Dr. Strange Love or “How I learned to stop caring and love my neighbor”

Posted: 16/08/2011 in love, relationships, sex
Tags: , , , ,

Quick update:  This is one of those rare blogs that are a joy to write because of the comments its brings.  After reading this, please be sure to at least skim through the comments.  Then, please repost this on facebook, twitter, or whichever your prefer because the comments are worth reading by all in the Christian community.

 

As I type this, I am in Korea and making my last plans before I leave.  Soon I will return to Los Angeles county where I will attend a wedding.

Weddings, have been happening quite a bit over the last five years.  The tend to happen a lot after college.   There are two in particular.

The first wedding recently passed and it began the marriage of one of my life long friends.  This was a big step for someone who grew up in a divorced home since he was four.  The wedding had only a few friends attending.  It was at a location that was special to the couple.  It was the wedding they wanted, and not the one their families wanted.  You see, this couple -who had been co-habitating- decided that quick eloping was best because their families were simply making far to many demands.

The second wedding is an upcoming wedding.  It is from a couple that met at our Alma Mater.  Both of the families are two parent homes and have families that support their decision.  I do not doubt one bit that there are plenty of snags in the planning, but this couple is very blessed to have financial and emotional support they do.  Naturally, they are not co-habitating.

Now, which couple is most likely to be welcomed, supported, and approved by your church?  My hope is that you could honestly say “both equally” though we know in many churches this is not the case.  In some cases, a couple in cohabitation will be thought of as a pair of “seekers” who need to be prayed for and carefully instructed.  Other times, maybe they will be asked to leave.  There are, though, many churches that would consider such a situation a non-issue.  Though that is rare.

Whether we’re comfortable admitting it or not, we must look at the negative affects our Christian prescriptions have on people -and the moral prescription for marriage, sex, and cohabition is summed up in one sentence.  “Everyone should just get married young.”  Added in the fine print to the prescription are clauses like, “never marry a divorced person” or “co-habitation is faithlessness” and so on and so on.  It is proclaimed by everything from parachurches like Boundless.org and magazines like Christianity Today.  It is made to sound simple.  If there be any hardship, God will take care of it.  God will take care of it so well, that to not obey is inexcusable.

The more I think about it, the more I feel that this violates the command to love one’s neighbor.

The big problem is this:  There is nothing “simple” about a marriage and that problem is only worsen by making it “young” marriage.  But young marriages can succeed, right?  Yes.  Many young marriages do succeed.  However, it seems that those that do succeed will probably have an entire apparatus of support that many do not have.  Take a hypothetical example of two couples in their early 20s.  A betting man probably doesn’t want to place his chips on a couple from divorced families or unstable ones.  A betting man will put his money on a pair that comes with different background.  That background is two nuclear families that were emotionally stable enough to give the right model for their kids.  Also, both these families are probably going to be shelling out a bit for the wedding.

Now, that model has not been normal since at least the early 90s.  So why are people still willing to declare young marriage “simple”?  Most people who are reading this can think of not just a few, but probably several people they know in their early 20s who either lack the financial means to get married or are not emotionally prepared to do so.  Honestly, it seems to me that there might be good reasons why people would co-habitate rather than get married at 23.  Faithlessness isn’t the only reason.

Now, some may object here and rightfully point out that the beginning of marriage does not actually have to be expensive.  After all, a few legal fees and a visit to a courthouse is all that is actually needed.  The average cost of about twenty grand is actually superfluous.  While this is true, we have to wonder whether a secular institution -and yes courthouses are secular like the  rest of our government- can confer something that Christians believe is deeply spiritual and religious.  Boundless has had a few discussions about what makes a “Christian wedding.”  Does the courthouse visit meet the standards?  Additionally, is the wedding everyone deserves -imagine your ideal for the moment- something that is for everyone or a privilege for those whose families can pay for it?

Many others probably note that referencing people’s lives, hypothetical situations, and not citing scripture much on this issue.  This is because I was steeped in what’s called the “Wesleyan Quadrilateral” which states that the experiences of cultures and individuals will not only affect how you ask theological questions, but how you answer them.  This is not a purist, quasi-scientific, notion of sola scripture nor is it rigorous Reformed systematic.  I realize that there are many Christians out there who feel that a deliberate, consious effort to ignore the experiences of human beings in favor of a very strong  sense sola scriptura is the best the way to go.  The Bible, after all, should tell you everything you need to know about anyone.  While I do not share this view, it is probably at least logically consistent.

However, when I do think of scripture, I think of the command to love one’s neighbor as yourself.  It seems from Jesus’ ministry, that love was supposed to trump rules, laws and traditions.   When co-habitating couples are excluded from assembly or otherwise marginalized rules are probably more important than love.  For instance, I have heard rather callous, and knee-jerk, comparisons between visiting temple prostitutes in the world of Rome (see 1 Corinthians 6) and cohabitation.  In the minds of many Christians, these situations are morally and spiritually identical.  Yet I cannot help but feel that this is a violation of the commandment to love one’s neighbor.  The critics, in this case, have not so much as taken the time to ask or to understand why a couple might cohabitate.  Unless they do, they cannot truly know whether or not that couple sins.

Of course, many might think at this point this point that loving one’s neighbor is making sure that neighbor knows that they are not following God’s laws.  Furthermore, they must also know that God gives them the grace in order to follow such laws.  This seems odd because I am fairly certain that any evangelical or anyone who knows an evangelical knows what the evangelical (God’s?) laws are when it comes to sex, marriage, and cohabitation.  They probably don’t need to hear it.  Regarding grace, such an approach is the wrong meaning of the word.  “Grace” does not mean that God helps you follow laws so that you can have a good relationship with God.  Grace means you have a good relationship with God, regardless of how often you fail to keep certain laws.  To borrow from a Lutheran minister, heaven will be filled with failed Christians.  Why should anyone have to be a successful Christian to be welcome at a church?

Maybe if we really want these people who are co-habitating to get married, it might be a good idea to treat them better.

For sake of my own friendships, and for sake of my own conscience, I decided long ago that I wasn’t going to consider a young marriage somehow superior to co-habitation.  It is not that I do not think that a young marriage is not a wonderful thing.  It is that I do not think a marriage or a union is diminished by cohabitation or similar so called compromises or shortcomings.  I am simply no longer able to silently judge those who fail to follow an idealized moral prescription.  Love of one’s neighbor is supposed to transcend laws of holiness.

Some of the best relationships I have seen did not need the laws anyway.

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Comments
  1. Alexander says:

    This reminds me of one of my favourite stories told in a sermon. Surprisingly, it dates back to my Charismatic/Evangelical days.

    The pastor told a story about marrying a couple that had been living together for some years and had a little daughter, who, incidentally, was the flower girl in the wedding.

    At one point before the wedding he asked them why they’d waited so long to get married. The woman answered, with a bit of shame in her voice, that they’d wanted to have a beautiful wedding, but couldn’t afford it. The pastor said that, while it didn’t make what they’d done right, he had felt like a jerk for judging them after hearing that answer.

    While I no longer agree that what they did was wrong, I still admire that pastor for his ability to have a little understanding of their situation, even if he didn’t agree with their decision, and to acknowledge that he’d been wrong to judge.

    Understanding, compassion, and acknowledging one’s own guilt does not compromise one’s morals, but it does help with loving one’s neighbour.

    The couple didn’t need to be told that they were “living in sin.” They’d already decided to get married. They didn’t need to be told that what they had done was wrong. They were already a little ashamed. They needed to be understood, loved, and accepted as they were. Is there a more convincing apologetic than loving someone?

  2. Stacia says:

    Good post; I think it raises a baseline question of: What is love? Obviously God is Love, but how do we love others (as He loves them)?
    Instead of love trumping laws, I think it is more accurate to state: love IS the law.
    I feel like there is a false dichotomy between love and judgement. Love is the true reality, that which necessitates judgement (whether that be condemnation of human trafficking or affirming the pursuit of peace). It is God’s love that furiously hates injustice and jealously pursues His people (and disciplines those He loves).

    So I agree with your conclusion–our goal should always be to Love, for that is agreeing and embracing our redeemed Christ-like nature. Obviously I hope that no Christian community would snub co-habiting couples. That’s not love, and is just immature and stupid.

    It is love to care enough about a person to point out harmful habits that could endanger their life. I think that co-habitation is not Biblical (which is a whole other discussion that we could get into…), so I do think that letting a friend continue in that is actually downright mean of me.

    Again, how to do that depends on the strength of the friendship and if they already knew what the Bible says about marriage. the point is to LOVE THEM, not just preach to relieve my own conscience. But any way you slice it, true Love is offensive to the human heart b/c of sinful nature. Apathy is a whole lot easier.

    • joelgonzaga says:

      Stacia,

      Don’t be afraid to practice direct communication. Please post all the reasons that you think Cohabitation is not Biblical. After all, you have been very good at understanding what was shared here.

  3. Brandilyn Drake says:

    I loved this blog. When you are passionate about something, you do your best writing, Joel.

    I’m a fan of co-habitation. I’m also a recovering Evangelical. As an Evangelical, I married young at it was hands down the stupidist (is that a word? Hmm.) decision I ever made. I did not know him well, and one year into the marriage he did a complete 180. Stopped working. Stopped going to church. Played video games all day. For five years it was video games all day, arguing with me that I needed to accept him how he is, he would not go to counseling because there was nothing wrong with him; telling me I had the problem-I shouldn’t be so demanding and be willing to pick up the slack. Well, at first i was, thinking it was a phase.That went on, daily, while I did the “good Christian wife” thing, trying to tough it out, prayed for him every day, cried myself to sleep, worked 2 jobs while going to school to keep our bills paid, smiling at church that “any Sunday now he will be back”. Since I was gone all the time or sleeping when I was home, he developed a porn problem that I did not catch until WAY too late. (That makes it sound like my fault, doesn’t it? No, he lacked self-control, which is not my issue.) At six years, I said God, I wasn’t supposed to get married was I? You’re not going to “fix” Him, because you gave the asshat freewill. I too have freewill and hate my life, so I’m leaving. And I did.

    I decided to I’d like to NOT ever hate my life again, and to only make decisions that are well-thought out and weighted. So, when my ex-boyfriend asked me to marry him, I said we have to co-habitat first. Two months later, he quits his job, decides not to finish school, and JUST like ex-husband, played video games all day. He swore up and down he would change if I just gave him time, because he “loved” me. I gave him an ultimatum: Be husband material or we will not make it to that altar. Love is not just feelings, love is an action. I needed to know he would be the 24-7 husband I needed, but I broke up with him another 3 months later, because he did not fill out a single application during the “waiting period”, nor wouldn’t pick up the slack at home to make my life easier when I got a second job to cover his share of expenses and couldn’t be expected to do everything. Co-habitation saved me from marrying another asshat.

    So why am I co-habitating again? It COULD have saved me from an imprudent marriage had I utilized the resource, and certainly DID in another. Aaron though, is here to stay. He is amazing. He does not take advantage of my giving nature like the previous two-he certainly understands that marriage is a partnership. He gives, I give, and just like the waves of the sea, we flow, and it’s beautiful. Yes, it IS a trial run for marriage, I have NO problem admitting that, because I’m not going to make the mistake again of marrying someone who SAYS they love me, when they don’t, and just want to walk all over me because my INFJ nature is aka doormat. I’m protecting my heart, and if that’s sin, then I guess I took the scripture Prov 4:23 out of context.

    Thank God I have not run into any Evangelicals lately who feel like praying for me, lolz. I’ve yet to be told “You’re living in sin” but I know the day will come, since our marriage will not start for another 12-16 months, and I’m not moving out while I wait for that.

    • Kevin says:

      Brandi,

      Hey this is Kevin, Joel’s younger brother. I am glad you are able to share your story, own it and are turning a deaf ear to the judgments and legalism of the people around you. Growing up I probably received very similar teachings and promises regarding relationships, marriage and sex from the Church. Your story is but one of many that testifies to the failure of this overly simplistic teaching. You, and a number of my other friends, have paid a very high cost for the fact that these teachings and beliefs regarding marriage and sex exist and persist. The same people who encouraged you to marry too young now scorn you for knowing better!

      I am so glad that you have found a healthy relationship with Aaron and I do hope it works out for the best, whatever that ends up looking like for the both of you!

      -Kevin

  4. Brandilyn Drake says:

    Well dammit, I should have re-read that. I see a lot of mistakes. Sorry all.

  5. Scott says:

    Joel- So many points here I want to talk about. Where to begin?

    I don’t think the Bible says anything specific about cohabitation by itself, but I would agree overall that banishing or marginalizing couples who have made such choices is a stupid, shameful thing to do, and it is not what God has called us to.

    So like I was saying, cohabitation, by itself, is not prohibited as far as I can tell. However, premarital sexual activity usually accompanies cohabitation, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s where most evangelicals draw the line- either by making the assumption that it’s happening, or based on the sexual temptation.

    And to cover all bases (haha, let’s see if I can get to at least 3rd base with you guys), I think the Bible clearly establishes the appropriate order of events in a sexual relationship, right from the creation of man and woman in Genesis 2: “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.” It establishes from the beginning that husband and wife are to be joined, not just man and woman that have the hots for each other, or even INTEND to get married as soon as they can afford it.

    There are laws in the OT concerning premarital sex… and I know they are in the OT, but they establish that they are taken very seriously: Exodus 22:16-17 and Deuteronomy 22:23-24. One of the most telling passages to me, however, was actually Matthew 1:19, in which it says, “Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.” This little blurb shows he knew the law forbade premarital sex, but beyond that- even if he had claimed the child as his own, with the woman pledged to marry him very soon, Mary STILL would have been subject to public disgrace. In addition, Hebrews 13:4 talks about honoring marriage and keeping the marriage bed pure. So, from my perspective, premarital sex is pretty clearly opposed by scripture.

    As for just living together without any sexual activity, I don’t think it’s specifically prohibited, but in my opinion it’s unadvisable. I have great self-control, and back when I was engaged– wow, if I had lived with my fiancée… that would have been tough. The Bible has plenty to say about temptation. Jesus even specifically prays against temptation on our behalf. There’s also 1 Corinthians 6 in which it says (I’m paraphrasing) that while you may have the right to do things, not everything is beneficial. Flee sexual immorality.

    Ok, next. Judging. Christians are, in fact, called to judge in many specific ways. NOT in hypocritical or self-righteous ways, but the word “judge” is used very positively all over the Bible. Google it. There is a fine distinction… and this is just a blog comment, so I won’t really get into it too much here. I’m not really a scholar on the matter, either, but someone has suggested we use “discernment” as the right kind of judging (i.e. sorting out what is right and wrong), and “criticism” for the wrong kind of holier-than-thou attitude that many people assume all Christians have all the time. Searching the scripture for what the living Word of God says about an issue, then using that to identify what God has said about a specific behavior? Discernment. Following that person around in the street, pointing fingers and shouting their sins at them? Criticism.

    So what is our response when we have discerned that someone is living a sinful, or at least risky, lifestyle? Well, as you pointed out, Jesus often hung out with the outcasts and sinners of that society. Does that mean he condoned their actions? Absolutely not. When the woman caught in the act of adultery was about to be stoned, what did Jesus do? He challenged the men with rocks in their hands to examine themselves rather than blindly carry out the punishment according to the law. He showed compassion beyond the law… but he didn’t stop there. He said, “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8) It wasn’t just “make peace, not war, dudes” love here, He commanded her to STOP sinning. Even though he had just said he didn’t condemn her, he openly said she was leading a life of sin. If Jesus had been here and said that in 2011, the woman might’ve said, “I’ll do whatever I want, @$$#*%&, who are you to judge me?”

    So, I think our response is to know the law, and respond with compassion, as Christ did. To still welcome people who live outside of it. To show God’s love to them. And also, to discern what is right according to God’s word and to guide and instruct- even if it’s uncomfortable. Sometimes following His word seems grossly impractical in the context of our cultural constructs (wait until marriage, talk with your close friends about the sinful patterns in their lives in a LOVING way), but He always provides a way. God’s plan is for a purpose, and He knows better than we do. I take comfort in that.

    • joelgonzaga says:

      Nicely spoken, Scott. I’ll repost this on Google+ just for you. 🙂

    • Kevin says:

      Scott,

      I appreciate you taking the time to comment on this issue and want to offer some constructive criticism.

      I would agree that there are times when Christians are to judge, or discern, in a positive way. While we do not want to be hypocritical or judgmental, we are supposed to be wise and discerning.

      I would agree that sexual ethics is of serious concern in the Bible and Christians are called to avoid sexual immorality. While we are free in Christ, we should not use that freedom as a cloak for sin.

      In these two points bringing up the story of the woman caught in adultery is a perfect example from the Bible revealing the heart of the Father.

      However, I think how you define what sexual immorality actually is stems from an overly simplistic use of the Bible. You have selectively quoted from different biblical texts that were written at very different times to different cultures. This is problematic because the Bible says a lot more about sex than what you have referenced, the primary purpose of these stories were not to spell out exactly what sexual immorality was for all time and the fact that morality, ethics and cultural norms for marriage change (even within the Bible).

      I would suggest that while it is absolutely clear that we are to avoid sexual immorality, the actual definition of what constitutes sexual immorality is going to be influenced by a variety of factors that have nothing to do with what is recorded in the Bible, even for Christians.

      • Scott says:

        Kevin,

        I am not practicing for a dance recital. “Criticism”, whether constructive or not, feels like condescension here. Let’s just keep discussing. 🙂

        Can you show me anything that would suggest that sexual morality is truly relative in God’s eyes to the cultural context?

        I do recall passages of prophecy such as where the people are given over to all kinds of sexual immorality, and everyone did their own thing, turning away from the word of God. Sorry I don’t have the verses right now, but I believe the gist of that is mentioned a few places in the NT.

        I see evidence all around me of Christians turning to “reason” and “logic” as an alternative to what they deem as archaic forms of Christianity, and a simple turn of phrase like calling another’s use of scripture as “simplistic” seems to solidify their case. In reality, though, I wonder where the basis for that so-called reason and logic comes from. I have cited the word of God to make my case, and others have used rhetoric from their point of view. It sounds good, but it’s ultimately rooted in human emotions and desires rather than God’s truth… and that’s how we’ve stumbled into this morass in the first place. I have been there myself- “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths.”

        I would posit that while some minor things in scripture do need to be viewed through the lens of the culture, from what I’ve seen God’s word is unwavering on this point. If you can show me compelling examples to the contrary, I’d love to continue our discussion.

  6. Derek T says:

    as a cohabiting unwed gay non-christian (that’s the best intro ever, just fyi), I do whole heartedly agree with a majority of what I’ve heard christians say about relationships. That sex is best between two people, deeply connected in more than just a physical way. The hyper-defined line that any sex before marriage is wrong seems to be more an ideal meant to be reached for than a practicality of life.

    Everyone should strive to have a relationship that is a healthy balance of the whole host of difficult and complicated variables: love, support, faith, health, finances, children, careers, goals, dreams, sex…. to say that one couple has some inherent flaw because their genitals came in contact in the wrong sequence of events seems too gripped by rules and freed from analysis for me. And to react negatively, either actively or passively, against an unwed couple is to put in place a self-fulfilling prophecy that these relationships are doomed (because those around them seek to doom such relationships).

    But i guess that feeling is part of why i’m a cohabitating unwed gay non-christian. (just for context my boyfriend and I have lived together for about a year and have been dating for 2.5 years)

    • Kevin says:

      Derek,

      I love your comment, especially the statement that, “That sex is best between two people, deeply connected in more than just a physical way. The hyper-defined line that any sex before marriage is wrong seems to be more an ideal meant to be reached for than a practicality of life.”

      I have a very hard time condemning sex that is part of a long-term committed relationship. I think this is very different from committing adultery or engaging in casual sex with strangers and having one night stands. While marriage may or may not be part of that equation I think it is overly simplistic to suggest on one side of marriage, sex is a gift from God, but if they did not get the sequence of events right (as you put it) sex is a sin that nailed Jesus to the cross. This over-simplifies marriage and human sexuality too much.

  7. thejeqff says:

    Joel,

    There’s a lot I could say but I’ll just make one quick comment on cohabitation (since you already know most of my thoughts on pre-marital sex (which I don’t think exists) and what place sex has in a relationship).

    Having just completed pre-marital counseling, I’ll say this about cohabitation: it is in a no way an indicator of whether a marriage will be successful or not, and that is a major reason why I think it’s a bad idea. The illusion is that when you’re living together, you’re getting a sense of how you will be compatible in the same space, much like how friendships can change when you start living together as roommates.

    The thing is that marriage is 50 times more than just living together (as I’m sure Scott and other married couples will tell you). Marriage means sharing everything together, physically, emotionally, spiritually and financially. When you and I were roommates, we never really talked about our personal finances. We made sure we all footed our part of the bill, but I wasn’t concerned about the stuff you bought or vice versa. As long as we met our obligations, we were good. Marriage doesn’t work that way. And when it doesn’t it ends up in divorce (the two leading caused of divorce: arguments over finance and sex). That’s just one example, but it’s a big one. And I think living under the illusion that cohabitating will help people have a more successful marriage is just as damaging as other things couples can do prematurely.

    • Jin roh says:

      Thank you for commenting, Jeff! Yes, there were a lot of things that you do when your married (or even co-habitating!!) that you don’t do with a roommate! For certain, I’m sure nobody here believes that roommates = cohabitation = marriage. hahaha

      • thejeqff says:

        Right, and I wasn’t trying to argue that. I was more trying to argue why I think cohabitation is not only not smart but not safe. The argument most people give for cohabitating is that it is letting the couple know whether they are fit for marriage, and I think that’s completely absurd. Thus why I argued that living together is not an indicator of successful marriages, and that it’s dangerous to assume that it is.

    • Scott says:

      thejeqff,
      Can you clarify your position on what you mean about premarital sex not existing?

      My guess, and I could be missing your point completely, is that a designation of “pre-married” is too often used as an excuse to create some gray area where sex and other intimacy reserved for marriage *might* seem okay, whereas “married/not married” is a much clearer distinction. Thus, “extramarital” would be a more fitting term than “premarital”. Am I on the right track?

      • thejeqff says:

        No problem, Scott.

        I don’t think pre-marital sex exists because the Bible seems to make it clear that the act of sex is the consummation of marriage. There is something sacred and holy and binding in the act of sex. You brought up Genesis and I absolutely believe that that is our foundation for what sex is and what it does. So the idea of “pre-marital” sex is really a misnomer, because once two people engage in sex, there is something binding consummating taking place, bringing those two people together.

        That’s why I believe the Bible has very strong language about sexual morality and why sin committed in a sexual way is more strongly spoken of than any other act of sin. Extra-marital is a better way to put it. I think this is part of the reason why Jesus cautions about divorce potentially being an act of adultery: the couple was bound by their sexual interaction, and for either of them to have sex with another partner (if they did not divorce on appropriate grounds; I’m not sympathetic with the Catholic perspective that divorce is never an option period) would be an act of adultery. Sexual immorality, from my understanding, is perverting the sexual act, whether that’s through extra-marital sex or perverting the sexual act in some way.

        There’s my senior thesis in a nutshell. =) Hope that clarifies a bit.

  8. Kelly Mercer says:

    I’m not a biblical or theological scholar, and as far as the typical definition of Christian goes, I’m hardly even that. I was raised in a household with a mother that lives a more Christ-like life (in my humble and likely uneducated opinion) than many a Christian I have met and is yet married to an Agnostic.

    My approach to Christianity, given my father’s scientific approach to life, is a bit pragmatic. There was a time in my early twenties that I whole-heartedly believed that all sexual activity before marriage, regardless of the circumstances surrounding it was a sin. At the time, I was in a relationship and was sexually activity and it broke my heart in more ways that I could ever hope to count, but looking back I wasn’t broken because I was sexually active, I was broken because of the motives behind it. Sex was all that held our relationship together and I was so terrified of losing this person that no amount of guilt or remorse would stop me.

    I think that there is such a huge presence of material in the Bible that is against premarital sex not because the actual act in and of itself is wrong, but because we don’t often approach it with the appropriate motives outside of a loving committed relationship (be it sanctioned marriage or not). Sex is damaging when it is with someone that does not love you. Sex is damaging when there is no communication about the needs and feelings of the person you are having sex with. How could a God of love not look down on his children and weep when they are so hurt by such a beautiful gift that he has given us?

    So we need guidelines, but I don’t think the guidelines dictate that the act itself is wrong, just that we should be careful to treat it as the beautiful gift it is and being aware of this takes a maturity that many young adults (married or not) often don’t have.

  9. Scott says:

    It saddens me to see how many comments here are solely based upon “I think”. Is this what we, as Christians, have become? Is there no trust in the fact that God knows better than us? We have been called to a higher standard… that there be not even a hint of sexual immorality. And yes, there is practicality to it, but as I read the living word of God, I see nowhere that God says, “That’s ok, guys, you know better that what I have said… you don’t need this anymore.”

    We may not understand all of God’s commands, and some may not even make sense, but for all our human knowledge and purported wisdom, we are but babbling infants in the face of our all-knowing and wise God of the universe. How can we make such careless dismissal of this two-edged sword- the Word that countless generations have given their lives to preserve for us?

    • Kelly Mercer says:

      “We may not understand all of God’s commands, and some may not even make sense…”

      Doesn’t this mean that we have to “think” and interpret to the best of our ability given the knowledge we have of the Word as well as our own personal experience? I admitted that I am not a scholar but I did not admit complete ignorance and in all the reading that I did on interpretations of scripture I know for a fact that there were several well learned and theologically sound men and women who strongly disagree on the points in this blog and the comments thereafter.

      This isn’t to say that I believe you are incorrect, but I believe that Kevin has a point when he said that the definition of sexual morality is a somewhat difficult one to pin down from a biblical perspective. You may not believe so; you may believe that our attempts are just ways of reconciling our experiences with the Bible and are not based in scripture. But you said it best yourself in your second paragraph and you are no different than the rest of us: “babbling infants in the face of our all-knowing and wise God of the universe.”

      I don’t think that any of us identifying as Christian would disagree that God knows better than us. We’re all just doing the best we can to live Christ-like lives and we’re all fucking it up.

      • Scott says:

        “Doesn’t this mean that we have to “think” and interpret to the best of our ability given the knowledge we have of the Word as well as our own personal experience?”

        Certainly. And first, let me note that while my recent comment was directed in part to your comment, I was not intending to implicate you solely in my assertions. There is a surprising lack of scriptural basis for arguments in the majority of the comments here, even though most are claiming to speak from a Christian platform. I agree that I, too, have no wisdom beyond what God has given me (though I believe He has given me a small amount), though in comparison to His, I am but an idiot fumbling for words. This is why I back up my claims with scripture. You say you are interpreting scripture as well, though I have no idea which ones.

        Please believe me when I say that I wholeheartedly would like to engage in this conversation further with you and others on the topic. I hold no ill will towards you, Kelly, nor toward anyone else here, though I may disagree with you now or in the future. 🙂 That said, we can argue about how we interpret scripture ’till we’re blue in the face, but let’s actually share specific scriptures with each other instead of simply exchanging rhetoric, personal experiences, and painfully ironic expletives. I believe that if we seek God’s truth by seeking His Word, we have a better chance of finding real answers. And if not that, we’ll at least be in a better position to keep things civil.

      • Kelly Mercer says:

        Scott, My point is the same as the one you made about arguing about the meaning of scripture until we are blue in the face. For me it has been too long since I have done any studying on the cultural and historical significance of any passages to engage in any worthwhile conversation with you about this. I’m not even sure it would be a worthwhile venture in general as I don’t feel that either of could find a passage that irrevocably states our exact understandings in a concise and straightforward manner.

        Joel put together this blog as a statement about Jesus’ commandment to love thy neighbor, one of two commandments which he gave during his time on earth. What seemed to me to be part of the objective was to point out to the rule followers (the pharisees) that while they were upholding the laws and living righteous lives, that the rules were really about not hurting yourself or others. If you love God above all other gods you are putting faith in his plan for your life and ultimately avoiding hurting yourself. If you love your neighbors as you love yourself you are avoiding hurting them. The ten commandments and other scriptural laws of the old testament, for the most part, protect us from ourselves. This was my only point on my feelings about sexual immorality.

        I could easily have misunderstood things that I read and heard many years ago and could never hope to perfectly quote now (and don’t intend to try). And I apologize for the painfully ironic expletive. I did not realize the irony when I said it (which I oddly find more amusing after the fact), I simply use expletives on occasion as they seem to sum up my words a bit better in the right places. We all really do make absolutely monumental mistakes in our lives; I’ve made so many errors in my living I can only hope that the grace of God really is what I’ve been taught it is. But I apologize if my language was offensive.

    • Jin roh says:

      Scott, it was motivation to follow command #2 “Love you Neighbor as yourself” that inspired this blog. One of my favorite theologians explained that Aristotelian (worldly?) love says “like seeks after like” but that Christian love must go a step beyond and love was alien, different, and ugly.

      In the context of this discussion “like seeks after like” is that two middle class W.A.S.P. nuclear families produce the circumstances that allow the holiness laws to be followed simply; in this case the “young marriage” prescription that evangelicalism lauds.

      What is different alien, and ugly, is the couple whose parents were divorced, thus profoundly affecting their views of marriage. It could easily be a couple who do not have the funds to get married. It might also be families who do not approve of a union or so on and so on. Any number of these things would make the marriage ideal difficult, if not impossible, to follow. The impression I get from the evangelical parachurches on this is usually something like, “oh that’s so sad, but you know what God will find a way. They must be so faithless to cohabitate like that….”

      In my own experience (as in, when I shared the perspective of the parachurches), such a response/attitude is a tacit failure to love’s one’s neighbor and one that prioritizes rote obedience to rules, rather than allowing rules to lead to greater Christianity charity. In fact, if I read the Bible, and come to conclusion that would encourage me to act insensitively, heartlessly, or otherwise uncharitable to anyone, then I surely have misunderstood something about that passage of the Bible.

      It is also worth mentioning that Hosea married a prostitute.

      Regarding the verses you cited, there is huge cultural gulf between what we think sexuality and marriage in our time and what it meant in the Bible in the OT. My brother can probably expound that, but here’s a few questions: When you got married was it arranged by your parents? Did you pay a dowry to help her parents retire? Did involve the legal exchange of land or livestock? Did your family form a political alliance? Are you producing many sons to defend your clan against the barbarians?

      • thejeqff says:

        Joel, just a couple quick things.

        Really quick, referencing Hosea is treading on a very tricky area just because the content of Hosea is surrounded in mystery and debate. Suffice it to say I don’t think either Hosea or scholars believe that Hosea is written to be a model or even anything comparable to a marriage. It’s an illustration of an entirely different subject.

        Concerning the cultural gaps, on the one hand I do think you have a point, but on the other hand (particularly in the New Testament but also in the Old), the Bible is much more counter-cultural than it looks on face value. Take Song of Solomon for example. Highly underrated book on sex, love, and marriage, and very, very different from standard understandings of ancient marriage rituals. Even the creation story in Genesis offers a counter-cultural perspective on marriage. For surrounding cultures, your points are definitely valid, but I do think the Bible does offer something beyond a culture-bound interpretation of ancient customs.

  10. 3abdulmesii7 says:

    I dealt with something like this issue myself. It boiled down to this: either I am right, and ~1,950 years’ worth of Christians were wrong, or I’m wrong.

    Option 2 seemed far more likely.

  11. Adam Goyer says:

    Great insights as always Joel. Dustin had some great thoughts on the matter as well. You might ask him some time. I’ll try to expand on his framework in my own – sarcastic – words.

    We let women vote now, they can own property and we rarely banish non virgins from our villages or with hold dowries dooming them to lives as poppers or prostitutes (at least not in polite society). With birth control and medication we can limits the social and biological risk factors surrounding sex. We don’t hassle lepers any more, we let women be among us while they cycle, very few of us cut off our hands or pluck out our eye when we sin, we can touch dead bodies with out offering sacrifices and I hear that even in Corinth some women are going with out head scarves these days.

    If Society has evolved, and our understanding who God is and what he’s about in our world has expanded – who’s invested in keeping these old view alive?

    Also, the public health stats referenced in the Relevant Article you sent me are fantastic! – the thinking on this issue among young Christians is basically decided – it’s clear in actions, and in surveys, in anecdotal stories of pastors noting that couples coming in for pre-marital counselling have the same address on their sign in sheets, and the rates of sexually transmuted disease documented at the health centers of certain prominent Christian Universities that we know and love, it’s just kind of a public secret at this point. No matter how we feel about it, good, bad, holy, indifferent, condemned or guilty – Sex is happening.

    Thanks!

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