If you have not heard yet, the new word (already made official by the Urban Dictionary) is “throuple” (“three” + “couple”). Doll, Kitten and Brynn, three women, are now “married” in Massachusetts. Brynn and Doll have been legally married for a few years; Kitten only recently joined the couple, complete with a wedding ceremony. They now consider themselves a “throuple.” Since Massachusetts has a law against polygamy, this probably is not a legal marriage, just old fashioned adultery. We will see how the Federal Government and the State of Massachusetts deal with this situation when they file their tax returns!

My primary concern in this article, however, is not the “throuple.” It is the loss of standards in our culture. This situation is representative of the problem not only in secular society, but also in evangelicalism and fundamentalism when the focus of the attention is on removing lines. The LBGT activists and liberal judges (and some Attorneys General) have been eager to eliminate any state or federal definition of marriage as a legal union between a man and a woman. Some states have redefined marriage, exchanging one standard for another – that’s one issue. In others, however, judges have merely stricken down the states’ current definitions of marriage. In these cases what they have done is remove a line, destroy a standard. They have not replaced the line with another. The end result of these judicial decisions is that marriage cannot be a legal union between only a man and a woman; in fact, in these states apparently the definition of marriage is not allowed to be only anything. Without a definition, marriage can be between two men, two women, three men or women, any combination of men and women, and leave it to the imagination of some to come up with marrying their dog, cat or horse!

Eight years ago the “Beyond Same-Sex Marriage” manifesto was written and signed by more than 300 lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender activists (LGBT) along with allied activists, scholars, educators, writers, artists, lawyers, journalists, and community organizers. This manifesto contends that the very same arguments used by the LGBT community to support same-sex marriage between two men or two women are precisely the arguments for removing all limitations on what constitutes a marriage. “Now, more than ever, is the time to continue to find new ways of defending all our families, and to fight to make same-sex marriage just one option on a menu of choices that people have about the way they construct their lives.” Once we abandon the belief that marriage should be a conjugal bond with a central norm of sexual complementarianism and a common goal of propagating the race and redefine marriage as a form of sexual-romantic companionship (“love makes the world go round”), there is no basis for limiting marriage to any set of standards.

The same problem has developed in the believing world. Lines are removed because people do not like the lines. Too often, however, that is all that happens. Standards are removed, but not replaced. Shifting positions is one thing; eliminating positions is another. Some have argued, for instance, that hell is a temporary punishment for the unrighteous. That is a shift in position. At least with this person there are debatable arguments. He has replaced the traditional line with his own; the traditional biblical definition has been replaced with what the person frequently argues is a more biblical definition. This change is at least debatable. On the other hand when someone decides that hell is an unacceptable option in any form, he simply declares hell does not exist. The standard is not altered; it is completely removed. Any reference to hell in the Bible cannot refer to the traditional idea of hell or any other idea of hell by definition. There is nothing left to argue.

A few years ago, in a discussion concerning the idea of “redeeming the culture,” one young man commented,

Seems like what “redeeming the culture” or “knowing culture” means for many is watching a lot of questionable movies, going to bars, drinking more brewskis than Southern Baptist preachers are comfortable with, etc., so that we can “engage culture.” A lot of getting drunk and forgetting the covenant with our eyes. Not a lot of redeeming going on, if we would be honest about it.

Some ministries have struggled with how to change their music standards. Some have made adjustments to their music policies and standards. Others, finding it too hard to establish a new standard, have simply declared music amoral and abandoned any standard. The same goes for dress. Abandoning old standards of propriety and modesty, without replacing those standards with anything more than having the “parts” covered, has resulted in a culture in some churches and ministries that mimics the look of the world, complete with its casual and sensual appeal.

If an evangelical or fundamentalist wants to change a line, I would encourage him to do so only after he has worked through the biblical arguments for and against the line, has examined the ramifications of the change, and has sought counsel from those he trusts and those to whom he is responsible, including the congregation if he is a pastor. Changing a point of belief or a specific behavior is not uncommon and is not inherently wrong, if the result is more biblical than the standard it has replaced.

If, however, that evangelical or fundamentalist wants to eliminate a line and replace it with nothing, he is almost always making a mistake. I’m sure lots of readers will be able to give me their favorite example of where no standard is just fine; understand, however, that most of the standards, theological and behavioral, that have developed over the years in both fundamentalism and evangelicalism have had a rationale. That rationale may no longer seem valid to some, but could that be because they have not truly examined it? Perhaps a change is needed, but abandonment may be a mistake.