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.”

Our Feet on the Necks of “The Least of These”

We Christians should be standing shoulder to shoulder with the freaks, geeks, and outcasts of society. Not out of some source of nobless oblige or charity, as if we’re above them, but because really following our Savior should make us outcasts, too.

Why? Because the way of the world is seeking power, seeking status, and seeking to secure that power and status against all threats. Thomas Hobbes explored this in depth in Leviathan.

Bruce Springsteen summed it up neatly in Badlands: “Poor man wanna be rich, rich man wanna be king, and the king ain’t satisfied ’til he rules everything.”

America has democratized status-seeking. There is no subset of scheming aristocracy as opposed to hardy commoners that ‘know their place.’ You can call this good or bad, but it’s hard to deny it. We all now have the freedom and resources to seek our own power and security.

Even the common American has a luxury only noblemen had for centuries: the ability to claw his or her way up the social ladder, climbing over the broken hearts and souls of the weak, the slow, the “sinners,” and the outcasts.

We as Christians should be above this primal urge to claw and climb our way up. But too often, we are the chief participants. We keep up appearances and never admit weakness, not to our church “family.” We pretend our lives are fine, and our souls are spotless (aside from a vague spattering of socially acceptable sins).

We oppose anti-bullying measures because they partially focus on protecting gay kids. And we spend a lot of money making sure gay people don’t have the same legal rights we do.

We sometimes actively discriminate against people of other religions (try getting a teaching job in Mississippi is you’re openly atheist or Wiccan. The good Christian administrators will hire someone else, anyone else, faster than you can say “Christopher Hitchens”).

We rage against “welfare queens,” while asserting a rugged independence we manifestly do not possess. We lift our “self-made” wealth up like a bronze serpent on a pole, and look to it for our earthly salvation.

Jesus walked among the poor, the socially unacceptable (those the Pharisees called sinners, as if that brood of vipers weren’t worse sinners themselves), the sick, the outcast. He loved and healed them, including lepers (unclean), tax collectors (traitorous collaborators), a Roman Centurion (an occupying soldier, and worse, an unclean gentile), a Samaritan woman, the possessed, the insane.

But we too often stand with the vipers, the social climbers, with our feet on the necks of the least of these.

And that is unquestionably wrong.

No matter how many Bible verses we produce to prove a particular point, we can never justify turning the Gospel into a weapon, or a mere tool of social or political power.

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?

 

Things I Don’t Understand: When America Was Righteous (Part 3 of 3)

Homeless Child

In Part One, I broke down how no era, no decade in American history could really be referred to as “righteous.”  In Part Two, I spoke about the information overload that destroys our ability to not know about the evil the world, and how it pushes us to yearn for a simpler, more sheltered time.

I really think that’s the main emotional and psychological driver behind the “return to a more righteous time” meme.  But I’m being charitable here.  If I were being cynical, I’d say it’s just that people are angry at cussing on TV, and at “the gays.”  Kids these days!  Get off my lawn!

The truth is, even yearning for a simpler time is callous an inhumane. I can’t condone yearning for a simpler time, when respectable white people could be sheltered from the suffering of the brown folk.  Suffering that was often caused by  the respectable white folk.  “Eat your food: there are children starving in Africa.”  And African-Americans like Emmett Till getting lynched in America.

If our national morality rests on Mayberry RFD and stopping gay marriage, then we’ve already failed.   If our hope rests on  turning back the clock to a time when we could pretend we weren’t living in a fallen, broken, needy world, we’ve really failed. There’s a world out there that’s crying out in need.

For the price of dinner for two at Olive Garden, you could provide mosquito netting or school supplies that could mean everything to a child in Sri Lanka or sub-Saharan Africa.

If you want to make America a moral nation again, think of someone other than yourself .  Go to Worldvision and donate – sponsor a child or give a one-time gift to buy seeds, mosquito netting, school supplies, medical help, whatever.  Then go to Kiva and make micro-loans to help build businesses in the poorest countries, to build up their wealth and infrastructure so (in time) they won’t need our donations.

Your vote won’t make America a righteous nation again.  It can’t.  America has never been a righteous nation.  We’ve never been the hope of the world, the city on the hill.  Jesus is the hope of the world.

At our best, America has been an example to the world.  Our constitution with its bill of rights, freedom of conscience, and representative government gave birth to the modern democracy.  Nations across the world have followed in our footsteps, and been much better for it.  But remember, when the revolution was won and the constitution written, it only applied to white men.

 

It’s true that America’s been the world’s police officer, stopping rogue states and defending weaker nations from aggression.  Stepping up to fight the Nazis during WW2 was not only necessary, it was virtuous.  But even then, our soldiers were segregated, and thousands of Japanese were imprisoned without trial or charges, just because of their race.  We may do righteous things as a nation, but we are not a righteous nation.

America is and has been a great nation, an exceptional nation, but we’ve never been a righteous nation.  No nation ever has.  Even ancient Israel wasn’t.  They failed God time and time again, turning to pagan gods that demanded terrible sacrifices.  Solomon, that great wise king, enslaved foreigners to built God’s temple [2 Chron 2:17-18].  He sank to the level of the Pharaohs who’d enslaved Israel just a few centuries earlier.

Our nation runs on money and power, like every other nation in history.  The kingdom of God runs on faith, hope, and active, self-sacrificing love.  The best we can hope for is – as Christians, individually, and together – to be instruments of God’s grace and mercy within our nation, and beyond.

We can use our unearned favor, the wealth and power we have as Americans, to help those who suffer in abject poverty every day.  Whole families’ lives could be radically changed for the price of our cable TV fees.  We can use our time to reach out to our neighbors – our literal neighbors, not the circle of friends we have because they’re just like us.  We can take risks and build relationships with people who think differently than we do, look different, vote for the other side, are different ages, religions, and races.  We can try to love the world as Jesus loves us.

Maybe, just maybe, if we do all that, the world will look at us and say, “Hey, those Americans, they’re not so bad.  They actually take care of each other.  They even help the poorest of the poor, people who can’t pay them back.  I guess those Starbucks-drinking, McDonalds-eating, Wal-Mart-shopping folks maybe they are onto something.”

If we’re really lucky, they’ll say that about us as Christians.  No matter who you vote for, your vote won’t glorify God.  But your actions can.  Where your treasure is, there your heart is also [Matthew 6:21].  Will you put your treasure in the ballot box?  Will you store it in an idealized and inaccurate view of the past? Or will you give it to those who need it most?

The choice is yours.

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?