The Private Intellectual
Ecclesiastes-Based Real Estate Advice

Friday, September 16, 2011  

Why I Made Joe Carter Cry

Apparently my article on Dan Savage in The Christian Century came to the attention of Joe Carter, the web editor of First Things (via the Century blog):

First, what world is Dueholm living in? I don’t know a single couple for which monogamy is not the “default expectation.” Second, the reason that the church’s historic promotion of the dignity and fullness of the marriage bond might not enjoy cultural prestige for much longer is because liberal mainliners have been working furiously to undermine the church’s teachings on marriage.

Read the entire article. It’s equal parts frustrating and depressing, but it’ll give you a better understanding of why the liberal mainline churches are dying. And why few people will miss them when they’re gone.

Well, I don't know any couples for whom monogamy isn't the default setting, but I'm married, over thirty, and a pastor. However I do read stuff by and about people who aren't like me--this is occasionally worthwhile--and it turns out that not everyone's like that. My point in bringing it up is not that we should accommodate ourselves to the emerging norms for sexual ethics, but rather that an obsessive restatement of what we imagine the world was like back in our day and ought to be now is not going to cut it. Truthfully, it never did. For the better part of two millennia, the church has had to find ways to live with human stubbornness on this issue.

And while I no longer take it personally when the war-and-torture Christians over at First Things say mean stuff about us, I wonder what they'd end up with if they ever read anything we wrote as an argument rather than a symptom of decline. What would Joe Carter tell the man who found out his mother is cheating on his "abusive psycho" of a father? I'm genuinely curious. The reason I like reading Dan Savage is that he's actually answering people's questions. Joe Carter doesn't do that. The Pope doesn't do that. Hell, I don't often do that. Nowhere do I endorse adultery, but I have to admit that in some circumstances, it may be the operative alternative to divorce. What's Joe Carter's Gospel word to someone in that situation? Pray more? Get a divorce? Go and leave me alone and be a sinner? I'm not a Biblical athlete like Mr. Carter, but I don't remember Jesus saying anything of the sort to the Samaritan woman or anyone else.

No one who writes for any kind of public can get too testy about being misunderstood or read uncharitably. But just for the sake of clarity, I'll state more simply what I was trying to get at with the article: People are going to commit adultery. In many ways, it's easier to commit adultery than it ever was, and people have always committed adultery. If we don't have something smarter to say to that than "thou shalt not," people will continue to ignore us. However, our tradition gives us a way to think about adultery that upholds the commandment, accounts for its frequent transgressions, and points toward a more generous and loving understanding of it. Reading Dan Savage has helped me clarify my thinking on that, even though I often disagree with his advice. As far as I know, Catholics and white Evangelicals cheat and get divorced too. Does anyone at First Things think we can do better?

posted by Benjamin Dueholm | 9:23 PM
"I don’t know a single couple for which monogamy is not the 'default expectation.'"

So this is the conservative version of Pauline Kael's question about how Richard Nixon won the presidency when she didn't know anyone who voted for him, right?
Post a Comment