C.S. Lewis on SSM

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Few books have influenced conservative Christianity in America more over the past half century than Mere Christianity, the little volume by C.S. Lewis that consists of a series of lecgtures he gave on the BBC during World War II. Its enunciation of a generic Christian faith and practice has held special appeal for evangelicals: Five years ago Christianity Today ranked it as the third most important book in shaping evangelicalism since the war.

So it is interesting to note (h/t The Wartburg Watch) how much more readily Lewis–an Anglican in a country with a state church–was prepared to differentiate a Christian conception of marriage (as he understood it) from that which the state establishes. The issue, in his day, was divorce.

Before leaving the question of divorce, I should like to distinguish
two things which are very often confused. The Christian conception of marriage
is one: the other is the quite different question — how far Christians,
if they are voters or Members of Parliament, ought to try to force their
views of marriage on the rest of the community by embodying them in the
divorce laws. A great many people seem to think that if you are a Christian
yourself you should try to make divorce difficult for every one. I do not
think that. At least I know I should be very angry if the Mahommedans tried
to prevent the rest of us from drinking wine. My own view is that the Churches
should frankly recognise that the majority of the British people are not
Christians and, therefore, cannot be expected to live Christian lives. There ought to be two distinct kinds of marriage:
one governed by the State with rules enforced on all citizens, the other governed by the Church with rules enforced
by her on her own members. The distinction ought to be quite sharp, so
that a man knows which couples are married in a Christian sense and which
are not.

A great many American Christians seem to think that if you are a Christian yourself you should try to forbid same-sex marriage for every one. Lewis, were he alive, would not think that. He would say that such Christians should not try to force their view of SSM on the rest of the community by embodying it in “defense of marriage” acts or (as Bill Donohue proposes) a marriage amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

As the country grows in acceptance of SSM, what’s wrong with frankly recognizing that the majority of the American people cannot be expected to live Christian lives (presuming that eschewing SSM is the Christian way)? Why not, as Lewis proposed, just distinguish between marriage governed by your church and civil marriage? 

  • While his comments are certainly applicable to the current situation, I think saying that CS Lewis would support marriage equality, or at least Christian right-wing non-interference, is a bit premature.

  • seamus

    Actually Will rather than premature, it’s a bit late.

  • Marta

    Tolkien has a very interesting letter (actually a draft of a letter he begun but never sent). It’s #49 in the published _Letters of J.r.R. Tolken_, and makes an argument against these two marriages that I often hear put forward by conservative Christians. Well, the more eloquent and reflective of them – while I disagree with JRRT here, it’s still a good presentation of the counterargument.
    If you like, I’d be happy to type up the letter, so you can post it to your blog. But feel free to say no thanks, of course!

  • Lewis never contemplated SSM, and while from our perspective it might be logical given his argument that he would support civil marriage for all, I don’t think you could extrapolate the position with certainty. There are plenty of people today who accept divorce but not marriage equality. I don’t see why it wouldn’t be just as likely that Lewis would fall under that camp.

  • great post