Monday, August 14, 2006

Romance

Romantic love is big business. Even within the church, one can't help but be deluged by all of the books, sermons, audio and video series, seminars, retreats and Bible studies on the topic of romance and marriage. An outside observer could easily come to the conclusion that marriage was the most important tenet of the Christian faith, ahead of all other theological considerations. And keeping romance alive within marriage is, apparently, of vital importance.

Of course, for the homosexual the rules are different. Heterosexual marriage is still generally seen as the ideal state, even for those who have never experienced so much as a glimmer of an opposite-sex attraction. But, of course, since we're all naturally heterosexual according to conventional Christian wisdom, getting married should lead to the development of those attractions, even if reparative therapy has failed up until that point.

Never mind that groups like Focus on the Family simultaneously counsel women to steer clear of men who have ever experienced same-sex attractions, thus leaving those men in a Catch-22 in which they ought to get married even though they are seen as bad husband material.

(Granted, these men also have the option of celibacy, though in practice evangelicals tend to view celibacy as an inferior state to marriage if not something to be looked upon with pity.)

And it's true that such marriages have a very high rate of divorce. Some mixed-orientation couples do manage to make their marriages work, but the majority don't. Even when the husband cares about his wife enough to set aside his deep longings for another man, the wife still has to live with the fact that he will probably never desire her in the way she wants to be desired. On a romantic level, the connection between them rarely develops into a fully two-way bond.

The question, then, becomes whether that should make a difference within the Christian definition of marriage. What if the church's idealization of romantic love, and not the lack of it in mixed-orientation marriages, is the real problem? It does, after all, arguably lie at the root of the mindset that makes pro-gay theology possible. And what has it really produced other than a fixation on personal fulfillment and the warm, gooey feelings that accompany being in love? Would we have a 50%+ divorce rate if people entered marriage with an attitude of duty and self-sacrifice instead of expectations of being swept off of one's feet?

Perhaps a return to arranged marriages and the church's traditional stance on sex would be for the best. Love could once again be purely an action instead of an emotion. Couples would come together for the primary purpose of producing and raising as many children as God sees fit to give them, and would stay together for life whether it felt good to do so or not. Widows under 60 would be allowed to remarry, but if divorce did occur for whatever reason there would be no second chance. Sex would once again be a purely procreative act - no birth control, no 'just for fun' sex, no weddings performed for sterile couples.

Some of those ideas sound laughable to us, of course, but philosophically they're far more consistent with the demands made of homosexuals than the modern church's indulgent (and sometimes idolatrous) attitude toward heterosexual marriage. Of course, the heterosexual majority would never stand for such restrictions no matter how many centuries of church tradition and theology supported them, and the pastor who advocated them would quickly find himself without a flock.

Instead, heterosexuals who didn't want to submit to church authority would simply organize their own "romance affirming" churches and come up with an interpretation of scripture that supported their lifestyle - the difference being that they would quickly acquire a majority of practicing Christians, with the traditionalists shunted into the fringes almost overnight.

Most conservatives will laugh my hypothetical scenario off, of course. The concept of romantic love between a man and a woman can be fit into the imagery of Christ and the church as a married couple in a way that a same sex couple's love cannot (though how a man is supposed to feel about being Christ's wife on the other side of that analogy is seldom addressed). It also, very conveniently, happens to fit reasonably well with the 'natural' feelings of every heterosexual Christian, and as such has become a no-brainer in most Christian circles. But the symbol of Christ and the church works just as well in a world of arranged marriages, and removing romantic love from the equation makes it easier to reconcile our concept of marriage with other scriptural passages.

Nonetheless, the ability of people in our modern world to vote with their feet (and their dollars) virtually guarantees that calls for righteous living will continue to emphasize those sins that the majority can feel good about opposing with the least amount of personal inconvenience. Holding gay believers to the highest conceivable standards of 'holy living' and self-sacrifice costs the vast majority nothing, and simultaneously shifts that pesky spotlight away from the possibility that a God who demands so much from a few might have similarly high standards for the rest of his followers.

5 comments:

TransatlanticGirl said...

"Nonetheless, the ability of people in our modern world to vote with their feet (and their dollars) virtually guarantees that calls for righteous living will continue to emphasize those sins that the majority can feel good about opposing with the least amount of personal inconvenience. Holding gay believers to the highest conceivable standards of 'holy living' and self-sacrifice costs the vast majority nothing, and simultaneously shifts that pesky spotlight away from the possibility that a God who demands so much from a few might have similarly high standards for the rest of his followers."

Yes! Yes, exactly. Well put. It is remarkable how this double standard goes unnoticed by so many in the straight majority. I guess it's true what I've heard: privilege is invisible to those who have it.

CrackerLilo said...

Wait back it up, easy back it up!!! Focus urges women to stay away from men who haven't always been straighty-straight?

Then what the hell are they doing trotting Mike Haley and John Paulk out to talk about how they were once gay, but now they're married!?!?!

And of course, I'm sure that once again, bisexuality just doesn't occur to them.

E said...

Wait back it up, easy back it up!!! Focus urges women to stay away from men who haven't always been straighty-straight?

I suppose Professor Theophilus doesn't necessarily speak for everyone at Focus on the Family, but since he writes a regular column for one of their publications he is an official spokesman.

KJ said...

"Romance affirming" churches. Well done, Eugene!

Dwight said...

Wow, great post!

As far as marriage is concerned I am still trying to figure out exactly what the conservative church is trying to protect from homosexual marriage. In legal terms marriage is really about figuring out how to split up joint property and hand out children visitation schedules once you become divorced.

The courts don't care about the sanctity of marriage (whatever that means), and I have been hard pressed to hear anyone on that side define what marriage truly is, except to say that it should be between a male and female.

As far as the bisexuality comment made earlier goes, I have known people that have gotten married and were once practicing homosexuals, but I would be hard pressed to say that they were anything but bisexuals that eventually choose to practice heterosexual monogamy as opposed to homosexual monogamy.