Wednesday, May 24, 2017

She's Got Questions; I've Got Answers

3 Questions, 3 Answers

Today I read over at the Aquila Report a reposting of a Blog by Persis Lorenti on "Civil Religion." She includes some quotes by George Marsden in Religion and American Culture in which Marsden describes the unique American intertwining of Christianity and country which produced American civil religion. She also includes a quote from her pastor which seems to reflect the 1950s more than the second half of the second decade of the twenty-first century: "Because I'm an American, I'm a Christian. And because I'm a Christian, I'm American." Ms. Lorenti believes that American civil religion (combining Christianity and patriotism resulting in regarding America as "God's chosen people") is on the rise. 

She goes on to ask three questions: 
So what do I do with dual citizenship in two very different kingdoms with goals that are poles apart? In which kingdom am I placing my hope and which takes priority? Do I approach people and issues as an American or a Christian first?
 Let's take them one by one:

1. So what do I do with dual citizenship in two very different kingdoms with goals that are poles apart?

  • You are a stranger and pilgrim in the world in general and America in particular (1 Peter 1:1, 2:11). You are a citizen of a heavenly colony, which is the church, that is ruled from heaven by our Savior-King Jesus the Christ for whose coming we wait (Philippians 3:20). When he comes he will bring into existence a new heavens and earth in which righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3:11). 
  • You are also a citizen of the United States. That government, like the Roman government of which Paul and Peter wrote, is providentially instituted by God and serves his purposes of keeping order in society. You as a Christian have certain responsibilities toward the government that exists - such as to submit to it, honor it, pay taxes to it, and pray for it. (Romans 13:1-6, 1 Peter 2:13-17, 1 Timothy 2:1-4)
  • What do we as Christians want from government? Not very much: that the authorities may govern in such a manner as to allow us as Christians to "lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way" (1 Timothy 2:2). What the church wants is from the government to to be left alone to be itself and to carry out its mission in the world. 
  • The goals of the church and civil government are "poles apart," not because they are in necessary conflict with one another, but because they have different purposes.  The church exists to worship God, to carry on the ministry of Word and Sacraments, to evangelize the world and disciple the church's converts and members, who are pilgrims and strangers making their way through this earthly wilderness, where there are many dangers, toils, and snares, to a heavenly country and a city not made with human hands. The civil government exists to carry out the functions of civil government which are distinct from the church. The is no divine blueprint for government. There is no need for the church to instruct the government. There is no need for the church to protest unless the government encroaches upon the church's unique responsibilities or limits the freedom of the church to be itself.
  • In the United States it is rare that the two citizenships come into conflict. When does the civil government interfere with our carrying out our duties as citizens of the kingdom of God (members of the church)? When does carrying out our duties as citizens of the kingdom of God put us in conflict with the civil government? There may be many things, as we are free to do, we do not agree with, do not like, or may heartily disapprove. But that is different from there being a conflict between our dual citizenships. Conflicts would exist if a Roman Catholic doctor were required to carry out an execution by lethal injection or a pro-life Protestant physician were were required to perform an abortion, of if the civil government told the ministers of the church they may not preach the Gospel of Christ, or interfered with the church setting its own standards of membership. If the civil government requires of Christians to do what the Bible clearly forbids or forbids Christians to do what the Bible clearly commands, then there is a conflict between the citizenship of a Christian in the kingdom of God and his citizenship in the United States. 
  • As Christians living in a free country, where citizens may speak freely and vote as they see fit, we have every right to our our opinions as citizens. What we do not have Biblical warrant to do is to claim that we are declaring our faith or stating God's position on matters before the body politic. As a citizen I may be for open borders or for closed borders, for a laissez faire health care system or a single payer government system, for or against increased spending on national defense, for or against Donald Trump as President. What I may not do is claim that I am representing the will of God. I do not find my views about such things in the divine revelation. They are matters of wisdom, intuition, prudence, or even prejudice. But they are not issues of transcendent good and evil where we are faced with the obeying or disobeying the revealed will of God. 
2. In which kingdom am I placing my hope and which takes priority?

  • A Christian's whole hope of eternal salvation, his/her primary loyalty, first priority, and ultimate hope is always and only in the kingdom of God. We are citizens of a heavenly kingdom that is ruled by Jesus as the Savior-Messiah-King. 
  • But that does not mean that we do not have this worldly hopes and priorities in United States. If I have a disease, my ultimate hope and priority is the kingdom of God, but I will also put trust in my physicians and make availing myself of their treatments a very high priority. The same is true of me as a Christian when I am concerned about the defense of my country against its enemies, or the protection of my neighborhood against criminals, or the building and maintenance of roads and bridges, or the delivery of the mail, or the prevention of the spread of communicable diseases, or the assurance of a safe food supply, to name a few government functions. I will put my hope in the government for fulfilling those functions. I will make a priority of supporting the government in the fulfillment of those functions.
  • Again, it is seldom, if ever, that our hopes and priorities with regard to the heavenly and earthly kingdoms are in necessary conflict. That is because of the differences between the natures and responsibilities of the two kingdoms.
3. Do I approach people and issues as an American or a Christian first?
  • It depends. If you are looking at people in terms of their eternal salvation, then you approach them first, really only, as a Christian who knows that there is salvation only in the kingdom of God. But what if you are looking at them as persons who want to enter the country illegally, or as persons who want to commit crimes, or as persons who need health care or an education? Then you look at people first and really only from the perspective of being an American. What do you as an American citizen want for these people? Work for it. But don't turn it into an issue of the kingdom of God.
  • It is similar with issues. Is it an issue having to do with the doctrine, worship, practice, and government of the church? Then approach it as a citizen of the heavenly colony on earth. Is it an issue having to do with society or government? It very likely there is no divine mandate. So you approach the issue as a citizen of your country. Do you want the country to go back in the gold standard? Work for it. Do you want it not to engage in wars abroad? Work for it. Just don't try to tell other Christians they must think and act as you do because it is an issue of the Gospel or the kingdom of God. 


There's always been a level of syncretism in this nation where Christianity and patriotism become so intertwined that America begins to don the mantle as God's chosen people. Maybe it's just me, but it seems to be on the rise again. Thus I found this quote from George Marsden very interesting:1
America's religious heritage also contributed to a sort of deification of the national enterprise. In recent years, this tendency, first seen during the American Revolution, has been tagged "civil religion." Civil religion is the attributing of sacred character to the nation itself. Throughout history rulers had claimed divine sanction either by saying they themselves were divine (as Roman emperors did) or that they were chosen by the God or gods of the nation...
But now America had a problem. How could they claim religious sanction for their nation? Thomas Paine, for instance, was a notorious infidel. After the Revolution he authored scathing attacks on Christianity. With leading citizens such as Paine or Jefferson, clearly the nation could not officially claim a Christian sanction.
Americans resolved this problem by three primary means, all aspects of civil religion. First, Deist leaders of the Jefferson sort argued that the natural laws on which American rights were founded demonstrably originated with the Creator... Hence, official references to "God" in American life, as "in God we trust," or "so help me God" could have this vague meaning.
Second, Americans civil and political leaders informally continued to speak of the nation as though it were a Christian nation, or at least a biblical nation. Both politicians and clergy continually referred to America as the new elect, and Americans as the chosen people, a covenanted people...
Finally, the United States was the first modern nation systematically to shift public veneration of the government from veneration of persons to veneration of the nation and its principles.

The following was an aside in one of Pastor Ryan's recent sermons. He was making a point of how Christianity has been watered down to praying a prayer or wearing a cultural marker, which is NOT THE GOSPEL. His statement also captured, in my opinion, the essence of civil religion:
Because I'm an American, I'm a Christian. And because I'm a Christian, I'm American.

So what do I do with dual citizenship in two very different kingdoms with goals that are poles apart? In which kingdom am I placing my hope and which takes priority? Do I approach people and issues as an American or a Christian first?

Again these questions aren't aimed at anyone. I am just using the Socratic method to encourage my own critical thinking.

1. Religion and American Culture, George M. Marsden, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc, 1990, pp. 42-44.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Divorce Is Not the Cure for Marriage to a Mean Husband

The Misguided Mission of Barbara Roberts

Barbara Roberts, along with her partner at Cry for Justice, Jeff Crippen, is on a mission. A self-described survivor of domestic abuse, she wants to "awaken the evangelical church to the presence of domestic violence and abuse in its midst." No argument. The evangelical church needs to be watchful for signs of marital conflicts and especially cases of domestic abuse. 

However, there is more to Barbara's mission. Barbara has written a book on divorce, Not Under Bondage, which according to her book blurb does the following:

  • defines domestic abuse as a pattern of coercive control (not just physical violence) 
  • explains the scriptural dilemmas of abuse victims
  • carefully examines the scriptures and scholarly research
  • shows how the Bible sets victims of abuse free from bondage and guilt.
The way that God sets victims of abuse free is through divorce. According to the blurb:

  • The Bible distinguishes between "treacherous divorce" and "disciplinary divorce".
  • Disciplinary divorce is permitted by the Bible. This applies in cases of abuse, adultery or desertion, where a seriously mistreated spouse divorces a seriously offending spouse.
  • Treacherous divorce is condemned by the Bible. It occurs when a spouse obtains divorce for reasons other than abuse, adultery or desertion.
  • If the offending partner was sexually immoral, the Bible allows the non-offending partner to remarry.
  • If the offending partner abused, deserted or unjustly dismissed the other, and the offender has been judged to be ‘as an unbeliever’, the Bible allows the mistreated partner to remarry.
I think this is a fair summary of an argument she would make:
  • Domestic abuse includes a person's being mean and insulting resulting in the other partner's feeling persecuted. 
  • A wife (or, in rare cases, a husband) who is married to such a person has grounds for a "disciplinary divorce."
  • Therefore, the cure for being married to a person who persecutes you is divorce.
Now, before I go any further, let me make clear that I do not believe any husband (or wife) should be mean. When I think of mean people, I am reminded of the saying that the only reason some people are alive is because it is illegal to kill them (and sometimes wonder if that is the reason I am yet alive). 

If meanness leads to physical violence, that physical violence creates a necessary separation, which, if it cannot be remedied so as to make the non-violent party safe, is grounds for divorce. The violent person in effect deserts by making it necessary for the other person to leave in order to protect her (or his) physical well being. 

Moreover, I think that people and life, in this world that is very far short of the new heavens and earth for which we look, are complicated. That includes the reality and tragedy of divorce. Life has its ways of knocking you up side the head and showing you that it is not nearly so simple as you once, without justification, thought. There is a great deal of unhappiness and misery in marriages, including Christian ones. Some people would be much better off if they had had the wisdom to see - or if someone had convinced them of what they could not see - that such was the incompatibility of the two persons that happiness was most unlikely. Sometimes, despite the fact that it is not Biblically approved, such persons divorce. Sooner or later they remarry. I do not believe such divorces mean that God does or the church should write such people off. Just as God is far more holy than liberal churches imagine, God is often more merciful than conservative churches think. God's conservative people might take a lesson from him. 

But, on to Barbara Roberts....

Since Barbara had responded to my views earlier by finding me so invincibly ignorant that she would waste no further effort trying to educate me, I had not thought about her or her take on divorce until this past weekend. The Epistle lesson for Sunday, May 7, was 1 St. Peter 2:11-17, and I chose it as the text for my sermon. This required me to do a little review of St. Peter's letter so I could place my text in the book's context. 

My review reminded me that St. Peter was writing in the early 60s to believers in churches in the area of modern day Turkey in a time when there was sporadic and local persecution of varying degrees of severity throughout the Empire. His readers either were being persecuted or were facing the threat of persecution. This is the historical context of and the primary reason for the letter.

  • Peter reminds his readers’ “for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials” (1:6).

  • He encourages them that if they “must suffer for righteousness’ sake” they “will be blessed” (3:14).

  • He knows some will be brought before courts, so instructs them to be “always prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (3:15).

  • He tells them…
    • not to “be surprised at the fiery trial that come comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (4:12),
    • that “if you are insulted for the name of Christ you are blessed” (4:14),
    • and that “if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed” (4:16).

  • He lets them know “that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brethren throughout the world” (5:9).

Peter's counsel to persecuted Christians is to respond to criticism and mistreatment with good works, especially the good work of submission. He introduces this theme of submission in chapter 2, verses 13-17, where his main concern is the submission of Christian citizens to the Roman (Nero the Emperor) government:
Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
He seems to return to the relation of Christian citizens to society and government in chapter 3, verses 8-17: 
Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. For
“Whoever desires to love life and see good days,let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer.But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” 
Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil. 
In the process of counseling persecuted Christians Peter, besides addressing Christians as members of society and citizens of the state, addresses two persecuted groups of people. In 1 Peter 2:18-25 he counsels servants who are persecuted by their masters:
Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
1 Peter 3:1-7, he addresses wives and husbands with particular concern for who experience mistreatment from their husbands: 
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. 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.
Peter's message to Christians is: It's not unusual if you face mistreatment and persecution as Christians. Is it as a member of society? Don't make war on society. Do the good works of a member of society. Is it as a citizen of the Empire? Don't join a revolution. Do the good works of a citizen. Is is as a servant in relation to your master? Don't run away from your master. Do the good works of a servant. Is it as the wife of a husband? Don't divorce your husband. Do the good works of a wife.

Dr. Edmund Clowney wrote (in his exposition of 1 Peter in The Bible Speaks Today Series): "In the case of wives also there is the possibility of mistreatment. Christian wives are to remain faithful to God under pressure; they are not to deny the Lord for fear of their unbelieving husbands (3:6). But the submission wives are to yield to their husbands represents more than an opportunity to bear injustice for the sake of Christ. Peter presents this submission as an adornment of the Christian woman, the beauty of a meek and quiet spirit that is pleasing to God."

Imagine that - we as Christians are called upon to bear mistreatment and endure persecution in this world. Sometimes it occurs in marriage.

The problem with the mission of Barbara Roberts is that it plainly misguided and decidedly unbiblical. There are women (and men) who deserve our sympathy and need our support who will instead be lead astray.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

It's Time for the Mississippi State Flag to Go

A Response to Keith Plunkett

Mississippi State Flag
Keith Plunkett

Keith Plunkett is a Mississippi conservative political operative who runs the Mississippi PEP website. He has served as a relentless promoter of State Senator Chris McDaniel, who almost defeated long time Republican U.S. Senator Thad Cochran in 2014 and is mulling a challenge to U.S. Senator Roger Wicker in 2018. The purpose of Mississippi PEP is "to always and everyday provide Traditional and Cultural Conservatives across the state with resources. When studied and applied these resources provide the wisdom to more fully understand, the ability to articulate, and the opportunity to share conservative beliefs with others."

Today he published The Trouble With Not Knowing, Or Caring, About History in response to an announcement by Rep. Sonya Williams-Barnes of the Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus that its members will not attend the Southern Legislative Conference in Biloxi as a protest against the Mississippi State Flag. Keith believes that the problem the Black Caucus has can be remedied by a history lesson which he provides. He concludes:

So, there you have it. A state lawmaker making political headlines for Mississippi and leading a legislative caucus can’t even be bothered to know some very basic history about the state where she is responsible for creating laws. And it’s the flag that is supposedly an embarrassment to the state? 
The world is full of people who pine-on about charting futures, and the importance of moving on, not living in the past, super new government programs, and the like. But history is the only certainty from which we learn. The future is a much easier place to be for those who haven’t studied the lessons of the past, and therefore aren’t prepared to make an impact on the present. 
Rep. Williams-Barnes appears to need a remedial course.
I responded by posting what follows at the comments section:

That's an interesting history lesson, Keith. I join you in being a proud southerner, whose forefathers fought and died in the War, whose heroes are men such as Robert. E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, who resists the efforts to discredit these good men, and who rejects the call to pretend that the War never happened (as in my hometown, "The City of Five Flags" and the opposition to continuing to acknowledge the City was under the Confederate government). After the War one effort to re-incorporate South into the United States was to allow the South to have a certain pride in her heritage and to include men such as Lee in the pantheon American heroes. The War happened and the country was eventually reunited. One of the ways this was promoted was by allowing Southerners not to feel themselves a vanquished people living in a subjugated section of the Country.

All that said, there remains a problem with the Mississippi Flag. The truth is that there were slaves who were held and forced to work against their wills. And, the truth is that, after they were freed, and when Southerners regained control of their state governments, these former slaves were often humiliated and denied their rights as American citizens and forced to form and live in segregated communities, including schools, which in the case of other immigrants were an instrument of assimilation.

Almost 40% of the citizens of Mississippi are African Americans, most of them descendents slaves. They almost universally are offended by the inclusion of the Battle Flag in the Mississippi State Flag. They feel no pride or loyalty when they see Mississippi Flag. The Flag is not something the promotes the unity of Mississippi. It is not that Blacks (and not a few Whites) just "don't understand." They may lack the knowledge of what you and others have written about this history of MS and its Flag. But that is not the problem. The problem is that, when they look at the Flag they see a symbol of slavery, of a war fought to preserve their ancestors' status as slaves, and later of segregation. The reaction is visceral. It cannot be cured by history lessons or by your assurance that we really are not racists. These Black Mississippians are not going to come to a point of "enlightenment" that will result in their seeing that there is "no real problem" with the Flag.

For this reason there are many White Mississippians, some of whom share the visceral reaction Blacks have against the Flag, who also have a problem with the Flag. Other White Mississippians are proud of their heritage and their ancestors, but they are convinced the Flag is not functioning and cannot ever function as the symbol of the state, incorporating all her citizens. The reality is that the Flag is both a symbol of and cause of disunity. If it were a practice to place one's hand over his heart and recite a pledge of state allegiance to Flag and State for which it stands, there are a great number of Mississippians, Black and White, who could not do so. If it were a practice to play a State anthem and to stand as the State Flag is raised, there are a great many Blacks and Whites who could not and would not stand. In other words, the Mississippi Flag no longer functions nor can it function as Flags are supposed to function - to represent the State of Mississippi and her people, to inspire pride and loyalty.

It is past time to adopt a new Flag, a Flag for all of the State and all of her citizens.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Questioning a Question

A False Dichotomy that Isn't 

Persis Lorenti has written Questioning a False Dichotomy at one of her two Blogs, Tried by Fire. She challenges what she believes is a false dichotomy - between orthodoxy (right doctrine) and orthopraxis (right practice). She introduces her concern with this:
I wonder sometimes if being Asian in what for some is still a starkly black-and-white American South protects me to some degree. I also wonder if people will like me less if I begin to write and speak more intentionally about racism and racialization. Perhaps I am "safe" because I have blended in so well by talking and writing about matters that are acceptable for a reformed, Christian woman. Because... 
If you discuss domestic violence, oppression of women, or misogyny, you might be labeled a feminist.
If you raise issues regarding poverty or race, people may begin to wonder if you are sliding down the slippery slope toward religious liberalism.
She tells us she still believes in "the doctrines of grace." However, her concerns have shifted:
But my concerns have changed over the years as I have been burdened about domestic abuse awareness in the church and now issues of race. This has led me to ask questions and question the status quo in some areas. Does this suddenly make a liberal feminist? But why wouldn't a confessionally reformed Christian care about imago dei issues? 
 She states and asks:
I am all for the pursuit of biblical and robust orthodoxy. Then why not an equally robust orthopraxy?
She is concerned that we put too much emphasis on what the Gospel and the Holy Spirit do, while neglecting what we must do, and too much focus on future salvation to the neglect of salvation in the present:
Or do I think that orthodoxy somehow delivers me from the consequences of the fall? Wave the gospel-centered wand and everything will be neat and tidy as the Holy Spirit supernaturally transforms everyone and everything up to my comfort level so I don't need to get my hands dirty. Just like the "miracle motif" in Divided by Race. But perhaps orthodoxy enables me to face the ugliness and evil in the world with hope that is not just for the "sweet by and by" but an impetus to actively engage the present.
She asks and answers her own questions:
Is there a contradiction between affirming male elders and being concerned that harmful ideas about gender may contribute to harmful responses to domestic abuse? Absolutely not. Can I love the doctrine of God and speak up about racial attitudes and divisions? Yes, and amen. Why should I have to chose between orthodoxy and orthopraxy? There is no "either or." I'd rather pray for the Holy Spirit to grant me both.
To borrow from the Apostle Paul, "What shall we then say to these things?" Several things:

First, there is and ought to be a priority of orthodoxy over orthopraxy for the simple reason that there can be no God-pleasing orthopraxy without orthodoxy. In the New Testament the indicative (what is - the facts) goes before the imperative (what should be - the commands). This is evident as well in the Old Testament. "I am the Lord thy God who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage" precedes the "thou shalts" and "thou shalt nots." In the New Testament this priority is of the utmost importance to the Apostle Paul. Christ's saving work and its doctrinal interpretation is the foundation of Biblical ethics. When orthopraxy is made equally ultimate with orthodoxy, there is always the danger of the corruption of orthodoxy. Two examples: It may be legalism in which works worm their way into justification by faith. It may be liberalism which is what occurred in the first part of the 20th century and gave us the social gospel in the place of the gospel gospel.

Second, it is simply untrue to suggest that those who are concerned for orthodoxy have not been concerned with orthopraxis. How many expositions of the Ten Commandments have been preached and written by orthodox theologians and preachers? Is Ms. Lorenti not familiar with ethical works of Lutherans, Reformed, and Anglicans? Has Ms. Lorenti not read John Murray's Principles of Conduct? Or the many books of Christian ethics produced by Protestant orthodox writers? What Ms. Lorenti is really talking about is not a neglect of orthopraxis by the orthodox but the the the fact that orthodoxy has historically not preached against sin in political and sociological terms. 

There is good reason for this. While Jesus and the Apostles lived in times, to put it in understated way, when there were plenty of political and sociological sins that they might have addressed, they did not. Jesus did not condemn Roman oppression or call for reform of the Roman government. Paul and Peter addressed masters and servants, but did not call for the abolishment of slavery. James addressed the sins of respect of persons in the church but not the society that valued some persons over others. Orthodox preachers, theologians, and  ethicists historically have followed the lead of Christ and the Apostles.

Third, it is one thing to preach to Christians, "You must not be racists, and, if are a racist, you must repent." It is quite a another thing to preach, "The church be sensitive to racialization and must confront the issues of white privilege in society," or, "You in this congregation must repent of your many microaggressions." Before Christians commit themselves to preaching such things as gospel imperatives, even if they believe such things could be the concern of Biblical preaching, they ought at least to read the dissenting voices in academia and among African American voices questioning if such things exist, or, if they exist, how they are best addressed.

Those called to the ministry of Word and Sacrament are obligated to preach to Christian husbands, "You must love your wife as you love your own body and as Christ loved the church." And, "You must live with your wife in an understanding way, treating her as the weaker vessel and fellow heir of the grace of life, else your prayers will be hindered." (However, it can be wondered if male ministers may preach, "You must submit to your husband in all things as the church submits to Christ, following the example of your godly mother Sarah, who called Abraham 
'lord.' ")

It is one thing to tell a woman who is physically harmed by her husband that she ought to leave him and to offer her shelter and whatever support she needs. It is another thing to teach that because a woman is married to a man who is boorish or who fails to live up to the command to love his wife as himself that she is in an abusive relationship and the remedy is divorce. Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote about "defining deviancy down." He was concerned that less and less was considered deviant. It appears to me there are some Christians who are attempting to define abuse up. More and more is considered abuse. This redefining of abuse is not the result of our having discovered that for 2000 years the church has got it wrong. It is rather the adoption by some of a definition that is not warranted by the Bible.  

Fourth, I want to challenge Ms. Lorenti about some of her assumptions and assertions. She is concerned about "oppression of women" and "misogyny." While affirming that only men should serve as elders, she seems to think that "harmful ideas about gender may contribute to harmful responses to domestic abuse." Where does she see oppression of women and misogyny? In Islamic cultures? Sure. In orthodox Christianity? No. Definitely not. Is there some correspondence between believing in male headship and harmful responses to domestic abuse? Has this ever happened? Perhaps. Is this characteristic of orthodox churches? No. 

Is Ms. Lorenti a "feminist"? I don't know. Is she a "liberal feminist"? I think not yet. Is she on a "slippery slope that leads to religious liberalism"? I hope not. But historically others on such a slope have found it so slippery they lost their footing.


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.