I have many thoughts, but I’ll boil it down to just these at the moment:
Women (and children) (and anyone marginalized) are in danger anywhere women are shut out of the power structures in an organization.
I have a post halfway written about the problem Evangelicalism faces from institutionalized, theologically-justified patriarchy. Despite OT and NT examples of women in leadership positions, conservative theology does not make room for women to hold power and exercise authority outside of very narrow realms. As a result, leadership within conservative churches are blind to how abuse happens (and many women are themselves complicit in protecting abusers and shaming victims).
I applaud the brave women who have stepped up to review, investigate, and record stories of (mostly) women who were raped or abused by pastors (usually as children, but not always) and have lived traumatized lives while the pastors moved on to greater glory and continued employment in the ministry. The loose denominational structures of many Evangelical groups allows predators to flourish, but they run unchecked because they are protected and apologized for by leadership in those churches. In fact, it’s far more likely for the women telling the stories (or recording them, as these bloggers do) to get shoved out than for their abusers to be brought to justice.
You can’t impose enough church policies to prevent sexual predation. In fact, without opening the power structure to women as equals, I don’t think the conservative church will be able to eradicate this problem from its institutions.
It takes a lot of courage to write out your story of rape. It also takes a lot of courage to tell people you don’t want to be a Christian anymore. I’ve long appreciated Dani’s honesty and willingness to continue dialogue with people whose worldview perspectives are opposed to hers.
I encourage you to read her latest essay thoughtfully, and be willing to learn from her critiques of purity culture and religious moralism which feed a tolerance for rape culture. I don’t personally believe that Christianity must necessarily produce the warped views of sex, purity, and gender that Dani experienced in her early years, but I’ve seen these views in every church / organization I’ve been a part of, and it needs to be addressed.
Writer Dani Kelley thought she had shed the patriarchal and self-denying lessons of her conservative religious childhood. But those teachings blocked her from initially admitting that an encounter with a man she met online was not a “date” that proved her sexual liberation, but an extended sexual assault.
And I also highly recommend Dani’s series of posts “for the well-meaning Christian.” Some of my dearest friends are atheist or agnostic, and I trust that my love and care for them has improved since reading Dani’s series.
Most of the time, unsolicited advice falls on deaf ears. And perhaps it should.
Among the younger set, we adults get a deserved rap for being kind of pushy with our opinions. To be fair, we usually have a lot of good experience to back up our advice, and hopefully we’re sharing because we’re caring, not because were just busybody assholes.
There’s plenty of pressure today for relationships to stay loose and undefined. Our new ways of communication — texting, FaceTime, social media, Tinder — redefine what it means to be “connected.” New rules have emerged: like if someone texts you and you don’t immediately respond, you’re either angry/displeased or you’re committing a huge social faux pas. The struggle is real.
I am so thankful I didn’t grow up in a world where “dating” meant 24/7 social contact. To be “always on,” in constant contact by text or chat. No one should have to live a fishbowl life like that, yet it’s what I see in the lives of Millennials. The pressure to always respond, always reply, always be interested — I’m not much of an introvert, but even I find the idea alone exhausting.
Even when we were engaged, Coart and I were forced by the shape our grad-school lives and the state of 90s technology to make do with the limited time we had to see each other. An hour here or there, maybe studying at the same table in the library. Even the goodnight call was short. We eagerly awaited our wedding day because it would mark the last night we had to say “goodbye” in place of good night.
So I understand why marriage looks less ideal given the easy communication of our connected world, the uncertainties of a young adult’s life, and the bad examples set by the adults in their lives. (The overall divorce rate is 50%, though divorce rates for marriages in the 2000s are much lower so maybe the cautionary tales of the Boomers did some good.)
So given all these realities, it’s no wonder that moving in for a test drive before signing up for a lifetime of matrimony seems like the sensible thing to do.
Amid all these changes, and at risk of offering advice where it is unwanted, I want to make a case for why 20-somethings in a serious relationship should consider marriage over cohabitation.
I hate to be misunderstood, so please note: I’m not crafting a moral club to beat people with here; I’m trying to start a conversation. I think marriage has advantages that aren’t as easy to see from the outside.
That, and I’ve been married for 17 years, so I’d like to think I have a worthwhile perspective on what’s good about it.
1. It’s an institution that pictures community.
Marriage is more public than cohabitation, and that has some consequences. Even if you head to the JP to get hitched, your marriage will be witnessed by at least one other human being. And most married couples stick with the traditional path of a public ceremony, which means something to the community you’re in.
I have a friend who instead of saying “I was a bridesmaid” says “stood up in their wedding” when referring to participating in a friend’s ceremony. I like that. I think it communicates much more clearly what’s actually happening when we are involved in the wedding of a friend (though no one ever seems to bring this up): when I “stand up with” you up there, I’m offering my public commitment to support you in your commitment to a lifetime partnership.
Cohabitation offers little opportunity for people to step forward and say, “I’m with you.” Sure, you can have a tool shower or housewarming party, but it’s not the same. I realize that attending your wedding may not mean much either for my perseverance in caring about you and your marriage, but at least I’m going to be challenged to think about it.
In fact, I think one of the greatest downsides to “let’s just move in together” is that it robs the rest of us (your friends) of the chance to celebrate your partnership with a raucous wedding reception and terrible dancing three drinks in.
2. The psychological shift (in your own mind) that comes from making a public commitment to a “permament” partnership is worth it.
Marriage is a unique relationship. It’s more than being sexual partners. It’s more than being best friends. It’s not just a different flavor of “roommate.” It’s deeper than a financial partnership.
Marriage is for keeps.
When you take the steps necessary to incarnate your love for one another in a ceremony and legal document, you’re offered the chance to make this vow: I love you unconditionally. (That’s what the “for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, for better and for worse” part of the traditional vows is getting at.)
Marriage is hard, not because it’s “marriage” per se but because deciding every day that I’m going to love my husband more than I did yesterday requires that I sacrifice some of myself for his benefit. It’s a daily challenge, not because he’s a trouble to live with (he’s not) but because I’m a self-centered, difficult human being and he’s in my space.
Knowing that I signed up for a lifetime of this, and that I promised I wouldn’t quit when I stop feeling like I love him is foundational to the deal. That’s what unconditional love means. It’s not unconditional until you run into something in the other person that erodes your chipper can-do attitude about how much you love him/her.
Cohabitation can develop really deep feelings of loyalty and partnership, and I do find great merit in “common law” recognition of long-held partnerships as marriages. (Because I think they are, by that point.) But when you’re young, just living together means you’re heading into some very difficult storms without much of an anchor. In fact….
3. Your support network can’t take you seriously if you aren’t clearly “seriously committed.”
A solid relationship that lasts will be a relationship grounded in a support network. That network has already been partially built by the time you get together, but it’s going to need more people to be effective across the length of your lifetime. Life is never about just you. Lone wolves (and couples) get eaten in this world.
It’s not that cohabitation strips you of your support network. Not at all. But I do think, lacking the confirmation of a marriage —that you’re serious about making this work— many of us more experienced married couples (who ought to be mentoring you) are less likely to fight for the survival of your relationship when you come to us weeping and angry and ready to throw in the towel.
Note that I said when, not if.
Truth is, cohabitation looks like “try before you buy.” And who am I to tell you to make the commitment if you aren’t sure yourself?
But once it’s made, once you’ve stated “before God and these witnesses” that you want to make a go of it for keeps, I’ve got better footing to encourage you to make it work and walk with you through the hard parts. (I’m assuming that we aren’t talking about domestic abuse or anything similarly destructive. That is a totally different conversation.)
Your relationship will face deep, difficult problems, because you are a broken, difficult person. Whether those problems wreck your relationship has much to do with how serious you are about making it through together and how much help you get from the people around you.
4. Living like you’re married without the commitment of marriage can load you down with emotional baggage and heavier expectations than you’re ready for.
The pressure of a joint household apart from a commitment to a united life can be suffocating. You still have to make all the same decisions of a married couple — whether you’ll keep your dishes or his, whether you’ll live near her workplace or yours, how you’re going to prioritize your spending to achieve mutual goals — and all of those decisions take time and thought and commitment to your needs as a couple.
And since you’re sleeping together, you’re also cementing a physical intimacy that generates deep emotional intimacy and vulnerability, but without affirming that should you “slip up” and create a life, you’ve thought through the ramifications of child-bearing, rearing (or aborting – not a choice I support, but among your options).
You’re binding together your lives, finances, career trajectories, health care options, vacation plans, budgets, student debt, and friend circles.
Undoing all of these connections now that you’ve melted things together will tear you into much worse pieces should the unthinkable happen and this partnership blow apart.
So why aren’t you getting married?
There are lots of great reasons not to get married: you’re too immature or emotionally unready, you’re undecided about this partner, you can’t afford to support yourself yet, your job or grad schoolwork takes away all the time you would need to foster a healthy relationship… to name a few.
But those reasons, if they are true of you, should equally warn you against creating all of the financial, physical, practical, and emotional bonds of a marriage apart from the actual commitment of a life together. In other words, get side-by-side apartments if you must. But you’re not ready to live together either.
Hey, it’s my view. It doesn’t have to be your view, and if you disagree with me, we are still friends. I won’t make it awkward, I promise. Everyone is always welcome at my table.
But I figured it was worth taking the time to explain what I think and why. And I’d love to hear your thoughts – drop me a comment.
I really hate to be misunderstood, so do read all the words in this post before you start commenting. 🙂
I recently finished reading Ken Wilson’s short book A Letter to My Congregation, in which he explains (to his congregation with the rest of us listening in) his decision to accept LGBT+ Christians into the membership of his Vineyard church.
This comes in the midst of the raging debate about gay marriage, the Church’s response to homosexuality, and the American culture war. In short, it’s not really a safe time or place to be talking about any of these issues. Not if by “safe” you mean “not being shot at, yelled at, skewered, misunderstood, or shouted down.”
By both sides. It’s rough out there, folks.
Ken is one of a few Evangelical voices growing in prominence in this conversation. I use “conversation” loosely since most of what I see passing for “dialogue” on these issues barely qualifies as civil discourse. So after reading the message from the elders of CityChurch (San Francisco) to their congregants about a similar shift, I wanted to read more.
See, most of the argumentative support regarding the Church’s posture toward LGBT+ folks has come from those outside Evangelicalism. And that creates problems for those of us who actually want to live under the authority of the Bible as the Word of God, viewing it as inspired and relevant for life.
When the only arguments you offer are built on tearing down the Bible itself as irrelevant, out of date, culturally aberrant, merely human, twisted mythology, or whatever, you’re going to alienate Evangelical believers.
Maybe I’m an idiot for adhering to my conservative roots in this regard, but here I am, and I’m not going to change what I believe to make someone else happy. I believe the Holy Spirit works with us as the Helper, the one who opens our eyes to truth. So I’ve been praying for wisdom and truth within the community of faith, within valid exegetical frameworks, for the deep questions surrounding our posture toward gays, lesbians, trans+ and others who cross our paths.
As I see it, we now have the following split among Christians when it comes to the Church’s response to these questions:
The YES crowd is currently primarily located among Christianity’s mainline denominations and more liberal wings…. Oh, and Millennials. The solidly-Yes position in Christianity tends to align with people who don’t hold as tightly to Scriptural authority. It’s not across the board, but it’s a generalization that works.
Plenty of people vocally oppose gay marriage, gay relationships, and gay rights. Among Christians, the NO crowd exists as a huge variety – and this is important. It’s way too easy for people to assume that the NO crowd are bigoted or discriminators. Often this is simply not true.
The problem is – and here is where Ken Wilson’s book really shines – the NO position leaves us all in a deep pickle.
Wilson argues that pastors, not academics, work on the front lines of theology. They rarely have time to learn the ins and outs of every Greek word related to sexual behavior in the New Testament, but they do spend a lot of hours each week working with people living in the middle of problems, failure, sin, suffering.
In his pastoral journey, Ken noticed – like the elders of CityChurch did – that our narrative of “love the sinner, hate the sin” isn’t working. It’s breaking people.
Likewise, trying to label same-sex attraction as a temptation (therefore, “not sinful,” though clearly bad / broken / non-normative) while encouraging that person to live a celibate life if he/she cannot pursue monogamous, married, heterosexual sex is also hurting people.
Few of us truly accept the idea that God would create something good (marriage) and then create people to want something entirely different (non-hetero attraction), thus requiring them to forever foreswear that good thing and try to live without it (celibacy). Within Protestantism, this is a very tough sell. And within the science and psychology communities, the evidence is mounting that non-hetero sexual orientation is biological rather than “a choice.”
And then there’s the reality: There are thousands of Christians who identify as LGBT+. They aren’t the rebellious God-haters of Romans 1. They aren’t the inhospitable gang-rapers of Sodom. They are just normal people who, for as long as they can remember, have been attracted to the same sex. And whether that’s a sin or not, these people are our brothers and sisters. And they want healthy relationships grounded in biblical love.
That central category in my drawing above – the MAYBES – are those of us caught between our consciences (and an unwillingness to jettison biblical authority) and our duty to love others.
Hello, everyone. I’m a MAYBE. Are you?
Evangelicals are struggling to find scriptural foundation for anything beyond heterosexual marriage and sex. There is some new work in the field – I heard Matthew Vines speak a couple weeks ago and I found much of his interpretive evidence to be solid overall. You can listen to the core argument from his book in that talk.
Does Vines present a satisfying exegetical argument that Evangelicals are ready to jump on board with? Honestly – no.
But it’s strong evidence that our interpretation of Scripture is as much influenced by our own cultural context as the sentences in the biblical text were influenced by the authors’.
And that should at least make us pause long enough to put down the rifles and angry words and clobber passages and consider that we might need a different approach.
In my drawing above, I see the MAYBEs pursuing two paths out of this cognitive dissonance. The first is Matthew Vines’s approach: Look for a valid exegetical framework that can acknowledge monogamous, homosexual relationships within the boundaries of the Christian walk.
Vine’s argument centers on the recognition that the Bible’s discussion of marriage a) varies within itself (i.e.: OT polygamy vs the Greco-Roman culture of the NT) and b) isn’t anything like our modern view of marriage in the West, which is a union between two equals. Sex-as-conquest, whether inside or outside marriage, isn’t a virtue in our society, while in the ancient world that was one of the primary avenues to power. The rules of the marriage game have significantly changed, Vine argues; therefore, we should be open to the idea that the Bible never explicitly condemns the kind of “gay marriage” being espoused today.
The second is Ken Wilson’s approach, which is to acknowledge the mess in the theological arguments and recognize that it’s going to take some time to get this sorted out…..and that in the meantime, we have scriptural decrees that cover situations like this.
In short, here’s what Wilson says:
We must acknowledge that the Church sometimes sets aside what seem to be clear biblical mandates when it’s obvious that we must make allowances for broken people in a broken world. The best contemporary example of this is divorce. The textual data on divorce is so tight that up until a few decades ago, churches disciplined or expelled members who divorced and/or remarried. (That happened to my parents.) Yet things changed. Only the most hard-line fundamentalist groups would argue for a 1950s-era view of divorce now. Pastors have recognized that their work in the counseling room isn’t “righteous” if we’re beating people with a Bible-club. Sometimes we must allow for divorce even outside the “exception clauses.”
Romans 14 sets up a pattern for Christians to follow when two sides are dug in and emotionally battling for control of an issue. Paul discusses the “weak” and the “strong” groups as they sparred over whether to eat meat offered to idols or to observe certain days. The language in the passage makes it clear that the weak (i.e.: those who refused to eat the meat because they thought it was sinful) were condemning the strong (i.e.: those who saw no problem with eating) and the strong were belittling the weak. The argument had gotten that bad.
In ancient Rome, these groups of believers weren’t arguing over a peripheral issue. Clearly the meat-eating question was a big one for the NT church – Paul takes 3 chapters in Corinthians to sort it out there. People could argue viciously for either side and claim God’s authority. It’s not like these kinds of arguments are unusual in the history of the Church.
Is gay marriage a similar “disputed” question? Wilson argues that it is, and I think (having read his book) that he’s right. Therefore…
While we allow the Church and its theologians and pastors time to sort this out, we must follow Romans’ commands to accept one another in the Gospel. The goal is not to stay in this fog of “disputation.” But while we’re here, we are commanded to stop condemning and belittling.
The Gospel does not demand tolerance. It does not demand that we “affirm” someone else’s ideas or life choices. But it does demand that we accept other believers on the basis of the Gospel.
For that reason, Wilson opened his church to gay Christians for membership. He concluded that until the big questions are answered, his duty is to feed his flock. All of the members.
Neither of the options open to the MAYBEs in this debate will satisfy those who want an iron-clad defense of old-fashioned marriage. I think it’s a lot more attractive to Evangelicals to complain about being “persecuted” than to do the very hard work of living a Romans 14 life: loving people who hold vastly different views, and recognizing that although marriage is a key tenet in church doctrine, it is not a matter of separation.
The Gospel can – and will – survive the gay marriage debates.
Whether the church in general destroys much of its credibility in the eyes of Millennials and the outside world while it sorts it out – well, that’s a totally different question.
An outstanding post on Modesty – I couldn’t have said it better myself. Brava, Rachel Held Evans.
What I’ve only just begun to realize is that these two extremes represent different sides of the same coin. While popular culture tends to disempower women by telling them they must dress to get men to look at them, the modesty culture tends to disempower women by telling them they must dress to keep men from looking at them. In both cases, the impetus is placed on the woman to accommodate her clothing or her body to the (varied and culturally relative) expectations of men. In both cases, it becomes the woman’s job to manage the sexual desires of men, and thus it is seen as her fault if a man ignores her on the one hand or objectifies her on the other. Often, these two cultures combine to send out a pulse of confusing messages: “Look cute … but not too cute! Be modest … but not frumpy! Make yourself attractive … but not too attractive!” Women are left feeling ashamed of their bodies as they try desperately to contort around a bunch of vague, ever-changing ideals. It’s exhausting, really, dressing for other people.
But all of this takes the notion of modesty far beyond its biblical context.