This is simple… but AWESOME!
By Nathan Campbell on his blog at St-Eutychus
It turns out #lovewins.
If you’re one of my friends, or someone I don’t know, who’s celebrating the changes to the laws in America, and anticipating those changes where you are — I want you to know three things right off the bat, before you set out on reading this post:
- God loves you. He shows that love for you in that Jesus dies for you (and for me) even though we didn’t ask him to, or want him to.
- I think all people everywhere are equally broken and we all experience a world that is equally broken through equal brokenness, whether this is in our sexuality, gender or anything we build our identity on. I hope this stops me sounding judgmental because it certainly removes any platform I might stand on to judge you (or others) from.
- I am hoping that this reflects God’s love for you (and thus, my love for you), and that it isn’t a judgmental, handwringing exercise that makes you feel misunderstood or hated. If you feel either of those things, get in touch. Let me know where I’ve gone wrong. Let’s have a coffee or a beer. I like both.
This post is something like a post-mortem examining where I think Christians got it wrong when we spoke about gay marriage (not all Christians got all these things wrong). It’s a reflection, at times, on what we could have said, should have said, or didn’t say as much as it reflects what I’ve experienced Christians saying, or said myself. Some of it, especially the transgender/intersex stuff towards the end, is new thinking for me. Some isn’t. I’d love to hear other ideas about where things went wrong.
But ultimately, whatever the outcome in the courts and parliaments of this world, I’m not all that worried. Because the hash tag gets it right.
That’s the good news for Christians who’ve woken up to a sea of rainbows at every turn in the last few days. An iconic and colourful reminder of the victory over the (largely) Christian case for not changing the definition of marriage in the (formerly) Christian west.
The US Supreme Court handed down its judgment this weekend, and I maintain (despite this causing some angst amongst Christian friends previously), that Australia is certain to follow. This isn’t entirely a meek capitulation, I think the fight was lost a long time ago.
Anyway I keep reminding myself #lovewins.
There’s been a lot of handwringing from Christians on the Internet in the fallout to this momentous decision, but I just want to remind my handwringing brothers and sisters, that if you take the Bible seriously, which people against gay marriage typically claim to, then this is how the story of the world ends. #lovewins. It’s already written.
I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes.There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children — Revelation 21:2-7
#lovewins because it won at the Cross. Life now would be a whole lot easier if we came to grips with that when coming to grapple with politics and life in general. Incidentally there’s some bad news after those verses for the people in this world who don’t think God is all that important. But I’m writing this primarily for those who claim to believe in the God of the Bible and follow his son.
1. WE DIDN’T TREAT PEOPLE THE WAY WE’D LIKE TO BE TREATED
You might feel like the world is against you. The world might well become against you. You might deserve this. I think we’re in for a big dose of our own medicine here, and that’s what terrifies me. Because we Christians deserve what’s coming. Do you know why people think Christians are anti-gay? Do you know why until very recently in most of these countries that are changing the definition of marriage it was illegal to be gay?
In preparation for the upcoming Christ Centred Singleness workshop I’ve been doing a fair amount of reading into singleness in today’s culture.
I read an interesting quote a while back that suggested that the hardest impact of being single hits around the age of 35. This is when the majority of one’s peers are either married or in de facto relationships.
After having a quick look at the 2006 Australian census data the quote was backed up. The ages of 35 and 74 are where the greatest number of people are living in committed relationships.
It seems that ages 18-24 are a period where singleness is prevalent, and those who are looking for their life companion are amongst others of a similar mind-set. This means that peer support is at its peak for singles in this age group.
From 25-30 years of age is the biggest jump into marriage. The marriage and de facto statistics triple from ~20% to ~60%. Suddenly the cultural norm for those in this age bracket is to be in committed relationships.
Then from ages 35 through to 74, at any given time more than 1 in 5 Australians are not living in committed relationships. This means they are in the minority and are travelling through a significant period of time alone. This is a time where people are raising families and accumulating wealth. Think especially of the single parents who invest all their resources into their children.
Then later in life the rate of singleness significantly increases. This is obviously because of an aging population. The number of widows and widowers increases dramatically. For some of these people, they will be learning how to live a life of singleness for the first time in 40 or 50 years.
If singleness is such a prominent issue within our culture why is it never talked about? The answer is quite simple, because our culture has built up marriage to be the epitome of significance. We’re told that we aren’t really whole until we find our ‘other half’. The media suggests that if you’re single there’s likely something wrong with you; you’re likely not attractive enough, don’t have enough money, too old or are socially awkward.
Australians have become convinced that singleness is a period of transition. It’s a time of reconnaissance, as we find our life long partner. It’s a time to be free from commitment, until you’re fulfilled by that same commitment. As Australians we typically want to have our cake and it too.
It’s time we had a long hard look at the place of marriage in our culture. Marriage shouldn’t be about determining one’s value or significance.
Our culture needs to look at how we can edify those who aren’t married or in committed relationships. Singles can add value and meaning to our communities. The goal of a single person shouldn’t be primarily to get married. Maybe it’s time our culture started to value singleness as a real authentic means of contributing to society.
Whether you’re single, married, divorced or widowed, you are important to those around you. You have every right to love and be loved in a community. Everyone is single at the beginning of their lives, some people move into relationships, and the vast majority of people are single again at the end of their lives. If anything, relationships are the time of transition between the state of singleness.
Marriage is being thrust under the spotlight once again. But where does that leave singles? Any media coverage that is targeted towards single men and women is almost always… ‘Meet Mr. Right’ or ‘How to move on from Mr. Wrong’.
Our culture shouts at us, teaching us that singleness is a time of transition. You’re either preparing for, or moving away from a relationship. This toxic understanding of singleness suggests that the ideal is always to be in a relationship. In fact, if your single for too long, there’s likely something wrong with you, or so social media tells us. If we have a brief look at the history of singleness we will see where this unhealthy understanding has stemmed from.
The Jewish Perspective
In the Old Testament there was no real place for singles. Everyone, including priests, were encouraged to marry. This was because their was very little teaching on an ‘afterlife’. Unlike today where spiritual people focus on moving toward a heaven or nirvana like experience, the ancient Hebrew culture thought that the hereditary line was most valuable. This is why there is so much emphasis on genealogy in the Old Testament. A man or woman without a family had no means of continuing their family line.
Even in the New Testament period we can see that Jewish teaching were just as strict, if not more so. In the Mishnah suggests that ‘a man without a family is not a man at all.’
The New Testament Perspective
Then, as if we were watching a wrecking ball sweep through the flimsy veil of a Jewish understanding of relationships, along comes Jesus. He entered into the first century culture and broke down the negative stigma of singleness. Jesus taught that marriage and family are not an eternal reality, that it is not supposed to be the centre of one’s life. He taught counter to the Jewish teachings, there is no eternity in bloodlines, but only in the resurrection. Therefore, Christ should be more central than even family. Jesus clearly teaches that people can choose to remain single for the purpose of serving the kingdom of heaven.
Paul then continues this message by saying he wishes ‘people could remain single as he does’ but also understands that it’s not always possible. Alongside Paul it appears that Luke, Silas, Barnabas, Timothy, Titus, Epaphroditus, Apollos, Lydia, Dorcas and Pheobe all remained single throughout their ministry.
It was obvious that single men and women had much to contribute to growing the kingdom of God.
The Early Church Perspective
After the wrecking ball shatters the Jewish context it bursts through the debris and swings like a pendulum out the other side. All of a sudden singleness becomes the ‘best practice’ for the ‘most holy’. Examples of spiritual devotion laid out by the apostle Paul inspired his successors to remain celibate in their service to the Lord. Ignatius, Justin Martyr and Origen in the second and third centuries all commended the celibate lifestyle. The ascetic Gnostic influence pushed common religious practice to the extreme, the body was evil and humanity must resist it’s urges at every point in order to remain pure and holy.
Later, people such as Augustine taught that sin was transmitted from generation to generation through sexual intercourse. The best practice was that one would abstain from building families. There were certainly enough heathens to convert in order to grow the kingdom. He taught that while marriage was good, celibacy was even better.
The Reformers Perspective
The 16th century reformation came at a time where the dominate catholic church was rife with not-so-celibate priests. It was common knowledge that Renaissance priests had mistresses and children. Protestant Reformers sought to renew the corrupt church. German reformer, Martin Luther, who had begun his ministry as a monk, new the dangers of forced clerical celibacy. He rooted his argument against the doctrine in the natural order. If men and women are being forced to go against their created natural instincts they are preventing nature from being nature. (I wouldn’t use this argument today).
Likewise, John Calvin the Swiss reformer taught that God not only permitted but commended marriage. He taught that there was still a place for singleness but it is only for those who had been ‘singled out by the divine will of God’.
Where does that leave us today?
With the benefit of hindsight, teaching on singleness has started to find some balance, though emphasis still clearly lays on the family unit. Our churches try and emphasise with single Christians but the feedback is that they have a tendency to come across as condescending. Statements like: ‘It’s alright, your time will come…’ or ‘I know how you feel, I really struggled as a single before I got married at 22…’ or even ‘God has given you the gift of singleness…’. (I think singleness is a gift [1Cor 7:7] but when spoken about as a place of empathy it’s like a gift of bad cologne. ‘Thanks, but I really don’t want it’.
As our culture continues to water down the concept of marriage, sexuality and morals it is obvious that there will be an increasing number of singles within our communities. With a divorce rate of roughly 50%, a homosexual rate of roughly 10%, an aging population increasing the number of widows and widowers, we need to be increasingly aware of the singles within our communities.
Singleness is not always a time of transition. We pray, under God’s sovereignty, that men and women would continue to unite in marriage, however it is unrealistic to expect this to be a reality for all singles. By making this the goal, we marginalise people who haven’t yet obtained it. What if the goal was something else?
The church needs to be clear that one’s relationship status does not primarily define their identity. One’s value does not come from their circumstances. Both singles and marrieds should be actively seeking to place Christ at the centre of their lives.
A truly Christian view of both singleness and marriage will honour both equally without disparaging one or the other. Recovering such a balance is the first step toward a church where singles are valued equally with marrieds.
Keeping Christ at the centre means that regardless of our relationship circumstances Christ gives us value, meaning and purpose. If our relationship circumstances change, and Christ is still centre, then the value, meaning and purpose of our lives in still intact.
[Edit: Thoughts stemmed from chapters 2 and 3 of The Single Issue by Al Hsu.]
What do you think of the idea of getting married to someone who you’ve never laid eyes on? What do you think of the concept of doing it in front of the nation, on TV for entertainment purposes? Is it just another cultural version of arranged-marriage? Or is it something more? More than 21,000 Australians have voiced their opinion at change.org in a petition to axe the show “Married at First Sight”. What are your thoughts?
Now let’s be clear, they aren’t getting married on the show, at least not in a legal sense. They are partaking in a ‘commitment ceremony’ behind the façade of marriage. Which is all good and well, apart from the fact that the show is called “Married at First Sight”. Adding to the confusion is the fact that participants have the option to ‘divorce’ after a 30 day ‘try before you buy’ period. Of course, it’s not a legal divorce it’s just an opt-out as there was no actually legal marriage in the first place.
So what’s the problem with it all?
In a day and age where the word and concept of ‘marriage’ is being torn apart like a rabbit in a wolves den, a show like this is hardly helpful. Everyone, including Christians, the LGBT community and the Australian governments are fighting to define what is and isn’t regarded as marriage. A show like this belittles marriage to a meaningless event that has zero gravity in a world that demands stable footing. Even those who are currently fighting that marriage should be open to same-gender partners should be outraged at the concept of a social experiment that reduces life long commitment to a try before you buy entertainment package.
For the majority of Australians, marriage is a sacred union that symbolises the love and commitment of two people who intend to be united as family for the remainder of their lives.
For Christians, it is much more. Marriage is a gift from God. It is a blessed union where two people declare their love for each other, and their unified love for God in front of their community. It is a symbol of God’s unending love between himself and his people. It should not be entered into lightly, but rather with reverent and serious consideration. Marriage is a gift from God, for the benefit of all mankind. In the confines of marriage men and women can express their love and sexuality with one another in a safe and nurturing environment. It is intended to be a life-long union in which a new family is created. A family in which cares for and nurtures all its members in a secure and loving environment. It’s for these reasons that the gift of marriage was given, and it’s for reasons akin to these that one might consider entering into a vow of marriage.
Then there is the entertaining social experiment that “Married at First Sight” offers TV viewers. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m actually a massive fan of the process of statistical dating and/or marriage preparation. That is, using gathered data to identify one’s romantic prospects with another. In fact, I would go as far to say that every couple planning on getting married should take a close look at the data that flows between themselves and their partner. Influences such as family and cultural backgrounds, finances, ambitions, leisure activities and personality types are but a few of the things that play into our daily relationships. Christians have a strong history of using this method in pre-marriage counselling. Being able to identify strengths and weaknesses between couples in these areas is absolutely key to having a successful relationship. And this is one thing that ‘Married at First Sight’ offers. A statistical analysis of the couples potential. And we should be all for that. I earnestly hope that the ‘couples’ on this show can develop long-lasting meaningful relationships that transcend statistical data. I pray that they can have the opportunity to reflect on the concept of marriage and have the opportunity to commit to one another, in a real wedding, before all their family and friends, and before the Lord.
But what we should despise, is the idea that a statistically positive couple can and should enter into a marriage based on those stats without even knowing each other. The show doesn’t offer marriage, and it shouldn’t pretend to. The problem for the script writers is, if they remove ‘marriage’ from the TV show all their left with is another dating show, and no one would be interested in watching it. They are trying to raise the stakes to buy viewers, but the cost is further diluting the already diminished ideology of marriage.
Further, they are tainting the perception of arranged-marriage. They (being the experts on the show) are correct in saying that in some places the divorce rate for arranged marriages are lower than in western cultures. However there are many unmentioned factors that play into this. On the positive, arranged marriages that are successful are conducted by the families of those to be wed. They know and love them in such a way that a suitable partner is found with the genuine care for the wedded couple in mind. They don’t have an entertainment and a statistical social experiment motive. On the negative, the social stigma for divorce in many of these cultures is so horrific that dysfunctional marriages that contain abuse and neglect are seen as a better option than divorce.
Whichever way you slice the pie, “Marriage at First Sight” is an appalling concept. Having pretend weddings should be reserved for little children and their doll collections, not industry leading entertainers and mental health professionals. The one thing that we can all agree on is a ~50% divorce rate is completely unacceptable and something needs to be done about it. In my humble opinion unless reality TV starts to reflect reality it’s not the way to go about fixing the problem. It’s time Australia took a stand on what marriage is, and isn’t, and then defended it.