Archive | Marriage and Family

Thoughts on Homosexual Marriage, Libertarian Government, and Christian Duty

Here is a response that my (C. Michael Patton) friend Mark Gaither, Th.M., Dallas Theological Seminary and author of Redemptive Divorce, wrote to my post on Homosexual Marriage. It is very well thought out and provides a helpful perspective that, while we may disagree, is important.

With great respect to my friend and colleague, Michael Patton—and I mean that sincerely—I take issue with his article, “Changing our Thinking about Same-Sex Marriage.”

First, I find the starting premise flawed. The thesis states: “The government should NOT make homosexual marriage illegal.” The word “illegal” makes the premise factually incorrect. To make something illegal is to prohibit certain actions or behaviors. The various “Defense of Marriage” propositions do not make homosexual marriage illegal (assigning punishments to people claiming same-sex unions); these proposals seek to define marriage a certain way so as to determine how to apply privileges and protections to people based on marital status. That is a crucial distinction.

His article also proposed that “the government should stay out of the marriage business all-together.” The line of argument then proceeds from there, the core of which really turns on this question: Should Christians in America become libertarian? The issue of same-sex marriage turns out to be a good test case for this question, prompting us to reconsider the role of government in marriage and, as he suggests, all other theological matters. Consider the following line of reasoning based on what I consider a better starting premise.

In the United States, our laws reflect the collective theology of citizens on any given issue. The definition of marriage by the government does not presume to determine theology; it is the other way around in a participatory government such as ours. “The government” is us, “we the people.” The U.S. Constitution does not erect a wall of separation between church and state; Jefferson overstates its political-social impact. Our founding document establishes an officially secular government with these intended benefits: every philosophical persuasion is given a voice in government and religious institutions are protected from official government intrusion. Our democratic-republican form of legislature then permits—indeed expects!—government to reflect the collective values of its citizens, who may or may not hold religious values.

As it relates to the issue of marriage . . .

The “definition of marriage” in the legal sense merely identifies who shall be subject to our laws concerning marriage. Our government recognizes and honors the institution of marriage with certain privileges and burdens because “we the people” wanted it that way. The government deemed certain unions “valid” based on criteria stipulated by its citizens, who were informed and influenced by the Bible—at least in days gone by. Continue Reading →

If procreation is part of marriage, are infertile couples unmarried? And if human beings walk on two legs, are amputees not human beings?

Simple logical errors sometimes pass by undetected, and in a few cases a persistent fallacy becomes so frequent in the wider public conversation that we don’t even think to analyze and question it. One such mistake that I’ve noticed involves definitions of things and a kind of mistaking of the exception for the rule. Before you stop reading because this just seems like uninteresting academic nitpicking, let me assure you that this rational error is relevant in some of today’s most heated topics of debate. It makes a difference whether we recognize it or not.

To explain:  definitions of things are basic to all of our understanding and communication. In any debate on any subject, terms have to be defined. Additionally, things have natures, which is part of why we define them as we do. In other words, there are things that are generally true about, for example, a tree. It is part of the nature of a tree to have roots, to have branches, to grow upward, to have foliage, to use the sun and water for growth, etc. I wouldn’t say those things about a dolphin, since it has a very different nature. Some people may deny that things have natures, since they may not like the implication of design (teleology) that this idea implies. But such objectors are a minority and I will not deal with them at present.

Nothing I’m saying here is novel. We could go back through the centuries all the way to the Greeks and let Aristotle explain this, but I want to be brief and succinct so I’m trying to give you the Cliff’s Notes (Clint’s Notes, to be exact). Christian thinkers have certainly always understood this, and all the more since they recognize that the natures to which things conform are definitely by design. Think, then, about how definitions of things involve their natures, and ask yourself: Are there ever exceptions? And of course you will recognize that there are. Rarely does a definition of something in this world apply to every member of the class or category being described. When you think of birds, for example, you think of flight, since it is generally in the nature of birds to fly. BUT there are a few exceptions.  There are a few species of flightless birds. And even if there were no species of flightless birds, there will always be the individual cases of birds that cannot fly because of developmental deformities in their wings or having been wounded.

Human Nature

This brings us to one of the examples in the title of this post. One thing we usually talk about as having a nature is a human being (as in the term “human nature”). When discussing the definition of human beings, we do our best to consider what is part of the nature of humanity – physically, mentally, and otherwise. Our definition of what it means to be human is, like others, general. It is not meant to say that every single human being will always have all of the traits we ascribe to human beings. It is meant to say, rather, that, all things functioning properly and in accord with what is the nature of a human being, the definition will apply.
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Should William & Kate Get an Abortion?

It’s hard to miss the big news story of the week. Britain’s Prince William and Catherine Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, are expecting a baby. The news broke sooner than the royal family were probably intending. The Duchess is experiencing severe morning sickness which forced her to be hospitalized.

I know there’s a great deal of excitement in the air regarding this pregnancy. I fear, however, cooler heads need to prevail. There seem to be reasonable issues on the table here making an abortion a good option for the royal family. Here are just three examples why William and Kate should terminate the pregnancy:

First, the royal couple have not even been married for two years yet. They have their whole life in front of them. There will be plenty of time to settle down and start a family. Right now, however, is not a good time. They need to first travel the world and enjoy their youth.

Second, Kate is very early in her pregnancy. Yes, the news is saying she is pregnant with a “baby.” Does anyone know who the uneducated backwoods hick is feeding such silliness to the news agencies? Anyone with even a high-school education should know Kate simply has a blob of cells inside her starting as a zygote forming into a fetus. Kate is simply experiencing a parasite feeding off of her body. No wonder she’s sick. If Kate terminated the pregnancy right now she would be well in her rights since the parasite is so early in development. If it were removed right now it could not survive outside the womb, no harm, no foul.

Third, someone has to think about Kate’s health. Our planet has advanced so far in support of women’s health. It’s a shame for us all to sit back and allow ourselves to be thrown back into the dark ages as Kate suffers. I’m thankful to be far enough removed from the situation to be able to think clearly on this point. Kate is obviously suffering due to this parasite. Kate is an intelligent, professional woman with the entire world in front of her. Why should we allow her to suffer? Perhaps William is a selfish jerk? He doesn’t seem like it, but do you really ever know somebody? Someone needs to make sure William is not forcing her to have the baby against her will. Kate, if you’re reading this, think about yourself.

Should William and Kate get an abortion? If the same reasoning used throughout the developed civilized world is used in William & Kate’s situation the answer very well could be: yes. They should get an abortion.

I think this situation, however, has revealed something inside the heart of all people. The entire world would rightfully place our hands over our mouths and gasp if William and Kate decided to terminate the pregnancy. If their explanation was, “Well, it was just not the right time. We’ve only been married for a year and a half. Kate was suffering with morning sickness. We’ll start a family some day, but not today.”
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A Theology of Marriage – [Videos]

Credo House Executive Director, Tim Kimberley, is being featured this month on the popular Facebook page Awesome Marriage. Here are five short videos highlighting theological reflections to help marriages:

What does it take to have an Awesome Marriage?

Growing in Knowledge of God

Morality vs. Living for Jesus

Balancing Fantasy and Reality

Boundaries in Friendships with the Opposite Sex

Victorious Christian Sobbing

My wife stood last week in the entryway of my kid’s school sobbing. Not a little quiet cry but really letting all the emotions come to the surface. A lady had asked how she was doing and she let it all out. Six or seven godly women gathered around her praying. They laid hands on my bride, praying passionately, many of the women started to cry as well.

I would usually be embarrassed by this situation. We’re supposed to have it all together. We’re Christian leaders so we need to lead the way in the Victorious Christian Life. What will people think if they see my wife sobbing in public? As I stood there, however, I thought to myself, “This is the Victorious Christian Life…this is Victorious Christian Sobbing.

Early in our marriage my wife had chronic pain lasting several years. For the last few years she has been pain free. A huge blessing. The pain started to return about a month ago and we’ve been working with doctors and physical therapists to get it back under control. As she stood there sobbing she was letting the women know she needed God’s strength to carry her through every moment. It was clear to me these other godly women were moved realizing they desired my wife’s healing but also desired the same thing from God. As I stood there praying along I kept thinking, “This is good. This is not normal…it’s a little embarrassing…but this is good.”

I’ve been mentored in this area recently by a godly man. When I first met this man I was excited because of his reputation. I knew he had mentored others but I didn’t know if we’d click. It’s pretty easy for guys to have relationships where you hang out with other guys going fishing, working on backyard projects, watching sports, doing all sorts of activities together. It’s hard, however, for men to have relationships where you “go deep” in the things of God. A friendship where your walk with Jesus is truly better after spending time together. These deep spiritual mentoring relationships can be hard to find. I’ve been blessed, however, to find this friendship in John Calvin.

As I stood there watching my wife sobbing I kept thinking about the last time Johnny C (yes, we’re that tight) and I sat down together. It was in the 702-715 page range of his magisterial 1600 page Institutes of the Christian Religion (2 Volume version edited by John T. McNeil). Calvin brought up the subject of the Theology of the Cross. The cliff-notes version of the Theology of the Cross could be worded like this: If we aren’t familiar with continual pain we won’t continually understand, appreciate, or benefit from the cross. We need to frequently enter into pain to continually enter into Christ. Calvin, as usual, unpacks these ideas. Whether or not you agree with Calvin on issues of salvation, I ask you to set them aside for a bit and listen to this man who is obviously well acquainted with the Bible, Jesus and grief:

Calvin opens the conversation by saying:

We are to take up our cross, as followers of Christ. But it behooves the godly mind to climb still higher, to the height which Christ calls his disciples: that each must bear his own cross [Matt. 16:24]. For whomever the Lord has adopted and deemed worthy of his fellowship ought to prepare themselves for a hard, toilsome, and unquiet life, crammed with very many and various kinds of evil. It is the Heavenly Father’s will thus to exercise them so as to put his own children to a definite test. Beginning with Christ, his first-born, he follows this plan with all his children.

Most churches don’t lead with this reality. Who would want to follow Jesus if they are guaranteed a “hard, toilsome, and unquiet life, crammed with very many and various kinds of evil?” Yes, I’m even a little uneasy about his statement. I feel like we’re at the Credo House having a Luther Latte and Calvin leans forward saying, “Now Tim, I know this sucks on the surface. Who wants to experience this type of life? But, I don’t think you’ll fully trust in God’s power if He doesn’t let you first experience the need for His power.” I exhale slowly and reply, “Ok, I’m listening.” He continues:
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What Fatherless Statistics Communicate to the Fatherless

(Lisa Robinson)

As May dwindles down and we flip the calendar to June, it reminds me that Father’s Day is just around the corner.  To be sure, the praise of fathers will be extolled and the importance of father’s highlighted.  One method that is often used to highlight the importance of fathers, is to cite statistics on the effects of the absence of fathers.   Whether it be in a sermon, a podcast or a blog entry, there will be those who choose this method so that their Christian audience understands why the presence of fathers is so important.  This is particular true in evangelical circles that place a significance on the role of the husband and father as head of the household.  After all, isn’t this what inspired the movie Courageous?

Now I do understand the concerns that provokes this method.  Certainly, there are situations in which a father has the ability to be present, but for whatever reason he is not available.  I also recognize that children become innocent victims of divorce, thereby losing wholly or partially the presence of the father.  There are concerns about selfishness.  There are also concerns about the impact that the absence of a father has on a child.  For some, there are concerns that a household is not being adequately maintained by a proper head of household.  I get that it is about the health of the family.

While I do appreciate the concerns of this type of exposure, I am not sure if the promoters of such statistics understands the impact it has on those affected by the absence of fathers and the women who raise them.   While the scenarios I just stated may be the motivating factor behind such a method, one of the problems is that it does not wholly capture the reality behind the absence of fathers in a household.  The identification of problem cannot be treated with a simplistic version of the cause as if it is applicable to all situations.  There are those, such as myself, who become widowed and children are fatherless.  Divorce happens for a variety of reasons and in some cases is better for the health of the family involved, especially where it involves abuse.  In some cases, a spouse abdicates his responsibility.  But in every scenario, there are still those left behind – a single mother who must now care for the needs of a fatherless family. Continue Reading →

Book Review: Real Marriage

Do not read this book! Yes, there are many reasons why many of you should strongly consider never reading this book.  The Driscolls say this at the beginning of chapter 10:

If you are older, from a highly conservative religious background, live far away from a major city, do not spend much time on the Internet, or do not have cable television, the odds are that you will want to read this chapter while sitting down, with the medics ready on speed dial.

I think the Driscolls were too nice.  Instead of sitting down they should have recommended for you to just give the book to someone else who does not fit their description.  Additionally, if you believe you have the spiritual gift of criticism, this book will give you too much ammunition.  You won’t be able to handle all the ways you could criticize this book.

If you have heard negative things about this book, it is probably related to chapter 10.  The people who criticize this chapter are most likely the people who were never meant to read this book. Do not read this book.

Please, make sure you read this book.  Yes, there are many people who should, no, who need to read this book.  Our culture is sexually messed up.  Yes, many generations and many cultures throughout history treated sex in ways dishonoring to its Creator.  Technology is being used today by many people to make fringe images, thoughts and behaviors mainstream.

Here is a quick non-exhaustive list of the people who need to read this book.  If you: have been addicted to pornography; lived with your spouse before marriage; were sexually mistreated as a child; see women as sexual objects more than individual people; experimented with bi-sexuality; have been involved in sexting; do not see your spouse as attractive; struggle with how to live as a monogamous Christian in a sex-charged atmosphere; have had an abortion; admit to yourself that you struggle with lust; are ashamed of things you did before marriage; are having struggles in your marriage; have been divorced; are under the age of 30…  If one or many of these things describe you than this book is definitely for you.
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Dealing with the Doubting: How to Have Mercy on Loved Ones Who Are Doubting their Faith

I know of only one person who I believed was being used by God significantly who had not been though some sort of faith crisis that caused them to doubt their beliefs at their deepest level . . . I am getting ahead of myself.

As many of you are aware, I deal with many people who are doubting their faith. To be more specific, these are Christians who are going through some sort of faith crisis where they no longer believe with the simplicity that characterized their belief before. This is becoming increasingly common in a world where sheltered or isolated beliefs are not only impractical, but a thing of the past (and this is good!).

However, most of us really don’t know how to deal with this. We don’t know how to deal with it when it comes to our own doubts, much less other peoples’!

At the risk of presenting a bit of a caricature, let me give some tongue-in-cheek ways in which various theological systems deal with Christians who are going through such a crisis of faith:

Baptists: They are still saved, no matter where their doubts take them. They just need renewed assurance.

Calvinists: They were never saved to begin with. They need to have the Gospel presented to them.

Charismatics: They are demon-possessed. They need to have an exorcism.

Arminians: They are in the process of losing their salvation. They need to stop sinning or be argued back into the faith.

I don’t know if I agree or (necessarily) disagree with any of these options. What I would disagree with is that we can address these situations with a neat, one-size-fits-all response to individuals in crisis.

I don’t claim to be an expert in this area, but I thought I would try to give some points of advice not to those who are in the middle of this faith crisis, but to those who are seeking to help those whom they love through this crisis in a positive way.

1. Have mercy on them.

Jude 22 is a verse that is quite neglected. It says for us to “have mercy on some who are doubting.” If we don’t approach people with genuine mercy and love, we cannot expect to be Christ for them in what might very well be the biggest struggle they have ever faced.

One of the things I have been exposed to since “entering” the ministry to those who are doubting is how traumatic this time of life truly is for them. If you have never been through it, it will be extremely difficult for you to understand. In fact, the default position for many of us is to judge and condemn those who are doubting. When someone’s doubts are not processed properly, and all they find is condemnation and judgement from the community of faith, this intensifies and prolongs the problem. You would not believe how many Christians who are going through this crisis are seriously considering suicide. From their perspective, their entire worldview is collapsing beneath them.

I won’t get too much into the story, but I have been through this crisis at the deepest level. It nearly killed me. Simply to have someone there having mercy on me, being there for me, not waiting for the other shoe to drop, but in full support and love was so important. Those in doubt need to know that you are not ever going to leave or forsake them. That is being Christ to them (Heb. 13:5). Be as understanding as you can even if you have not been through this.

2. Realize that these are often the birth pangs of deepened faith

I almost put “these are the birth pangs of true faith,” but that is saying too much. You see, when we are children, we receive our faith from our parents in a mediated way. This does not mean that this faith is not true, but for the most part, it is untested. It is the trials, temptations, and suffering of life that test our faith (Job; Rom. 5:3-4; Luke 8:5-15; Jam. 1:3).

For those of us with children who are going through this, we cannot panic . . . please don’t panic. Yes, it is incredibly difficult to watch your child (or friends or loved ones) go through this. Just like when your child is hurt, you want so much to endure their pain in their stead. When our children are going through a faith crisis, we want God to shift the burden to our shoulders. I will talk about how we can bear this burden with them, but we cannot (and should not want to) bear this burden for them. Our faith must be tested if it is to grow. Periodic faith struggles are the norm of the Christian life. When I am at my best, I worry most for those who have never been through any faith crisis. To me, this normally means they don’t take their faith too seriously. But for those who do take their faith seriously, the crisis is sure to come. And to those whom God is going to use in a particular way, the crisis will be more particular.

Whether it is an intellectual, emotional, or spiritual difficulty, we must realize that God uses these trials to deepen faith. In this, while we don’t like to see loved ones in pain, we can rejoice in what God may be doing through this time. Continue Reading →