Here we find a recently minted Dr. of the Church giving his opinion on the putative correlation between idolatry of the family as practiced by “traditionalists” and idolatry of perverse sex as practiced by progressives.
The Christian Idols of Sex, Marriage, and Family
Another source tells me that Dr. Tim Keller reasons in a similar fashion but as I don’t typically read Keller I’ll have to take my sources word for it.
In the sex-saturated culture in which we live, both progressives and traditionalists have come to embrace overly sexualized narratives of sex, marriage, and family. Both tend to idealize sex as a fundamental part of human flourishing, essential to personal wholeness. Progressives emphasize the goods of sex to such an extent that they have largely abandoned the notion that good sex can only take place within a heterosexual, married relationship. The only ethical guidance they seem to be able to provide individuals seeking sexual flourishing is to tell them to respect the consent of others and do what seems right to them. Traditionalists, for their part, idealize the permanent union between a man and a woman and the nuclear family that is supposed to flow from it as if it were the greatest and most wonderful relationship that any person could know in this life.
1.) I would dearly love to meet some of these “traditionalists” who are “idealizing the permanent union between a man and a woman and the nuclear family that is supposed to flow from it as if it were the greatest and most wonderful relationship that any person could know in this life.”
As a minister, as most ministers, I deal with the flotsam and jetsam of wrecked family lives on a consistent basis. I personally know of no one, outside or inside the Church who fits the description that Tuininga gives above regarding “traditionalists.” They may exist, but to speak of them as existing as a equally serious problem as progressives blow all my circuits.
The facts about how the family in America is in disrepair are pretty well known. These facts remain true whether you consider statistics on those outside the Church or those inside the Church. For example,
a.) Only 46% of U.S. children under 18 live in a home with two married heterosexual parents in their first marriage. This stands contrasted with 1960 when that number stood at 73% and 1980 when that number stood at 61%.
b.) The percentage of children born outside of marriage is now at 41%. This number stood at 5% in 1960.
c.) In 1960, only one in ten adults 25 and older had never been married. In 2012 that number has jumped to one in five.
We could go on repeatedly citing these kinds of numbers. The plea I have for Dr. Tuininga is to please introduce me to the kind of Traditionalists that you say are making the equal but opposite error of the progressives. Where are all these Traditionalists you speak of? I can easily introduce you to all kinds of progressives that fit your description. These progressives would even accept your description of them. But where do I meet a flesh and blood traditionalist who would stand up and salute your description of him as being accurate?
2.) Since I am convinced that very few if any of these kinds of Traditionalists exist I begin to wonder if Traditionalists, as described by Matthew, becomes more of a stalking horse in order to suggest that those who oppose progressives are equally sinful as progressives themselves and so have just as much to repent of as progressives. This reasoning serves the purpose of hinting that those who are pleased with Biblical marriage and family as a gift from God and who want to defend that institution are as equally in sin as sodomites, transgenders, and pedophiles.
3.) Obviously, the “most wonderful relationship that any person could know in this life,” is that relationship wherein man, by God’s grace alone, enters into covenant with His creator and redeemer and so walks in light of that grace. But again, I don’t know any Traditionalists who would deny that and insist instead that marriage and family are even more superior to walking with the Lord Christ by the power of the Spirit.
Once again, I am convinced that Dr. Tuininga has created a false dichotomy that has the effect of saying, “Well the church has problems. First it has problems with the progressives but then it has a problem with the traditionalists also and we can’t speak to one of these problems without admitting that we have both problems.” This has the effect of diminishing the problem we have with progressives. When I meet traditionalists who embrace Dr. Tuininga’s description of them, as progressives would embrace Tuininga’s description of them I’ll then only begin to consider his claims.
These narratives have deeply shaped Christians too. Progressives in the church increasingly find themselves questioning classic Christian prohibitions of fornication (i.e., sex before marriage), homosexuality, and divorce, while traditionalists cling all the more tightly to the glories of the married relationship to which everyone is called and for which everyone who is not having sex must necessarily wait. Progressives are abandoning gender as merely a human construct, while conservatives are holding to gender distinctions all the more rigidly as the inviolable decree of creation. Both groups seemingly despise the celibate life, finding it deeply implausible, and both tolerate divorce in virtually every instance in which a couple really wants it.
1.) Again, I’d like to meet these traditionalists, who insist that everyone, without exception, are called to marriage. Really, I’d like to meet them because I don’t think they exist in any real numbers. To posit them makes for a nice counterbalance in arguing we have equal but opposite problems among our constituencies but these flesh and blood people don’t exist as any real presence in the Church.
For Pete’s sake, as far back as 1947 Social Scientist were shouting loud and clear that the American Family was in deep trouble. Writing in 1947, Carle Zimmerman, in his classic “Family and Civilization”, had this to say about “The Greatest Generation.”
“The fact is now well known, and associated with these changes, that the Western world has entered a period of demoralization comparable to the periods when both Greece and Rome turned from growth to decay. Divorce, premarital sex experience, sex promiscuity, homosexuality, versatility in sex, birth control carried to excess, spread of birth control to every segment of the population, positive antagonism to parenthood, clandestine marriage, migratory divorce, marriage for sex alone, contempt for familism, even in the so-called educated circles—all are increasing rapidly. In spite of our virtuous words, and without even the intellectual honesty of the Greeks and Roman, we have gone as far as they, and it would appear that we are going even farther. The family crisis of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is like that in Greece and Rome, except that we do not recognize it and are intellectually dishonest with ourselves on this subject.”
~Carle Zimmerman, “Family and Civilization”, p. 174
Where is all this familolatry that Tuininga abhors?
2.) Unless Tuiniga can show Scripture that teaches to the contrary, traditionalists are correct to insist that “everyone who is not having sex must necessarily wait” for marriage.
3.) Tuininga complains that “conservatives are holding to gender distinctions all the more rigidly as the inviolable decree of creation.” I wonder, can Dr. Tuininga point out anywhere in Scripture that affirms gender is a social construct and so Christians, out of deep compassion and love for errant progressives, shouldn’t hold on to gender distinctions all the more righteously as the inviolable decree of creation? Where does Dr. Tuininga find that gender is a violable decree of creation?
4.) Note how Tuininga jades the conversation with the language he uses.
“conservatives are holding to gender distinctions all the more rigidly as the inviolable decree of creation.”
Traditionalists, for their part, idealize the permanent union between a man and a woman …
From the perspective of the gospel, both of these narratives are deeply flawed. True, Jesus clearly affirmed traditional Jewish teaching regarding sexual immorality, and he affirmed that marriage is between a man and a woman because that is how God declared it to be from creation. Up to that point, at least, the traditionalists are right.
But Jesus said so much more than that – the gospel says so much more than that – and that is getting lost in the debate. If the church hopes to truly exercise a prophetic voice in the midst of a culture whose radical over-sexualization produces ever greater numbers of abused, scarred, and disillusioned victims, it needs to recover the good news of Jesus for sex, marriage, and the family.
It may be true that Scripture says “more than that,” but it is also true that Scripture does not say less than that. Marriage is God’s good gift. Children are a heritage of the Lord. God says that “if someone does not provide for his own, especially his own family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” So, highly did St. Paul think about family that he was inspired to write,
Romans 9:3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.
One wonders if Dr. Tuininga would accuse God of being a traditionalist “who idealizes the permanent union between a man and a woman and the nuclear family that is supposed to flow from it as if it were the greatest and most wonderful relationship that any person could know in this life.”
Catholic ethicist Julie Hanlon Rubio points out that Jesus consistently challenged his followers not to hold too tightly to marriage and family. Jesus, like his most famous follower, the Apostle Paul, lived a celibate life, and like the Apostle Paul he did not hesitate to characterize the celibate life as one that is especially conducive of devotion to the kingdom of God. He called his disciples to leave their family members for the sake of the kingdom, using language that still shocks us today (if we have ears to hear it):
If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26-27)
1.) We are Reformed not Roman Catholic.
2.) Certainly Dr. Tuininga understands that all relationships, all the good loves of this world, all the things that are good gifts from God, must be related to as “hate” when compared to our love for Christ. All our good relationships must never be ends in themselves. They must all be engaged in keeping with our higher love for God. God has called me to hate my love for family in comparison to my love for Him but He does not call me to hate my family in an absolutist fashion. I suspect that Dr. Tuininga loves his parents. I suspect that Dr. Tuinga loves his siblings.
3.) We do not know absolutely that Paul was not married. History suggests that a member of the Sanhedrin was required to be married. That Paul was celibate for long periods of time is not denied.
4.) We should not be surprised that someone from Rome, with their requirement for celibacy in the Priesthood, is going to argue that celibacy is a good thing. Of course the Reformers disagreed with Rome on this issue.
The problem, for Jesus, was not sex. The problem was that marriage, like other familial bonds, places on human beings a host of demands that can easily distract us from the things of God. It calls us to serve one another with absolute fidelity. It tempts us to pursue a life oriented to pleasure, property, and the pursuit of happiness. It makes us, like the rich young ruler, unlikely to be willing to take up our cross and follow Jesus once we have considered what the cost of such discipleship might be.
Now, it seems that Dr. Tuininga has taken up Roman Catholic platonic like reasoning and is suggesting that Marriage is a lesser place than celibacy. Marriage and family makes us unwilling to take up our cross and follow Jesus? Marriage and family distract us from the things of God? Doesn’t this imply that marriage and family are not “the things of God?” Those are pretty big claims Dr. Tuininga is making.
Indeed, when the disciples heard the extent of Jesus’ teaching on marriage their response was not, as it is for so many traditionalist Christians today, to yearn for it all the more deeply (and feel ever more guilty for denying sex to those who are not yet or cannot be married). On the contrary, they exclaimed, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry” (Matthew 19:10). And Jesus does not rebuke them for this conclusion. On the contrary, he said,
Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it. (Luke 19:12)
Clearly it is the case that for some people and especially during certain epochs that being married is not ideal. I’m not sure what Dr. Tuininga’s point is here. It is widely and roundly accepted in the Church that not everyone is called to marriage and family. Point taken. Praise God for those who have the gift of celibacy. Praise God that he raises up some to be single all their lives.
When is the last time you’ve heard a sermon on that text? Jesus, like Paul, recognized that there is something better than sex in this life, a calling that far transcends gender roles, and one that is worth pursuing for those willing to receive it. He himself chose that path, rather than the path of marriage.
There is no calling, not even one of celibacy, that transcends gender roles. If God calls a man or a woman to celibacy He calls them to celibacy as a man or a woman which He created as a man or a woman.
And yet, his point was not to reject the family. His point, rather, was to get his followers to look beyond their own marriages and families to the much more important family of those who have been reconciled into communion with one another and God. When his own biological family came seeking him, attempting to interrupt his kingdom work, he spoke words that would shock us if we actually took them seriously:
“Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Luke 12:48-50)
Certainly spiritual family is more important than physical family who reject our undoubted Catholic Christian Faith. But physical family that is also spiritual family is to be prioritized above both spiritual family alone or physical family who reject Christ.
Nor was Jesus simply thinking of his own unique messianic situation when he said that. On the contrary, each of the synoptic gospels records Jesus, immediately after his conversation with the rich young ruler, pointing his own followers in the same direction. As Mark’s version puts it,
Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundred-fold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first. (Mark 10:29-31)
It is stipulated that God is no debtor to man and that for those who are called to leave family for the Kingdom will be rewarded richly by God, just as those will be richly rewarded who were called to family and loved their family to the glory of God.
To be sure, sex, marriage, and family are good things, gifts from God. But they are not the best thing. And if the words of Jesus or Paul mean anything to us at all, there is something about the celibate life that is, in fact, closer to that best thing. The early church saw that (indeed, they took it much too far), but our culture has blinded us to it.
This is not true.
1.) What is true is that the celibate life is best for those who are called to be celibate while the married and family life is best for those who are called to marriage and family. This idea that the celibate life is best is platonic and I suspect comes from Dr. Tuininga reading too many Roman Catholic ethicists.
2.) The early church was awash in Platonism and Gnosticism. Many despised the body. The Reformation embraced marriage as a good gift from God. Did Luther live a less than best life because he married Katy? Did Calvin live a less than best life because Idelette was always afoot? Dr. Tuininga really does go a bridge to far in this “reasoning.” Is Dr. Tuininga trying to turn us back to a “material word only so so good” vs. “spiritual world really good,” thinking? Beware the leaven of Roman Catholic ethicists.
3.) Neither celibate life nor non celibate life is closer to the best thing. To suggest that either is ideal, in and of itself, over the other is not Biblical thinking. Biblical thinking understands and affirms that we, in the Church, are all gifted and called differently and all those gifts and all those callings serve the body of Christ for God’s glory. If God gives the gift of celibacy to a Brother or Sister in Christ then praise God. But it is no lesser existence to know that God has called one to marriage and family.
If the Christian sexual ethic has become less plausible in American churches today, if churches are less and less willing to call their followers to the path of radical discipleship, indeed, if the celibate life of the Christ to whom we are supposed to be conformed has itself become inconceivable to us, then that is a testimony to just how much Christians – progressive and traditionalist alike – have failed to hear the gospel and believe it. Just like our culture, we have idolized sex, marriage, and family. We have confused the American dream with the gospel.
The progressives certainly have idolized sex but I’ve yet to see any evidence that traditionalists are idolizing family and marriage. I read assertion after assertion but I see no evidence that we have a wide ranging problem in Church and culture of a pervasive traditionalism that is gumming up the gears. Instead what I see is marriage and family on the rocks. I see almost the complete and total breakdown of the nuclear family. The extended and Trustee family is almost to the point that it is barely remembered. Atomistic individualism reigns supreme to the point that familial covenant identity is non existent. I see all this, and I’m supposed to believe that we have a problem in our culture and church with traditionalism that turns the family into an idol?
I’m not buying it.
If that is indeed the case, then as Ed Shaw puts it in his must-read, Same-Sex Attraction and the Church: The Surprising Plausibility of the Celibate Life, the church should give thanks for the phenomena of homosexuality and same-sex marriage because it might just serve as the wake-up call the church needs. In the words of the songwriter Rich Mullins, “We are not as strong as we think we are.” If progressives are caving in to the spirit of the times, then traditionalists are too often basking in a hypocritical self-righteousness. Both need to repent and return to the gospel.
1) I certainly agree that “we are not as strong as we think we are.” I find the proof of that in Dr. Tuininga’s article.
2.) The next to last sentence of that paragraph above pushes me into thinking that this was the real purpose of the article. Both progressives and traditionalists are equally sinners, in terms of their convictions, in this sodomite marriage debate. The convictions of neither camp are superior to one or the other. Once they are both seen as being equally sinners then the stench of sodomy and perversity in the Church fades as traditionalists are equally full of self righteous stench.
But again… where are the traditionalists who will own the description that Tuiniga gives them? The progressives are glad to embrace Tuininga’s descriptors. They will gladly admit that they,
emphasize the goods of sex to such an extent that they have largely abandoned the notion that good sex can only take place within a heterosexual, married relationship. The only ethical guidance they seem to be able to provide individuals seeking sexual flourishing is to tell them to respect the consent of others and do what seems right to them.
Where is the evidence that family life in America is awash in traditionalist thinking per Tuininga’s claims? All the stats point to just the opposite. Where are those traditionalists who would despise people called to celibacy? Introduce me to some of them. I want to meet them.
Dr. Tuininga’s article is deeply flawed because he’s created a caricature out of the Traditionalist position and then posited that caricature as being a equal problem in the culture and church as the progressive position. This equalizing then serves to diminish the real problem of progressive LGBT’ism.