A key biblical image to describe the relationship of God and chosen people/church, the spirituality of marriage deserves more attention. Not just the spirituality of sex, though sex matters. These posts also include reflections on current social debates.
“Biblical marriage” is more complex and more rewarding than misleading infographics or neat slogans suggest, it should ideally reflect the nature of the Creator God.
Their wedded state is a huge part of what makes a married person who they are. So, marriage has huge spiritual importance.
Tim Bulkeley was presented with an Unsung Heroes Award for his teaching on the theology of family at a ceremony at the NZ Parliament Buildings in 2016.
Please note the scare quotes, Richard Beck is not an outsider, in church he is a committed leader, in the blogsphere he is a powerful voice. Yet, the debate about gay marriage has been framed and is largely conducted in the light of stances taken by professional biblical scholars, systematic theologians, ethicists and pastors. Richard is a psychologist, but one with a fine and catholic understanding of the Bible and christian tradition. As a psychologist one of the striking features of his theological writing is how he keeps rooting it in experience.
With that introduction (though I have been linking to Beck since 2006), here’s why you should read him today in The Icons of God in Marriage: Nature and Election he reframes the debate about gay marriage in ways that I find interesting noting what each “side” does to talk of the image of God in marriage. I had not thought about it that way, and I think the thought is worth more time for reflection.
NZ Christian Network have begun to produce a series of thought starters. Aimed to fit on one double-sided sheet of A4 (in PDF format for printing and folding). The goal is to be simple, clear, and to start people thinking. They call them “Notes“. So far they have:
S14-01 Secularism 101 – What it is, why does it matter and how to address it
M14-01 Marriage – Why it matters, where it’s heading and what we need to do
M14-02 Marriage – Towards a strategy for Building a Healthy Marriage Culture
S14-02 Secularism is religious – A gospel by any other name
M14-03 There’s more to marriage! – Is marriage for you?
The format is great for people who still live in the print age (like many church people, especially those too old to have grown up in the Internet and mobile ages).
Since I wrote the last one, I am delighted that they are also making them available in a format that’s more user-friendly for the e-age. As blog posts (with a Feed if you want to subscribe, mine is here, I hope the others will be appearing soon :)
Looks good to me on laptop, tablet and phone, how about you?
Paul Windsor had a fine post a few days ago, on living alongside the poor which should be required reading for anyone who will be living, moving or having their being where others are poor. This means all of us, unless we hermetically seal ourselves away and shut off the Internet.
Then this morning I read Richard Beck’s Widows and Orphans: On Evolution, Election and Love. Two posts that each gain depth from being read together :) If you have read one but not the other, please do read it now. If you have read neither, you have a double treat in store and plenty of thinking to do!
Paul is a Kiwi Evangelical living in India, who grew up as a MK in India, and trying to negotiate how to live, move and have his being in a place where the poor (often the extremely poor) are always with him. Richard is a psychologist who thinks deeply and creatively about Christian faith and life. Both will teach you much, and both will make you think and pray.
Two items relating to (mainly male, but see below) sexuality have been appearing on my Facebook feed. Together they have prompted this reflection, even if it should confirm Netguardian in their decision to filter this blog.1
The first concerns a man who during, a “mission” to free children and women from enforced prostitution2 committed the sin of adultery. This is the article Undercover investigator’s harrowing story. The issue being discussed was whether like Hayden Donnell (the author of the piece) we should see the man as a hero, or as a villain. Basically and crudely do we focus on his sin which (the story implies) wrecked his family, or on the children and women his actions save from degradation and suffering.
The other was a video, little discussed, “shared” and sometimes “liked” but not discussed:
Yet does this video not raise more and more practical questions?
It seems to me that the research Jessica Rey cites (which I have not seen and am taking her word for, unless you know differently) describes the male human as sinful (i.e. subject to the power of Sin, in this particular case leading, if not effectively resisted, to sexual sins)3 As many commentators on the “undercover investigator” article noted sex is indeed a besetting sin of (many or most, at least) male humans. The video also implies, however, that there may be a complementary female besetting sin, of seeking to arouse male lust. This notion is of course abhorrent to many/most women: Can’t you men control yourselves?!
The short answer is we can, and some of us (so far) have, but your actions and the general behaviour our society finds acceptable do not make it easy. Cheap, ubiquitous, multimedia communications exacerbate this problem. We have this problem because our society refuses to recognise that humans are sinful, inclined towards wrong. To cling to the, demonstrably false, notion that humans are ‘naturally’ good does us all a disservice. It contributes to the sexual slavery of women and even children, and also to the different (and yes, less severe and self-inflicted) sexual slavery of (many) men. 4
A friend told me yesterday that he was unable to access the posts below as Netguardian perceived it as falling in the category: “Category: Pornography Description: Sites that portray sexual acts, activity, nudity, toys, stories/writings, beastiality, fetishes, videos, etc.”
This has been appealed and hopefully this post will not confirm their view that my blog should be filtered.
NB: I am not complaining about Netguardian, such filter services are useful for reasons that the post above should make quite clear. [↩]
By gathering evidence to present to the authorities. [↩]
NB. I distinguish here, ‘Sin’ using an initial capital, as the power which Paul says is at work in us undermining our best intentions and releasing our worst, see e.g. Rom 7, and ‘sin’ some particular wrong act which hurts us and/or others. [↩]
In view of conversations I’ve had recently with some of you, you may find this interesting: The Christian Purity Culture: More From The Atlantic Interview Richard is always thoughtful, usually thought provoking, and often spot on (IMHO). He approaches faith and theology from his professional background as a Psychologist, but one with a strong grounding in Theology and a deep faith.
I’ve been watching the debate over the marriage equality bill with growing horror. Somehow the skill, humour and gentleness with which the “other side” has argued the case “for” has provoked many in the “Christian” camp to excesses that sometimes do deserve the accusations of gay bashing.
Of course the churches were on the back foot. Those Christians, that opposed the bill did so largely because they believe that Scripture teaches that homosexual activity is sinful. Without that conviction few have such clearly defined understandings of marriage or sex that they could bear the weight of the discussion. Yet by and large our society sees “sinful” as a positive adjective (“a sinfully rich” chocolate dessert anyone?) and the Bible as an outdated set of rules from a bygone age. (That both these views are dangerously false does not change their widespread adoption, or the fact that Christians cannot argue in the public square against gay marriage on the grounds that “the Bible says homosexuality is sinful”, and expect to be listened to.) Given this inability to argue from Scripture the public arguments offered have been tortuous and often false. (Gays getting hitched will somehow destroy the meaning of heterosexual marriages, anyone?)
This, plus preparing to talk at Hillcrest Baptist on Sunday on “Gay Marriage”, has made me even more aware that, over the last century or so, the world has shifted on issues of sex and marriage and that Christians have by and large reacted, and often merely allowed themselves to be swept along by the social currents of the day. Before the current bill was passed the definition of marriage had already been changed drastically by reforms of divorce laws, changes in attitudes, language and habits have made sex merely about “pleasure”, and marriage about “self-fulfillment”, or (romantic) “love”.
The Pharisees cling to the old certainties and denounce the sins of others, while the Sadducees happily slide into the behaviour of the world around. The standard of the internal Christian discussion of the issues seems to amount to little more than one side bashing the same half-dozen Bible texts over their opponents’ heads, while their opponents suggest that somehow the changes in “culture” (seldom much more carefully discussed) mean those same texts are irrelevant. Either way the Bible loses its authority. The “Fundies” make Scripture a laughing stock, and the “Liberals” simply ignore it.
My response to the passing of the Bill? Christians need to take seriously the need to teach themselves and each other to read and interpret Scripture, and not merely treat it as a “promise box”, or an armory full of convenient one-size-fits-all clubs.
I have not written much about the Marriage Equality bill, despite having written and podcasted a lot about marriage. My views on the topic are like many other people’s conflicted. I do not like to see people discriminated against. I hate “hate speech” (and much “Christian” commentary on this issue seems sadly willing to flit in this direction). But there seems to me something about the nature of marriage which is lost if it is redefined as merely a social and sexual relationship.
However, if anything was likely to tip the balance of my thinking away from the current bill it was this:
Take first the most prominent feature, the photo. It features two unidentified, but good-looking young women, of the sort used to sell cars, booze and other commercial products that need something more than reason to push people (especially, but not only, men) into buying.
The women being used here to sell “gay marriage” are unidentified because, apart from representing the Herald’s preferred image of “gay marriage”, they seem to have nothing to do with the story.
Now take the second most prominent feature, the headline: “Gay marriage: Shock poll”. The word “shock” is chosen to suggest that something dangerous or otherwise undesirable has happened, and that it was a surprise. In what way is it a “shock” that there is an indication that people may be changing their minds on this issue? It’s been discussed quite a bit, featured in print and TV quite a bit… why is movement in public perception a “shock”? Quite simply because the movement is in the opposite direction to the one the media (almost without exception in my experience) has been suggesting we go. The early coverage, when the bill was announced, featured a “conversation” between another good-looking (though probably away from TV lights and makeup not so young TV presenter and my colleague Laurie Guy. Well-known personality versus unknown scholar, experienced TV presenter versus rank amateur… somebody wants to influence us! I wonder in which direction?
I don’t take kindly to people in power telling me what to do and think!
That’s why my schooling was such a mess, but that’s another story… this “debate” has been stacked by the media from the start. They have pushed a clear and consistent message: “Gay marriage is good”. Now they are “shocked” to find people might be thinking differently. So shocked that the only explanation can be: “scaremongering by religious groups”.
Come on NZ media moguls! I don’t know what I think about “marriage equality” but I do know what I think about people with power using that power to push their agenda. And the stink of dying journalistic ethics is dreadful!
There an interesting post on (the conservative and right-wing) Contra Celsum, titled The World’s Largest Daisy Chain, which explores the mathematics of redefining marriage. I’d be really interested to see responses to the core idea ;)
It’s a funny old world. We all applaud the slogan “A dog is for life, not just for Christmas”, but we can’t take marriage for life.
Something does not compute.
I think it’s the way we have got the cart before the horse and think marriage is about “being in love” rather than about making love (not in the euphemistic sense) but generating and maintaining love over a long haul.