Marriage

Juliet Vedral 3-04-2016

Image via /Shutterstock.com

I am a Christian woman in my mid-30s, and I am single. And though I enjoy a life that I would consider abundant — full of friends and family, great professional opportunities, a decent level of financial freedom, and above all else, an extremely deep spiritual relationship with the Creator of the Universe — I recognize that to many younger women, I’m a cautionary tale. Because I am single.

Image via Drop of Light / Shutterstock.com

There is intense anticipation in the Catholic Church — and no small amount of anxiety for traditionalists — over what Pope Francis will say about communion for divorced and remarried Catholics in a key document expected in the coming weeks. But Francis has already made an intriguing change in this area, albeit one that only concerns the Vatican’s arcane diplomatic protocol and a very, very select group: Catholic heads of state.

Kirsten Lamb 2-17-2016

Every time my husband and I talk about having a third child, I cry. I uggggly cry. He thought we were just talking about hopes and dreams for the future and third-row seating. Boy was he wrong.

The emotion that welled up inside of me (and still does) is hard to put into words, but I will try.

Still Life With Fruit, Caravaggio / Wikimedia Commons

Still Life With Fruit, Caravaggio / Wikimedia Commons

IN MY 20s, I came to the unsettling conclusion that God was calling me to have a baby. Familiar with Frederick Buechner’s declaration that vocation “is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet,” I believed that my visceral yearning for children pointed toward my deep gladness. How my desire for children would meet the world’s great need, however, was far from clear, particularly in my small urban church where people routinely made great sacrifices in response to poverty and injustice.

In my progressive circles, childbearing can also be cast as ethically questionable, contributing to overpopulation and environmental degradation. In 2006, Katharine Jefferts Schori, then the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, summed up this view when she told an interviewer that “Episcopalians tend to be better-educated and tend to reproduce at lower rates than some other denominations. ... We encourage people to pay attention to the stewardship of the earth and not use more than their portion.” More crudely, proponents of a growing “childfree” movement dismissed parents as self-absorbed “breeders.”

I was also leery of claiming a call to motherhood because within some strains of Christianity, a woman’s vocation to motherhood is assumed, regardless of her circumstances or predilections. Many evangelical and Catholic Christians uphold the traditional nuclear family of husband, wife,

and children as the God-ordained bedrock of society and the church. Writing for the Family Research Council, Dr. Andreas J. Kostenberger of the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary writes, “The Bible defines ‘family’ in a narrow sense as the union of one man and one woman in matrimony which is normally blessed with one or several natural or adopted children” (emphasis in original). I feared that by claiming motherhood as my vocation, I might inadvertently support a limited vision that idolizes traditional families and sees childbearing as every woman’s primary calling.

Even Pope Francis has harsh words for those who choose not to procreate. As reported by the Catholic News Service in June 2014, Pope Francis stated that among “things Jesus doesn’t like” are married couples “who don’t want children, who want to be without fruitfulness.” Such couples are convinced, he argued, that by remaining childless they “can see the world, be on vacation...have a fancy home in the country...be carefree.” He warned that such couples are doomed to a bitter, lonely old age. The stereotype of childless adults as embittered hedonists is so widespread that writer Meghan Daum titled her recent anthology of essays by childless writers Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed.

Megan McCabe 10-16-2015

Image via  / Shutterstock

Intimate partner violence is a pervasive problem in our society. Moreover, while intimate partner violence affects men in addition to women, it disproportionally victimizes women. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as many as 47.1% of women experience at least one act of psychological aggression in their lifetime. This aggression can turn physically violent: 31.5% of women experience physical violence in their lifetime, while 22.3% of women are victimized at least once by a severe act of violence. Intimate partners also perpetrate sexual violence. About 8.8% of women are raped and another 15.8% are sexually victimized by a partner in their lifetime. Finally, 9.2% of women are stalked by a partner to the point of fearing for their physical safety.

Given this reality, it is important to recognize that at any given time members of our congregations are suffering various forms of abuse. Such experiences of violence and abuse, past and present, are part of the background that inform the messages that individuals take away from Christian discussions of relationships and marriage — including reflections and sermons on Ephesians 5.

Image via /Shutterstock

The Ashley Madison hack — the public release of emails of wannabe adulterers — has now ensnared a theologian with a famous name in some Christian circles.

Robert Craig Sproul Jr., best known by his first initials, stepped up Aug. 31 to face his sorrow — and teach a lesson in God’s grace in the process.

new survey released from Pew Research Center, conducted in the lead-up to the pontiff’s visit, examined U.S. Catholics’ attitudes on family, marriage, and sexuality, as well as on issues close to the pope’s heart — concern for the poor, care for the environment, and forgiveness of sins. The results found Catholics “remarkably accepting of a wide variety of non-traditional families.”

This is not to say longstanding church teaching on marriage has changed — the church very much still upholds lifelong heterosexual monogamous marriage with children as the divine plan for coupleship, and nine-in-ten U.S. Catholics say this is the ideal arrangement. But large majorities now say other familial arrangements are acceptable, too.  

According to the survey of U.S. Catholics, 85 percent say it is acceptable for a man and woman to live together as a couple outside of marriage, and 84 percent say it is acceptable for raise children in this arrangement. Two-thirds say it is acceptable for same-sex couples to raise children. And 70 percent say married couples who choose to not have children are choosing a lifestyle that is just as good as any other.

Richard Wolf 9-01-2015

Image via Mike Wynn / The (Louisville, Ky.) Courier-Journal / RNS

The Supreme Court refused Aug. 31 to let a Kentucky county clerk deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples because of what she said were her religious beliefs.

The ruling, made without comment or any apparent dissents, is an early indication that while some pushback against gay marriage on religious grounds may be upheld, the justices won’t tolerate it from public officials.

David Gushee 8-19-2015

Image via graham tomlin/Shutterstock

A LifeWay Research survey released last week on the morality of divorce found that for most Americans, the reason an individual initiates divorce doesn’t matter in terms of how they morally evaluate the rightness or wrongness of that divorce. Pastors, though, still tend to draw moral distinctions between reasons for divorce.

Based on years of research on Christian tradition as it pertains to marriage and divorce, I can tell you what this finding means. The answer is not especially pretty: Routine divorce is now inevitable in American culture, including among religious people — with one possible exception.

Let’s take this problem apart.

Juliet Vedral 7-20-2015
Image via  isak55/Shutterstock

Image via  /Shutterstock

A few weeks ago, the single person’s lament was eloquently stated in The New York Times opinion pages, with a piece called "The Supreme Court’s Lonely Hearts’ Club" by Michael Cobb. Cobb articulated some of the pause that many of us singles have felt as the conversation has gone on about marriage, in particular how Justice Kennedy captured the spirit of the age by extolling the matrimony as the highest institution in the land.

I don’t disagree about the importance of marriage, but I have a lot of concern about how it has been talked about and in many ways idolized in this country. Much of the church has led the way on this idolatry — on the policy end, claiming the need to defend marriage; on the spiritual side, treating marriage as a pseudo-salvation, as though being married means that in some way you’ve "arrived" spiritually.

A few weeks ago, the single person’s lament was eloquently stated in The New York Times opinion pages, with a piece called "The Supreme Court’s Lonely Hearts’ Club" by Michael Cobb. Cobb articulated some of the pause that many of us singles have felt as the conversation has gone on about marriage, in particular how Justice Kennedy captured the spirit of the age by extolling the matrimony as the highest institution in the land.

I don’t disagree about the importance of marriage, but I have a lot of concern about how it has been talked about and in many ways idolized in this country. Much of the church has led the way on this idolatry — on the policy end, claiming the need to defend marriage; on the spiritual side, treating marriage as a pseudo-salvation, as though being married means that in some way you’ve "arrived" spiritually.

A few weeks ago, the single person’s lament was eloquently stated in The New York Times opinion pages, with a piece called "The Supreme Court’s Lonely Hearts’ Club" by Michael Cobb. Cobb articulated some of the pause that many of us singles have felt as the conversation has gone on about marriage, in particular how Justice Kennedy captured the spirit of the age by extolling the matrimony as the highest institution in the land.

I don’t disagree about the importance of marriage, but I have a lot of concern about how it has been talked about and in many ways idolized in this country. Much of the church has led the way on this idolatry — on the policy end, claiming the need to defend marriage; on the spiritual side, treating marriage as a pseudo-salvation, as though being married means that in some way you’ve "arrived" spiritually.

Christian Piatt 7-14-2015
Image via Kichigin/Shutterstock

Image via /Shutterstock

“I believe Jesus would. I don’t have any verse in scripture. … I believe Jesus would approve gay marriage, but that’s just my own personal belief. I think Jesus would encourage any love affair if it was honest and sincere and was not damaging to anyone else, and I don’t see that gay marriage damages anyone else…” —Jimmy Carter, from his interview with Huffington Post Live

I grew up in Texas as a churchgoing Baptist. I memorized Bible verses as part of my “sword drills,” went to church camp, took part in the clown ministry and even helped in the nursery.

Then I was kicked out at age seventeen for asking too many questions. My youth minister actually threw a Bible at my head and, in a less than nuanced way, invited me to move on, lest I contaminate the minds and hearts of my friends with my doubt.

Some of my questions had to do with their biblical interpretation, which was literal — and their assertion that the texts we were memorizing were the perfect, infallible Word of God, straight from the mind of the Divine to the paper on which it was written.

I had questions.

Joe Kay 6-15-2015
Image via Syda Productions/shutterstock.com

Image via Syda Productions/shutterstock.com

When I reached high school and started dating, my relatives had a lot of questions: "This girl you’re going to the movies with: Is she Catholic? Slovak? What’s her family’s last name? What does her father do for a living?"

She had to be Catholic, of course. Preferably Slovak. If not, some other nearby nationality. Anything less would get disapproving comments. Those questions may sound odd now, but they mattered back then. The Catholic Church had only recently concluded Vatican II, which tried to bridge centuries of animosity between churches. Accepting Protestants as equals was something new. And many of the immigrants in my neighborhood were trying to preserve the culture and traditions that they brought from Europe. They were afraid of losing their heritage in the new land.

For them, traditional marriage meant choosing someone from the same faith, the same ethnic background. Simply put, they were afraid. Terrified, actually. They feared that if marriage changed, their world would fall apart. 

That's why to so many people, my relationship wasn’t about finding someone who fit me — it was more about me finding someone who fit them.

Photo via Cathleen Falsani / RNS

Pope Francis officiated the weddings of 20 couples at St. Peter’s Basilica in September 2014. Photo via Cathleen Falsani / RNS

The wedding season is in full swing, and Pope Francis used the occasion on May 27 to warn couples not to marry too quickly, while also reaffirming the Vatican’s opposition to gay nuptials.

Addressing crowds of followers at his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square, the pontiff urged couples to take their engagement seriously.

“Betrothal is, in other words, the time in which two people are called to work on love, a shared and profound task,” he said.

Photo courtesy of REUTERS / Nate Chute / RNS

A sign is placed in the window of Bernadette’s Barbershop in Lafayette, Ind. Photo courtesy of REUTERS / Nate Chute / RNS

The limiting of religious freedom is a perpetually contested question in American public life. Most recently, as states consider new laws and the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to rule on same-sex marriage, gay rights supporters and traditionalist Christians appear to be on a collision course.

To make matters worse, whenever disputes between gay couples and conservative Christian wedding vendors arise, a well-funded professional grievance industry sends lawyers and media handlers out to convince the public that this is the great civil rights issue of our time.

As a new prevailing cultural consensus on homosexuality displaces a former one, it remains to be seen how the winners will treat the losers. From laws that impose punitive fines to rhetoric that places “religious liberty” in quotation marks so as to diminish it, the culture war’s apparent victors have not accorded religious freedom its due place of prominence in our public life.

The present tension between religious liberty and LGBT rights is unsustainable, but it is not insurmountable. Activists on both sides have been short on empathy for each other. Leaders have every incentive to portray their opponents as evil retrogrades hellbent on destroying society.

Pastor Rob Bell from “The Rob Bell Show.” Photo courtesy of Harpo Studios Inc / RNS.

Rob Bell was once the evangelical It Boy, the hipster pastor with the thick-rimmed glasses and the skinny jeans whose best-selling theology was captured in books with names such as “Velvet Elvis” and “Sex God.”

By 2006, the Chicago Sun-Times wondered aloud whether the Michigan megachurch pastor could be the next Billy Graham.

And then he went to hell.

In 2011, his book “Love Wins” pushed the evangelical envelope on the nature of heaven, hell, and salvation. Many dismissed him as a modern-day heretic, unwilling to embrace traditional evangelicals beliefs about the hereafter.

Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore, right. Photo via Adelle M. Banks/RNS.

Prominent U.S. evangelicals Russell Moore and Rick Warren blasted the sexual revolution at a Vatican conference Nov. 18 and said it is destroying the institution of marriage.

Moore, the public face of the Southern Baptist Convention, said sexual liberation had created “a culture obsessed with sex” that had simply led to a “boredom of sex shorn of mystery.”

“Western culture now celebrates casual sexuality, cohabitation, no-fault divorce, family redefinition and abortion right as part of a sexual revolution that can tear down old patriarchal systems,” Moore told a global gathering of leaders from Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, and other faiths as part of the “Complementarity of Man and Woman” conference convened by Pope Francis.

The Southern Baptist ethicist said the sexual revolution appeared to have imposed a new patriarchy that enabled men to “pursue a Darwinian fantasy of the predatory alpha male” for the pursuit of “power, prestige, and personal pleasure.”

“Does anyone really believe these things will empower women and children?” he asked. “We see the wreckage of sexuality as self-expression all around us, and we will see more yet.”

Al Mohler speaks to conference attendees. Photo courtesy of Rocket Republic, via ERLC National Conference/RNS.

When Southern Baptists convened a national conference in Nashville, Tenn., this week to discuss issues of human sexuality, bringing conservative evangelicals and LGBT Christian activists into the same ballroom was a recipe ripe for potential fireworks.

Perhaps the most shocking thing was how few fireworks there were.

The Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission was clear: Sex is reserved between a man and a woman within the bonds in marriage. And openly gay evangelicals in attendance were equally clear: Homosexuality is not incompatible with Christianity.

No concessions were made, but leaders on both sides expressed surprise at how the two agreed to coexist. Put another way: The old emphasis on “Love the sinner, hate the sin” has become more a version of simply “Love all sinners. Ask questions later.”

“I do want to apologize to the gay and lesbian community on behalf of my community and me for not standing up against abuse and discrimination directed towards you. That was wrong and we need your forgiveness,” said North Carolina megachurch pastor J.D. Greear, drawing applause.

“We have to love our gay neighbor more than our position on sexual morality.”

Evan Dolive 10-30-2014
Stephen Kiers / Shutterstock.com

Public or private? Stephen Kiers / Shutterstock.com

In the past few months I have come to a rather substantial conclusion: I cannot slow down time. Try as I might, my oldest daughter is now four and a half and is practically sprinting her way to "big kid school." My wife and I have been discussing this next phase of our daughter’s life. Sadly, school districts are falling into massive debt, being subjected to low performance in the classroom and even apathy in educating the next generation. Schools have become too focused on state test scores and benchmarks and have removed the art of learning from many classrooms.

Now private schools are becoming more mainstream, offering alternatives to public education, more flexibility, and more opportunities to the students. For many private schools there is a common element: they are associated with a religious group or Christian denomination. These schools started out as an extension of the ministry of the church as a way to respond to the needs of the community. But over time many popped up as a rejection of the educational system and their "removal" of God or prayer the school. Many parents see disconnect between the mainstream educational system and their Christian households.

But I see a certain danger in some of these Christian alternatives. It might sound counterintuitive for an ordained Christian minister to say, but there are a few reasons I would not send my daughter to some Christian schools.

Cardinal Raymond Burke, former archbishop of St. Louis, has been an influential player in Rome. Photo via David Gibson/RNS.

Public disagreements over whether the Roman Catholic Church can change its teachings on Communion for remarried Catholics are growing sharper on the eve of a major Vatican summit, with conservatives led by U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke making another push against loosening the rules.

In a conference call with reporters on Sept. 30, Burke, who currently heads the Vatican’s high court, singled out the leading proponent of reforms, German Cardinal Walter Kasper, and his claims that critics of his proposals are really attacking Pope Francis.

Kasper has said that the pope supports his efforts to find ways to fully reintegrate divorced and remarried Catholics into church life. The proposals have become a prime focus of the upcoming Vatican meeting, called a synod, which will convene on Oct. 5 for two weeks to consider changes in family life in the modern world.

“I find it amazing that the cardinal claims to speak for the pope,” said Burke, the former archbishop of St. Louis, speaking from Rome. “The pope doesn’t have laryngitis. The pope is not mute. He can speak for himself. If this is what he wants, he will say so.”

Pope Francis blesses new spouses with holy water. Photo by Paul Haring, courtesy of Catholic News Service/RNS.

Pope Francis made headlines this week when he officiated at the weddings of 20 couples, including  some who had been living together and a woman who has a daughter from a previous relationship.

It was the first time that the Argentine pontiff had presided over a marriage ceremony since his election and it may have also signaled a dramatic shift in Catholic Church doctrine.

Now five conservative cardinals appear to be hitting back.

In a new book to be released days before the world’s Catholic bishops gather at the Vatican for their October Synod, the hard-liners are challenging moves to moderate church doctrine on marriage and offer Communion to divorced Catholics who remarry.

The book, Remaining in the Truth of Christ: Marriage and Communion in the Catholic Church, will be published in five languages, including English and Italian, on Oct. 1.

Pages

Subscribe