The Log in Our Eye (Divorce and Gay Marriage, Part 2)

Photo by Tangopaso and Musaromana, Creative Commons

Photo by Tangopaso and Musaromana, Creative Commons

Depending on which study you look at, divorce rates among Evangelicals or Born-Again Christians are either equal to the national average or well below it. But they’re never under 25%. So one marriage out of four, at least, ends in divorce.

Whether this is better than the national average or not, it’s still very high. Much higher than you’d think, given Jesus’s strong words against divorce.

Why is this so? I don’t know, but I have a few observations.  I’ll work through them in more detail in subsequent posts, but today I’ll simply give an overview.

Idolatry of Family – we Evangelicals see the family as paramount. We ignore the Apostle Paul’s words about celibacy (1 Cor 7:8-9), and we push everyone to get married early.

The pressure is so subtle, we don’t even realize it’s there, but we’re soaking in it every day of our lives. We get married before we’re ready, and it sets too many of us on the path to divorce.

Purity Culture – alongside the pressure to marry young is the overwhelming pressure (at least on girls) to stay “pure” for marriage.

The ugly flip side of this is that girls who have sex before they are married (and something like 80% do), are often shamed, treated like damaged goods. Elizabeth Smart’s story is a chilling example of this. The emotional scars this shaming leaves can affect marriage for years down the line.

Purity Culture’s Empty Promises – If the stick wasn’t enough, purity culture has an equally damaging carrot. It’s implied, and sometimes even stated outright, that if you wait until your wedding night, everything will be awesome.

The truth is, virginity is no magic key to a perfect marriage. This should be obvious, and it’s a sign of how messed up things are that it isn’t.

Having mystically high expectations set up that reality can’t realistically meet? Not a good foundation for a marriage.

Game Face Churchianity – you’d think that at church, among your fellow believers, would be the place to share your struggles, to show vulnerability, to be true and authentic, even when it isn’t pretty.

Well, you’d think that unless you’d ever actually been to church.

Pray Away the Gay – I went to a Baptist college as an undergraduate. Several men I knew there got married right out of college, just like they were supposed to (see #1, above). Some even had kids, just like they were supposed to.

Then, down the line, they realized they were gay. Or they admitted to themselves that they were gay. Or they just couldn’t repress the fact that they were gay anymore.

Reparative therapy doesn’t work. That’s been proven to the point that the APA and AMA are both resolutely against it. Marrying a woman and hoping it will all work out certainly doesn’t work.

Dragging a woman (and even children) through that unnecessary hell is just plain inexcusable, but the greater guilt is on those who pressured the gay man to do it.

So What’s Left?

Maybe the answer isn’t found in Jesus’ words about divorce, but in his words about self-examination and self-righteousness in Matthew 7:3-5.

3 Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?

4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye?

5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

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Us and Them (Divorce and Gay Marriage)

Photo by Giulia Ciappa, Creative Commons

Photo by Giulia Ciappa, Creative Commons

Why do we, as Christians, get so worked up about gay marriage, to the point of spending tens of millions of dollars to fight it in the courts and in ballot initiatives? Better yet, why don’t we get that worked up about divorce?

Before I answer that, let me list all the times Jesus talked about divorce:

Matthew 5:31-32 It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery. (NIV)

This passage was during Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, during the “you have heard it said … but I say…” section, wherein Jesus ups the ante on the law-keepers, showing that a right heart was as important as outward righteousness.

In this same section, Jesus said that those who hate and curse others are guilty, just as those who kill are, and that those who look lustfully are guilty, just as adulterers are.

In Matthew 19:3-12, as in Mark 10: 2-12, Jesus is teaching and some pharisees and teachers come to talk to him. They ask him about the legality of divorce “for any reason,” a major controversy at that time.

Jesus’ response is similarly clear. Moses allowed divorce because of the hardness of heart of the people, not because it was God’s will.

Luke 16:18 Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery. (NIV)

The passage in Luke is short and to the point. It’s right after Jesus says that no one can serve both God and wealth, and right before the story of Lazarus and the rich man.

NOW, let me list all the times Jesus mentioned homosexuality…

Well, that didn’t take long.

Don’t get me wrong, I know the Old Testament and the epistles mention various forms of same-sex contact. I don’t want to misrepresent what’s in the Bible. But neither do I want to ignore the gospels’ silence on this issue, and our silence on an issue that Jesus spoke up loudly about.

I know, I know, circumstances have changed. Women have jobs now, and don’t rely on men for their livelihood. Inability to divorce actually hurts women now, trapping them in abusive or miserable marriages.

Times have changed. Marriage is different now. The husband doesn’t own the wife. It’s two legally equal citizens entering voluntarily into a mutual relationship. Denying divorce hurts people.

But if “times have changed” is our only reason, we wouldn’t be spending tens of millions of dollars fighting gay marriage at the polls. After all, same-sex contact in the first century was master-slave, man-boy, or man-temple prostitute. There was always a profound power difference.

Times have changed. Same sex relationships are different now. The ‘master’ doesn’t own the boy/prostitute/slave. It’s two legally equal citizens entering voluntarily into a mutual relationship. Denying marriage hurts people.

No, that can’t be our only reason, or we wouldn’t be fighting so fiercely against the one and utterly ignoring the other. There’s another, uglier reason. One we don’t even realize, not consciously. One that sears our conscience in the name of our conformist culture. One that makes cowards of us all:

We fight tirelessly against legalizing gay marriage but ignore divorce because we aren’t gay, but we do get divorces. Fighting gay marriage gives us an other to feel superior to. Fighting divorce would tear our congregations apart.

Gay marriage is “us versus them.” Divorce is “us versus us.”

39 Million Reasons to Hate the Culture War

In the last ten years, various conservative and Christian political groups have spent tens of millions of dollars to fighting against the legalization of gay marriage.Over $39 million was given to promote just one initiative, California’s Proposition 8.

What does $39 million buy?

World Vision lists a deep well (which can provide clean water for an entire village, preventing cholera and other outbreaks that kill many infants and children every year) at $13,700, a home for orphaned children at $5,100, a school at $22,000, and a health clinic at $39,000.  You could have one of each for $79,800. So you could transform 488 towns in developing nations for $39 million, touching literally millions of lives over many generations.

With $39 million, you could set up a foundation and use the interest and dividends from the principal to help people. That would give you, conservatively, $429,000 million a year (anyone who can’t get 1.1% on $39 million needs to find a new financial advisor). That sum would sponsor over 1,000 children through World Vision, forever.

Instead, we spend our $39 million making sure two men and two women can’t get married in one state. And we spend more fighting it in the courts.

Even if we ignore the emotional costs to our gay, lesbian, transgendered, and bisexual neighbors.

Even if we ignore the spiritual costs of getting in bed with a money-and-power driven government in order to continue pressing down an already subordinate class of people.

Even if this culture war can be justified in theory, its opportunity costs cannot be justified, because they are paid in the sickness, pain and death of others.

We pay for our traditional, 1950’s-inspired lifestyle in the blood of the world’s poor.

Tell me how this follows Jesus’s example?

Tell me how this fulfills the Greatest Commandment?

Tell me how this honors Christ’s name?

 

Means and Ends (Neither Kant nor Machiavelli)

Kant in black & white, Machiavelli in shades of gray

Kant in black & white, Machiavelli in shades of gray

Niccolo Machiavelli famously said, “In judging policies we should consider the results that have been achieved through them rather than the means by which they have been executed.” The ends justify the means.

Immanuel Kant argued in favor of the old Latin maxim, “Do what is right, though the world should perish.” The means justify the ends.

But I don’t believe we can, in good conscience, stand by either maxim. As moral beings, especially as people of faith, we have a responsibility for both our means and our ends. We must balance the rightness of our methods with the most likely outcomes.

It’s easy to brush off Machiavelli. “The ends justifies the means” sounds like something a movie villain would say.

Until national security is on the line.

Until George W. Bush is talking about “enhanced interrogation” and “indefinite detention” (without a trial, of course)

Until Barrack Obama is talking about (or rather, trying very hard not to talk about) using Predator drones to blow up civilians in nations we aren’t even at war with.

But as Christians, we can at least try to avoid that one. We can set our feet down and join Kant in defending the old saying, “Do what is right, though the world should perish.”

But what does that mean? Does that mean being so focused on “biblical” roles in marriage that you treat spousal abuse like it’s a matter of the wife’s submission, as John Piper does below (from his entire demeanor, he either has no concept of what an abusive relationship is really like, or he has no empathy. I think both may be true, given his view of God).

When we focus on what is “right” according to scripture, and then use that to justify hurting “sinners” (such as denying them their [secular] civil rights, advocating discredited and medically dangerous therapies, or advocating for harsh criminal penalties against them in African countries),  we are “doing what’s right, though the world perishes.”

When we let our idea of “biblical” gender roles blind us to abuse in marriages, in families, and in churches, we are “doing what’s right, though the world perishes.”

Even if we are not blinded, if we ignore or minimize suffering (as John Piper is doing above), we are “doing what’s right, though the world perishes.”

When we use our interpretation of scripture (without the humility to question whether we might be wrong, reading the Bible in translation, 2000+ years later, in a totally different cultural context) as a weapon, or an anesthetic that prevents us from feeling the pain of others, we are “doing what’s right, though the world perishes.”

But we’re not doing what’s right. Not really. And our means, no matter how righteous we may thing they are, are utterly and totally tainted by the pain we cause.

Our righteousness is like filthy rags to God. That’s not just a redundant restating of Romans 3:23. It isn’t a declaration of Calvin’s “total depravity.” It means that our rightness, our self-justifications, our focus on “doing the right thing” no matter what the cost to others … is just filthy.

And the world sees this. It’s not the gospel that’s offending them. It’s our warped Kantian-Calvinistic logic, our weaponized righteousness. And it should offend them.

An Old-Fashioned Kind of Love

Something to keep in mind when reading biblical passages about marriage, love, and sex:  for most of human history, consent was a foreign concept, and love was an afterthought.  Women were effectively their father’s property, and were “given away” to the husband upon marriage (often in exchange for a “bride-price” or to seal a treaty or agreement).

But it wasn’t all wine and roses for the groom, either: husbands-to-be often had as little choice in the matter as their brides.  The parents arranged the marriage, usually for monetary or political reasons, and the people getting married basically had to deal with it.  Of course there were exceptions (Ruth and Boaz, for example), and of course the practice varied over time, culture, and geography.  But the pattern was pervasive.

One thing the groom did have going for him was the definition of adultery. Adultery didn’t mean cheating on your spouse. It meant sleeping with another man’s wife. A married man could visit prostitutes or any other unmarried non-virgin he could bed, and it was a-okay, even in the first century. The legal double standard persisted into the reformation (King Henry the VIII of England killed two wives for adultery, but always kept a mistress on the side. Funny, that). The societal double standard exists to this day.

This only started to change in the last two or three hundred years.  We’ve all read Jane Austen (or at least seen the movies).  But Austen wasn’t writing safe, posh romances. She used the romance novel to criticize arranged marriage, hypocrisy, and materialism in early nineteenth-century Britain. She wasn’t the first or only person to speak out, but it took a long time to get from arranged exchanges of property to what we currently think of as marriage.

And eighteen hundred years earlier, when the Apostle Paul was writing?  Or twenty-five hundred years earlier, when Queen Esther would have been alive? Forget about it. The wife was the husband’s property.  So were the kids and the slaves.

Nobody cared whether the bride wanted to get married. Nobody cared whether the slave wanted to become the husband’s mistress.  Nobody cared whether the male slave wanted to become the husband’s ‘lover.’ And though they weren’t slaves, nobody cared whether the 12 year old boys in ancient Greece and Rome wanted to have adult ‘mentors’ with a side order of pederasty.

So why does that matter today? Because it affects how we interpret the Bible. If we see marriage in our modern, 21st century light, or even in an idealized 1950’s light (as the complementarian movement does), we don’t see the reality. Biblical marriage, biblical adultery, biblical homosexuality – these things are all fundamentally different than their 21st century counterparts.

That’s not to say the Bible doesn’t speak to us today on these issues. It absolutely does. But if we ignorantly superimpose our own culture on the biblical text, we will fail to understand. We have ears, but if we cover them and sing 21st (or mid-20th) century love-songs, we will not hear. And as Christians, we must hear what the Bible says. We simply must.

Does Welcoming Homosexuals Mean Accepting Homosexuality?

Shaking hands

As Christians, we like to think that we’re unpopular because we take a principled, Biblical stand against homosexual sexual relations.  But the things that stain our reputation most are not at all theological.  They’re not about the belief that same-sex sexual contact is sinful.  They’re about the way we so often treat homosexual people.

There are plenty of churches that actively seek to welcome lesbians and homosexuals into to their midst, while still holding to the theology that homosexual sexual relations are sinful in god’s eyes.

They believe that those who are completely homosexual (and not at all bisexual or attracted to the opposite sex at all) should be celibate, and those who are bisexual should focus their romantic and sexual attention on members of the opposite sex, effectively living as if heterosexual.

These churches are occasionally called intolerant or anti-homosexual, but they actually have homosexual people in their congregations.  They love and worship with and share communion with people who are sexually attracted to the same sex.  They do not hold themselves sinless or blameless or better than their homosexual neighbors.  And so they are able to witness and minister to people who are so often excluded from the Church.

People act like the alternatives are the Family Research Council (which spreads horrible, often false, ‘information’ about homosexuals and works against all their civil rights) or the Episcopal Church (which ordained its first homosexual priest in the seventies, and has created an official blessing for same-sex marriages).

That is a false dichotomy.  You do not need to change your theology to change the way you treat your least popular neighbors (Don’t get me wrong: I believe you can be a faithful, prayerful Christian and not believe homosexual sexual relations are sinful.  But those Christians aren’t the ones I’m writing this post to).

In other words, the evangelical churches of the United States do not have to start blessing same-sex marriages and ordaining homosexual ministers.  But we do need to stop actively working to use the government to attack homosexuals.

In many states, homosexuals can be fired because of their sexual orientation for no reason.  In many states, they cannot adopt.  In many states, they are excluded from hospital visitation for their partners.  Until 2003, having homosexual relations was felony on par with forcible rape in many states.  That’s oppression: “if you’re gay, we treat you like a rapist.”

In other words, homosexual people are treated like second-class citizens, and it’s mostly because of political pressure from conservative Christians.

As Christians, we are called to love all sinners, not just sinners who sin like we do.  As Christians, we are not called to use the empire’s hammer to beat down people we don’t like.  That is antithetical to Christ’s behavior when He was on earth, and I believe antithetical to Christ’s message.

Jesus ate with the outcasts of Jewish society – Samaritans, tax collectors, and more – and He loved them.  He loves them still, just like he loves the outcasts of our American society.  If we love Him, we need to suck it up, step up, and start feeding His sheep.

Eet Mor Chiken and the Gratest Komandmint

Chick Fil A Chicken Sandwich

Photo by J. Reed, Creative Commons

I recently saw a letter to the editor in a local newspaper in which the author said he was tired of hearing about Chick-Fil-A.  He wanted us all to shut up about it because America has bigger problems than some fast food guy.  I sent a letter back replying that for homosexual men and women, civil rights, bullying, and marriage equality are hardly yesterday’s news.

I don’t think it’s time to stop the conversation.  I think it’s time to keep talking.  I hope I can say this with grace, and without any rancor or sarcasm.

When asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus called us to love God with everything we have and love our neighbors as ourselves [Matthew 22:36-40].  Can we love somebody without every trying to see things from their perspective?  Can we love somebody without taking the time to understand their struggles and what’s important to them?

Samaritans were seen much like homosexuals are today: outside of the faith, less valuable, different, other.  Samaritans were half-breed descendants of Jews who’d married pagans.  They worshipped on a mountain, not in the temple, living a lifestyle that defied God’s holy law every Sabbath.  They were enemies of the faith, unnatural half-breeds, scum.  But when asked “who is my neighbor,” Jesus responded with the parable of the Good Samaritan. [Luke 10:25-37]  When traveling, Jesus took a detour into Samaria and preached to the woman at the well [John Chapter 4], even though she was living in lifestyle sexual sin with a man she wasn’t married to (while most likely still being legally married to one of her five previous husbands).

So if we love our gay neighbors as we love ourselves, shouldn’t we think about how our actions will affect them?  Shouldn’t we consider that our massive Chick-Fil-A rally will look less like “support for free speech” and more like a raised fist to them?

If you lived in a nation where Christianity was a small minority, denounced and scorned by the majority, how would you feel about a huge demonstration of support for a rich man who vocally condemns Christians and financially supports organizations that oppose Christianity?

I’d feel terrible, myself.  I’d feel bullied and persecuted.  I’d feel like, indeed, my own neighbors had turned against me. Not welcome, not loved.

How do you think the average gay person felt when he or she saw long lines wrapped around Chick-Fil-A all day, people lining up to support a business that gives money to anti-gay groups?

But it’s different, we say.  Homosexuality is a sin, we say.  Jesus didn’t say love our sinless neighbors as ourselves.  He said love our neighbors as ourselves.  Believing that homosexuality is a sin (even if you’re right) doesn’t give us an excuse to ignore Jesus’s commands on how to treat his gay children, our gay neighbors.  Being right never excuses unloving, graceless, judgmental behavior.  Nor does it excuse thoughtless behavior that is hurtful to an already vulnerable population.

I hadn’t really written anything about this, but seeing that letter in the editor lit a fire under me.  Sometimes we are so concerned about being right that we fail to follow our Divine Master’s greatest commandments.  And I’m as guilty of that as anyone, but I’m trying to work on it.

What do you think?  In our zeal to critique our secular culture, do we sometimes lose sight of God’s command to love our neighbors as ourselves?  Can a critique that is begun out of love become something unloving through escalation, or perhaps through failure to see things from another perspective?