Monday, May 16, 2005

Biblical Family Values?

The following essay, Articles of Faith: Biblical Values for American Families, touches on some of the things I've wondered about when I hear folks speak of "family values based on the scriptures." Usually this is code for the argument that "one woman, one man" is the only model of marriage that is "biblically based." In the end, the author does indeed identify some biblical values;

...First, it's important to recognize that the most common marriage pattern in the Bible is polygamy: not a union of one man and one woman, but a union of one man and as many women as he could afford to keep (see Solomon, and his 700 wives and 300 concubines). In the Christian scriptures, the two primary figures, Jesus and the Apostle Paul, are both unmarried and childless. Based on the model of Jesus and his disciples, the early church developed a radical model of family that broke with ancient kinship patterns in favor of a religious — and nonbiological — church family...

...The structures of biblical families are rooted in ancient cultural practices far removed from the sensibilities of Western society; the authors of the Bible would scarcely recognize the partnership of equals that marks a contemporary American marriage. But this doesn't mean we should abandon the Bible as a guide to family values. As the mutable institution of marriage evolves with shifting cultural norms, the Bible continually calls us back to what truly matters in human relationships. St. Paul wrote about these values, calling them the "fruit of the spirit": "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control" (Galatians 5:22). Surely these are biblical values every family would embrace. According to Paul, "love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude...It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things" (1 Corinthians 13:4-7). Even when knowledge and human institutions fail, these values, Paul says, remain constant: faith, hope and love. The greatest of these three, Paul concludes, is love (1 Corinthians 13:13).

Societal definitions of marriage and family will inevitably change over the course of history. It's clear that what is important in the Bible is not a family structure based on biology or even heterosexuality, but the quality of love exhibited in the relationships. And if same-sex couples exhibit such spiritual values, they deserve the legal protection and civil recognition of marriage. If we have any intention of preserving marriage or protecting families, we must base our support on values that are unchangeable: values such as faith, hope, and love. But the greatest among these — whether the couple is same-sex or heterosexual — is love.
If you want the "more colorful" examples of various relationships found within the scriptures, you'll have to go read the whole thing.

On a personal note, Jay was a senior at Nashotah House when I was a lowly junior. I had heard that he was teaching in the People's Republic of Berkeley, but I thought he was at CDSP. Is Pacific part of the Berkeley consortium? In any case, based on this and some of his other papers I've read, I'm pleased to see him emerging as a first rate theologian.

A quick disclaimer; I don' recommend the House. Women priests are still not allowed to perform any sacerdotal acts on the grounds, as but one example of why I can't recommend the place with a clear conscience. So, if you are considering seminary, my personal recommendation is General.

Now for a slightly tangential discussion...I've heard clergy advocate for the Church getting out of the wedding business altogether. I must admit that I am quite uncomfortable with the whole license business; the couple hands it over to me, and I have to get the required signatures and get it back to the registrar in 5 days. IOW, I am functioning as an agent of the state.

But, on the other hand, I consider Holy Matrimony to a be sacrament; not just a sacramental rite (which is really just Anglican double-speak; a way to remain both Protestant and Catholic, but in actuality, it comes out as just plain fuzzy). The outward and visible signs are the vows and the rings, symbolizing the love and commitment of the couple. Ideally, such a rite manifests God's love to all present in a clear and unique way. Feels pretty sacramental to me.

I think we do need to rethink the sacramental theology surrounding Holy Matrimony. We seem to have done little of this when divorce became more acceptable, to the detriment of the Church, it seems to me. And, if we find we can't adequately explain why we do these rites, and how they manifest God's grace, then maybe it is indeed time to get out of the wedding business.

J.

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