same for cohabitation and same-sex unions. If marriage is simply a contract, then it's impossible to limit the terms of that contract to one man and one woman in a life-long committed relationship. Instead, anything goes. There are other critical ways in which viewing marriage as a contract hurts families. This view "undermines the basis of generosity and self-giving" so essential to family life. On a construction site, a welder can tell the foreman, "it's not my job," if he's asked to do some carpentry. The same response by a husband to a request by his wife is a sign of a dysfunctional marriage. In other words, there are no job descriptions in marriage. Yet, this is precisely where the "marriage as contract" rhetoric, and the worldview it produces, is leading us. Instead of seeing marriage and family as a joint effort lived out before God and the community, people see it as a "deal." And, as with all deals, the name of the game to make sure that you get the best of the bargain. This deceptive use of market language is almost as destructive for marriage as it has been for the unborn and their mothers. In both cases, it has provided people with a cover for acting selfishly without regard for how their actions affect others. That's why I urge you to call us at BreakPoint (1-877-3-CALLBP) to get a CD of Jennifer Roback Morse's presentation ($10), one of the best I've heard on this subject. Do this not only to avoid being seduced yourself, but to help others understand that no matter how appealing the rhetoric of the "lifestyle left" may sound, this is one deal we should pass up. For further reading and information: BreakPoint Commentary No. 030122, "Roe: Thirty Years Later." Barbara Dafoe Whitehead and David Popenoe, "Marriage and Children: Coming Together Again?The State of Our Unions 2003, June 2003. John Witte, Jr., "The Meanings of Marriage," First Things 126 (October 2002): 30-41. Danielle Crittenden, "The Cost of Delaying Marriage," Boundless, 1 February 2001. Michael J. McManus, "Myths and True Meaning of Married Love," Ethics & Religion, 15 February 2003. Visit Marriage Savers for more resources on marriage-building. "Why the Laissez-Faire Family Doesn't Work" -- At the April 4-6, 2003, BreakPoint conference, "Christians in the Marketplace," held in Colorado Springs, CO, Jennifer Roback Morse spoke about the "laissez-faire family" and the new definition of freedom: "To be free is to be unencumbered by human relationships." The July/August issue of BreakPoint WorldView magazine includes an article adapted from her speech. Jennifer Roback Morse, Love and Economics: Why the Laissez-Faire Family Doesn't Work (Spence, 2001).


Chuck Colson


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