Thursday, July 16, 2009

Thinking out loud

Over on Facebook, I am in good conversations with a couple of folks. One is a lesbian who is offended by my position on marriage, the other a fellow priest who is thinking out loud as well. They are giving me some good pushes to express what I believe (or am coming to believe in some cases).

In the course of those conversations, which have become pretty long threads, I have been exploring a few different ideas and I throw them up here only because they might be useful to your own thinking out loud. I don't claim that these are definitive answers, and I can see some "holes" in them, but I think that I am onto a few ideas worth sharing. In no particular order:

1) I'm struck by how little "Christians" make of the big gift, which is the presence of Jesus Christ in Word and Sacrament when we get together. Instead we are fighting over entitlements to clergy titles and ceremonies for our personal stuff. I mean, why should I need a certain aspect of my life "blessed," if the whole of my being is in the presence of the Father, through the Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit? Why are we fighting about this or that ceremony when we are invited to share the Body and Blood of Christ? Maybe that's why so many young people find church "boring" - the adults aren't even engaged in the great reality and dwell on trivia. That's why so many people speak of being "spiritual, not religious" - because the "religious" people have no vital spirituality.

2) I keep thinking of the Bible passage in which Jesus said, "The prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before the religious leaders, because the prostitutes know their need of God." Jesus hung out with absolutely everybody. His apostles, if you look at possible implications of their names and backgrounds, were an assemblage of people who would not normally mix. But here's the deal: Jesus didn't go around telling them, "OK, I'm gonna whip a ceremony on you and tell you that you're holy." He didn't say, "OK, because the religious authorities are too puffed up, I hereby consecrate all of these prostitutes, just as they are, as religious leaders too." (He could have - "temple prostitutes" were known in many of the old civilizations.) Nor did he declare prostitution a holy vocation to "affirm" the prostitutes. What made the prostitutes or any of us holy was a) recognizing that we've wandered far from God and b) recognizing Jesus as the Way back. If we demand all kinds of ceremonies and stuff to declare us holy, is it because we really don't recognize our own distance from God, and think we're entitled? Or is it because we don't recognize Jesus with us as the Way, and we think we need the other stuff? Something doesn't track in the LGBTQI( ) religious argument - it seems like puffy self-justification on the one hand or profoundly primitive anxiety on the other.

3) But the gays, lesbians and assorted other capital letters are not the "problem." The marriage mess is a straight problem. It was heterosexuals who decided on "trial marriage" and serial marriage, rejecting Jesus' description of a life long husband-wife bond established by God "in the beginning." (BTW that's the best counter when somebody justifies gay marriage with, "Jesus never said anything specific about homosexuality." The answer is, "Right, but he did say very specific affirmative things about what God created marriage to be.") But back to my point - if marriage is not what Jesus said, and it is just a temporary contract one makes for personal satisfaction, then why shouldn't gays or anybody of any description have access to it?

4) This leads me into my most contentious idea. At some point, churches have to either get out of the marriage business altogether, or else say, "We tried the cultural model and were cavalier about divorce and remarriage. We repent and from now on will not bless marriages for people who've been divorced." Two objections were immediate on the Facebook threads, a) what about all the hard cases, like people who were abused and b) how will we get those divorced people to come to church? My thoughts on a) are: don't base your standard on the hard cases. The 50% divorce rate indicates that most divorces are symptoms of poor relationship choices or skills, not emergencies. There can be gracious room to honor hard cases, but, let's face it, folks who know anything about abuse will tell you that a person who divorced one abuser will often find another one for marriage #2, or 3, or 4... How about a message of repentance and maybe the suggestion of a single life as holy? As for b): I go back to point 1 above. If we aren't reaching folks with the message of Jesus, if we have to "meet their need" in hopes of making them "come to church," haven't we missed the point? Which gets me into another thought...

5) Churches that grow spiritually and numerically often make significant, sacrificial and challenging demands of their people. Jesus spoke of a hard road to a narrow door that few find. His disciples are supposed to "carry the cross." But many of the old denominational churches have bought the common argument, "If we make demands, people won't come/will be offended/will leave." (That's in play with gay marriage, BTW - "If we don't allow it, all the 'young' people will refuse to come to church!") The favored clergy personality is people pleaser, not teacher and leader. The result is that these churches don't offer any compelling, life-changing message to unchurched people. Few people come and the ones that do tend to be high maintenance people sense the church's desperation to "find members to pay the bills." These folks need endless coddling while they make demands and take offense at things. Piss poor disciple material.

6) As you might discern, I am leaning more and more toward that great, vapory cloud of people who are "spiritual, not religious." The Episcopal Church talks about being this, but a "Presiding Bishop and Primate of All the Americas" or whatever the hell it's called, with a bazillion dollar secret budget to go around suing people, is the worst of "religion" as many folks understand it today. Institutional, self-serving, out of touch, ad nauseum. I'm tired of fighting over this or that little factions demanded rituals and affirmations when we can't even come up with a coherent message about Jesus.

7) But just for the record, let me say that "spiritual, not religious" is a bunch of BS the minute you name it as a belief system shared by two or more people. Jesus himself said that his spiritual presence would be real when "two or three gathered in his name," a point the Presiding Bishop was after before she got into stupid ideological comments about how personal faith in Jesus is "heresy." "Religion" is the shared expression of spiritual experience. The minute you say, "Hey, I meditate. Wanna join me every Tuesday at 2?", you're into religion. The question always becomes, "When are the externals of the 'shared expression' eclipsing the inner reality of spiritual experience?" The Episcopal Church is so overlaid with externals that I despair of it ever recovering life in the Spirit. And no, I don't for a minute buy the myth that the LGBTQI( ) subculture is inherently spiritual. 40 years in L.A., dude. They're just people - and they screw up spirituality with the best/worst of us.

8) OK out of gas for now. Maybe more later. Maybe not.


The Archer of the Forest said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Archer of the Forest said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Archer of the Forest said...

I have never been able to get a definitive answer from people who say they are "spiritual but not religious" as to what exactly that term means. Of course, having been a relatively recent grad of an Episcopal seminary, I also recoil at the use of the word "Spirituality" as it was often used in the same nebulous vein. I'd be interested to hear what your thoughts on that matter are.

As I understand the concept, its basically code word for "dabbling in spiritualism": burning candles, frolicking in the woods, etc. In other words, spiritually as a part time hobby that you dabble with like recreational drugs or like a "build your own radio" electronics kit but missing the instruction manual. So you pretend you are putting together something and look busy, but really it's just another form of entertainment, to be cast aside when the novelty wears off and you realize you don't have any idea what you're doing.

You can frolic in the woods and 'feel spiritual' all you want, but the truth of the matter is that a tree or a star or an eagle is not going to tell you its wrong to cheat on your wife. And interestingly, the more you do that, the more you will find that the "Great Spirit" or "Doobie Deity" or whatever starts to agree with you an awful lot in your personal and political views because detaching yourself from a religious community, you run the risk of creating a deity from the reflection of your own image.

Just my two cents before I rift off into a full blown pontification.

The Archer of the Forest said...

Sorry for the multiple posts. I just could not stand the typos in my first comment, so I had to fix it. I am just an old grammar/syntax curmudgeon, which is why I refuse to twitter.

Floridian said...

To have accepted the agenda apologetic propaganda terms, 'gay' 'lesbian' 'transgender' 'bisexual' 'sexual identity' 'sexual orientation' was a compromise of Scripture and makes the Windsor document, Lambeth resolution 1.10 a fatal mistake. In acceding to this agenda concept, the battle was lost.

Scripture does not exempt anyone on the basis of conditioned emotional physical responses. I Corinthians 6:9-11, Galatians 5:24 and Romans 1:18-32 are completely inclusive.

There are only two orientations: surrendered to God and His Laws and rebellion against God.

Scripture and tradition do not support being or remaining in communion with unbelievers, apostates or heretics.

Neither do Scripture and Tradition support having unbelievers, heretics and apostates in leadership as clergy or laity. The unrepentant and rebellious are supposed to be compassionately corrected and if they do not repent, they are set apart from the fold to keep from infecting the rest of the flock...unrepentant sinners are not allowed to teach, preach or serve in the church.

Anonymous said...

I posted on Fr. Dan Martin's blog "Confessions of a Carioca" on July 14th under the heading "A Brief Note" commenting that the acceptance of divorce by TEC was a beginning step that also had an adverse impact on other Christian denominations.

Interesting to read your much more comprehensive thoughts on the subject of divorce and the undermining of marriage in the religious sense. As I mentioned in the post, I am RC. The RCC does have more restrictions on divorce but, the American RC bishops have "gutted" these restrictions in an effort to become more "relevant" to American Catholics. The result: American Catholics' divorce rate is the same as the Americans who do not attend church. The Vatican is trying to rein in the dissolution of American Catholic marriages, but the damage has been done.

There is also an interesting article on marriage and divorce on the GetReligion blog under the heading "She Can't Say That".


Scott said...

Get a clue Tim. To these folks NOTHING matters but SELF.

TLF+ said...

LOL Archer - hey, Blogger is free, so we gets what we pays for. Your post is great, with or w/o typos. Thanks.

Floridian, you make a telling point. I think it is Amos who speaks of "justice going forth perverted", meaning "twisted or bent out of shape." By being unable to draw straight lines and submitting every last thing to long, twisting "dialogue", the AC has let sin infest in terrible ways. Jesus said when we get beyond clear "Yes and No" answers, everything else comes from "the evil one."

Scott - yep, they have become whores of the culture.

Anonymous said...

Speaking to one point, what do you want to do with the divorced/remarried that were accepted by the church? Demand they separate? Maybe even demand that they legally divorice! What if they have children, call them bastards?

Another facet of this, going strictly by one or two passages the first time one has sexual intercourse, that is their spouse. Made a mistake, wanna be a Christian, you will have to be celibate for the rest of your life even if you are 18. There goes that having a family stuff. Maybe the Shakers had it right.

TLF+ said...

Anonymous - that is the very important pastoral question.

No, they should NOT separate because, as you rightly point out, it only spreads the havoc and pain and sin.

What they will have to do (and I have had to do, because my wife was previously married), is have to humility to say, "Lord, we took part in a failed, worldly experiment that ignored your will. Thank you for your grace and mercy being greater than our sins." In other words, dump all efforts at SELF justification and rationalization and go to the cross, which is where the church should be focused.

But, going forward, the church must confess the failure, and stop doing re-marriages except in very rare cases that the Bible might support... and even then there should be more attention that some are called to be single.

We can't force everybody to be celibate. Sex is a powerful part of who we are, and people will experiment in all kinds of way. Because Christ has replaced the old "clean/unclean" code with his own blood, we need not observe the old "unless you're a virgin, you can't marry 'cuz you are defiled" concept.

But, rather take Spong's ideas and trying to justify and bless all this, let's be the church, hold out the standard that God has set, and all be equals under it. We can be a church in which all kinds of people, "working out their salvation in fear and trembling," can be one in Christ. And I include gays and lesbians in that - as I said, Jesus hung out with EVERYBODY. But he didn't bless everything and waste a bunch of time in Pharisaic justifications of their behaviors. Those who "know their need of God" are justified, those who stand in the Temple braying about their justification by GenCon resolutions exemplify the toxic way in which "relgion" pollutes grace, both for justification and for sanctification.

Anonymous said...

To "Anonymous" Unsigned... on the subject of marriage

... With respect, I don't think you read the thoughts on marriage as they were intended. They were questions ... asking us to re-examine our assumptions.


Anonymous said...

Thank you Fr Fountain for your very kind answer and elucidation upon the subject. I am someone who has a failed marriage where my ex spouse did step out of the relationship and was the one that wanted the divorce. The break-up was counseled by an orthodox Anglican who is now a bishop. He recommended the separation.

I have since remarried. My spouse is from a failed marriage. This current marriage was allowed by one of our orthodox bishops after counseling by an orthodox priest. We were told this is our one and only second chance in the Church. The sacrament was celebrated in the Anglican Church (it was TEC at the time).

I am particularly sensitive when there is even a hint of a call of excommunication of those who have remarried which is what I read in your question even if it wasn't there. There have been some rather prominent theologians and thinkers comment on SF, which I read too much, that have outrightly called for excommunication. Yes, I know that most New Testament Scripture puts not only a halt to remarriage but to divorce except for the one passage in St Mark which seems to leave an opening. I have studied the Roman and Orthodox approaches to the question. They both leave some room. I agree that divorce is deadly serious and that to be allowed, remarriage must be done under very serious pastoral direction. There are some who should live a single life and there are some who are called back into a relationship.


TLF+ said...

Anonymous - another good and major question. No, excommunication is NOT what I propose. In fact, just the opposite - we need to be celebrating that Christ gives himself to us. We need to celebratge his grace and mercy - that would be my message to the current lot of us (myself included, as my wife was previously married). Rather than justify a failed social experiment (serial marriage - which I confess is not what you are describing in your case), we need to rejoice in the altar and see that as much greater than trying to frame resolutions and such to sanctify wrong directions.

This is what I've found liberating, since I can rightly be faulted for being part of the divorce-remarriage culture. Not leaving my marriage, not leaving the ministry, not excommunicating myself or any "atoning work" on my part, but confessing my sin and accepting the mercy of Christ - with repentance from the old, dead work in which I was engaged.

Being abandoned by a spouse (sadly common under "no fault" divorce laws), like any other hard case, would have to be dealt with pastorally (and it sounds like you did exactly that, submitting the situation to the church for guidance).

I don't envision a situation where every last person who comes out of divorce can never remarry - but this would have to be by careful work within the church and should only be in the church for active members of the body.

Another fair question is: how to address someone who married and divorced as a pagan, subsequently became a Christian, and then meets someone and desires marriage. Tough question, since the person's coversion is a "rebirth," but the first marriage was part of God's design "in creation" and Jesus says, "It's adultery if the ex is still living."

Look, this is full of gray areas. It will, in some ways, be a draconian policy. "NO" to church pillars who expect a church wedding for their pagan kids. Actively suggesting that some folks lead a single life. Many "NO" responses to non-members seeking remarriage in a church.

But given that a great many people still seek second, third and more marriages in churches , churches have a powerful opportunity to resist the divorce culture by refusing to enable it.

Anonymous said...

Fr. Fountain,

Thanks again. You speak to the culture of divorce that is presently taken hold in our country. I now live in the State of Texas. This year the Texas Legislature wanted to do something to help curb the high rate of divorce. My first thought was let the State get rid of no-fault divorce. It was and is the worst idea they could have come up with. It is in the interest of the State to keep families together. By forcing someone who wants out of a marriage to provide a substantiative argument as to why the relationship should be dissolved would make couples reappraise (bad word in some quarters :-)) things and maybe get right with one another.


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