Tuesday, April 18, 2017

If You're Married to a Jerk, Divorce Him!

I Am Blind and Cannot See

(Author's note: If you read far enough, you will see that I believe many people are in unhappy marriages and that some men are jerks. I also have found that life has a way of showing you how messy and complicated people, marriages, and life are. I think that some marriages break down and end in divorce. I do not think that such results should stigmatize the parties or mean that they are not allowed to remarry. What I argue for below is the necessity of the church upholding the Biblical teaching about marriage and divorce, which it ought to provide to courting, engaged, and married couples and for the authority Christ gave to his church in these matters.)

Barbara Roberts who blogs with Jeff Crippen at Cry for Justice recently posted a comment on this Blog site explaining to me why she does not like my Blog's name: 
Hello Bill, I've seen your comments often on SSB and Twitter. And because your screen name is 'just a curmudgeon' I've usually skipped over them rather than read them. 
Allow me to tell you why. As a survivor of domestic abuse I have an automatic aversion to reading things written by a 'curmudgeon' because that means a bad-tempered or surly person. I had more than enough of bad-tempered and surly comments from my abusive husband. 
Maybe you've never thought about how your social media handle affects people like me. So I wanted to bring it to your attention.  
Also, I'm not qualified to comment on the race issue but I'd like to know your perception of the 'gender locomotive' that is going to affect the PCA. Do you think there is a problem of misogyny in the PCA? If so, what things make you think that? And what suggestions do you have for dealing with it? 

I responded to her by posting links to the two places where I have explained my use of "curmudgeon." To her question about the PCA and misogyny I answered:
Do I think there is a problem with misogyny in the PCA? Well, I am sure there must be some misogynists among the PCA's members. But is misogyny a characteristic of the PCA? Does misogyny affect its doctrines, policies, and practice? I think not. Therefore, I have no suggestions for dealing with what believe is non-existent problem. As I wrote I think the real problem is that the "gender apartheid locomotive" could pull the PCA train in the direction of denying some basic and clear Biblical teaching about role relationships of men and women in home and church as taught by the Apostles in such places as Eph.5, 1 Peter 2, and 1 Tim. 2. (Ed. Note, 1 Peter 2 should read 1 Peter 3).
I also told Barbara that I had read some of her work and think she has a "filter" (her personal experience of domestic abuse and her view that she understands things most of us don't get) through which she reads life. She favored me with a reply:
I put to you that you have a filter of your own. And that your filter hasn't taken into account that domestic abuse is a widespread problem in the church — a problem which the church has been dealing with very unBiblically. Many churches in the PCA (and in other conservative denominations) are dealing out injustice to victims of domestic abuse. Often the abuse victim is falsely blamed for the marriage problem/marriage breakdown. Often the victim is stigmatized unfairly. And sometimes the victim is actually excommunicated for divorcing the abuser. And since most victims of domestic abuse are female, this is a problem which in my observation is related to misogynist presuppositions in the church.  
These misogynist presuppositions are underpinned and upheld by false doctrines. ESS (Eternal Subordination of the Son) is one false doctrine which has a misogynist effect on the church. Another false doctrine is the notion that woman's desire is to usurp man's authority...
Another contributor to the problem is the way that teachers and leaders in the church have emphasised certain biblical precepts and under-emphasised other biblical precepts. The result has been that the church is largely ignorant about the mentality and tactics of evildoers and how they hide out in the church. 
... I honour all the teaching of Jesus and Paul and Moses regarding marriage and divorce; and my book "Not Under Bondage: Biblical Divorce for Abuse, Adultery and Desertion" gives a detailed analysis of all their teachings, with many references to other authors and commentators. I conclude that domestic abuse is grounds for divorce, the same as adultery and 'simple desertion by an unbeliever' are grounds for divorce. I maintain that abuse is a form of desertion by an unbeliever. My position on divorce is not all that unusual: I share it with some of the Puritans, and with quite a few Reformed and conservative Christians today. 

I answered:
Here is my filter, Barbara. God created man and woman and joined them in marriage. Sin entered the world and twisted both the individuals and the institution. But the fall did not change the permanence of the relationship. Marriage can be broken in some cases, but those cases are very limited, adultery and desertion. I agree that physical abuse is a ground for divorce, but only because the physical abuser forced the abused victim to flee for physical safety. Divorce is not required in circumstances of adultery or desertion, but it is permitted. Being married to a lousy person is not a ground for divorce. That is why, since my campus ministry days, I have always counseled couples to be careful when they make the choice to marry another person, because "this is permanent. You can't get out of it because you regret the decision." So I counseled them, "Be sure you can love this woman and that she will allow you to lead in marriage." And, "Be sure you have confidence in this man and that you trust him to be the leader of the relationship." I have never told anyone who came to me after marriage, regretting the decision, "Well, since it did not turn out like you hoped, it is ok for you to pursue divorce." So I have told them, "In the providence of God you have made this decision. I am sorry you are unhappy and that marriage had not turned out the way you hoped it would be. I am sorry you married or jerk (or a shrew). But God in his providence has called you to this marriage, and your obedience to God is to make the best of it you can, to do your part regardless of whether the other does his/hers. Lack of reciprocation is not a ground of divorce." This is the teaching of the Bible, and it is the historic teaching of the church. In fact, what I just laid out is rather liberal looking at standards of the whole church over 2000 years of Christian history. I hate to think of the disobedience you have encouraged by your teaching on grounds for divorce. 

Barbara proceeded to school me on what constitutes abuse:
Bill, on your "When Grids Are Blinders" post you asserted that our definition of Domestic Abuse is gnostic. I deny that our definition of domestic abuse is gnostic. I also deny that it a construct of sociology and therapy rather than a construct of theology. (Ed. Note: Here she makes reference to my "When Grids are Blinders, linked above.)

Before we proceed it is necessary for us to know how Cry for Justice and Ms. Roberts define domestic abuse: "Definition of a domestic abuser: a family member or dating partner (current or ex) who has a profound mentality of entitlement to the possession of power and control over the one s/he* chooses to mistreat. This mentality of entitlement defines the very essence of the abuser. The abuser believes he is justified in using evil tactics to obtain and maintain that power and control."

Ms. Roberts in her response went to to school me in things that qualify as domestic abuse.
1. Harsh Attitudes and Words 
Our definition of domestic abuse is entirely consistent with the Bible. The Bible has a lot to say about 'revilers' (VERBAL ABUSERS). It also talks about WOLVES IN SHEEP'S CLOTHING -- and many husbands who are presenting themselves as christians in the church are in fact wolves in sheep's clothing -- their wives and children know the wolf side of the man because he abuses them behind closed doors, but the rest of the congregation have no idea because the abusive man is so skilled at wearing his Dr Jekyll mask in public. The Bible warns husbands not to be harsh with their wives. It instructs a husband to self-sacrificially love and care for his wife and to "show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered." It tells husbands not to exasperate their children. All those things are cautions to the husband to restrain him from being abusive to his family. Abusive husbands disobey all those instructions. 
The Bible also has a lot to say about the AFFLICTED and how people sometimes suffer even though they have done nothing wrong (Jesus being a case in point, and His disciples being persecuted after He rose from the dead). 
2. Selfish Use of Finances
The Bible also talks about FINANCIAL abuse — robbing people by craft and deception — ruling over them harshly for financial gain. Abusive husbands often do this.
3. Violation of Bodily Sovereignty   
 The Bible talks about SEXUAL abuse (all the laws against sexual immorality) and it commands that the marriage bed be a place where each party has equal authority over the other party's body (1 Cor 7:4). Abusive husbands almost always disobey 1 Cor 7:4 —they demean, mistreat, coerce and assault their wives sexually. The Bible also talks about
4. Lies that Create Social Isolation 
 SOCIAL ABUSE — how abusers spread slander (false accusations) about their targets, so that the target (the victim) is stigmatized and socially isolated.
5. Misuse of the Bible to Dominate 
The Bible talks about  SPIRITUAL ABUSE— how abusers distort and twist the Word of God in order to domineer over and crush their victims. 
Ms. Roberts finds that her definition and examples of abuse are consistent with the Bible and the experiences of victims:
I could go on giving you more points from the Bible that are consistent with our definition of domestic abuse, but this comment is pretty long already.  
 Our definition of domestic abuse is also consistent with the experiences of innumerable victims of domestic abuse. We hear their accounts at A Cry For Justice all the time. I've read thousands if not tens of thousands of accounts from survivors of domestic abuse. Most of the accounts are from females but some are from male victims. I support all genuine victims of domestic abuse regardless of whether they are male or female.
There are several simple questions that beg to be asked: 
1. Would our Lord and his Apostle, St. Paul, recognize and approve the use to which Ms. Roberts and Cry Justice put their words regarding marriage and divorce? Did Jesus and Paul mean what Cry for Justice teaches?
2. Is the counsel of Cry for Justice in harmony with the counsel of St. Peter to wives:
Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear—  but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening (1 Peter 3:1-6). 
What are we to make of this teaching? Before someone points out that I failed to include verse 7 ("Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered"), verse 7 is clearly directed to Christian husbands about how they should conduct themselves in relation to their wives who are Christians. Note also that the consequence for not complying with verse 7 is hindered prayers not divorce. The direction to wives in verses 1-6 is for wives, including those whose husbands "do not obey the word." Those who do not obey the word could be those unbelieving husbands who do not believe the Gospel or it could be any husband, believing or not, who does not obey the directions of the word, perhaps especially those disobedient to the word about marriage and the husband's duty. Does St. Peter have anything to say to wives who have experienced the kind of mistreatment Ms. Roberts describes?
3. Has the church of history been wrong about the binding nature of the marriage covenant? That is not to say there is unanimity historically in the church's teaching about grounds for divorce, but the church historically has either held that the marriage covenant may not be broken at all or may be broken only in very limited circumstances (adultery or adultery and desertion). It is worth noting that Cry for Justice's understanding of desertion is wide enough to drive a Mack truck of divorce through. It's possible the church has been wrong, but the churches need to be convinced and change their minds (as some have).
 Finally, a word about "Blind Guides." Ms. Robert writes to me:
Our 'Hall of Blind Guides' does indeed name people like John Piper, John Macarthur, Jay Adams, PeaceMakers and Focus on the Family. We call all those folks 'blind guides' because what they teach about marriage & divorce and the advice they give about responding to spousal abuse is not Biblical, so it is unjust and very harmful to victims of abuse. The advice they give enables the abusers to remain relatively unaccountable. And it unjustly blames and stigmatizes the victim of abuse.  
On our 'Hall of Blind Guides' page we explain that "this list represents well known organisations, theologians, pastors, counselors and others who are in our opinion, not safe resources for abuse victim." 
In Matthew 23 our Lord denounces the scribes and Pharisees as "hypocrites" and "blind guides of the blind." Ms. Roberts and Cry for Justice label John Piper, John MacArthur, Jay Adams, Peacemakers, and Focus on the family as blind guides. They are "not safe resources" for those who believe themselves abuse. Is it not the sole authority of the church to declare ministers or para-church ministries blind guides? Or, let me put it this way: When did our Lord grant to Ms. Roberts, Mr. Crippen, and Cry for Justice the authority to determine that these men and ministries are blind guides and so to warn people to avoid them?

Here is what I think your reasoning is:
1. Domestic abuse is a ground for divorce.
2. You and your ministry define domestic abuse. Domestic abuse is much more than an attack on a person's body. There is work abuse, financial abuse, spiritual abuse, social abuse, etc.
3. Therefore any wife who has experienced what you define as a domestic abuse has the right of divorce.
I think you and your ministry are quite wrong. Some women are married to jerks. Some men are married to shrews. Finding oneself in an unhappy, unfulfilling marriage does not justify divorce. A marriage entered is assumed to be binding despite ill treatment and unhappiness. For some their marriages are part of following the life of the cross in following our Lord. Such marriages are trials to be test us, burdens to bear, thorns which we ask to be taken away but to which our Lord replies, "My grace is sufficient for you." The trials of this life can include many things - ill health, poverty, disappointments, broken hearts, unhappy marriages, lousy bosses, powerful temptations, depressive episodes, etc Nobody wants these things. Those who experience then deserve our sympathy, support, encouragement. Some things that husbands or wives do to make for unhappy marriages are offenses that can be in some cases grounds for church discipline. But they are not grounds for divorce. 
Our Lord said plainly, "What God hath joined together, let no man put asunder." He and the Apostle Paul told us that there are certain limited grounds for marriages to be put asunder. But neither said, "A woman may divorce her husband if he is a jerk." What I think you and your ministry are doing is playing the role of "man putting asunder what God has joined" by giving grounds of divorce that are not Biblical. 
I think also that you are wrong to label MacArthur, Adams, and Piper as "blind guides." When did our Lord give to you and your ministry the authority to judge these men? You are in fact slandering good men who do much good. I disagree with all three in several matters. But they are not blind guides. I do not think it is they, but rather you and your ministry who are distorting the Word of God.
Ms. Roberts final word for me:
Bill, with those views and that mis-chacterization of domestic abuse, you are part of the problem rather than part of the solution. 
 And since you've shown yourself not open to being educated on this topic, I'm not going to try to educate you any more. 
For the mercy of no further attempts to educate me, I am thankful.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Christian Songs Can Be Toxic

  • Toxic Songs

The word “toxic” gets a lot of use today. Literally used the word refers to what is poisonous, dangerous, harmful, potentially deadly. There are toxic dumps which are threat to the environment. There are toxic substances that must be handled carefully. There are toxic debts that have a high likelihood of default.

Like all trendy words, it gets used, misused, and over-used. There are toxic people we must avoid. There are  toxic relationships from which we must extricate ourselves. There toxic circumstances we must escape. Poisonous people and circumstances, we are told, are dangerous to our physical and psychological health. This kind of thinking is based on “me” and “taking care of me” and “doing what’s best for me” because “I am my first responsibility” and “I can’t help anyone else if I’m not in a ‘good place’ myself.”

But this got me wondering about spiritual toxicity. I grew up mostly fundamentalist in home, church, and school. I wonder if spiritual toxicity was conveyed through songs I grew up singing. Sometimes these records get loaded onto my mind’s turntable and play over and again. Sometimes I have to resort to singing something secular, like “I ain’t livin’ long like this, am I baby?” to make those old records stop playing.

I might be tormented  by doctrinal errors - “You ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart” - “Lord, we are able, our spirits are thine” - “In all life thou livest, thou true life divine” - “Father-love is reigning o’er us, brother-love binds man to man.” But those records were broken long ago, and they don’t bother me much. Or, I might point to that epitome of pietistic egotism against which Dr. Robert Rayburn so often railed against, “In the Garden”  - “And the joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known.” But that song is so hokey it lost hold on me long ago.

The songs I am thinking about are the songs about Christian experience I sang so often. These words were not true of my experience when I sang them, did not become true of my experience later, and could not express my experience now. And, because I think they are experiences not possible in this world, I will say they don't even express aspirations.

These songs I will call “toxic” focus on themes of surrender, peace, and joy. Do these songs express the experiential realities of a Christian life?

Who has experienced perfect submission?
          Perfect submission, perfect delight,
  • Visions of rapture now burst on my sight;
  • Angels, descending, bring from above
  • Echoes of mercy, whispers of love.

  • Perfect submission, all is at rest,
  • I in my Savior am happy and blest,
  • Watching and waiting, looking above,
  • Filled with His goodness, lost in His love.

Who has laid all on the altar?

  • You have longed for sweet peace,
  • And for faith to increase,
  • And have earnestly, fervently prayed;
  • But you cannot have rest,
  • Or be perfectly blest,
  • Until all on the altar is laid.

Is your all on the altar of sacrifice laid?
Your heart does the Spirit control?
You can only be blest,
And have peace and sweet rest,
As you yield Him your body and soul.

Who has so leaned on the everlasting arms as to have this fellowship and joy divine?

What a fellowship, what a joy divine,
  • Leaning on the everlasting arms;
  • What a blessedness, what a peace is mine,
  • Leaning on the everlasting arms.

    • Refrain:
    • Leaning, leaning,
    • Safe and secure from all alarms;
    • Leaning, leaning,
    • Leaning on the everlasting arms.
Who’s salvation has introduced him/her to new life sublime?

Saved by His pow’r divine,
Saved to new life sublime!
Life now is sweet and my joy is complete,
For I’m saved, saved, saved!

Who is happy all the day? (And who thinks Isaac Watt’s good hymn was ruined by the addition of this refrain?)

At the cross, at the cross where I first saw the light,
And the burden of my heart rolled away,
It was there by faith I received my sight,
And now I am happy all the day!

Who lives this?

There’s within my heart a melody,
Jesus whispers sweet and low,
Fear not, I am with thee, peace, be still,
In all of life’s ebb and flow.

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus--
Sweetest name I know,
Fills my every longing,
Keep me singing as I go.

Feasting on the riches of His grace,
Resting ’neath His sheltering wing,
Always looking on His smiling face,
That is why I shout and sing. (Refrain)

What harmless habit separates a Christian from the Savior? (I can remember the old question, “Would you want Jesus to come while you were...dancing...smoking...playing cards?)

Nothing between my soul and my Savior,
naught of this world's delusive dream;
I have renounced all sinful pleasure;
Jesus is mine, there's nothing between.

Nothing between my soul and my Savior,
so that his blessed face may be seen;
nothing preventing the least of his favor;
keep the way clear! let nothing between.

Nothing between, like worldly pleasure;
habits of life, though harmless they seem,
must not my heart from him ever sever;
he is my all, there's nothing between.

The repetition of P&W songs have nothing on this one:

I can hear my Savior calling,
I can hear my Savior calling,
I can hear my Savior calling,
"Take thy cross and follow, follow Me.

"I'll go with Him thro' the garden,
I'll go with Him through the garden,
I'll go with Him thro' the garden,
I'll go with Him, with Him all the way.

I'll go with Him thro' the judgment,
I'll go with Him thro' the judgment,
I'll go with Him thro' the judgment,
I'll go with Him, with Him all the way.

He will give me grace and glory,
He will give me grace and glory,
He will give me grace and glory,
And go with me, with me all the way.

Where He leads me I will follow,
Where He leads me I will follow,
Where He leads me I will follow,
I’ll go with him, with him all the way.

These are all songs that flow naturally from the preaching and techniques of Second Great Awakening. They reflect the theology of “the higher Christian life.” They are sentimental in the extreme. They promise what they cannot deliver.  

I think of Carl Trueman’s question, “What can miserable Christians sing?” and the answer must be, “Surely not these.” One of the things that Richard Allen Bodey said in the class on worship at Reformed Seminary more than 45 years ago has stuck with me: “What is sung from the hymnal is the man in the pew’s theology.” (Let me update this: What is sung from the screens on the wall is what the the man or woman standing in front of his/her chair believes.) If those songs taught me what Christian experience should be like, then they taught me wrong.

I remember in the first weeks of my ministry, I accompanied some ladies from my church on a visit to the asylum at Chattahoochee, Florida, and thinking what mockery this must have been to the depressed, though the third verse has something for those suffering with paranoia (a song I give thanks I had never before been subjected to):

Sing the clouds away,
Night will turn to day;
If you’ll sing and sing and sing
You’ll sing the clouds away.

Smile the clouds away,
Night will turn to day;
If you’ll smile and smile and smile
You’ll smile the clouds away.

Sing and smile and pray,
Pray and pray and pray;
Night will turn to day,
No matter what they say;

Sing and smile and pray,
That's the only way
If you’ll sing and smile and pray
You’ll drive the gloom away.

These songs were toxic for my expectations of Christian experience. I doubt they are sung much anymore, if for no other reason because the music is so bad and dated that churches which want there to be as seamless a transition as possible from what is heard on the radio to what is heard is church would never use them. But, then I think of the Praise and Worship genre and wonder about them:

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,   
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Friday, April 7, 2017

Just Say No

It's hard to say no. Nancy Reagan wanted kids to just say no to drugs. It didn't work. Many evangelical churches want their young people to say no to sex. That doesn't seem to be working out too well either. But, we don't have to look at failed campaigns to know how hard it is to say no. We can just look inside ourselves as Christian sinners to know how easy it is to say yes and how hard it is to say no to sin.

White Southerners of my generation know how hard it was to say no to racism and segregation. I recall at college one Sunday night when a group of guys wanted to go after a male student who had gained entrance for a black girl to see the Billy Graham film "The Restless Ones" by escorting her into the Mississippi Coliseum. I have written at my old Blog The Christian Curmudgeon about the negative attitudes and actions of people, including friends, because our campus ministry group at the University of Southern Mississippi was integrated. Happily such experiences are mostly behind us. 

Then there is the challenge of patriarchy and the scorn people such as Tim Bayly and his cultish followers have for  those who do disagree with their advocacy of patriarchy. Opposition to patriarchy allows Tim gleefully to fire his big guns, accusing men of attacking God's fatherhood, of rejecting God's creation order, and being afraid of their wives and too weak to rule enforce "father rule" on them. But we bravely soldier on answering Dorothy Sayers's question, "Are women human?" with "Yes." 

We say no to segregation and no to patriarchy. But there are two things now trending that need to hear, "No" from the churches and their leaders: (1) Application of the concepts of critical race theory to the definition and practice of racial reconciliation in the body of Christ. (2) Description of the different callings of men and women within the church and home as gender apartheid. 

The church needs to say, "Black people are not the Israelites, white people are not the Egyptians, and Jesus is not saying, 'Let my people go from the land white privilege and the house of micro-aggressions.'" This may be the way the Roman Catholic liberation theologians and liberal denominations talk, but it is not the language of the Bible, the gospel, or the church. If that's the language you want to speak, its the language of another country, not of the Israel of God. 

The church needs also to say, "Women are not the blacks of South Africa forced into their own segregated areas by male Afrikaners who save the best of the land for themselves." We want husbands to live with their wives as fellow heirs of the grace of life. We want our churches to listen to women and to affirm and use their gifts. Most of us are rather mild complementarians, the kind that the Bayly boys scorn. But the Bible does not allow us to be sufficiently egalitarian to culturally relativize Ephesians 5, 1 Peter 3, or 1 Timothy 2. And, no, we don't want to hear about "penis shaped microphones" so you can preach.

I am not optimistic the church will find the courage to do it. The church is too easily intimidated by people ready to accuse of racism and sexism. But the church needs to just say no to these two strange doctrines. If it doesn't find the wherewithal to say it and mean it soon, it will be too late.