Christians are understandably upset about the Supreme Court’s ruling giving gay and lesbian couples a fundamental right to marry. President Obama called the ruling a thunderbolt. If it was, it’s a great opportunity for believers to recognize reality.
The blogosphere lit up last Friday in the wake of the Court’s decision on same-sex marriage. Rob Dreher’s piece in Time recognizes the times we live in: “Orthodox Christians Must Now Learn To Live as Exiles in Our Own Country.” He writes how “we have to accept that we really are living in a culturally post-Christian nation.” Dreher is right about exile. But his solution is based on the wrong exile.
“In his 1982 book After Virtue, Alasdair MacIntyre likened our current age to the fall of ancient Rome. He pointed to Benedict of Nursia, a pious young Christian who left the chaos of Rome to go to the woods to pray, as an example for us.” Dreher believes “orthodox Christians today are called to be those new and very different St. Benedicts,” withdrawing into resilient communities within exile, and under increasingly hostile conditions. He admits he doesn’t know how to do this, however.
Dreher would know what to do if he picked a better precedent for our times. The Babylonian exile is the more reliable guide, not the fall of Rome. For hundreds of years, the Jews had been idolaters, insular and largely indifferent to their neighbors. Idolatry makes people indifferent, so God sent a thunderbolt to jolt the Jews—exile in Babylon.
In Jeremiah’s account, the Jews being deported to Babylon was a thunderbolt for the younger ones, the sons of Judah. They recognized exile. Older religious leaders didn’t. Exile would mean they were idolaters. They couldn’t come to terms with this.
In his book To Change the World, James Davison Hunter writes, “Ours is now, emphatically, a post-Christian culture and the community of Christian believers are now, more than ever—spiritually speaking—exiles in a land of exile. Christians, as with the Israelites in Jeremiah’s account, must come to terms with this exile.” Only the sons of Judah did this. A thunderbolt jolted them into recognizing reality.
The sons of Judah came to terms with exile by reinvigorating industriousness as well as the institution of marriage (Jer. 29:4-7). Coming to terms with our exile means Christians shouldn’t withdraw from society. The kingdom will benefit from having better businesspeople than Benedicts. It would also benefit from better marriages.
Let’s face the facts. Orthodox Christians, by and large, have not excelled in having exemplary marriages. Our rates of divorce and porn viewing are roughly equivalent with the wider world. The culprit is a focus on the brain over the body. Orthodox Christians have idolized the Enlightenment, framing marriage as a series of academic biblical “concepts” and “principles”—Enlightenment terms. They’ve turned the wondrously sensual into “the worldview of sex” (as one evangelical ministry puts it). That’s idolatry.
Marriage is a picture of the gospel, starting with God’s love. Love is the enjoyment of the circle and the desire to expand it. Enjoy and expand. In the Godhead, Father and Spirit deemed to expand the circle by having the Son marry a bride. The bride is humanity, similar but different—other—than God. Hetero is Greek for other. Heterosexual, monogamous, permanent marriage is the quintessential metaphor for the gospel.
That’s why the gospel is best told in the human body, especially in nuptial union. Male and female, properly aroused, experience enjoyment and witness the expansion of their genitalia. This is holy, not bawdy. However, few orthodox Christians are comfortable talking this way. Coming to terms with exile means overcoming our squeamishness about sexuality.
Dreher is right about exile but wrong about withdrawal. The sons of Judah had to engage the world of commerce and government. They spent their first three years learning the language and literature of Babylon (Daniel 10). The Jews spoke Hebrew. The Babylonians probably spoke Akkadian. The Jews couldn’t translate their faith if they didn’t know Akkadian. It was many years before Nebuchadnezzar took them seriously.
President Obama called the ruling a thunderbolt. It was, but so was God’s thunderbolt of 2,500 years ago. I find that most orthodox Christians today cannot translate their faith. They don’t see the seamless overlap between the language and literature of the boardroom and the Bible. So I close with an offer: I’m looking to serve modern-day sons of Judah. They alone are most likely to come to terms with reality. If you think you’re a daughter or son of Judah, contact me. Let’s explore what we can do together.
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