If I Had A Son Or Daughter

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At the peach water tower in Clanton, AL

I live in an area where there are a lot of peach farms. Imagine that a peach growers seminar came to town, sponsored by our county cooperative extension office. Hundreds of people showed up asking a lot of similar questions about peaches. We were on the same wavelength, so to speak. The county had experts talking about different varities of peaches, soil types, irrigation systems, dormant hours, pesticides, everything you can think of that was related to peaches. When it was all over, everybody agreed that it was most informative and several people asked about another one next year. A week later, I got a call from the county agent, telling me that he received a letter from a man complaining about the seminar. He said he was a blueberry grower and lost his entire crop because he followed the seminar’s recommendations. The county agent called the man and explained to him the seminar was strictly for peach growers, which was made clear on all the publicity. The only answer the man could give was that he thought there was no difference in how blueberries and peaches were grown. He wrote an editorial for the newspaper, saying that he thought the county extension service was insensitive and non-inclusive and that we were all wrapped up in peach culture. Not wanting to leave anybody out, the county did a survey and found there were only two blueberry farms in the county, which makes sense because this is peach territory. It was later reported that we had the best peach crop in 15 years.  If we have a peach seminar next year, do you think it should include a half-day of blueberry advice just in case somebody else shows up who is confused, or should we continue with an all-peach seminar?

I realize this is not a perfect analogy, but if I had a son or daughter of any age waiting on marriage who attended a purity seminar, it wouldn’t matter to me how many people showed up who had made past mistakes, how dirty they felt, what their expectations were, whether it improved their dating life or self esteem, what kind of people they eventually married, how loud they complained, how uncomfortable they felt, how less of a person they felt, how religious or hateful they thought we were, how much shame they felt, how alienated or out of place they felt, or if they felt their lives were of less value. Honestly, I’ve wondered why anybody who was not a virgin would show up at a purity seminar to begin with. Are they confused? Do they not know what sex is? Actually, I’d like it better if they didn’t show up. If my child got something out of it and felt more committed to wait, that’s the only thing that would be important to me. I would do all I could to get the seminar back next year. Purity is always going to make people uncomfortable. Even the language we use is so offensive to the world that it brings up more straw men than we can keep up with. But we do have control over how our time and resources are spent. And we do have a choice about what our priorities are. Dirty chewing gum?  If it works, bring a truckload of it.  Christian priorities should never be rearranged to placate emotions or to be politically correct.

Dear 32 Year Old Virgin . . .

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There’s a recent article on Boundless titled “An Older Virgin in a Sex-Crazed World.” In it, a young lady complains about an “interrogation” she endured while undergoing x-rays to treat a ruptured lung. The technician asked her if she was on birth control, how she knows she’s not pregnant, and if there was any chance she could be pregnant now. She goes on to tell about her friend grilling her about her virginity in high school, how the world has placed pleasure before commitment, how fornication is everywhere, and how sex crazed society is today. What’s interesting is that the young lady who wrote it describes herself as a 32-year-old “older virgin.” Oh please. Do people not get out and meet each other anymore? Or are we wrapping ourselves up in our own little virtual cocoons? The 20-30 year-old young ladies who assume they are old enough to have the last word on virginity never cease to amaze me, and there are hundreds more on the internet. To quote Leslie Ann: “I’m no longer a naïve 19-year-old eager to spring into a relationship just to be romanced. I know the realities of married life by years of study and observance.” Well, gosh darn it, let’s go ahead and give her a Ph.D.  Or maybe she could write a book.  Let me just say this to Miss Leslie Ann and the hundreds of other young ladies who write on this subject – You are to be commended for making it to your 20s and 30s and still be a virgin. That does indeed put you in rare company. But there are much older virgins than you. As difficult as it is to believe, there are some old enough to be your fathers and grandmothers. I always find it quite interesting that they’re never discussed on your blogs. Honestly, I think arrogance is the fastest way for a beautiful young lady to become . . . not so beautiful. So in the big scheme of things, you are still quite a child and your opinions are not as important as you think they are. Some people may think I’m being cruel. But here’s why I think putting age in perspective is important: By making such assumptions about chastity and age and considering it only from the female perspective, we are reinforcing the age old stereotypes and double standards that cause such awkward questions as those Leslie Ann heard from her x-ray technician. When age is mentioned in the Bible, it is usually to break a stereotype – like the old ages of Elizabeth and Sarah when they gave birth. Imagine the people who scoffed when they heard about their pregnancies.  What was the purpose of them being old at childbirth?  Was it to teach them or their husbands a lesson?  Or was it to teach us a lesson today?  I tend to think it is the latter.  If 32 years of age is considered an older virgin, I guess I should see 54 years as one foot short of the grave. I could write an article and title it, “54 Year Old Virgin Calls For Priest During Last Hours.” While you may never meet me on the streets, you are able to read my story through the miracle of the internet. I do hope it inspires you. So even though the internet has brought with it a lot of bad things, I think our blogs and different ways of communicating can be very good things. Since I live in a very rural area, the internet has allowed me to get to know many people I would not have otherwise known. Plus, it allows me to stay in touch with my mentor, a virgin much older than myself. Yes, Leslie, they are out there. If we are only aware of the immediate world around us, like the people we go to school with and people we work with, then we will age much faster as virgins. At 30 we will look at ourselves in the mirror and see an old person who is odd and out of place. Sexual abstinence before marriage will indeed look very unrealistic.  But if we expand our realities with every means of communication at our disposal and humble ourselves enough to know there are older and wiser people out there, we will age much slower. Then at 30 we can look at ourselves in the mirror and see our younger selves with the confidence that comes from following God’s will and courage from knowing that others have come before us. I believe virginity is very much a relational issue on a social scale.  It’s not enough to tell someone, “We waited until we were married to have sex.  You can too.”  That rings hollow.  It takes real authentic people to pass this virtue to the next generation.  So when you put everything in perspective Leslie Ann, I hope being a virgin at 32 doesn’t feel so old after all. Let’s not bow down to the expectations of this world, but allow God to intervene in our lives beyond our wildest dreams.  He is still the same God who rescued Moses from the pharaoh and the same God who performs miracles today.

http://www.boundless.org/blog/an-older-virgin-in-a-sex-crazed-world/

Eunuchs Through The Ages

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Mural painting from Sucevita monastery located in Bucovina (Northern Romania)

I think there are many people still confused about Christ’s words when he spoke of “eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake” in Matthew 19:12:

“For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother’s womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.”

The disciples may not have known many eunuchs who were born so from their mother’s womb, or if they did they had never thought of them as eunuchs.  Plus, the technology to do sperm counts did not exist at that time.  But they certainly knew eunuchs who were made so by men. We are not told of the disciples’ reaction, but I can only imagine it was one of shock and horror, much like ours today. In wide-eyed amazement, they probably recalled the few people they knew who had met such a tragedy. They might have relived for a moment the gruesomeness that led to such a condition – the knife, blood, screams, and inhumanity of it all. And who knows, one of them could have participated in such a barbaric act. But what probably baffled them the most was the fact that these eunuchs were made so voluntarily by their own free will, without the cruelty of castration. I’m sure they were thinking, “What else but the blade of a knife could create a eunuch?” “Can a person will himself to be childless?” Plus, people with defective bodies were seen as unclean during that time. These are probably some of the same questions we ask today when we read these verses. We first have to see that Christ wanted us to think beyond the physiological effects of castration and understand the principle of permanence.  The thing that is really cut off with such an act is a man’s name and the possibility of heirs.  And I’m sure this slammed the breaks on the disciples expectations of divorce so hard that they are still sliding down the road today.  A person’s procreative abilities at the time of Christ were not something that could be turned on and off. This requires us though to see our bodies as God made them, not as they are made by 21st century vasectomies and tubal ligations. A eunuch at the time of Christ was a eunuch forever. There were no reversal procedures. Likewise, a person with the celibate gift is celibate forever. There are no reversal procedures. There doesn’t need to be.  And if you read closely, Christ didn’t say a person had to be a Catholic priest, take vows, or walk down the isle of a wedding chapel.  All of that is man-made tradition.  The person with the celibate gift is committed to Christ forever. Just like a husband and wife are committed to each other in marriage forever. I do believe eunuchs for the kingdom can be men or women. So the eunuch went from a state of disgrace and uncleanness at the bottom of Jewish society to a position of dignity for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He also gained the ability to produce children. In Isaiah 56:4-5, we read:

“4 For thus saith the LORD unto the eunuchs that keep my sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and take hold of my covenant;

5 Even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off.”

So sex and babies were no longer needed to reproduce sons and daughters in the kingdom of God.  I’m sure that the change in priorities in Jewish heritage was a traumatic experience in itself. But honoring eunuchs did not disparage marriage. By making a pitiful condition a state to be admired, God highlighted the distance between the Jewish mind and his own kingdom. He highlighted the difference between the lineage on earth and no lineage in heaven.  In addition to permanence, I think the metaphor of the eunuch also indicates how difficult and painful celibacy can be.  I think the image of a surgical procedure gets that point across pretty well. The renunciation of a sexual relationship and sons and daughters hurts. Unfortunately, many religious leaders today (like Al Mohler and Russell Moore) can only defile the gift of celibacy with homosexuality and the call for all men to “man up” and get married. Even though our culture may not be able to conceive of virginity beyond “The 40 Year Old Virgin,” its biblical reality to come will not be counted in years. And the euphemism of “singleness will fair no better.

By choosing the metaphor of a eunuch, Christ acknowledged that celibacy does not stand in opposition to marriage. It strengthens it. To me, there even seems to be a reciprocal relationship between the two – the difficulty of faithful marriage linked to the difficulty of faithful celibacy. The person with the celibate gift can give up no more than what is realized as an ideal marriage in the current age. But his status is always on the lower end of the socioeconomic scale. By making a pitiful condition a state to be admired, God still highlights the distance between the American mind and his own kingdom in heaven. Christ was also a eunuch, the same man who created marriage. He and his disciples may actually have been ridiculed as eunuchs. Marriage today may be broken with same sex marriage, divorce, domestic partnerships, and civil unions. But celibacy for the kingdom is as intact as it was 2000 years ago.

http://www.albertmohler.com/2010/03/02/permanence-before-experience-the-wisdom-of-marriage/

http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/book-reviews-same-sex-attraction-and-the-church

http://pulpitandpen.org/2015/12/10/why-gay-celibacy-is-not-the-gospel-centered-answer/

http://thinkprogress.org/lgbt/2014/11/04/3588151/southern-baptists-ex-gay-mixed-messages/

http://www.ebireflections.com/2/9/6

Chastity Education

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Sex education in high schools has been an ongoing discussion in this country for a long time. It’s actually disheartening to think that parents would relinquish that responsibility to schools. But many of them do, I would estimate over 80%. Even Christian parents. I think the main reason for this is because so many parents have sexual baggage that prevents them from talking about it. They’d rather remain silent than face the ghosts of their past. The freedom and empowerment they experienced as teenagers is now an embarrassment they wish they could forget. But they can’t. They can’t start over again. It still comes back to haunt them. Now the single mom understands why her dad wanted her back home by 10:00. Now the single dad understands why his dad wouldn’t let him stay over at his girlfriend’s house. They know they can’t be role models for their children. Because the hard truth is that chastity can’t be taught. No amount of books can come close. It has to be modeled with the lives and legacies of adults in an exemplary environment of open communication and honesty. Chastity is a moral truth that has to be practiced, not learned. To teach a subject only requires knowledge of it – like history. It only involves the written word, symbols, and reasoning. To educate about a subject, though, requires a person to be something more than a teacher. It requires a mentor that can guide a person with personal experience beyond what books can teach. It takes someone willing to open up and provide examples of the right way to do things, not examples of the way things should be. Ideally, this role model would be the parent. Oftentimes it’s not. The parent may be able to teach on a lot o subjects.  But there’s a big difference between teaching and educating. It’s a fairly easy endeavor to draw diagrams of the human reproductive system and demonstrate how to put on condoms. Any sex education program can do that. It’s quite another thing for a teenager to make these decisions in the backseat of a car when hormones are raging.  What we know as sex education is really sex teaching programs.  They educate on nothing. The true influence of an educator does not consist of what he says, does, or teaches – but rather of what he is. They give themselves as living models, as real examples of how to live. Most of them volunteer their time. But we live in a time when a man’s worth is determined by his job title and credentials.  Not who he is.

We live in a time when young people are strictly segregated according to age and gender. Churches and schools have gotten this down to a fine art. Maybe one day we will come to a point when we realize that the information found in textbooks is not a fraction of the wisdom needed to live fulfilling Christian lives. If young people stay boxed in with people in their own demographic categories, that’s what will happen, very soon. Each generation thereafter will gradually devolve until we’re back at the hunter-gatherer stage, living on wild plants and animals, where men take multiple wives and become his property. To put a stop to all this and get us back on the road to Christian ethics will take people willing to take risks. Make a difference. Get involved in somebody’s life.

The Tragedy Of Birth Control

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Sulawesi Hand Stencils

The world would probably look much different if we had kept God’s original design of human sexuality in place, monogamous sexual relationships in marriage and faithful chastity in singleness. Most of the ethical crises that we face in the world today can be traced back to breaks in that design. One of the biggest breaks came when we separated sex from life with birth control. Whether in marriage or outside marriage, it is not part of God’s plan. It’s violates the fifth commandment which prohibits us from taking a human life. Calling it birth control may have been an attempt to put some noble spin on it, like population control. But there’s not much there. How many women would take contraception if babies were really delivered by storks? Not too many, I suppose. Would we be trying to control the inbound flights of storks? Birth control is not so much about controlling births as it is opening the doors of sexual freedom. It frees up sexual pleasure from that pesky little thing called pregnancy. God did not design sex to be free of responsibility. He did not design it to be a recreational sport. Think about the dignity he built into the whole process. He could have designed our reproductive systems with a more direct link between sex and pregnancy. Sex one day. Baby next day. That would have been too easy. But he threw in the variables of ovulation, fertility windows, sperm counts, and genetics, among a host of other things to remind us of his ultimate control. We tried to take that control. It failed. The feminists looked at birth control as their salvation, the way for women to have it all – the husband, the job, the status, and the children. It was about women’s rights and their ability to take their place in society. They were no longer trapped at home raising children. Mrs. Sanger would have been so proud. But she forgot that it took men to make babies too. Men looked at the pill as their ticket to paradise. This was especially true for single guys because it meant all women were available. Guys were now free to put the pressure on all women to have sex. They could have their cake and eat it too with no worries about the responsibility of becoming a father. Now we have a culture of kids with no fathers, single mothers, deadbeat dads, child support, and child abuse. A lot of single guys have had the benefits that only husbands should have. And a lot of single girls have had the benefits that only wives should have. Their sexualization may be illegitimate, but they are still socially identified as singles. Now it’s quite socially acceptable to refer to single men as predators and single women as promiscuous. Such social dynamics make the dating process even harder for Christian singles waiting until marriage to have sex, especially single women. The odds of them finding appropriate mates fall with each successive generation. We may like to think sex is a private thing between two people. It’s not. Every sexual relationship is a public event one way or another. And when you throw in birth control, it’s like setting up a podcast from your very own bedroom.

Even in marriage, birth control separates sex from marriage. It tells the world that we know more about what’s better for our lives than God does. It replaces our faith in God with faith in technology. It affirms that sexual pleasure is greater than the responsibility of being husbands and wives and moms and dads. Separating sex from responsibility also prevents married couples from seeing the real purpose and value of sex. If they don’t see the value of their own physical relationships in marriage, how will they appreciate the single people around them who have never had sex? On a deeper level, if all married people think about when they think of single adults is the yoke of our sexual desires, how will they ever appreciate someone for whom God has taken away those desires? How will their pessimism transcend the primordial forces of this earth and allow them to see the supernatural workings of God today? Maybe it’s time for married couples in churches to explain just what they have and what marriage means to them and what role sex plays in their marriages. Then maybe singles can explain what they don’t have and what role the absence of sex plays in their lives. Is honesty to much to ask?

To Burn Or Not To Burn

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When I was a boy, Paul’s use of the word “burn” for sexual desire in 1 Corinthians 7 probably did more to educate me about sex than my parents or anything I learned in school. During the Dog Days of Summer in Alabama, one of my jobs was to help my dad rake and burn leaves in the backyard. The raking part wasn’t fun. But I always liked the fire. My dad made sure I knew everything about it. The whole process would start with him watching the weather forecast that morning. The time had to be right. If it were too wet, nothing would burn. If it were too dry, it would be too dangerous. He would choose a day that was not windy. He would put the fire in a big open space, far away from the house, usually the same spots year after year. He also made sure there was nothing else close by that could catch fire; like overhanging limbs, trees, buildings, plants, fence poles, etc. He said the flames could reach a lot higher than the pile of leaves. He allowed nothing but leaves and limbs on the fire. No rubber, glass, metal, or any kind of plastic. He did include paper bags and cardboard boxes. He said those were exceptions because they were made out of wood too. Oh, and privacy was important to him.  He didn’t want anybody to see the black scars they left on the ground.  So he would build the fires out of view of company. So, we sat off to gather the fallen limbs first. He would drive his tractor around the yard and I would pitch them in the trailer in back. After the limbs were gathered, we would start raking leaves on top of them. When the pile got to be a certain size, my dad would say “that’s enough!” Only he knew when that was. Then he got the kindling, which was usually a few shavings of heart pine or a crumpled newspaper. He put that at the base of it, on the side with the least wind. Then he struck a match and we watched the tiny flame shoot up through the wood and into the leaves. O’er the ramparts we watched! It only took a few minutes and the fire and smoke was rising over the pine trees. My dad also lectured (taught) me how the flames could leap out of the burning brush and onto the surrounding leaves and “get away from you before you know it.” He said a fire left unattended could spread out of control into a bigger fire, and that he would be responsible for anything else it burned – including a house.  He also told me about how burning embers could also be carried by the wind, land in somebody else’s yard, and start a fire – all without you knowing it. That is, until the neighbor called. That was scary. That’s why he always had either me, my sister, or my mom standing guard with a hosepipe and buckets of water. We stayed with the fire until it was extinguished. It had to be completely out with cold ashes before we went to bed. If it wasn’t, he poured water on it, and finished it another day. My dad did everything he could to minimize the risk of a fire getting out of control. It seemed to me that he actually had them contained before he built them. He planned things so meticulously.  My dad wasn’t afraid of fire, though.  He respected it and understood its capabilities. He also spent time telling me how beneficial lightning fires were in the forest, getting rid of dead trees, and making room for the sun to shine on new growth.  In 1963, fire researcher Herbert Stoddard discovered that one of the most harmful things modern man has done to birds has been his attempt to exclude fire from fire-type pine forests.  As he said:  “Within a few years most forests choke up with brush, lose their prairie-like vegetation, and can no longer support birds dependent on periodic burning for their food supply and proper cover.” There are a lot of other things a fire can do too.

A warm fire is wonderful on a cold night in a fireplace under control. But if it gets out of control, that same fire can burn your house down. The fires may look the same, but one keeps you warm and the other kills you. It’s the same way with the fires of our sexual desires. They can keep us warm in the incinerators of our own passions while we wait on a spouse, burn our houses down if we don’t contain them, or they can be transformed into something entirely different than fire. When the flames of desire leap out of control, they can consume all of our lives – and leave scars of regret and heartbreak as permanent reminders. But controlling those flames still comes down to taking away at least one of the three things a fire needs for survival – oxygen, heat, or fuel. Take oxygen, for example. Lust thrives in the right environment. I’m sure you know of places where the flames will meet you at the door. There’s hardly anywhere we can go today that is not saturated with sex. That’s where we have to be vigilant and step away from the gases of superficial pleasures.  Taking lust out of the air will work wonders in controlling your fire. The same thing is true about the heat that ignites our fires.  We can follow the masses and ignite our fires with meetups in a bar, fuel them with pornography, stoke them with our imaginations, and let them burn out of control – destroying ourselves and anyone they come in contact with.   Or we can do it God’s way and wait patiently on marriage before having sex.  If your fire has already jumped over the line, it’s never too late to get it back under control.

Paul must have understood the nature of fires very well because the word “burn” so accurately describes what I felt as a teenager. It felt like my body was the pile of leaves, that my sexual desire was the flame, and girls were the sparks. I came to understand what Christ meant when he said it was good for a man not to touch a woman. I was certain one spark would do it.  But I knew there was nothing inherently wrong with fire if it was kept under control, and that God created sexual desire as a good thing. That seemed a little less daunting when I realized God expected everybody to keep their fires under control, whether waiting on marriage or waiting on his return, and that he wasn’t holding me to any higher firefighting standards than he was anybody else.

Burning was one of the most common ways of describing unfulfilled passion throughout Greek and Roman literature, as well as the Bible. Job 31:12 describes sexual immorality as “fire that consumeth to destruction”  I think this is the fire Apostle Paul had in mind in 1 Corinthians 7:9 when he said “But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.” He was talking about the sexual passion that can consume our time, energy, creativity, trust, and anything else that makes us who we are when we don’t moderate our fires with the outlet of sex in marriage. There’s a difference between the flame of natural sexual desire that is consumed (consummated) in marriage and one that is allowed to burn out of control with the heat of sexual immorality. With marriage, two unstable flames of desire come together to create one stable fire. They use each other’s oxygen, fuel, and heat. It consumes all of their energy and time and reproduces with the embers of children and the rhythm of life. It’s ignited with romance and fueled with committed love. In a marital relationship, the other person becomes the object of our love. In a celibate relationship with God, he becomes the object of our love. It is fueled with a passion to please him; whether that be meeting the needs of forgotten people or endeavors of a supernatural nature. For example, instead of the flames of passion burning your time and energy, the fire of celibacy could be fueled by a desire to end human trafficking, homelessness, or end an epidemic. Instead of being spread with human children and birthrights, it is spread with spiritual children. Of course, a married person can love both God and their spouse. But they can never love him with the same intensity and capacity as a person with the spiritual gift of celibacy can. That’s because the fire of romance is fueled by romantic love, not God’s love. Celibate fires often hidden behind the smoke of marriage, glossy photo packages, wedding ceremonies, diamond rings, and white picket fences.   Some work behind the scenes.  People who live celibate lives remind us that love is never satisfied on this earth, and that the transformation of human nature is possible through union with Christ.  The fire of romance propagates the earth.  The light of celibacy points us to heaven and propagates eternity.  Maybe it’s time to revisit the lessons a simple fire can teach us.

https://books.google.com/books?id=zMiV__25izEC&pg=PA86&lpg=PA86&dq=%22elements+in+the+bible%22+fire+water++-.com&source=bl&ots=NWUp0wDMMX&sig=vn2eH8K67mJkwNVU3XxWRcnNvTY&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwii7YeFkrnKAhXIYyYKHVuWDc4Q6AEIHDAA#v=onepage&q&f=false

https://books.google.com/books?id=q7R2NFp8mtwC&pg=PA63&lpg=PA63&dq=keener+unfulfilled+passion&source=bl&ots=c-agjPVLar&sig=FPcNMwb71BcsMsWxXL6_Ssrr3Dg&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwj2zIfM1bvKAhWEOD4KHcVVAc4Q6AEIHDAA#v=onepage&q&f=false

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/plato-timaeus/

http://www.rockrohr.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Luther-on-marriage-relations.pdf

https://dash.harvard.edu/bitstream/handle/1/12436318/0614%20proofs%2013%20Nasrallah%20FCNT%201%20Cor%20aca.pdf?sequence=1

https://books.google.com/books?id=s8ml0NOoOdQC&pg=PA67&lpg=PA67&dq=%22place+for+sex%22+%22song+of+solomon%22&source=bl&ots=4GVotbrdkF&sig=IhAqsTwA90PgR2Wqx1mJbBs-i1U&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjzjdDUtsDKAhUB5iYKHfkQCGgQ6AEIOjAG#v=onepage&q&f=false

Do You Have the Gift of Singleness?

 

Celibacy And Visual Ethics

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I’ve always wondered what people mean when they say men are more visual than women. Do they mean men can read an eye chart better than women, that men can see the figure of women from a greater distance, that men can’t control their sexual desires? I think it’s the latter. Our society says sexual immorality is not a self-control problem, but a visual problem. It says that men are just not able to tame their sexual desires and that their eyes focus at the mercy of a “fallen” world, a world that has “evolved” with its own innate wisdom. This reasoning falls in line with what most churches are practicing today – visual ethics. Not the ethics associated with visual arts, but a theology of ethics based on things that can be seen while ignoring things that cannot be seen. Kate Hurley has an excellent example of this on Single Matters:

“When my dad died, I lost something tangible. People called me. They held me when I cried and asked me to talk about what I was going through. They came to his memorial service. It meant the world to me. I needed family around me during that grieving process. People bound up the wounds, told me it was going to be okay, and walked with me through the healing process. They rose to the occasion and helped me recover. When it comes to being in my 30s and facing the prospect of not having a traditional family, though, people don’t know what to do with my frustration. “There’s nothing there. How could you be in pain?”

The only way to see the invisible pain of barrenness is to get to know a person on a level that is deeper than what we know as “friends.” In the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10), consider how the concept of neighbor changed for a lawyer who was concerned with his own eternal life. At first, he was worried about definitions – like any good lawyer would be – and asked Jesus “who is my neighbor?” Then Jesus told the story of the man who was stripped and beaten and left for dead on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. When Jesus asked the lawyer which three men was his neighbor, it would have made more sense for him to answer it was the priest or Levite. They would have been expected to show compassion to the sick and injured. But instead of answering with the only choice left, the Samaritan, he said it was “The one who had mercy on him.” Luke 10:37. Jesus forced the lawyer to see the invisible virtue of mercy. The kind of neighborliness Jesus had in mind required him to see beyond the taken for granted stereotypes of a priest, Levite, and a Samaritan. The same principles apply to us today. Meeting people’s needs should not depend on the visual of a situation. In this parable, mercy happened to be found in the least expected Samaritan, an enemy of mixed race, the very man who would be expected to walk on by. For the Samaritan to show mercy and stop and render aid, the visible stereotypes of a priest and Levite had to give way to the invisible thing called hope. Jesus did this by reframing the lawyer’s question from “who is my neighbor?” to “who is the neighbor?” He might have expected Jesus to give him the names of people he should and should not consider neighbors. Instead, Jesus expanded the question to “what does it take to be a neighbor?” In this case, it took mercy.

Likewise, meeting people’s needs should not depend on the presence or absence of wedding rings. Without the visuals of a family, soccer mom bumper stickers, and membership in the local PTA, single adults tend to disappear beneath the pews of American churches. They too have been beaten up and left for dead. Real faith does not wait on something to be seen or someone to cry for help. Just like life itself and the invisible human embryo, it puts other people first and us last. Just as we don’t need proof of God’s existence, we don’t need proof of a need before we can act on it. Consider Hebrews 11:1: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”

For many in the religious community though, faith goes no deeper than what they see. Their moral compass is guided by the rightness of their sex lives, the visual of a pregnant abdomen, and sanctified by the love for children. It looks good. It feels warm and fuzzy. It brings money into the church. But it’s not biblical. Family values are not Christian values. Maternal love is not the pinnacle of love in this universe. And there is absolutely nothing eternal about marriage. If churches base their faith on the superficial and tangible, they will only respond to the superficial and tangible. The assurance about what they don’t see will be replaced by evidence of things they do see. That’s a shallow faith, one just as legalistic as the lawyer in the parable of the Good Samaritan. As Abraham Lincoln said: “To believe in the things you can see and touch is no belief at all; but to believe in the unseen is a triumph and a blessing.”

Married people may be tempted to say, “but I don’t do anything to make singles feel unloved or not part of our church family.” That’s precisely my point. Silence can be louder than anything you say or do, especially in the absence of action. This is especially true when it comes to lifestyle affirmations because we have only two choices, marriage and celibacy. Affirming one often discourages the other. When married life is affirmed without a concomitant affirmation of celibate life, it results in a discrimination that cuts just as deep as any racial discrimination. It throws salt into the open wounds of barrenness. It leads to a grief more profound than the loss of a family member. Think of all the things your church does to visibly affirm marriage and family life – requiring married preachers, marriage sermons, marriage conferences, wedding announcements, wedding ceremonies, baby showers, receptions, birthday parties, wedding anniversaries, graduation celebrations, age and marital status based groups, etc. Everything a church does sends signals to the community. Singles are free to draw their own conclusions. That’s part of human preservation. For instance, if a Protestant man walked into Jewish synagogue where he was the only person not wearing a yarmulke, would you expect him to feel out of place? Would it be reasonable for him to assume that wearing one was a requirement for that group of people? I would think so. A single adult can feel the same way in a church where everyone is wearing wedding rings and all activities are centered on nuclear families. Just like the man who was beaten could rightly assume the priest and Levite did not care about his situation, he can rightly assume that marriage is a requirement for that church. He could be waiting for someone to stop and just say hello, for someone to listen to him, for a neighbor who can see beyond the absence of a wedding ring on a finger.

Why It Stinks To Be Unintentionally Overlooked

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