Wednesday, August 24, 2011

the fallacy of the recent legalization of marriage

One defense for the legitimacy of sacramental marriage without a legal marriage certificate is that the civil marriage is a recent invention in humanity's existence. Legality is simple when times are simple, but as a society becomes more complex, new realities arise over time, and more socialist, an entity that redistributes wealth, law must follow to provide enforceable, fair and consistent justice for its citizens. This 2007 NYT opinion piece by Stephanie Coontz sees the same things, but arrives at the opposite conclusion. She opens with this question,
WHY do people — gay or straight — need the state’s permission to marry? For most of Western history, they didn’t, because marriage was a private contract between two families. The parents’ agreement to the match, not the approval of church or state, was what confirmed its validity.
My thinking is that families could enforce the maintenance of justice in the marriage or divorce. Some societies today still use the dowry system as a means of enforcement. Coontz goes on to say the church in Europe also began to fill in for families, but then, unlike today, the church had tremendous political might and could enforce justice, unless resisted by an equal and opposite force, such as Henry the 8th, a certain king of England. A minister today can choose to only marry people sacramentally, but cannot adjudicate a divorce and decide on things like alimony or child support or garnished wages with any authority.

There is no dispute that racism in the United States was a contributing factor in the development of marriage licenses. But states that did not seek to prevent miscegenation were also issuing licenses as well. While anti-miscegenation law is a stain on the history of marriage licenses, it is not the sole reason for marriage licenses. With government benefits come the simplest means to distribute them. Coontz writes,
But governments began relying on marriage licenses for a new purpose: as a way of distributing resources to dependents. The Social Security Act provided survivors’ benefits with proof of marriage. Employers used marital status to determine whether they would provide health insurance or pension benefits to employees’ dependents. Courts and hospitals required a marriage license before granting couples the privilege of inheriting from each other or receiving medical information.
It's not as if these delineations arose out of a vacuum. I know of a situation where a hospitalized spouse was incoherent. Both the spouse of 15 years and romantic interest of 1 month showed up at his bedside. The possession of a marriage license made it simple for proper authorization to partner in medical decision-making. Certainly, the sick spouse made life complicated, but the license simplified it. This serves as one very real counter example to Coontz's penultimate assertion,
Possession of a marriage license is no longer the chief determinant of which obligations a couple must keep, either to their children or to each other. But it still determines which obligations a couple can keep — who gets hospital visitation rights, family leave, health care and survivor’s benefits. This may serve the purpose of some moralists. But it doesn’t serve the public interest of helping individuals meet their care-giving commitments.
It's complicated examples like mine that demonstrate this is not simply a "purpose of some moralists". In the 1300's, there were no complicate medical decisions. A spouse got sick and either lived or didn't live. There were, however, inheritance laws that provided for legal children, but not those of extra-marital affairs. The second category of heirs, had to be provided for with prior intention by the father by investment in a last will and testament, which is personalized law.

Coontz offers a couple examples of privileges not afforded to the co-habiting,
A woman married to a man for just nine months gets Social Security survivor’s benefits when he dies. But a woman living for 19 years with a man to whom she isn’t married is left without government support, even if her presence helped him hold down a full-time job and pay Social Security taxes. A newly married wife or husband can take leave from work to care for a spouse, or sue for a partner’s wrongful death. But unmarried couples typically cannot, no matter how long they have pooled their resources and how faithfully they have kept their commitments.
"Faithful commitment" is difficult for a court to determine, and, really, an expensive burden on society and taxpayers to invest in determine, when the simple marriage license, inexpensively and simply provides that information. If a co-habitant is unwilling to use the simple acquisition of a marriage license to entwine themself as kin to the other co-habitant, then why should the state assume the reticence was not without cause and therefore not award survivor benefits? But someone who affiliates as kin, is presumed to be mutually committed, and, hence, deserving of survivor benefits. If our society was not as socialist, without the social safety net we currently enjoy, then I could grant Coontz that the country needs to take a step back from licensing. But licensing addresses complexity. Perhaps she would like to see additional licenses, such as the Netherlands, which has three arrangements; marriage, registered partnership or a cohabitation agreement. Again, in a complex society, complex legal arrangements are efficiently offered without a moral component. But it's only amoral in one dimension, gender blind and religious commitment blind, but it's fully moral in how property rights and kinship rights are understood. Morality is an essential part of marriage. Knocking off some moral parts while only keeping others only weakens marriage, as institution, not strengthens it.

If a couple decides to forego the license, when they have it as an option, it declares something about their commitment and trust. They are rejecting the privileges that are legally reserved for each other. They are declaring they don't want to pass on their property rights upon death. They are declaring they don't want visitation or medical direction from their partner when their own health is at great risk. That is their freedom to declare. But why would a Christian deny those privileges to their spouse?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Tony Jones's sacramental (but not legal) marriage

Addendum May 2013: Dr. Jones announces his attention to civilly marriage.

Back on January 4, 2010 Tony Jones PhD, recent author of The Church is Flat and resident theologian of Solomon's Porch--an ecclesiastical community in Minneapolis--posted a call for clergy to get out of the Legal marriage business. He thought it incongruous for the church to act as agents for the state. He writes,
And most problematic, from my perspective, is that the clergyperson, with the stroke of a pen, makes legal a contract that s/he has no ability or potential to end. And, having gone through a divorce, I can tell you that extricating oneself from the legal contract that is marriage in our society is no mean feat. And the clergyman who married us was, understandably, not around to help unravel what he had helped establish.
It kind of sounds legit. His further intention was to lower the barrier for gays to marry; somehow. I'm not sure how. I have gay friends in Connecticut who were sacramentally married by clergy long before my state passed its civil union law (later becoming a gay marriage right). One couple I know of are still together, even. So I am not sure what his hopes entailed. Perhaps he hoped for a Latin America model, where the couple gets legally married at town hall, then heads to the church for a sacramental wedding.

On January 5, 2010, Andrew Jones, the Tall Skinny Kiwi and former colleague of Dr. Jones, responded to this idea with a tweetable sentence, then a longer explanation in the comments. Twitter version, "I read your post from yesterday that recommends clergy refuse to do legal marriages. I thought it was unorthodox and threatening to marriages.Your post on marriage was disturbing and controversial." Comment explanation,
why did i find tony's post unorthodox and disturbing?
unorthodox because the VAST majority of church leaders would probably NOT join Tony in his crusade to "refuse" legal marriage. its what they train for and its what they do.its a pretty cool part of the job, actually.
disturbing because the idea of sacramental wives and legal wives sounded just like the heresy in Germany that has decimated a particular 'emerging' church movement and taken away a few thousand of their numbers into this wacky movement that promotes, among other things, a way for leaders to add spiritual wives to their harem.
having said that, i asked a German friend from the movement (Peter Friesen is here with us right now) that saw this heresy and there is actually no connection at all with USA or Tony but warning bells went off anyway and and the post seemed to lessen the value of the legal wife which is always a concern to me . . . then one of the commenters on tony's post says that divorce is what needs to happen for people to heal, grow and truly love for a moment there I thought I smelt something so yes, it was disturbing . . . and unorthodox.
Now I hear echoes of Joseph Smith's wives, some of whom were legally married to someone else when he married them, and the fruit it still bears today in the case of Warren Jeffs, who had 78 wives, of whom, I guess, he spiritually married 77 of them. But this craziness doesn't have to happen if the clergy will only perform marriages recognizeable by the state. There's craziness on the other side if the state seeks to meddle in a marriage approved by another state, see Loving vs. Virginia, which dealt with Va.'s felony law against interracial marriages. There are clergy in states without civil union or gay marriage laws that will officiate at gay weddings. There are clergy in states with civil union or gay marriage laws that will not officiate at gay weddings.

Here's where it gets weird. Dr. Jones has decided to have a heterosexual marriage in a church, but without the state, sans marriage license. Here is his twitter promise from May 31, 2011 held:

Tony Jones
jonestony Tony Jones

.@MHMorgan But we are not getting legally married until you can. We are getting sacramentally married.@CoPerryPhoto @swancommarachel #glbt

I confess that I can't understand this statement, "We are getting sacramentally married." Is it sacramental, if, legally, they are co-habitating, and, hence, without consequence or repercussion, legally, if they "sacramentally divorce"? Does being in a sacramental (only) marriage, necessarily lead to the polyamory that Andrew Jones described in the particular German sect he described? Of course not, but when Dr. Jones decides to open the conversation about polyamory in the church, as inspired by gay columnist Dan Savage, (to which I added my two cents) that weird option seems less remote. I'm not making an accusation, but I think a warning is called for, and Andrew Jones made one 18 months ago.

May 9, 2011
But it gets more complicated because Dr. Jones is now an adjunct faculty, leading a Doctor of Ministry cohort for Fuller Seminary, an historically evangelical institution. As such, it has Community Standards for its staff. It recognizes that divorce happens, and they assert their right to evaluate the reasons for a divorce before employing, or continuing to employ someone (see section iii). It also takes a traditional stance on sexual expression through heterosexual marriage only.
Fuller Theological Seminary believes that sexual union must be reserved for marriage, which is the covenant union between one man and one woman, and that sexual abstinence is required for the unmarried. The seminary believes premarital, extramarital, and homosexual forms of explicit sexual conduct to be inconsistent with the teaching of Scripture. Consequently, the seminary expects all members of its community--students, faculty, administrators/managers, staff, and trustees--to abstain from what it holds to be unbiblical sexual practices.
This seems straightforward. But does this leave wiggle room for those, like Dr. Jones, who are only sacramentally married? It seems that Fuller can bring on anyone as adjunct faculty even if their orthopraxy is in doubt.

Are orthopraxy and orthodoxy related? Dr. Jones contends it does in his blog post mentioning his job with Fuller, Practice precedes doctrine. I don't think I agree on precedence to one or the other, but a symbiosis, see the Theotokos debate in the early church. I think Pelikan's treatment is sufficiently thorough in his series on the development of doctrine, especially the second volume.

Dr. Tony Jones is a teacher. James warns us in his letter, Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, because you know that we will be judged more strictly. James 3:1 James spends most of his time on orthopraxy. So is this unorthopraxis approach to marriage a tempest only in my teapot or does it affect the church at large? I don't know. But as a teacher, someone of influence, does Dr. Jones really want to influence other believers to not legalize their marriages in order to support another's cause, in his case gay marriage equality? Is it that different from encouraging fornication, something the Bible as well as the Didache (an early Christian document he wrote about) warn against? The civil marriage license is a public declaration of care and provision for one spouse with accompanying obligations to that spouse if one dissolves the union. Even the wiki definition of marriage can't avoid a traditional approach. I hope Dr. Jones reconsiders his theological position on this.

update: Dr. Jones has started a series defending this decision. He hasn't touched any of these issues I subsequently wrote about.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

book report: fathermothergod by Lucia Greenhouse (2011)

I don't know if this genre of books exists, but I would call fathermothergod by Lucia Greenhouse a spiritual horror story. I confess to enjoying Stephen King for a while and his horror fiction, but his writing had nowhere near the effect Greenhouse's memoir did on me. The night I finished the book, the last half of it in one night, past my bedtime, I ended up having a nightmare being trapped in Christian Science.

Her father became a church practitioner, someone who prayed for and encouraged sick members, trying to help them get rid of their perception of illness, which founder Mary Baker Eddy denied was reality. To her, only the spiritual is real, and the physical is illusion. He tells her, “Lucia, dear, you know we don’t discuss symptoms in Christian Science. It doesn’t support the healing process.” So when the practioner's daughter wants to get eyeglasses, he felt threatened. I remember my Eyeglasses Rebellion and, more recently, the acrimony I created by announcing my intention to get health insurance after college. “That’s just a slap in my face!” he had wailed. “A stab in the back!” Greenhouse never joined the church and grew more and more disillusioned with it as her mother, in her early 50's, got sicker while both parents denied anything was wrong. What is right about a "faith" community that neglects a member who seeks medical help? Soon, the shunning would be felt. I didn’t have to grow up Episcopalian or Lutheran to know that church communities typically rally around their members with flowers, hospital visits, and Prayers of the People at times of personal or family crisis, none of which will be forthcoming. The ideological commitment of her father, that anyone or anything could be to blame for the illness and its consequences except the teachings of Christian Science, is horrific. He minimizes the children's visits to their mother, to minimize their negative thoughts which might hinder the healing they are praying for. The wickedness repeats when, years later he is hospitalized and the children are denied visitation to protect his healing.

Greenhouse survived a religious Orwellian family. Her story is a warning to those who are considering conversion to Christian Science. Even if one were to deny her conclusions, it's not hard to deny the impact of Eddy's teaching on numerous families who have let children die unnecessarily because of her teachings such as, "Disease is an experience of a so-called mortal mind. It is fear made manifest on the body." Denying fear won't stop a virus nor cancer. Even Eddy died.

I received a free Kindle version for review from in exchange for this review.

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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

BHO, WND, snopes, and this follower of Jesus

I'm spilling much digital ink on my facebook wall in discussion with a fellow believer in Jesus and lover of the Haitians, whom I met on my trip to Haiti after the big quake. Sometimes he sendsOfficial presidential portrait of Barack Obama...Image via Wikipedia me articles from sources such as World Net Daily. I can't link to it. It seems to do more harm than good. I will only post my thoughts and not those of my brother in the Lord. Again, one side of a conversation, in which you'll have to imagine a more erudite partner than myself.

Here is where my political philosophy starts.

Romans 13:1 Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.

Paul doesn't discriminate according to which authority is legitimate or not, many of the Ceasars got to power by killing the previous one.

If one should happen to believe President Obama is an enemy, Jesus has a plan for that as well, "But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;" Matthew 5:44

According to Jesus, we need to ask God to bless Obama and do good to him. and according to Paul, Obama is there because God appointed him. If there is subterfuge, then God will take care of it, because he is righteous and just. If one does not consider Pres. BHO a fellow believer in Jesus, then we have no place in judging him, see 1 Cor. 5:12-13

I completely agree that when a law of man contradicts a law of God, we need to make a choice. But no one is forcing me to have an abortion. nor do I have to support those laws, but I can defend the innocent, and argue for their God-given lives.

I'm not sure what you mean by my "blind obedience to governing authorities." I only quoted Paul's letter to the Romans. You gotta argue with him, not me.

The early church had no political sway and changed the world. The government over them was more wicked and killed more than any government now. One third of the Roman Empire's people were slaves. Babies were aborted and or left to die when newly born in garbage dumps. Idols were worshipped with the most sickening means, and the Christians just kept preaching the good news and living it out. As Rome collapsed, the church grew. When the government became Christian, many political people all of sudden got religion too. Power attracts sinners. When the Muslim raiders showed up, the church used political means to stop them, armies in response to armies, and the church lost. It's an upside down kingdom bro.

I don't get the "attack one guy" approach vs. help the abundant helpless approach. In a lifestyle of help, serve, love, bless, the verb "attack" just seems out of place.

John the Baptist, according to the gospels, Mark 6:18 For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” It could have been a public proclamation or not. If he was like the prophet Nathan, he might have had an invitation to speak to Herod. We don't know.

The other prophets who confronted kings in the Old Testament seem to have been reacting to the kings misuse of their spiritual leadership, which is not an expectation in our country, because we are not a theocracy.

Is BHO a believer? He says he has confessed Jesus as his Lord. Is he doing things wrong? Yep, and so do I. But God might be working on those things in His time. but Paul has good input in 1 Cor. 5 about who to break fellowship with. "9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 11 But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people." That list would cover many people even within our preferred political persuasion. Do we hold our noses and let their sins slide because they say the things we want to hear politically?

Look, BHO will never have my vote, but i don't want to be known as a Christian who attacks people. Id like to be known as one who helps and protects people. I'd like to be known as one who will protect other's rights before my own. in 1 Cor 7 Paul asks, "Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?" Jesus's teaching on turning the other cheek, walking the extra mile, and handing over more than asked for when sued, sounds like forsaking our own earthly rights. When Paul appealed to Ceasar, he was preserving his life, not his free speech or anything trivial to that.

I hope one day I could be known by these qualities of Paul's in 2 Cor. 6:3-10 "3 We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. 4 Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; 5 in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; 6 in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; 7 in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; 8 through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; 9 known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; 10 sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything."

It's the same chapter that goes on to say, "14 Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? 15 What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God." I'm not yoked to any political party. I'm a registered independent. I could see myself supporting individuals who are in politics, but not a party.

One last thing was bugging me. I don't know why anyone trusts the conspiratorial yellow journalism of worldnetdaily. each piece of slander they throw out there about BHO can be refuted by going to snopes. Here is the article about his social security number, I don't understand why conservatives complain about how the media treats their darlings but give a pass when the same thing is done against liberal targets by conservative media. I'm starting to believe it was easier for Jesus Christ to fulfill all the prophecies about his life than it is for all the conspiracies to come together for BHO to become president. WND fans have more faith in conspirators than in God.

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Monday, August 08, 2011

book report: The Total Money Meltdown by Thor Ramsey

Last year I facilitated a Financial Peace class at my church and I learned people's travails with cash and credit, but no one told their story with the wit of Thor Ramsey, no relation to Dave Ramsey. Thor is not related to Dave, but he is a stand-up comedian who is not afraid to share the embarrassing choices and decisions he made as his family approached bankruptcy but emerged a year later out of debt and without declaring bankruptcy, trying to follow Dave's plan.

Thor got into flipping houses before the housing market crash, and was stuck in a gorgeous house with a new 50k kitchen and a decline in job offers for stand-up shows. He had many credit card debts and little savings. His wife did not work and he had children. Thor had an opportunity to seek sympathy, but he doesn't. He blames himself and his foolishness. As they work on their debt-snowball, and he becomes despondent over the bills, he draws closer to God, who keeps providing work and money, just in time. As his dependence on God increases, his self-awareness of his selfishness and materialism bring him to more repentance. As the Bible says, God's kindness leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4).

I know this sounds dry, but as his story became more and more ridiculous, the laughs came more and more frequently. My wife was reading over my shoulder and laughing out loud. If you find yourself over your head, financially, and need a reason to do something about it, read Thor Ramsey's book first, then read Dave's.

I enjoyed this review copy for free from
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