We’re Slipping

A few weeks ago I posted an entry called “A Very Slippery Slope” about the dangers of expanding the definition of marriage to mean more than a relationship between one man and one woman. Unfortunately, the intervening few weeks have provided additional evidence that we are already slipping.

Newt Gingrich is running for president. Not surprisingly, that means that all of his dirty laundry is being aired publicly…which includes an examination of his past marital infidelity. According to the second Mrs. Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House asked her to go along with the idea of an open marriage so that Mr. and Mrs. Gingrich could remain married and Newt could continue his affair with his staffer. When the second Mrs. Gingrich said no, she says, a divorce resulted, and that staffer is now the third Mrs. Gingrich.

In and of itself this would likely have been an unfortunate and, depending on your point of view, disqualifying part of the GOP presidential race. However, the New York Times decided to make it more than that, and it is the Times that we must thank for revealing just how far we are already slipping.

The Times has an opinion section (as most newspapers do) and in the opinion section there is a recurring feature called Room for Debate. On January 20 the powers that be at the paper decided to devote this space to exploring the topic of open marriage. Referencing Marianne Gingrich’s assertion that Newt wanted an open marriage, the paper asked this question: “…[I]f her account is true, was he onto something? If more people considered such openness an option, would marriage become a stronger institution — less susceptible to cheating and divorce, and more attractive than unmarried cohabitation?”

I will set aside (for the moment) what seems to me the incredible idiocy of the very phrasing and background of this question–the presumption that marriages would be stronger if they were open–and look first at the responses the paper provided.

Dan Savage, editor of a Seattle newsweekly and author of a book on marriage, ended his thoughts on the topic by saying that an open marriage is “a better solution for those who are incapable of monogamous behavior, and a less socially harmful one, than an endless cycle of marriage, betrayal, divorce and remarriage.” Please note what Savage is saying: that there are people who are incapable of monogamy. Sound familiar? As I mentioned in the earlier post, if we start buying into the idea that people are not able to control themselves and therefore must engage in certain behavior, where do we draw the line? in fact, how do we draw a line? Who would get to be the arbiter of what behaviors can and cannot be controlled?

Okay, moving on… Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers are visiting professors of economics at Princeton University. They suggest that marriage vows should be negotiated and tailored like an employment contract. “This individual contracting lets you define the relationship that works best for both you and your boss. We should take the same approach to our romantic relationships.” And, they go on, this does not have to apply only to sexual fidelity; why not negotiate housework, location of residence, number of children, retirement age, etc.? “Marriage can be strengthened by shifting to individualized marital contracts that emphasize those things essential to making each relationship work.” This is, of course, exactly what those who want to redefine marriage are already arguing. Make marriage unique and specific to the individuals involved. If it works for you for it to be between one man and one woman then fine, but let someone else define it as between two men or two women if they so please. But again, how can we stop there? If it’s all about what works for me, how can you ever say no?

Ralph Richard Banks, a law professor at Stanford and author of a book on African-American marriages correctly points out that most individuals who claim to want the freedom that an open marriage allows are not nearly as excited about allowing their spouse the same freedom. But he ends his response with this: “The paradox of marital satisfaction is that people would almost certainly be happier if they expected less. The surest road to discord, sexual and otherwise, is to expect your partner to complete you, to make you whole. If couples relaxed or relinquished some of their emotional expectations, marriages could better accommodate extramarital dalliances. But then, there would also be less need for them.” On the contrary, isn’t the need for completion the exact reason why God created Eve in the first place? But, Banks seems to say, if we didn’t expect our spouse to complete us we probably wouldn’t get so worked up when he or she did step out on us. All I can think to say to this line of reasoning is…”Whatever.”

W. Bradford Wilcox, Director of the National Marriage Project, could certainly be expected to defend marriage, though, right? Well, just barely. Wilcox asserts that open marriages do a disservice to women and are particularly dangerous for the well-being of children. He expounds on this by saying that more men than women engage in infidelity, so women are the ones most often hurt, and then cites a survey showing that children who live with “one parent and an unrelated romantic partner” are ten times more likely to be “sexually, physically or emotionally abused.” While no doubt true, I think Wilcox missed the point, because I am not sure anyone would advocate open marriages that include children being rotated among caregivers. (I probably should not go that far; let me clarify and say that no one I have come across is advocating such an arrangement).

Andrew Cherlin of Johns Hopkins says that open marriages are not a trend we should move toward because of the danger of jealousy. However, it is perfectly fine, he suggests, to have any number of sexual relationships, so long as each one is monogamous for its duration. He calls this “serial monogamy.”

Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy, not surprisingly, support the idea of an open marriage. And I say not surprisingly because they are the authors of a “practical guide to polyamory.” They suggest that successful open marriages are all about effective communication: “People who are generally open-minded about sex and who are aware of polyamory as an option will have an easier time than those who believe that the desire for an open relationship must mean that their spouse no longer loves them.”

Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá, authors of a book on sexual history, are perhaps the most blatantly in support of open marriage. Their response includes these statements:
“…[T]he configuration of the relationship (same-sex, open, swinging, poly, asexual, etc.) shouldn’t concern us, on personal or policy grounds. Conventional relationships are no happier or more durable than the alternatives. … For all the oft-repeated claims to the contrary, civilization doesn’t depend upon the sanctity of any particular form of marriage, but upon honoring the dignity intrinsic to any mutually respectful, mutually beneficial relationship.” Again, the basic idea is, whatever works for the individuals involved should be fine.

Bottom line…we’re already slipping.

Why Do I Care?

A few days ago I had a young lady–a student at the school where I serve–ask me a question that was, I suspect, far more insightful than she realized, or even intended it to be. She had been in my office several different times over a two day period because of a discipline issue that needed to be dealt with, and her question came toward the end of the last of those visits. She looked at me and asked, “Why do you care so much?”

I confess, I was temporarily speechless. I recognized immediately that it was a powerful question, and I was able to stammer out, “That’s an excellent question.”

My mind began to wrap around the question fairly quickly, and it took me very little time to come to–and express–my next realization. “There is no way I can answer that question without including the Lord in the explanation,” I told her. I did not intend to come across with a holier-than-thou attitude or sound as if I am somehow more receptive to the Lord’s influence in my life than anyone else, but I quickly realized there is no other explanation for why I care about that young lady, or anyone else for that matter.

After all, if it were not for the Lord, my relationship with Him and my desire to serve Him, why would I care? What anyone else does with their life would matter to me not at all so long as it did not interfere with what I wanted to do with my life. If a young person wanted to skip school every day, get high on drugs, get pregnant or father a child out of wedlock, or ______________ (just fill in the blank with whatever), I would not care.

As I think about it further, this is the exact mindset that the world has. The “I’m okay, you’re okay” approach and the entire idea of relativism is premised on the notion of you do your thing, I’ll do mine, and as long as they don’t conflict, who cares? Taken to an extreme, of course, even in the opinion of unbelievers, this is considered a disorder. A person who cannot form a healthy relationship with someone else is likely to be diagnosed with an attachment disorder. In fact, I had a mental health professional tell me once, in her attempt to put the severity of the disorder in a particular young man into layman’s language, “If the two of you were walking down the street and you got flattened by a tractor trailer, his reaction would simply be, ‘At least it wasn’t me.'”

Jesus was different. He came to the world and set an example that was completely different from the one set by anyone else ever before. He did care about those who were different than Him, who were rejected by society, who were considered unworthy of the time and attention of anyone else. In other words, lots of people in Jesus’ time did not care about anyone else.

So, why do I care? Well, Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15, ESV). And what are His commandments? He answered that question, too:

“But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’ And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets'” (Matthew 22:34-40, ESV).

So that’s it–I care because I love Jesus, and He has commanded me to care. Fortunately, He has also, through His Spirit, given me a heart that really does care. But without Him, and without His influence, as much as I hate to admit, I would probably have had to answer that young lady by saying, “I don’t care. In fact, I couldn’t care less.”

The Chopping Block

My wife and I enjoy watching the Food Network show “Chopped.” If you haven’t seen it, I will give you a quick synopsis: four competitors start the show–with most of the competitors being employed in food service as executive chefs, sous chefs, caterers and/or cookbook authors–and have to prepare an appetizer using the ingredients in a “mystery basket” (as well as anything from the show’s pantry and refrigerator) within the allotted amount of time. When time is up, the competitors present their dish to a three-judge panel. These judges are big names in the restaurant world, as restaurant owners, executive chefs and/or cookbook authors. After tasting and critiquing each dish, the judges deliberate and one contestant is “chopped,” or sent home. The remaining three then compete in an entree round with a new basket of ingredients, after which another competitor is chopped, then the final two compete in a dessert round. The chef left standing after the final visit to the chopping block is declared Chopped Champion. And to make it all even more interesting, the ingredients in the mystery basket are generally unusual ingredients, or very pedestrian items a fine chef would not ordinarily use (like ramen noodles, licorice candies, or cheese in a can).

Anyway, the show is fun. It is interesting to see what the chefs can come up with in such a short period of time with such wacky ingredients. And of course, as in any competition, there can only be one winner. That’s why I’m so glad that life–and particularly life after death–is not a competition.

Can you imagine being summoned before the ultimate chopping block–the throne of God? Regardless of how many wonderful things I may do, how much money I may give or what a great guy I might be, there is certainly going to be someone who does more, gives more, and is even greater than me. So if entry in heaven was like an episode of Chopped, I would certainly be sent home in the first round. Maybe you are the most wonderful, most generous and greatest human being, though. So I guess you’d end up okay, huh? Nope. ‘Fraid not. Because even the best human being isn’t “good enough.” Romans 3:23 says that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” In other words, if standing before God was like standing before the chopping block, we’d all be chopped. No one would win.

The good news, though, is that while every human being who has ever lived will someday stand before the throne of God–the chopping block, so to speak–there is no numerical limit to how many people can move on into heaven. Everyone who confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord, was raised from the dead, and can forgive sins will be saved (Romans 10:9-10). But that is the only way to get forgiveness. It doesn’t matter what I put on my plate to present to God, because it won’t be enough. But when I stand before His throne and say that I have accepted His Son’s death, burial and resurrection and asked forgiveness for my sins, He will let me into heaven. He has promised He will. And I, for one, am thankful!

The Law of the Harvest

“Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:7-9 (ESV)

When I started working at the children’s home there was a man named Jerry Tucker on staff. By that time Jerry was working full time in the kitchen, but he had been a pastor before coming to the children’s home and had been a houseparent before moving into the kitchen. He had a great relationship with the kids, and I think one of the things he enjoyed most about working in the kitchen was that he had the opportunity to interact with all of the kids. Jerry used to talk to the kids all the time about the Law of the Harvest. When one of them would be in trouble for something or have an unpleasant consequence occur because of something that they had done he would simply say, “Law of the Harvest!” It did not take the new kids long to know that while Jerry might empathize with them, he wasn’t going to excuse their choices or let them try to get off the hook, either. He wanted them to learn as quickly as possible that there was rarely anyone else to blame but themselves for the results of their choices.

The Law of the Harvest comes from Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia, specifically in the verses quoted above. It is a lesson that is important for young and old alike, and it is applicable at every age and stage of life. Every action or choice has a consequence. We tend to think of “consequences” as negative, but a consequence is basically a synonym for result, and if there were no result to a choice there would be no point in making the choice. One could even argue that if there is not a difference of consequences pending then there is in reality no choice to be made. So the two go together. From an early age parents teach children about the Law of the Harvest, though rarely in those words, of course. As soon as they are mobile children are taught where they can and cannot go, what they can and cannot touch, and so forth, and typically they are told and/or shown what the consequences of their choices will be. Sometimes, of course, parents make every effort to make a choice for their children, realizing it is much better in the long run to eliminate a choice than to allow the child to reap the harvest of sticking a fork into an electrical outlet.

As we grow up, the number of choices we have to make the weight of the consequences for those decisions only grows. Sure, there are relatively insignificant choices to make each day like whether to have toast or cereal for breakfast, whether to wear khakis or corduroys, whether to have the mashed potatoes or the macaroni and cheese. But there are choices with far more serious consequences, too. The hope of every parent is that their children have been trained and equipped to make those decisions carefully and wisely, and that they will seek help and advice from intelligent and mature individuals, not just whoever is around or whatever seems popular.

Young people don’t always make good decisions. Let’s face it, not-so-young people don’t always make good decisions, either. Whatever our age, though, we must not be surprised when our not-so-good choices yield not-so-pleasant results. Paul says God is not mocked; in other words, God will not allow us to make stupid decisions and not experience the results of those decisions. Sure, sometimes we don’t get caught the first time or even the one hundred and first time, and sometimes we feel like there have been no negative results to our choices. That’s not because God doesn’t see or care or know, it is simply that, like a harvest, some seeds take longer to produce their harvest than others. Paul says that whatever we sow, we will reap.

Thankfully, we serve a God Who is able to transform our harvest from something worthless to something good. He is able to equip us to plant new seeds that produce new crops than the ones that come from sowing in the flesh. But He will not forcibly replant our crops for us; we have to yield to Him, to want to do things His way. Unless and until we do, we need to remember the Law of the Harvest…what we sow, we will reap.