Tag Archives: sexuality

Marriage and Social Justice: Ideas for Churches

Following up on my previous post “Marriage and Social Justice,” what can churches do? While I’m applying for an MS in Marital & Family Therapy, I’m not an expert quite yet. Nevertheless, here are a few preliminary ideas:

Evaluate what you have.
Get the help of those with appropriate training in your church (or bring in experts from outside) to evaluate how your church could improve various structures, programs, etc. to better include people from different kinds of families, as well as to best equip these people to move toward healthy, stable relationships. Be sure to consider lifespan development and what specific age groups, as well as other population groups, may need.

Make marriage a priority in your outreach budget and hiring decisions.
As you reach out into your church’s neighborhood or a low-income neighborhood in your community, consider hiring (alone or with the help of partnering churches) a therapist and/or family life educator to offer services to individuals that otherwise wouldn’t have these resources.

Help families care for their children.
Consider sponsoring a daycare center for low-income families. If subsidized by your church, parents who otherwise would struggle to find affordable childcare will have a quality option—and you have the power to make certain this is a place where children are loved and educated well by intelligent and compassionate caregivers. This helps families (especially single-parent households) economically, but also lets your church be a part of nurturing children whose family life (and world generally) might be pretty unstable.

Be pro-active in caring for teens and young adults.
Consider, especially, the needs of teens and young adults as they try to understand their families of origin and the possibilities for their own relationships. This might include forming a special small group for college students coming from divorced or dysfunctional families or developing new and better ways of talking about sex and relationships with teenagers.

Try to remain flexible and refrain from judgment, even as you advocate against certain behaviors.
Foster an environment of support that challenges people without judging them. This is especially needed for single parents, cohabitating couples, divorced individuals, etc. Do whatever needs to be done to make certain these people are integrated into your church as a whole. For example, consider whether “couples” small groups are really the best way to structure the majority of your adult Bible studies or whether it might be useful to purposely include any cohabitating couples at your church on a marriage retreat (after all, couldn’t their relationship also use some extra investment?). Dealing with the ethics of various situations is always tricky, but whatever you do, be sure you are creating spaces for people to grow in positive directions.

Acknowledge difficult topics.
You may need to offer teaching and resources relating to abuse, rape, infidelity, sexual addiction, and the like. It’s easier to pretend these issues aren’t in our churches, but since they are, to care for people well, we need to help them deal with them spiritually, emotionally, and relationally.

That’s just a start… anyone else have ideas to offer?

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Marriage and Social Justice

Do you ever read statistics about marriage, divorce, cohabitation, and single parenthood and wonder where these changes are taking place? Sure, we know more and more families in our communities who part ways at some point, but it’s not like a whole third of our kids’ friends were born out of wedlock!

Let me suggest (especially if you’re white or fairly well-off) that you are looking in the wrong neighborhood. There is a ridiculous correlation between race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and other such factors and lower rates of stable marriages. Take a break from this blog and catch up with these eighteen quick and easy graphs: http://www.virginia.edu/marriageproject/pdfs/2008update.pdf. Take special note of the various ways in which race, gender, and the like affect results.

It’s clear that practices relating to marriage are changing. Can you believe the number of cohabitating couples has risen over 68% just from 2000 to 2007? That’s crazy! There are certainly larger cultural issues going on here. However, when we note, in particular, the ways in which white families and black families differ, how can we not see marriage as a social justice issue?

I’m not trying to say single parents can’t be good parents. I’m not saying all marriages are worthy of continuing. And I’m certainly not saying that families or individuals from certain ethnic backgrounds should be shamed. I do think, though, that we need to consider the sociological factors that are leading to these differences and the inequalities represented by those factors. (For example, stress about money can put a strain on any relationship.) We also need to consider the various inequalities—especially for children—that these family outcomes create.

I don’t think we often consider marriage and family issues related to social justice. For one, many would see marital status as better able to be controlled than income or neighborhood—so if you’re a single parent, we think that’s your choice (read: fault) and not our problem. Secondly, I think we who care about social justice often shy away from the topic of marriage, due to Focus on the Family connotations. An obsession with marriage seems likely just to alienate people or to connect us with the reactionary sort of conservatives we wish would stop trying to represent Christianity.

I think we’ve got to stop seeing things this way. There are some very destructive cycles going on in our culture at large, but especially within certain communities. We can’t force anyone to get married, stay married, or certainly to have a good marriage. However, we can start learning about the ways in which social inequalities and marriage and family outcomes are linked in a mutual reinforcing cycle, and we can start using our own skills and resources—individually and as churches—to remedy the situation.

I think we need to better educate and counsel on topics relating to sexuality, marriage, and parenting, especially focusing on the neighborhoods and communities hit hardest by family brokenness. There are many people with no or few models of healthy behaviors and relationships, which I think makes it difficult for them to envision possibilities. I think that with more people to walk alongside them, more information, and professional therapy, teens and young adults from all backgrounds can better heal from their own family pain and move towards happy, committed relationships in adulthood.

We absolutely must have a more pro-active stance.

Specific ideas for churches to come. :o)

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Those Sexy Protestants

The other day in class, I was reading Wikipedia articles to refresh my memory on Katharina and Martin Luther. I’m not entirely sure how I got on the topic, besides that I wanted to make certain that Katharina had indeed been a nun prior to marrying Martin, as some of the ex-monk reformers married nuns, while others didn’t. This information is very significant, because Jeremiah and I have discussed being a monk and nun for Halloween, and to make this seem less disrespectful, I wanted to be sure we had a real historical monk-nun couple we could refer to. “See, we’re not just promoting bad behavior among monks and nuns, we’re representing a real monk and nun that had a romance going on!” Who can argue with people trying to teach church history?

This raised, in my mind, for the first time, a deep irony within the Protestant tradition. How odd it is that we are just now beginning (and I mean beginning) to more openly discuss sexuality from a Christian perspective. While sex was certainly not the most important issue for the reformers, it seems the Reformation made a point of saying, “Catholics have got this wrong.” Because they believed sex was a good thing, priests should be allowed to marry. Hence, for the first time in a long while, the theological leaders of this time had wives. While I’ve heard some negative gender-related quotes from Martin, and I’m not trying to lift up his marriage as any sort of modern-day ideal, I do feel like for his time, he and Katharina were in some sense progressive. This seems to be a part of our heritage to celebrate.

We, as Protestants, at once point in time, intentionally embraced sex as something good, the source of differences in Protestant requirements for ministers (marriage is allowed), as well as our openness to birth control today. How ironic that we don’t proudly own that, and how sad that we have made so little progress in developing serious theological reflection on gender and sexuality over the past few centuries.

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Re-envisioning Engagement (Part 1)

I will eventually get better at blogging again–I promise!

I’ve never been good at being normal, so it’s probably not a surprise that I’m not a typical bride. What feminist could be? What you may not have realized is that I’m so atypical, I actually hate being engaged. And I appear to be the first woman ever to feel this way. A few Google searches have found very few results with “engagement” and “frustrating,” “hate,” or “sucks” in the same sentence, save a few complaints about military engagement in various locales.

As a teenager I frequently picked out my own birthday presents, which I don’t think is a rarity in and of itself; however, I also frequently talked my mom into letting me receive certain gifts early for one reason or another. Given my history, I openly admit, part of my disdain for engagement is a simple lack of patience. However, I also, over the past several months, have been reflecting on the significance of marriage and how it “ought to be done,” and I think some genuine criticisms can be made of how engagement/marriage work in our society, especially when viewed from a Christian perspective.

First, I would like to point out that engagement is a fairly invisible state outside of the marketplace. While temporary, everyone that is married was once engaged, yet you’d hardly even know it. Engagement seems to be nothing but a special subset of dating, tacked on at the end of the courtship process, and certainly distinct from marriage itself. Perhaps this distinction is less sharp outside of religious circles that ban cohabitation, but within evangelical Christianity, there is a clear divide. For example, churches often feature various activities for married couples, but only a few churches make certain their language is inclusive toward other committed couples. While I could write an additional post or two about the consequences this has on our evangelistic efforts (if a non-Christian couple that lives together isn’t welcome in a couple’s small group, too, what does that say about your church’s hospitality?), I want to focus here on the fact that this excludes Christians who are seriously dating or engaged who may very well be “closer” to marriage than not. And would it be such a bad thing for these couples to also be included in couples’ activities? Biblically, older men and women are instructed to mentor the younger, and many churches still emphasize the value of relationships between older and younger married couples, specifically. I argue that it would be valuable to let those relationships begin developing between couples that are married (be it for a year or for forty) and those that are still on their way, rather than waiting until vows are officially said.

In fact, it seems that Christians that heavily emphasize waiting until marriage to have sex have a tendency to heavily dichotomize engagement and marriage. The online magazine Boundless, written for college students and singles in their 20s puts it as such: “OK, congratulations, you’re engaged. What do you do now? There is really only one concept to keep in mind when it comes to engagement, and it’s quite easy. It’s simple and it should guide you in every decision, thought and act until you are standing before God, the people and the pastor on the big day. Ready? You are not married yet. Now, depending on logistical or other circumstances, cultural backgrounds, length of relationship, things other Christians might have told you, there’s another way to put this: Ready? You are not married yet. Remember that if you get nothing else out of this column.”

I acknowledge this is true, and I’m not arguing to charge Christian sexual ethics. But I do think that this demonstrates the oddity of how we talk about engagement and marriage. We insist that marriage is a good thing and bad-mouth those who are unwilling to formally commit themselves; however, when two people are ready for that commitment, we expect a long waiting period, during which–rather than helping them make mental, emotional, and practical transitions towards marriage–we will emphasize, verbally and non-verbally, that they are not at all married, no matter how married they feel or how married they want to be. To me, rather than putting a not in italics it would be much more useful for us to consider engagement a time of being increasingly almost married.

In this way, I believe, engagement becomes a legitimate state between dating and marriage, rather than simply the end of dating. Engagement is seen as a true between state that begins on the dating end of the spectrum, but quickly moves closer to marriage. Besides these questionable ways of talking about engagement, I think it’s notable that there seem to be many more books about dating or deciding to become engaged or marriage itself than there are books about the engagement process. While relatively short, it is engagement is quite common, making it odd that there is such a silence. To me it sometimes feels the only people in-tune with the existence of engaged people are wedding vendors–and this seems unfortunate. Shouldn’t we as a society, and especially we who are Christians, “see” engaged people and address them at that many diverse places they are at?

… to be continued…

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Pastor tells congregants to have sex

Check out this video on a pastor telling his congregation to have [married] sex seven days straight: http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/crime/2008/11/13/jvm.issues.preaching.sex.cnn?iref=videosearch.

This is actually mild compared to some 30 or 40 day things I’ve seen before, but still, interesting…

My questions:

* Why do Christians pride themselves on being sexperts crushing the myths of secular culture… when in the views of this reporter, and probably many CNN viewers (including myself), this pastor doesn’t really seem to get it.  He’s offering just as superficial a concept of sex as many of the myths he’d criticize.

* What about the reporter’s point?  In what better ways could this pastor talk about and encourage sex that wouldn’t be as likely to also carry negative ramifications for certain spouses?  (If anyone’s wondering if some men would really respond in such a way, I have to say, sadly, I have known some that would.)

* And what about our definitions of sex?  I wonder how broadly the pastor is using this term and how broadly his congregation is interpreting it?  I’m not going to go into detail, I just have to say I hope the women are standing up for what they need, as well.

* How frustrated must those single congregants be?  And what about people whose careers or health conditions make it impossible for them to have sex seven days in a row (or at all?) right now?  Also sucks for all the people struggling with infertility…

Other thoughts?

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