Tuesday, November 22, 2016

marriage divorce adultery men women


Long long ago in Palestine, two schools of thought emerged between two Judean intellectuals named Hillel and Shammai. They debated more than 300 different issues, and their debates spilled into the streets of Palestine, where partisans went at each other like Bernie and Hillary. The intensification of brutality by an occupying Roman military only made matters worse, because when people are under pressure their differences become magnified.

Shammai partisans might be called the more authoritarian folks, on some issues, and Hillel was vaguely analogous to a cultural liberal, on some issues, and the reverse was true on other issues. Why? Because those categories don't even make sense in that era.

Life in first century Palestine was so totally alien to our own experience that we can only obliquely and with great conceptual effort begin to glimpse how people then really did think and experience things. And when you add to that the problems with interpretation from one language to another to another, and the possibility that various translators had agendas or their own misconceptions, you can see how we ought to approach these long-ago writings (and debates) with caution and humility.

I am re-reading Outlaw Justice right now, by Theodore W. Jennings, Jr. It's a book about Paul's letter to the Romans. After I get my head around it, I intend to get hold of Galatians Reimagined, by Brigette Kahl, and The Son of God in the Roman World, by Michael Peppard. I've said for some time that Paul gets a bad rap from his interpreters, and has since around the time the church started flirting with power; and I want to argue that more forcefully. Paul's letters (they were letters, not decrees!), like the Gospels that were written after Paul, cannot be read sola scruptura (the worst idea of the Reformation), because of the reasons stated above, and because these writings were aimed at an audience that shared many now-forgotten understandings with the writers which are now exquisitely easy to misconstrue.

I'm kind of new at this biblical research thing, but back in the early 70s for a time I did formally and rigorously study English literature; and I learned about anachronistic understandings by watching people mangle the actual meanings of Beowulf and Chaucer and Shakespeare by continually retrojecting their own world views back onto those dead people. That is why I've always approached the Bible with a researcher's caution.

Biblical scholars Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh make an important point about how written documents that were read aloud to largely illiterate people in first century Palestine were constructed as opposed to how we construct written arguments. They call ancient Palestine, using anthropological terms, i.e.,  a "high-context" society; and they contrast that with pluralistic, hyper-specialized late modernity, which they call a "low-context society."

In a high-context society, there is a broad and deeply-shared understanding of the background assumptions of any argument, and writings were very brief, emphasizing only the bullet-points, so to speak, that were in contention.

In a low-context society like ours, we make no such assumption, and we are obliged - as I am doing in this argument - to establish not only the readily apparent differences in a position, but to clarify those supporting assumptions that are not likely shared throughout society. . . and in fact the most rigorous arguments today are often based on deep challenges to whatever are the hegemonic (common sense) assumptions.

So when we read these very old texts we are forced to fill in the blanks, even when many of those blanks must be interpolated and extrapolated, with varying degrees of faithfulness to the original meanings, from other factors in other fields of study.

Anyway, going back to Shammai and Hillel, one of the topics they brought up was divorce. So let's back up here and see if there are any remote resemblances between 'divorce' as it was understood in this debate, and 'divorce' as a modern phenomenon. The reason this is important now is that my own church still forbids 'divorce' (or sanitizes it through a painfully drawn distinction with 'annulment'); and it bases this doctrine on what Jesus said in the Gospels of Mark and Matthew - Matthew 19:3-12 and Mark 10:2-12 to be exact.
Some Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him and asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?”  And He answered and said, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?  So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to give her a certificate of divorce and send her away?”  He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way.  And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

The disciples said to Him, “If the relationship of the man with his wife is like this, it is better not to marry.” But He said to them, “Not all men can accept this statement, but only those to whom it has been given. For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb; and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men; and there are also eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to accept this, let him accept it.”

-Matthew 19:3-12
And . . .
And there came unto him Pharisees, and asked Him, “Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife?” trying him. And He answered and said unto them, “What did Moses command you?” And they said, “Moses suffered to write a bill of divorcement, and to put her away.” But Jesus said unto them, “For your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of the creation, male and female made he them. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh: so that they are no more two, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.” 

And in the house the disciples asked Him again of this matter. And He said to them, Whoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, commits adultery against her: and if she herself shall put away her husband, and marry another, she commits adultery.”

-Mark 10:2-12
Okay, so we'll come back to these, but when you read these the first time, you will note that there are some key subjects: men, women, marriage, divorce, adultery. Because we recognize these terms, we may immediately believe that they mean what we mean when we use them. That would be pretty staggeringly wrong. What these are in our time would have been hallucinogenically unrecognizable to first century Judeans in Palestine.

The reason we started this post with Hillel and Shammai is that this is the debate that everyone on the street who saw the Pharisees confront Jesus, as well as the Gospel writers a few decades later, understood; and they understood without anyone telling them in the narrative that the Pharisees were trying to pin Jesus down on this particular debate.

If we, then, research how men, women, marriage, divorce, and adultery are understood, in the context of the rest of the Judean moral precepts (it matters), and if none of these conforms to the way we understand these terms, then there is a Great Big Problem with church teaching on divorce.

They were talking about kinship with the element of sex. If we were to speak of, say, transport other than by foot, and we were trying to determine some rules for the humane employment of non-ambulatory transport, we could not reasonably compare a camel with a 2014 Chevy. Humane employment of the camel might mean feeding, watering and refraining from the lash, whereas humane employment of the car might mean slowing down through school zones and not backing out over the neighbor's cat.

Before I get to those differing conceptions of the key terms, then, the other issue with church doctrine on men-women-marriage-adultery-divorce is that this doctrine has been developed, justified, enforced, and carried forward even in the face of the evolution of those terms only by men - men who have presumed to define women to men and women; and many if not most of those same men who have shown more than a little plain disgust with and hatred of women.

I will submit that this latter problem is the subterranean root of the Great Big Problem associated with doctrine on marriage-adultery-divorce.

Let's begin with men, who were in charge in relation to women. Where today's form of patriarchy - seen as 'the rule of men' - is really andrarchy, the domination of women by men as a class, first century Palestine was a genuine patriarchy. Fathers ruled. Women were under the absolute control of fathers, who generally even determined, in conjunction with another father, who sons and daughters would marry, whereupon the new groom (around age fourteen in some cases) and the new bride (around age twelve in some cases) would set up house with or near one set of parents, and they were not fully validated as 'adults' (a modern concept actually, but some cognate) until they bore children.
Wives were absolutely and unequivocally subject to husbands, with little more status than livestock; and men claimed the power of generation. This goes to how men and women were defined!

What that means is that men were the source of new people (babies) and women were mere vessels for gestation, incubators. This idea endured until very recently in history, and is still held by many people today. We still talk about women "carrying" someone's child. It is only in very recent history that we learned about DNA sharing and not much further back into history that we learned about the basic relation between sperm and egg. Prior to that, men - who held sway over ideas - did not realize that they had the role of mere pollinator. Instead, they attributed all sorts of magical properties to semen and thereby sacralized it. "Spilling one's seed on the ground," that is, ('playing the organ'), was considered a terrific sin because there was an idea that it contained little humans (homunculus), and you were killing them just by manually chucking out that funny feeling.

In Judaism prior to Jesus, the Torah said that creation was based upon and sustained by male and female. These were pastoral people who raised animals, and they were quite aware of the correspondence between sexual dimorphism and the appearance of babies, human and otherwise. When Jesus says God made males and females, this was not news, and in fact he was just quoting Torah at them. It is the context that makes this a set-up for one of Jesus' slippery, elliptical critiques.

The conversation had been about what men could do with regard to divorce. Can a man throw his wife on the street (the practical outcome in divorce then) for burning supper or some other trivial transgression (so sayeth Hillel), or could a man only divorce his wife on account of a more serious issue like talking back (Shammai)? The background debate only talks about what men (those who are naturally in charge in part because they have the exclusive power of generation) can or cannot do, but Jesus is going back and saying, "You know what? God made men and women."

Jesus threw in another word there though. "Two." We don't find that controversial now, but marriage, being what it was then - which was hardly recognizable in the same institution now - was not axiomatically "two" because polygamy was still practiced. Men could essentially own more than one woman. This was a hot topic then, because alone among Jewish sects in that time, the Essenes of Qumram were the only proponents of abolishing polygamy. The Essenes also refused to swear oaths (another thing Jesus did), refused to sacrifice animals, refused to own slaves, were only allowed to arm themselves against robbers (they were prohibited from engaging in warfare), and they professed a belief in an afterlife (not a universal Jewish belief). [And scholar Amy-Jill Levine points out that there were other radical criticisms of gender circulating at the time. h/t ALH]

But Jesus didn't only say "two," he said "one"; "no longer two, but one flesh." So not only has he challenged polygamy, which all his contemporaries and the contemporaries of Mark (around 68 AD) and Matthew (around 75 AD, and based largely on Mark) understood from context, but Jesus is emphasizing a kind of scandalous equality between men and women.

God made them all male and female, and together in marriage they are One Flesh . . . not man owning a woman (or women), but two people whose very flesh has merged into indistinguishability. Once this is understood, how he is equalizing the relation between men and women and subverting male power, the words, "What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate," take on a whole new meaning.

These are related, because Jesus - in his implicit rejection of patriarchal polygamy is holding monogamy - one woman and one man, equally - in opposition to the polygamous understanding of women as a kind of incubator-chattel to the men who own them, and who are the sole subjects in the debate between Hillel and Shammai.

Men = generators of life.

Women = incubators.

He is not laying out a template for some version of marriage and divorce that will be immunized against history, but undermining the assumed bases of a contemporary debate.

There is, however, yet another aspect to Jesus' remarks here, and that is the issue of being single.

Later Christians would elevate celibacy to a sacred practice, but in Jesus's time, Jewish men were almost required to marry and have children. Many Rabbis who weren't particularly interested in sex actually debated about what were the minimum number of children they were required to 'sire' before they met their obligation to "be fruitful and multiply."

Women were not likewise held to account to have children, because there was no male honor at stake. Vessels. Incubators.

But it was a big deal for Jewish men, and a sacrifice in their minds because one popular belief then was that every ejaculation emptied the male's life force and took a day off his life. (This did not increase the popularity of women, who were seen as sirens going after that life force, an example of the perennial tendency of men to project their own desires onto women.)

So in Matthew, Jesus makes a kind of scandalous joke about divorce. He repeats the generalized formula that adultery is grounds for divorce . . . but wait, adultery in that epoch did not mean sexual infidelity that went both ways, it was a crime against a man's property. Women were guilty of adultery when they were owned by one man and had sex with another man who didn't own them; and men were only guilty of adultery when they had sex with another man's woman.

Then Jesus says, "Okay, as you all know men can divorce their wives for adultery . . ." so far, so good, this was one of the 'common sense' shared assumptions of the day . . . "And wives can divorce husbands for adultery." COLLECTIVE WTF GASP! How do the disciples themselves respond to this shocking and scandalous assertion of equality?

“If the relationship of the man with his wife is like this, it is better not to marry.” This was unthinkable, incomprehensible.

Jesus flips them again.

Jesus then launches into a kind of Delphic sounding declaration about 'eunuchs' - born eunuchs (infertile or impotent men, the intersexed), castrated eunuchs, and men who are celibate for whatever reason (practical eunuchs, which may have also been men who were what we now refer to as gay).

So what in the heck happened there? A subversive divorce joke, chagrin at this gender destabilization, followed by a statement that suggests eunuchs (however defined - sexual minorities outside of patriarchal marriage) might be a sort of revolutionary vanguard?

"Not all men can accept this statement, but only those to whom it has been given."

This is a kind of election; and given how Jesus' own life and teachings undermined first century Judaic masculinities more generally, in addition to how he unseats men in the preceding passage as exclusive agents, this is a subversion of patriarchal society as it was then known. And it is not the first or last.

During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus talks about wrath then lust. He says wrath is related to killing and lust to adultery (again he makes men the 'adulterers'). But more than once Jesus himself gets angry, even calling Herod a fox (something that steals chickens and smells funny) and throwing money tables around. So he can't mean merely feeling anger. And when he talks about looking at women lustfully (this is a criticism of objectification, even though no such word existed then, and a criticism of men projecting desire onto women), given that it is parallel to his remarks on anger (and these parallelisms are common and intentional in the Gospels, the unspoken element in his explication of these sins I take to be (as an avid fan of crime fiction) intent.

Everyone feels that surge of anger, and most will at some point feel that 'tingle in the loins.' These are natural. It is nurturing the lust to harm or the lust to sexually 'take away', feeding on these various lusts, obsessing about them, and combining them with intent, craft, and power, that gives them a sinful aspect, an unrighteous (read: unjust - δικαιοσύνη, dikaiosuné means righteousness and justice) aspect.

When Jesus says that a divorced woman commits adultery, he is channeling an old Jewish idea about not being the cause of another sinning. Let a tenth of the fields be left for gleaners, because if you do not, you will have forced them to steal. In the context of the debate then, if this woman is fleeing into the arms of another, it is because the rule of men has forced this on her. Is this stated explicitly? No. It is understood in the light of what does not have to be said to the audience who already apprehends the socio-political and symbolic context.

When Jesus says he brings not peace but a sword Matthew 10:34), a passage that is perversely interpreted to mean Jesus supported war, he follows that (check context!) by saying he will turn the following against one another: man against father, daughter against mother, daughter-in-law against mother-in-law. These references are all generational. He is talking about breaking up the traditional structure of what was then the patriarchal family!

"The man shall leave his father and mother!" to become one flesh with his wife. Leave the authority of the father and the (then primary emotional attachment for men apart from other men) his mother. The man's mother-in-law, in that time, was actually given authority her son's wife.

Let's not lose sight of the fact that Jesus was preaching, feeding, healing, and driving out demons in a militarily occupied nation ruled by a colonial surrogate (who he called a fox) and military prefect. Stability was the name of the game. And in every society, the basic unit of organization as well as economy is a kinship group - a family of some kind (not just the kind we think we know here and now).

When someone takes aim at the most basic form of kinship group, that person is subverting a social order at its very foundation. The very term, "son of God," was not invented for Jesus; it was the term for the emperor. When Jesus is baptized, and called God's son, above him appears a weak and peaceful dove, in the same way that the emperor is emblazoned with a fierce and warlike eagle. The Gospels, and presumably Jesus himself, are full of political parody. The office of King (this one crowned with thorns and only victorious through a very 'feminine' kind of submission) is a political office at the head of the Reign or Realm of God.

The only way that Jesus' pronouncements on marriage and divorce, then, make sense in the larger context of the Gospels (understood as a first century Palestinian Jew) is when they become part of this larger, political, and deeply subversive narrative. Jesus died at the hands of the occupying prefect, with the approval of the colonial surrogate(s), by a method that was specifically designated for perceived political subversives.

These debates, then, cannot be mapped directly onto today's reality. We are back to comparing camels with Chevrolets.

Jesus was not addressing the controversy about transgendered people in airport bathrooms or the structure of a Pennsylvania divorce court or gay marriage. These simply did not exist! We have to figure this out ourselves; and we cannot do that with decontextualized phrases converted into eternal edicts.

As many of us believe, who are Christians caught in the current of the latest ressourcement, the church is a politics, a polity, a civitas, a polis. It marks the overthrow of principalities and powers that don't even know it yet. So when we go back into the Gospels, and even into the letters of Paul, rather than parse each line for a decontextualized proposition to which we must all assent, we have to search for what fits in the whole narrative, the whole story, what emerge as essential or core principles for the establishment and continuity of this community.

Jesus himself warned, in speaking of the Sabbath - that it was made for people, not people for it - not to take gifts and convert them into decontextualized rules (the tail wagging the dog), or worse, into institutions!

Those core principles, I submit, are love of God (and therefore of God's Creation), love of neighbor (including 'enemies'), compassion, and the rejection of violence which gives death, not love, the last word. In the story of the Samaritan, as I have read it through the eyes of one of my literary mentors, Ivan Illich, the gift is that we can establish friendship across all the boundaries that are now hardened in the interest of power and violence - a lesson that is terribly and urgently applicable to the new reality in the US and elsewhere of intensified racism, xenophobia, and reaction.

Given that marriage and divorce in first century Palestine was based on an ontology different than our own, based on definitions of men and women and the relation between them not our own, we cannot simply extract a few phrases from their contexts and establish them as fixed rules. We have to go back and study, as well as deconstruct and re-synthesize, what are men, what are women, what is marriage, what is sex, what is divorce, and only then begin to measure our practices now against those core principles - love, compassion, nonviolence, and friendship that flows through boundaries.

But what about friendship in relation to sex? Yes, sex. Because the question of sex is fraught for Christians. I believe this is because of the way sex has been interpreted and carried forward through the centuries by a leadership that has been predominantly men, a leadership that moved quickly in the early history of the church to subvert the gender subversions of Jesus and the early church. This is complicated and consolidated by the recursive inflections of masculinity and power on one another as the church gradually bound itself to the very principalities and powers from whom it originally stood apart.

Male churchmen's disgust associated with sex is disgust associated with women is associated with churchmen's devaluation of women who fail to conform to men defining them from a position of power. There is no way to soften the hatred in the following statements from famous churchmen:

Do you not realize that Eve is you? The curse God pronounced on your sex weighs still on the world. Guilty, you must bear its hardships. You are the devil’s gateway, you desecrated that fatal tree, you first betrayed the law of God, you who softened up with your cajoling words the man against whom the devil could not prevail by force. The image of God, the man Adam, you broke him, it was child’s play to you. You deserved death, and it was the son of God who had to die! 

—Tertullian (160–225)
*
Fierce is the dragon and cunning the asp; but women have the malice of both. 

—St. Gregory of Nazianzus (329–89)
*
Remember that God took the rib out of Adam’s body, not a part of his soul, to make her. She was not made in the image of God, like man. 

—St. Ambrose (339–97)
*
The whole of her body is nothing less than phlegm, blood, bile, rheum and the fluid of digested food. . . . If you consider what is stored up behind those lovely eyes, the angle of the nose, the mouth and the cheeks you will agree that the well-proportioned body is only a whitened sepulchre. 

—St. John Chrysostom (347–407)
*
I don’t see what sort of help woman was created to provide man with, if one excludes procreation. If woman is not given to man for help in bearing children, for what help could she be? To till the earth together? If help were needed for that, man would have been a better help for man. The same goes for comfort in solitude. How much more pleasure is it for life and conversation when two friends live together than when a man and a woman cohabitate? 

—St. Augustine (354–450)
These cannot be sanitized. Church men hated women, because those men came from a culture where men who were in charge hated women because they were obliged by custom to control women and controlled women in turn because they hated women. There is no nice way to put this.

Gender subversion was the first thing that was overturned in Jesus' teachings, before his teachings against killing were overturned, before his teachings on wealth were overturned. In some ways, that I took a whole book to explain, overturning Jesus' gender subversions were prerequisite to these other reversals by a sinful church.

Part of the ideology of hatred and control, the unspoken context, was that men projected their own sexual terrors onto women, as pointed out above. A twelve year old woman given in marriage to some man was expected to be a fertile virgin, because paternity was The Issue for men in marriage.
We have difficulty discerning that nowadays, because we forget that heterosex, up until the last few decades, almost always carried with it the possibility for procreation. When sex was seen as dangerous to men - and it was - then only sex for procreation was understood as virtuous, and then only marginally so; and sex without that possibility is seen almost as a disease process.

As time passes, and the imagination of sex is separated from its original beliefs, like the imagined properties of semen or the loss of longevity or health with each ejaculation, and so forth, while the other associations and projections can remain. They become embedded in gender as ideology, in gender as division of social power.

My own church still insists that Mary, the mother of Jesus remained a virgin until the day she ascended into heaven, in the face of clear evidence to the contrary in the Gospels. Mark and Matthew both make direct and unambiguous reference to male and female siblings - Mary and Joseph had a houseful - and even identify the brothers by name. But the insistence that Mary's perfection can only be possible if she never had sex is a reflection of the abiding terror of and disgust in the face of the sexuality of women on the part of male church leadership.

There are few things creepier than men's whore-Madonna complexes. And yet, there is no other reasonable explanation for the church's insistence that all sex be practiced with the possibility of procreation if sex, and women who are sexual, are not seen as somehow dangerous and unclean.
Gender is a system of power - sorry, radical constructivists - and when the norms that sustain that system are violated, that system of power is put at risk.

The homophobia of the church is sustained because we have through generations succeeded in instilling disgust (a learned response) at the very thought of same-sex liaisons, in which one or both participants somehow step into the 'role' assigned by the norms of what Adrienne Rich pithily called "compulsory heterosexuality."

This compulsion to control, this obsession with who does what to whom, this policing of the gender binary, this bizarre terror that gay couples, for example, are a danger to The Institution of Marriage, completely ignoring the core principles of love of God, love of neighbor, compassion, and the rejection of violence, is a function of gender as a system of power; whereas the supposed lesser-evil of heterosexual objectification, which is routinely practiced by heterosexuals in and out of monogamous relations, is seen as hardly a danger at all in the face of the terror we have of the same-sex couple.

And yet objectification, perversion (in the sense Stoller describes, fetishization and so forth), and domination (which has been supported by the church even up to and including telling women to remain with men who abuse them) are part and parcel of the majority of heterosexual relations these days. But the same-sex couple is "the danger to marriage," even if that same-sex couple practices love of God, love of one another (the opposite of objectification!), compassion, and the rejection of violence.

I won't trace the history of marriage here. It is too complex by orders of magnitude, especially if we refuse to be Eurocentric. Jesus didn't tell people in first century Palestine to adopt some utopian liberal ideal of marriage. He spoke to an immediate issue in an immediate way, embodying those core principles of love of God, love of neighbor, compassion, and the rejection of violence. I once read where Stanley Hauerwas was talking with someone about how to become a Christian. He said, "Let's begin. Repeat after me - and he walks the questioner through the Lord's Prayer  . . ."

First steps. Immediate issue in an immediate way. Jesus encounters a soldier, in an occupied country where soldier's wages are next to nothing and extorting the populace becomes a routine practice. "How do I follow you?" asks the soldier. Jesus doesn't break down a whole catechism or describe Roman imperialism. One first step. "Be content with your wages. Do not extort the populace."

What does it mean for us that we have, at the end of many centuries of the evolution of marriage, come to view it - ideally - as friendship with the element of sex (at least for part of it), a freely-chosen covenant between two people, the basis of a household within which children are formed (when they are not in state schools), and a bond that includes sexual fidelity?

What are the risks? To whom?

What are the pressures, especially in a sexually-charged and sexually objectifying consumer culture?

How do we understand this bond - which is part covenant, part contract, requires a license from the state, and entails legal obligations and constraints?

How is it inflected by the still hegemonic power of men over women that ramifies from and into a 'sexual contract,' which - like all so-called contracts of power - suggests women must obey one man in exchange for protection from all men?

How do covenants work for people who live in a me-first culture?

How do Christians understand sexual relations, even the concept of consent, in view of asymmetries of power between men and women?

Why would Christians not recognize covenantal friendship with the element of sex between two people of the same biological sex if they love God, love each other, exercise compassion as the basis of their relation, and reject violence, manipulation, and coercion in that relation?

I have no problem with 'marriages' that might have all these elements but lack a signed contract or the recognition of the state, though I do understand there are fraught legal issues, wills and whatnot, that have to taken into account. I have no problem with Christians defining marriage monogamously, and of us defining marriage differently than the world. A lifelong, friendship with the element of sex between two people of the same biological sex if they love God, love each other, exercise compassion as the basis of their relation, and reject violence, manipulation, and coercion in that relation, raise children together, and exercise sexual fidelity with one another? Why would I oppose that? This would certainly be against the grain of a sinful and self-seeking world. A testament to the power of love and a sacrament, with actual mutuality (to hell with complementarity, and with Baalthasar's weird essentialism!) that is, a rejection of domination within the marriage is a perfect and shining example, in my view, of Christian counter-culture.

And let's talk about heterosex (or same-sex) in a way that embodies a commitment to never, through objectification or domination, strip away the essential and mutual humanity of a partner.

Refusal to sexually objectify one another is in this day and age a radical counter to the prevailing culture. What if the goal of Christian sex were to practice sex without the element of objectification? That is a pretty demanding notion, and yes, it flies in the face of the liberal refusal to accept restraint of any kind, but not in the same way 'restraint' has served to sustain and reproduce men's coercive and deeply sinful power over women.

There is so much that we need to talk about regarding sex, family, and love in the church. I just post this as a way of beginning to think anew about it.

But none of this can be sorted out as long as church men dominate and try to keep to themselves the sole prerogative to define women and hold them in subjugation or as long as we cling to those edifices of meaning founded upon these definitions.

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