The Marital Affair

We need to talk about sex. But what I have to say might be unpredictable. It would probably result in my being relieved of duties from about fifty percent of churches worldwide, and my being ignored in another twenty-five percent. But I’m not employed by those churches, which means I have less to lose than those who need to hear this. And they should hear it.

As is well-known by now, John Gibson, a pastor and seminary professor, committed suicide after being identified for his involvement with the company called Ashley Madison, which arranges extramarital affairs. Regardless of the finer details of this tragedy, many have given cause for its public discussion. Some cite forgiveness and guilt as a reason; others cite adulterous relationships; still others claim the story has merit for the topic of religious leadership; and yet still more people may point to a perceived epidemic of sexual addiction. While each of these topics is worth attention, they are merely the branches on a tree with a serious issue of root decay.

Those roots are unreasonable expectations resulting from the direct idolization of both celibacy and the marital vow.

If you’ve continued reading: congratulations. You may be one of the twenty-five percent I mentioned earlier that would expectably listen. So you’ll be interested in what is meant by the claim just above. That claim means this: we as Christians have become so addicted to expecting perfection that such an expectation not only sets people up for failure, it results in serious emotional, psychological, and physical damage.

Do we expect marriage to be entirely satisfying? Then we should not marry. Do we expect sexual relations in marriage to be closed off and functional? Then we can expect to experience something similar to the pastor’s Ashley Madison scenario.

Why is this so? Consider how often, if you are somewhat seasoned in church life, we hear of people vowing to remain celibate until marriage. Are we aware that the harder people vow such a thing, the more likely they are to abandon such a commitment? And those who abandon it are not, in this church climate, going to be very forward about breaking it to their future intended spouse. So marriages of this arrangement are already set on a weak foundation not because of premarital sex, but because of the already practiced over-zealousness to protect secret sexual acts, acts that—within reason—should not be so big an issue as to warrant deceit.

Consider as well the issue of sexual abuse in the church. A specific number of Roman Catholic priests are not the only perpetrators of such a behavior, but the situation in which they find themselves is worth discussing in this context. One of the vows Catholic priests make is to remain chaste while ordained. This means no sexual activity of any kind.

Many Roman Catholic theologians have argued this stance is justified because Christ claimed that some eunuchs (those males who are unable to have sexual relations to the fullest extent possible) “have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 19:12). And yet in context, Christ’s words are about those who have been castrated (especially justified by the phrase prior to the quoted verse, which states some eunuchs “have been that way since birth”). This theological position of celibacy therefore begs the question: unless the Roman Church is willing to castrate males set aside before puberty for the priesthood, which at this point would be seen as barbaric, the insistence on celibacy seems to be playing a game with the natural laws of God, and it results in some cases in an already barbaric act: a violation of those who are already functional eunuchs—children. Those who are able to have sexual relations to the fullest extent possible should not be led to deny that such a state of being exists within them. To do so only defines the act of sex as if it is something wicked, when in reality it is a natural God-given endowment for specific purposes. In addition, those that argue priests are “married to the Church” create problems of their own, namely that it logically infers a number of troubling issues: the Church can be polygamous (since all priests are married to it), and marriage does not and/or cannot involve sexual relations (which it always has, by Roman Catholic standards). Perhaps denying something God has ordained from the beginning of creation is one good reason (and the only one necessary, I might add) for negative consequences to result.

And yet, Protestant theology has not been immune to its own irrational collective behavior surrounding sex and marriage. The issue of the untenable claim to remain celibate until marriage has already been discussed, but it is not the only untenable practice. Those who claim that premarital sex is immoral often claim that such a definition is justified since premarital sex is “extra-marital”—in other words, outside of the marriage bond. To this, the following counter might be leveled: what marriage…the marriage that does not yet exist? If so, how can one be having relations “outside” of it? If, strictly for example, I do not have a pool in my backyard, am I guilty of standing outside of its boundaries? Those willing to claim marriage already exists as a foreordained “given” would have some explaining to do at this point, since even if the pool is mine in the future I cannot be outside of it until it exists. And this begs another question: what value does the actual act of a marriage ceremony have, if one is to behave as if the marriage already exists in some way? Apparently none more than to reveal what has always existed, instead of to declare, commit and henceforth exclusively support each other as partners. And if this were true, the ceremony and vows wouldn’t need to be done—all that two married people would have ever been doing is “within the marriage covenant,” whether knowing each other or not, with each other or not. Such a stance would seem to be, in actuality, more tantamount to the desecration of marriage than any sexual act before it.

And still, many people expect that if they stay chaste, their marriages will be perfect; that if they stay away from sex, then they will automatically be sexually compatible with their partner once married; that if they sexually experience as little as possible as a pair, sexual behavior in the marriage will be satisfying for that pair. Well. Please forgive me, but no one has an affair because their marital sex is hot, heavy, indulgent, satisfying and openly explored by the two people involved. They have affairs sometimes due to unrealistic expectations that it should always be satisfying, and sometimes due to unrealistic expectations that the bare minimum or an ignorant de-facto state of being should be enough. When we continue to hold marriage as the be-all-end-all of our relationship involvement and sex as the be-all-end-all of our level of commitment, we not only sequester ourselves from experience and discussion that might indeed save a marriage or help it thrive, we also put far too much of a burden on our partner, which can only foment adultery.

Celibacy and marriage had better not be our affairs against God.


Honest Translation

Dave Brunn is my new favorite guy. He’s a missionary of over two decades and an author, focusing specifically in bible translation. Below, you’ll find a video of about a half-hour that explains a number of things, including: 

1) Why translation is so tricky,

2) why we can’t exactly trust a translation based on its stated intentions,

3) why the method of a translation can’t be and isn’t consistently “fixed,” 

4) and why bias instead of altruism keeps us from doing the job correctly.

Many of these things are facets of Christian life and academics that I’ve discussed before, so if you’re looking for some context, you can always read (1) this, (2) this, (3) this, (4) this, or even (5) this!

As with anyone making an argument, for the most part, there are a few places where Brunn commits some reasoning errors. For example, he claims that because about 94% of the world’s languages aren’t Indo-European like Koine Greek (the original language of the New Testament), seeking a word-for-word translation in English seems dubious. In addition to that, his treatment of Matthew 6:13 as an example belies some bias that, if ignored, would yield at least a more objectively trustworthy translation. This bias does come through more towards the last five minutes or so of the video. That said, most of what he does says is true enough to cause both laughter and serious reconsideration of our own biases concerning what the text “ought to say,” rather than what it actually says. So in the meantime, please enjoy, and feel free to email me with any of your comments or questions:  


Solemn Assurance: Confident Communication

“…if you warn the wicked to turn from their ways, and they do not turn from their ways, the wicked shall die in their iniquity, but you will have saved your life.” – Ezekiel 33:9 (NRSV)

Ever felt like you were just not getting through to someone? Ever felt like it was your fault?

This isn’t unfamiliar territory for me, and it’s not unfamiliar for several people I know. Try as hard as someone might, by logic, by emotion or by credibility, to persuade another or correct some activity for honest and healthy reasons, sometimes the other person is simply unable or unwilling to listen. In all likelihood, there could be several reasons for unresponsiveness—fear, guilt, tiredness, mistaken expectations, greed, self-assurance, confusion and (yes) our own mistaken self-interest. But whether or not we are mistaken, one thing is certain: whether or not someone chooses to agree, someone who chooses not to listen bears responsibility for that choice.

Once again: if someone clearly chooses not to listen, that is their choice not your fault.

“OK, but how do I make sure they are the one making that choice?”

A good question, with a few precautions:

First, we have to be sure that what we’re saying is correct. This is serious. If there are any possible counters, reasons, or excuses (yes, I said “excuses”) against what we perceive, we are not communicating correctly. This means making sure that what we say and the context for our thoughts are well considered before speaking.

Second, we need to be sure that the approach leaves no room for being mistaken. This may sometimes mean asking more questions than making statements. For example, when someone who only wishes to prove he only has to listen to himself comes and asks Jesus a question, Jesus responds by the same method: “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” (Lk 10:26, ESV)

This question-asking does a number of things: it allows the potential listener to realize how it sounds to be asked a question about the same content; it puts the person on equal ground, instead of allowing them to remain self-elevated; it gives such a person no excuse for being wrong in response. In other words, putting it back on the person evidences personal responsibility for any further choices.

But sometimes, question-asking simply isn’t a productive or worthwhile response. Often, we’ll have to simply state what the facts are and leave them in front of the other person. However, this alternative approach is also delicate; stating facts is exactly that – it is not stating facts with our own emotions attached, whether those be our own fears, insecurities or goals.

This isn’t an argument for stoicism as much as it it’s a case for surety. We cannot expect someone who has the potential to ignore us not to take the opportunity to use emotions against us. Think this through. How often do you argue with another person simply based on the emotional charge to the words being said? Now: eventually, how does that argument end? Isn’t it true that eventually one person gives up and communicates something akin to a firm assurance? Why not skip over all the unnecessary, unproductive interplay and be sure that when we communicate, we are already assured of its veracity?

And don’t think it inconspicuous if we’re not sure. If we’re not sure, the argument will drag on. The emotions will ramp up. The lack of reason to any further questions or claims will be obvious well after the discussion. And then what have we accomplished, other than stacking the deck against our ability to speak up in the first place? It’s far better not to say anything than to end up in a situation like that.

The point is this: if we aren’t sure that what we say is true, it is a waste of time to say it at-best and destructive to ourselves and others at-worst. So if we want to be effective communicators in tough situations, we ought to make sure we can both state a fact calmly and leave it alone after uttering it, because we’re sure we have the right perspective and that perspective has nothing to do with us.

And yes, this might be an instance where “the pot is calling the kettle black.” I get it. But in that case, I need to hear it, don’t I?


Relational Depth

The ditch between complementarian and egalitarian theologies runs deep enough to cause debate at pretty much any level. But only if someone’s in the mood for a debate.

When I came across a recent article in Relevant Magazine about dating, I was at first glance more interested in exposing a logistical flaw in presupposing that asking someone out meant “initiating.” Clearly if someone is asking another person out, that second person has initiated something, if nothing more than a friendly interest or curiosity in some time together. After all, folks: Jesus knocks…he doesn’t open the door and invite himself in. But divulging into that kind of question might best be left for another day, because while I was yet pointing out that logical mishap, it suddenly dawned on me that I had fallen prey to a ridiculously clandestine temptation in modern Christianity: a proclivity towards debating things that shouldn’t be major issues. In reality, any “major issue” is far more serious than an initial desire lets us see. 

What I mean more precisely is this: why aren’t we, as Christians, more concerned with decisions that are clearly ethical, rather than who’s more (counter-)culturally agreeable?

In the case of the above article’s topic, why are we more concerned about who should take what particular action in a relationship, instead of how to discern the potential efficacy and worth of that relationship? Even at a foundational level, what is the point of being in a relationship, from a Christian point of view, if that relationship isn’t propelling more godly behavior or activity? “How is your relationship fostering God’s Grace Kingdom?” is a more worthy question of debate than, “Who started it?” The first question is likely to challenge, empower, and preserve us, with answers not exactly easily discerned. The second question is more likely to evoke a response of “tee-hee” within the first three seconds of asking it than a response of any kind of legitimate spiritual merit. And frankly, no matter how we answer the second question, if we don’t ask the first question, the second one becomes meaningless at-best and self-destructive, at-worst.

At the moment, I have to wonder if the crux of our lack of depth and challenge has more to do with our ability to only discuss what we can handle. More directly, many of us seem more at ease with what we can control—how we can seem more in line with our peers, how we can ensure what we want—rather than how we ought to live. Perhaps we fear judgment in order to increase our likelihood of acceptance (“As long as I follow such-and-such more culturally acceptable practice, I won’t be a failure”). But if we do, wouldn’t that belie our greater fear of judgment for failing to behave ethically, since that is clearly more important to God and thus would be addressed more regularly if we were concerned? And yet Jesus continually encourages us, either way, not to be afraid, not to fear judgment, and at the same time to do things that are clearly ethical practices, behaviors centered on bettering our interpersonal relationships. Talk about a turning of the tables!

Perhaps we are afraid of judgment, in other words, because we shy away from that which could cure our fear of judgment: our own relationship with God.




A while back, I posted in response to a rather brazen, irrational, and unjust characterization of “all Muslims” by a supposed leader within our own Christian faith.* The main thrusts behind such a post included a deep conviction that a lack of understanding of others’ belief systems tends to create more hatred than Christian character. As such, I made the argument against Mr. Cass’ position based on the reality that not all Muslims either see Christianity as a threat or view ISIS as anything other than complete heresy.

Some have wondered what my evidence for that reality is, and since this is technically a “Q&A Friday,” I’d like to answer that. One piece of evidence is the fact that Muslim scholars and religious leaders have completely and publicly annihilated the logic and validity of terrorists who claim to be Islamic. Another piece of evidence is Muslim people who AREN’T leaders doing the exact same thing with Twitter hashtag sarcasm.

But wait! There’s more!

Here’s a new piece of that evidence, a video in which Muslims deliberately, publicly and confidently denounce ISIS for claiming to be “Islamic” in any form at all; I urge you to watch it, for the sake of our faith and for the sake of human beings in general: 

I’m not sure what other conclusions to draw from these kinds of demonstrations, except to agree that we ought to “judge not.”  


*To wit, this supposed leader has yet to publicly recant anything regarding such a position.

Please Stop Telling Us Why We’re Leaving the Church



Originally posted on Swinging From Grapevines:

OK, we get it. Millennials are leaving the church in droves! Sound the alarms! Circle the wagons!

Not much makes me angrier than seeing those articles that make the rounds on Facebook every few months. You know the ones: a pastor claims to know why Millennials are really walking away from church. This particular article has proven especially resilient; it pops up in my Newsfeed every few months, to much acclaim. This one, the one that really pushed my buttons and prompted me to finally start the blog we’ve been talking about for a month now, calls these articles to task, purporting to know “how the church really lost the millennials.” (Cliff notes: it says the exact same thing as all the other articles.) This one innovatively shifts the focus to Sunday School rather than youth group, but the conclusion is the same.

View original 1,923 more words

Faith itself coming to faith.


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