In the wake of the last United States Presidential debate on Wednesday, the subject of abortion and a woman’s right to choose was one emotional issue. The popular topic hasn’t lost any followers or comments this week, as bloggers, journalists, and political pundits have taken the perennial debate online.
“Late term abortion” is an unfortunately misinforming term, that many people mistake for “3rd trimester abortions” only and “partial-birth abortion” only. Roughly 95% of all abortions happen in the 1st trimester. Late term abortions can be defined as either 2nd or 3rd trimester. 3rd trimester abortions happen very, very rarely, if at all, and partial-birth abortion has been banned nationally since 2007.
Late term abortions nearly always occur due to severe defects found in the baby that are not detectable earlier on, or the mother’s health, and yes, the mother’s health can be suddenly imperiled at those stages. Even in 2016, pregnancy is risky and complicated.
There are several articles currently floating about (here and here) in which mothers describe the heart-wrenching decision to have “late term abortions”–in at least 2 of the articles, they are early 2nd trimester abortions–due to the baby’s severe poor health and lack of viability. Then there are the counter-articles, like Matt Walsh’s Facebook post (ah, Matt! We meet again), which exudes much self-righteous wrath but little information.
Many pro-lifers show very little understanding (or at least, admission) of the complexity of human life. They also seem to have the tendency to highlight the few cases in which doctors were wrong, never guessing how often doctors were right. Just as Matt Walsh expresses no idea of the immense risks or even likelihood of successful infant heart transplants, yet blasts the mother for “not wanting to deal with her son’s medical issues”, so others try to paint abortion with a very wide brush. Favorite words thrown about as stones that maim and kill, include “selfish”, “brutal”, “callous”, “holocaust”, “murderer”.
“He may have moved inside me for only five months, but he had touched and shaped me in ways I could never have imagined…He made me more compassionate and more patient. He taught me to love with reckless abandon, despite the knowledge that I could lose it all.” Source
The heartbreaking truth is some babies are born to die. Some babies are conceived, never to be born, or born alive. My first-born would have been 13 years old in 6 days, but for a heart condition not unlike the one described in the first article. I carried to term, happily ignorant of the imminent danger I was in due to severe complications of that pregnancy. I carried to term, confident in the belief God would heal my baby, and she lived 22 hours, not moving, on morphine because she was in such pain, on a breathing machine, with tubes going every which way. Looking back, I would have made the same choice but I can understand why other mothers, just as loving, would choose differently.
Every life is precious, but not every life is meant to be long-lived. Not every parent has a say in the decision for life for their child, but they should get to decide how they grieve. Those babies and children who die too soon, change others’ lives in big ways and small. They may not become doctors or lawyers, they may not live to take their first steps or even their first breath, but they are precious and they are loved.
Which mother is right? The one who prevents long-term suffering of her helpless child, or the one who allows it with a vain hope of miraculous healing? Can you judge their hearts? Will you cast the first stone?
*This post is meant only as a brief overview of some very tangled beliefs and teachings and is no way comprehensive.
Overthe past year I’ve begun following a few blogs (listed at the bottom of this article) that focus on feminism in the church, egalitarian marriages–meaning both partners equal in all things, as opposed to complementarianism in which the husband leads and the wife submits–and spiritual abuse. After reading many news articles, blog posts featuring both original sources and critiques, and comments galore, I began to see a pattern in the way some people, especially of the Reformed Conservative Christian type, viewed and discussed Christian marriage.
These blogs have done a great job of delving into the many issues involved in the discussion of biblical gender roles, including the potential for abuse, the strict and unbiblical legalism of complementarianism, the unbiblical division of the church caused by such teachings, the many Scriptures from both Old and New Testaments proving egalitarianism, and other important topics.
Still, as both men and women favoring complementarianism wrote about the “Biblical” roles of husband and wife, I noticed some disturbing words and phrases that popped up again and again, especially concerning since these concepts are taught by popular teachers on mainstream Christian websites.
Find a Wheel…
A wheel has no starting or stopping point, no real place to get on or off. This is important to keep in mind when considering the cyclical thinking of complementarians which seems to go something like this:
Person A (in this case, men and/or pastors) believes/is taught they are responsible for the spiritual state of someone else (in this case, women and/or congregants).
As such, Person A has spiritual authority over their “charge”, and can use discipline (loving, of course) to help ensure they do not stray.
Along with this authority comes spiritual power, which aids in reinforcing the authority and responsibility ideas.
The longer a person stays in this mindset, the more spiritual power and authority they begin to believe they have, up to and including the salvation of others as if they were Jesus Himself (heresy alert).
Rinse and repeat.
These ideas have seeped into and poisoned many a Christian home and mind. They have become very popular, because those who teach and preach these concepts are likewise popular. Let me illustrate with the following quotes from Pastor John Piper’s Desiring God website, CrossWalk Ministries, Pastor John MacArthur, Homeschooling Today Magazine, Pastor and author Dennis Rainy, The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God by Pastor Timothy Keller, and The Gospel Coalition. Please keep in mind, there are many others besides those listed here, both big and little.
“[Steve Murphy, publisher of Homeschooling Today Magazine] has served as a regional support group board member leading the charge to exhort homeschooling fathers and husbands to assume their God-given duty to be the leaders of their homes, including sanctifying their wives and educating their children.” (my emphasis added)
“John MacArthur says it this way: just as “saving grace makes believers holy through the cleansing agency of the Word of God . . . it is with that same purpose and in that same love that husbands are to cultivate the purity, righteousness, and sanctity of their wives.” Or, as James Boice states it, “God holds husbands responsible for the spiritual growth and maturing of their wives…John MacArthur puts it this way: “Men, if you love a woman, you will do everything in your power to maintain her holiness, her virtue, her righteousness, and her purity…every day you live…Love always seeks to purify.” ~Bob Lepine, CrossWalk, http://www.crosswalk.com/family/marriage/the-husbands-sanctifying-role-in-marriage-1335259.html
“I’ve come to baptize it into the spiritual realm…” This statement was made by a husband in response to his wife’s party planning. While seemingly sweet on the surface, we must be discerning and ask by what authority does this man baptize actions into the spiritual realm? The language of such statements, and there have been several others from TGC writers including the concept of “elevating wives” spiritually, seem to reveal these men really think they are God, or at least, have His power. http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/erikraymond/2015/07/23/how-to-marvel-at-your-wifes-creativity/
In the same work, Pastor Keller romantically asserts too that, “…We must say to ourselves something like this: ‘Well, when Jesus looked down from the cross, he didn’t think “I am giving myself to you because you are so attractive to me.” No, he was in agony, and he looked down at us – denying him, abandoning him, and betraying him – and in the greatest act of love in history, he STAYED. He said, “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.” He loved us, not because we were lovely to him, but to make us lovely. That is why I am going to love my spouse.’ Speak to your heart like that, and then fulfill the promises you made on your wedding day.” (original emphasis left) The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God
Finally, a quote from The Christian Courier titled, A Christian Husband’s Obligation: “Agape is not sentimentality. It is defined as the husband’s love for his wife’s soul. There is a reason, an eternal reason, for a Christian husband’s attitudes and actions. It is the reason for which Jesus “endured the cross” (Heb. 12:2). Consider the results that Christ sought for the church. He loved the church, so he gave himself for it, “that he might” (1) sanctify it; (2) present it; (3) “that it should be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:25-27). Husbands should have the same kinds of goals for their spouses…” (original emphasis left) https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/1188-agape-a-christian-husbands-obligation
“I don’t know how any believer in Christ could actually think that as a creature that is unable to sanctify themselves would presume that they could sanctify or intercede for another human being, female or otherwise. This experience, for me, really demonstrated the insidious and subtle effect of these teachings, because that kind of reasoning makes sense if one believes that woman is ontologically, or by essence, lesser than man.”
The Bible can’t get any clearer that people are autonomous (free) and spiritually responsible for themselves alone. Part of verse 3, “The one who sins is the one who will die“ sums up the entire chapter of Ezekiel 18. Jesus alone is the mediator for sins, states 1 Timothy 2:5. Only Christ has the power and authority to sanctify people, “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14).
There is zero biblical support for such a burdensome claim that husbands or fathers are responsible for the spiritual well-being of their wives or children. “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11). I could write a sermon denouncing Keller’s second quote about how Jesus views us but suffice to say, He doesn’t, didn’t, and won’t ever describe us as “ugly”. And love? “Love never fails.” “Love is patient, love is kind…” Read the “Love Chapter” of 1 Corinthians 13; you will not find “love purifies” listed.
*Little disclaimer: By “mature” I mean as physically developed and/or experienced in life as adults. I am not referring to responsibility, which many teens are better at than some adults.
I was just 16 but I knew it was love, and my boyfriend, also 16, and I secretly but seriously discussed our future. It was my 18th birthday when my new boyfriend and Sr. year highschool sweetheart proposed to me at our favorite park. I was 18 still when we married and my 19th birthday came one week later. My husband was barely 20.
Over the past 13 years of marriage, we have occasionally reflected on the past. On this issue, we both have come to the conclusion that marrying so young is not something we would now recommend to others. We were in love, but we were not prepared. We were not prepared financially, reproductive-wise, and he was not prepared mentally. Until my new husband kindly walked me through the steps, I had never paid a bill before. I didn’t know how to cook beyond pasta salad and boxed mac and cheese. We had no long-term plans, no goals other than my determination to get my Bachelor’s (it took 7 years, but I finally did).
We were strongly encouraged to marry fast in order to avoid living or falling into sin (sex), and we happily and naively agreed for the sake of our spiritual health and physical desires. It never occurred to our superiors/supporters that if we couldn’t be mature and responsible sexually before marriage, we weren’t mature enough for marriage. Our best friends and family were devastated and deeply concerned. They thought we were being way too hasty.
We struggled much for the first few years, forced to grow up very quickly and alone, for our friends were still in college when we began having babies. Not knowing how to budget, how to pay bills, or how to plan for long-term savings, and neither of us having a college degree, we suffered financially. Some decisions we made so long ago still haunt us today. We were encouraged not to take birth control since they were “full of toxins” and “not natural”, but to try the spit and microscope method of birth control instead. Wouldn’t you know it? Within 7 months I was pregnant.
Underage Marriage in the United States?
I was skeptical when a spiritual abuse blog I follow, posted an article on their FB page about child marriages in certain fundamental, homeschool, patriarchal, Christian circles. I knew it happened in many developing countries. I knew about the practice in fundamental Mormon (FLDS) churches out West. I knew it was a growing issue in the US due to the influx of immigrant cultures, but surely this article was grossly exaggerating the occurrence of underage marriages in these Protestant Christian groups. The article only highlighted two instances of child marriage, and both happened in the same family with a mother (married at 15) and her daughter (married at 16).
I asked for more information, and the moderator of the Spiritual Sounding Board Facebook page generously provided me with 3 more articles. While none of them could make a convincing case for the actual practice of child marriages, the positive mindset among several general commenters, the remarks of Kevin Swanson and Dave Bruehner-two big names in the conservative Christian homeschooling movement, and even Phil Robertson of “Duck Dynasty”-fame, began to show a disturbing trend.
There is a legal, and for some, ethical, difference between underage child marriages which occur between 12-17 (more typically, 15-17) years of age, and young or early marriage, which happens between 18-22 years of age, generally speaking. While the latter has been increasingly pushed by some in Evangelical circles to prevent or reduce sin, when the former does occur or is promoted, many times it is for very similar reasons.
Early/Young Marriage, 18-22
Today there is “a sort of attitude … magical thinking, that if we get you married, then you’ll be fine and we don’t have to worry about anti-poverty programs… we don’t have to worry about child care.” Scholars, pundits and other policy elites need to end their magical thinking about marriage and acknowledge the widespread nature of marital poverty and economic hardship. Married Without Means, p. 3
Statistics have told those with “ears to hear” for years that the rate of divorce decreases, the older a couple is when married. Couples between the ages of 18-24 (or younger) have the highest rates of divorce among married couples. This age group of married couples also tend to suffer significantly lower incomes, many times at or even below poverty level. Poverty’s fallout among young people and society includes poor education, single parenting (related both to the high divorce rate and young, unmarried mothers), severe stress, poor mental and physical health, drug abuse, child abuse, abortion, and the ignominious welfare state-all issues that conservative Christians are deeply worried about.
Still, there are many examples of conservative celebrity Christians, politicians, and leaders who strongly promote the idea of early marriage as a panacea for society’s ills. The often-cited op-ed article from Christianity Today called, The Case for Early Marriage (July 2009), by Mark Regnerus, a sociologist with much to say on the topic of young marriages in the church-see also Regnerus’s similar article titled, Freedom to Marry Young (April 2009), from the Washington Post-seems to be mostly concerned with abstinence (rather a lack thereof), baby-making, the “decreasing market value of women” as they age, and economics; it is cheaper to live together with someone, pooling resources, than living alone, he insists. Continuing in the CT article, Regnerus appears to idolize marriage as a “formative institution” and elevates it to the status of duty, meanwhile stigmatizing singles (especially women) as if they are forced to settle into their singleness. Regnerus is a real romantic.
The Duggar Family’s long-running reality TV show has garnered them much influence. The Duggars, of “19 Kids and Counting” fame, do not self-identify as a Quiverfull family, but they do maintain similar strict beliefs concerning children, homeschooling, marriage, modesty, patriarchy, and courtship. “Jim Bob and Michelle were married on July 21, 1984, just after Michelle’s high school graduation. She was 17 and he was 19 when they married; neither went to college” 19_Kids_and_Counting.
It would seem that oldest son Josh Duggar and his wife, Anna, were married when they were both 20. Anna says on their webpage, she first saw Josh via the TV show when they were both 13. They met at a homeschooling conference in 2006, when they would have both been 18. After a carefully cultivated courtship, they were married in 2008 and now have 4 children.
Josh was recently found to have cheated on his wife with a prostitute (at least once), engaging in rough, unprotected sex and potentially exposing both his wife and unborn child to venereal disease. Of Josh’s two married sisters, one was married at 20, the other waited until the ripe old age of 24. Both young women became pregnant immediately, none of the Duggars have gone to or have been encouraged to attend college. Although the Duggars’ lifestyle has worked for them financially because of their celebrity status, the average couple who marries early becomes just another statistic.
Child Marriage: A Rose by Any Other Name
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly;defend the rights of the poor and needy. Proverbs 31:8-10
Rather than at least remaining neutral on the subject or better yet, speaking up for voiceless girls and young women like the Bible adjures Christians to do, certain teachers, preachers, and celebrities like Swanson, Bruehner, Robertson, the Duggar family, and others, actively encourage early marriage, even child marriage, although most Evangelicals draw the line at age 18-20 (*Disclaimer: I do not know that the Duggars advocate for child marriage, but the others in this list have, as has already been discussed in this article).
“At a Sportsmen’s Ministry talk in 2009, [Phil] Robertson had some advice for a young man. “Make sure that she can cook a meal, you need to eat some meals that she cooks, check that out,” he said. “Make sure she carries her Bible. That’ll save you a lot of trouble down the road. And if she picks your ducks, now, that’s a woman.”
“They got to where they’re getting hard to find,” Robertson remarked. “Mainly because these boys are waiting until they get to be about 20 years old before they marry ’em. Look, you wait until they get to be 20 years old, the only picking that’s going to take place is your pocket.” The Duck Commander company founder added: “You got to marry these girls when they are about 15 or 16, they’ll pick your ducks. You need to check with mom and dad about that of course.” “
In a radio broadcast defending Phil Robertson’s comments above, former Executive Director of Christian Home Educators of Colorado, and current head of Generations with Vision, Kevin Swanson stated: “Remember that one concern people had over Duck Dynasty, when the guy came out and said the girls, 15 or 16 years of age, she’s able to get married, they got all mad. Because boy, you get a girl married at 15 or 16 years of age, that’s a sin! Dave Bruehner: Well it is because she doesn’t have a whole life of fornication ahead of her anymore.
Later on, the men remarked, “I mean, think about what the president of the Girl Scouts would say about this, Dave, if we said, “Hey, these 15 year old girls, 16 year old girls, they may be ready to get married. They don’t have to live these, you know, independent lifestyles.””
The story of Matthew Chapman is famous/infamous depending on your perspective. He is well-known in conservative homeschooling groups for courting a young teen named Maranatha while she was 13 and he 25, eventually marrying her with her father’s permission and approval when she was 15 and Matthew was 27.
It seems that Matthew Chapman is going to be a keynote speaker at Christian Home Educators of Ohio’s annual homeschool convention this summer. This is a major convention…In addition to Matthew serving as keynote speaker, his wife Maranatha is slated as a featured speaker. Matthew runs Kindling Publications, and both Maranatha and Lauren is featured heavily on organization’s website.Matthew Chapman and Why I Included Lauren’s Picture-Love, Joy, Feminism
Child marriages heralded by the above-mentioned men, seem genuinely logical in their anachronistic culture which sometimes encompasses such names as Quiverfull, Patriarchy, and Evangelical Homeschool Movement (*there is much overlap here; not all families that adhere to these labels believe all the same things, perhaps especially on the issue of underage marriages). These movements, along with some Fundamental Evangelical Christians and churches, strive to bring back a romanticized 1950s, in some cases 1850s, believing those times to be Christianity’s heyday in America. Interestingly, or perhaps not surprisingly, those eras in history saw higher rates of underage marriages and sexual abuse, wife submission, and patriarchy-centered households -all hallmarks of the above-mentioned movements. It wasn’t until women’s groups moved strongly to shed light on the issues and promote change, that child marriage began to become a thing of the past.
While many might consider child marriages to be a form of pedophilia, medically and legally speaking, pedophilia is limited to sexual attraction to prepubescent children and child molestation is limited to the sexual touching of children 14 and younger. Sexual abuse, then is the term to be used concerning the topic of child marriages.
The main debate points against pedophilia concern:
The lack of true consent on the part of the child
The manipulation and power plays on the part of adult authority figures/taking advantage of a child’s innocence, naivete, and inability to say “no”
The safety and health of a child which includes the possibility of pregnancy, STDs, and/or physical damage
Using a child for the gratification of an adult
While the legal definitions exclude underage, child marriages from being classified as pedophilia or child molestation, there are still strong similarities because of the unique, fundamental culture of the groups that propose it:
The young girls in such families are not able to give their own consent, because the consent is settled between the father-patriarch and the bridegroom.
There are significant power plays on the part of older adults as they take advantage of such a sheltered girl’s innocence, naivete, and inability to say “no”.
The safety and health of the young lady is not taken into consideration, since medicine has shown how dangerous pregnancy can be for teens and their babies, yet in many of these families, contraception is considered a terrible sin against God. As was seen in the Josh Duggar-Ashely Madison case (see link above), these innocent teen girls may still be at risk of STDs as well.
Finally, these young marriages are pushed or arranged purely for the gratification of the adults involved and not the benefit of the girl.
Young/Early marriages occur between at least one party who is between 18-24 years old. In most cases, the couple are peers in age.
Young/Early marriages are often encouraged among traditionally-minded churches and religious groups as a way to reduce sexual sin and single parenthood.
Young/Early marriages and child marriages have the highest rates of divorce among married couples. Many times, young couples are uneducated, leading to poverty, which in turn leads to a variety of personal, familial, and social problems.
Child marriages are marriages that occur between at least one party who is between 12-17 years old. In many cases, the minor is a female and the bridegroom is in his mid-20s or older.
Child marriages are happening in the United States due to the culture of immigrants coming in and religious fundamental cults throughout the states.
Child marriages are a form of sexual abuse, no matter how prettily packaged it may seem.
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With all the media attention surrounding this issue, it has been impossible for me not to think about the subject of gender identity and sex change. When I read comments, articles, or blog posts, what I see from writers is an underlying and desperate desire to find out “who they are”. But many make the mistaken assumption that “who they are” is defined by what they look like, and it is the same problem that Fundamental Evangelicals have with gender identification and so-called Biblical roles of manhood and womanhood.
Man Looks At the Outside Appearance
If there is one Bible verse I find myself repeating the most often, it is 1 Samuel 16:7, “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (The second, in case you were wondering, is Matt. 23). To put it a different way, don’t judge a book by its cover.
However, some people put all the emphasis on a person’s outside appearance, labeling others or themselves as boy/girl, fat/skinny, strong/weak, tall/short, etc. It is interesting to note, that most people label themselves with what they consider their most important trait such as religion, gender identity, sexual preference, job title, and other life-style choices or cultural backgrounds. I always feel stuck when someone asks what I do, because there are so many (and different) things I do that are all important to understanding me.
All people like boxes and labels. It helps us stay sane in an information-packed world. It is impossible to get to know every person we pass on the street, or even those we may work with everyday. Some people are more private than others, some wear masks to hide their true selves, and even if everyone were totally open and honest, we still wouldn’t have enough hours to learn about everybody.
Still, stereotyping, although natural and survival-based, is something to work against. When we label others or ourselves, not only do we drive wedges between people or groups, it also becomes so easy for us to feel superior. After all, that neighbor is a Republican, or that lady is a faux Christian, and that man watches Game of Thrones. What brief statements those are, and yet such insinuations!
The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ (Luke 18:11-13)
What a particular person may look like, is not often who a particular person is. Who they are entails what they want, what their strengths and weaknesses are, what they enjoy, what they dislike; in other words, personality traits, that can sometimes be colored or limited by physical traits like eyesight, height, weight, or disability.
Just as skin color, religion, or age have been culturally acceptable or not throughout the ages and lands, one’s sex/gender is often culturally limited. The false wall that dictates “who” people are and what they “can” or “should” do based on which set of genitals an individual has, employs an appeal to an argument of nature. A woman is “made” to be a certain way, women have one kind of brain, men have another. Men and women are “different”, goes the argument, and of course they are.
Men and women have different parts, different looks, different hormones. Women’s bodies, and not men’s, were made with childbirth in mind, among other things. This is neither “good” nor “bad”, this does not dictate that the female must stay home to nurture her young (there are other ways of nurturing and providing besides being a stay-at-home-mom), the fact that a woman may be capable of bearing children does not dictate that she “should”, the fact a woman may not be capable of bearing children does not make her “bad”. These things just “are”.
“The state of being male or female” has no bearing, I repeat, no bearing (even and especially Biblically speaking) on what a person is capable of or where their talents may lie. God has not put up boundaries on the sexes, no matter what church teachers or Christian authors may say. No matter what you or others may look like, it is time to stop labeling and boxing people in.
This excellent 12 minute video from BrainCraft, shows how easy it is to label and box others, and what some of the frightening consequences can be.