Saving Marriage?

I am teaching Old Testament Survey this term, and when I teach that course I always note that one reason to learn Old Testament is to have a background for reading English literature, which can refer to Old Testament terms and concepts. One text we will study in a couple weeks is  Leviticus 16, the Day of Atonement. The one term I have to explain there is “scapegoat,” since it is so well often used in the English language, even if it might not be included in the translation they are using. I was thinking about that when a blog that I follow referred to this blog post:  http://themattwalshblog.com/2014/02/04/ive-been-divorced-four-times-but-homosexuals-are-the-ones-destroying-marriage/Foc

 

Let me be clear: I tend to fall between the stools on
homosexuality per se. I agree that many, perhaps most, forms of same-sex
attraction are genetic or epigenetic in origin and thus intractable to therapy.
Thus they are a given at birth, and not a choice and not sinful. However, I
also agree with those who teach that same-sex sexual activity is “inherently disordered” (even from a natural law point
of view) and thus ought not to be engaged in. I do not feel a conflict between
the two statements, since I have a granddaughter who is now old enough that she
is sexually mature, but who, due to a genetic mishap, has a mind that is at
perhaps the 3-year old level. She will have, if she does not already have,
sexual desires (she does not have the vocabulary to express such desire), but
since she cannot ever give informed consent to sexual activity, much less
marriage, she will never be able to fulfill those desires. That is sad, but she
and we must live with her limitations, just as I must live with mine, i.e. with
the deck of genetic and epigenetic cards I was dealt. Still, I do think that
governments need to find ways in our HIPAA and litigious age so that people who
either because they have not chosen heterosexual marriage or because they
cannot choose heterosexual marriage and which people have a same-sex relative
or close friend (as C. S. Lewis and his brother did for years) to live with or
near are able to set up a legally recognized relational situation in which they
can make medical decisions for one another, in which hospitals and doctors
share information as freely with the other as with a spouse, etc. Monastic and
semi-monastic communities have long known that relationship did not require marriage
but that in our culture one did need a legal means of recognizing close
non-sexual relationships.

 

Still, if it should be that a government decides to call such
a legal relationshp “marriage,” given that in our part of the world it does not
regulate same-sex sexual behavior and given that it might view my calling such
behavior “inherently disordered” a religious sentiment and thus outside its
purview, I do not feel threatened. It is true that in such a case I would not
be performing such a “marriage,” but then I have as a clergyman a choice in
whose marriage I perform anyway and in fact am significantly limited by my
denomination with respect to which couples’ weddings I may perform. An agent of the government may have little choice, but
I am a representative of the church, not of the government. 

 

More importantly – and here is where the blog post referred
to above is relevant – I am convinced that the evangelical church’s position on
divorce has been far more damaging to marriage than any LBGT activity ever
could be (the Catholic Church has been far better at holding the line, even if
its bureaucracy due to its size makes the administration of its stance a bit
cumbersome).

 

This is not a new thought, for I have been asked to speak on
marriage and divorce issues for years. In every conference or workshop I can
remember where I have done so, someone tries to turn me into a rabbi who will
give a ruling on what is “lawful” in this or that situation.  Jesus had the same problem, you will remember.
But of course Jesus’ ultimate answer was to follow him to the cross, and I
believe that Paul suggests that the church should be willing to bear the
significant pain and cost of healing (which may include a type of re-parenting)
broken marital relationships (see 1 Cor 7, but also how he deals with church
conflict in Phil 4). I remember some years ago feeling ethically abandoned when
Focus on the Family came out with a statement on divorce that I thought “gave
away the farm,” but which was something of a conservative evangelical
consensus. In other words, the evangelical church has gradually followed
culture on the divorce issue (especially divorce and remarriage), partly
because it seemed unloving (and often was unloving because of how it was done)
to try to hold the line Jesus drew without putting significant time, energy,
and money into healing broken lives. And the church felt it had other
priorities. Instead of tough love backed by appropriate resources, one got
“sloppy agape.” And if your church tried to actually apply Jesus, there was an
equally evangelical church down the road that would allow what your church
would not.

 

So in my mind all the heat and energy directed against same-sex
marriage and “the homosexual agenda” is largely scapegoating when it comes to
“saving marriage.” As the blog post cited above shows, what is there to save?
Now, while HBU is incredibly diverse, we have at least a segment of our
population that may be a bit less concerned about the demise of marriage in
that Caucasian college-educated persons (who are well-represented in our
graduates) are the most likely to marry and to have children only when married.
But, whatever part of the HBU or other population one is in, it is not
homosexuals who threaten marriage, but our Christian evangelical heterosexual
loss of the concept of what marriage is and that marriage involves the cross –
it is not just a vehicle for self-fulfillment (Gary Thomas, Sacred Marriage, Zondervan, 2000, is,
however, one book moving in the right direction). And with this loss has come a
slow adjustment to our hedonistic culture when it comes to marriage and
divorce.  

 

*****

Two caveats: I am not in any way advocating that the
evangelical church should encourage people to remain in dangerously abusive
relationships – such individuals, adults as well as children, must be
protected. Healing (if it is possible) should be attempted only if those in
danger have been moved to safe and secure situations. And healing will take
immense resources both in providing a safe place for the individuals in danger,
a place where their economic needs are met, and in counseling interventions, if
such is possible. I might add that I have met situations in pastoral practice
in which I found divorce was the only available way to avoid potential abuse or
a repeated greater evils than divorce. My concern is that we often accept the
“lesser evil,” before committing the resources necessary to discover if this is
indeed the case, and we often fail to realize that in such cases we should be saying
that one or both members of the couple should never remarry.

 

Second, I am not advocating that one go back to the bad old
days when the church turned a blind eye to emotionally abusive situations or
thought that problems would go away with a bit of prayer (much like Jas 2:14-15
“be warmed and be filled”). I am talking about aggressive pastoral care that
heads off problems with appropriate ethical catechesis and spiritual formation
beforehand, that detects such problems with pastoral visitation, and that
provides possible healing for such problems when they surface through physical,
counseling, and spiritual interventions.

 

Part of the inspiration for this blog post,
besides the blog post cited above, was that my own alma mater, Wheaton College,
seems to have handled well a demonstration over a chapel speaker whom
homosexual and homosexual students found threatening. I do not know what went
on subsequently to this
post on the student newspaper site,
but what I read seems to indicate a
lack of scapegoating and a significant non-defensive effort to defuse
polarization.

2 responses

  1. I would really appreciate creating open dialogue here. Why don’t we open up discussion among your readers? I have a lot of nuclear imaging studies as evidence I would like to bring into discussion. Medicine can be closed minded but I think you will be open to the alternative view that homosexuality is indeed intelligently designed

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