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Box Turtle Bulletin hosts debate between anthropologist and Focus analyst

This is going to be good. Kudos to Jim Burroway.

Patrick M. Chapman, who is an anthropologist and author of the forthcoming book, Thou Shalt Not Love”: What Evangelicals Really Say to Gays (Haiduk Press, 2008) agreed to take on “Research Fellow for Global Family Formation” Glenn Stanton at Daddy D’s shop.

I can honestly say that I never imagined in my wildest dreams that I’d have someone from Focus On the Family posting on Box Turtle Bulletin. But I did hope to have some lively debates, so here goes.

Anyway, to set the stage, we’ve had a tussle back and forth the past few weeks over CitizenLink’s preposterous “anthropologists agree” article against same-sex marriage. We also caught them in a wholesale re-write of that article, and we invited Dr. Chapman to comment.

Out of that, Glenn Stanton contacted Dr. Chapman, and to make a long  story short, I agreed to host a debate between the two over Stanton’s FOTF article, “Differing definitions of marriage and family: comparing and contrasting those offered by emerging same-sex marriage advocates and classic anthropologists.” (PDF: 80KB/10 pages)

A snippet from Chapman is below the fold.A teaser:

Stanton’s report compares and contrasts the anthropological understanding of marriage with definitions provided by various same-sex political advocates, apparently to undermine the case for same-sex marriage. I find the report significant for several, presumably unintended, reasons:

   * The appeal to anthropologists as the authority in understanding marriage;

   * The appreciation that marriage is primarily a social and economic institution, not a religious one;

   * The acknowledgment that same-sex marriage is traditional;

   * The recognition that Focus on the Family’s “one biological man with one biological woman” definition of marriage is flawed;

   * The admission that gay males are capable of stable, long-term relationships.


The non-sanctity of marriage

In his summary of how anthropologists define marriage, Stanton states they are “informed by how marriage is largely universal, transcending culture, law, religion, time and social development” (I presume he refers to technological complexity here – all societies have a high development of social complexity, although not all are technologically complex). Marriage is largely universal, “transcending” the various aspects and dimensions of culture, but it is constructed differently by different societies. The forms marriage takes are varied, ranging from monogamous to polygamous, from same-sex to opposite-sex, and from same-states of being to differing-states of being: some cultures recognize “ghost marriages” where a living individual marries a dead one. Marriage often involves sexual activity, although this is obviously by no means a requirement. Anthropologists recognize marriage is primarily a social and economic union that serves many and varied purposes, evidenced by the various quotes Stanton provides.

I find it significant that Stanton specifies marriage “transcends” religion. Although marriage is sometimes incorporated into religious traditions and practices, it is not religious in nature, evidenced by religion’s omission in the definitions provided by Stanton. Thus, arguments promoting the “sanctity of marriage,” suggesting it is a religious institution with an inherently religious quality, are not supported anthropologically. This is a refreshingly honest acknowledgment from Focus on the Family.

It’s a fascinating takedown of the FOTF report go read the rest. Jim says Glenn Stanton’s response will go up on the blog later in the week.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding