Sunday, August 9, 2009

Confronting the Church on Marriage, Part II

As you recall, from my last post, Covenant Orthodox Presbyterian Church devoted time and resources to the defeat of the Same Sex Marriage bill in Vermont. Dr. Andrew Selle (What's Next? POLYGAMY?) who is a teacher, elder and ordained Orthodox Presbyterian pastor testified publicly against the bill. He also testified before the various subcommittees that cleared the bill in it's various and final forms to go out to the floor for a vote in both the House and Senate in Vermont.

Let me be clear that I would greatly prefer the Government not be involved in marriage at all, but as long as they classify people for income tax status based on whether they are married or not, there is no hope at all of getting them out of marriage. Thus we must license ourselves and marry to be classified for tax purposes and the Government climbs into bed with us.

I don't want Same Sex Marriage. It's an oxymoron as I have often pointed out. Beyond that I don't care if homosexuals live together and call themselves married, they are not married in the eyes of God just because they think they are. This I humbly submit, should also be the position of the church. We should not invade the homes of the unbeliever and tell them how to live. If we wish to, let us evangelize until there is a Christian Majority, and then elect officials to rule us that see it the way we do. Job one in that formulation? Evangelism, not lobbying for "Traditional Marriage." This is the backdrop for what follows.

I had gone into a membership class out of a desire to be in submission to the authorities of my local OPC church body. There is nothing in the membership requirements for the prospective membership about marriage views. There is nothing that says I should submit blindly to the dictates of the session in doctrinal issues. There is in fact a statement that no prospective member should blindly submit. With that in mind I emailed the entire session April 18th, in advance of their session meeting on 20th of this year. There was an ongoing verbal discussion between Carl Durham (the pastor) and I, and he had requested that he be able to show my work, shown below, to someone else. That someone else would turn out to be Kobe (Japan) Reformed Theological Seminary Hebrew professor, Stewart "Woody" Lauer. (Pictured Below)

I emphasized the epidemic of divorce as one of my concerns, and the effect of understanding acceptable polygyny on divorce doctrine. I emphasized that we are eroding confidence in the Old Testament narrative, and the relative virtue of it's primary figures by degrading their family states. I equated that to taking a low view of the first several chapters of Genesis.

These are the arguments I presented, which I will edit to direct them at the audience of this blog. Any who dispute this record, I will answer by presented the original text of the emails and their historic origins. There were several arguments to the church, which Woody did not deal with, so for now, I will not deal with those, but present them later, as uncontested or misunderstood. Woody was frequently give to terse wording about not understanding an argument. I will table those and deal with those he did understand. It is interesting how the general argument I have been making in public for years is less complex when presented to a member of the Reformed Theological community. I said:
"Many people will say the advocacy of Polygyny is frivolous as few peace seeking Christians would flaunt the laws of the land by taking other wives. I have several things to say in that area. One, in those nations promoting monogamy through law, there is still divorce, and the pattern of polygynous marriage leads to a better understanding of that unfortunate human necessity born of our sinful natures. (Also) you can get on a computer in Afghanistan or Iran or any other nation in the world, and you can access this forum and others like it. It shows serious myopia to think that we in the west own this discussion. Conservative denominations like our also draw the line at degrading the truth of the first third of Genesis or any other section of scripture for that matter. The denial of a polygynous pattern of marriage in the Old Testament as moral, where more marriages mentioned are polygynous than are not, threatens the veracity of God's in the eyes of men in the same way that adherence to the theory of Evolution does. It makes the word a fairy tale. It makes it of no value in our life today."
And Woody replies:
"These are unsupported pretentious claims. If God chooses to permit something at an earlier period, and then proscribes it later in the flow of redemptive history, God’s veracity suffers no injury. While the case of divorce ('Because of your hardness of heart, Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way.') does not prove polygyny was temporary, it does prove that God allowing one ethical standard before Christ and forbidding it afterward is consistent with God’s self-revelation, even if someone might seek to fault God as inconsistent."
Woody immediately wrestles for the upper hand by characterizing a conversation starter as "unsupported and pretentious." This is irrelevant to the discussion. It goes to the politics of the discussion, not it's substance. I am being characterized as having made my whole argument. I am also be characterized as having an attitude. Neither are true.

I agree that God can change the rules and patterns by which we live. Mandating one thing though, and then forbidding it later requires clear direction in both cases. "Do this," and then "Don't do that anymore." The command to refrain must be clear and not buried in nuance subject to interpretation. An example would be the absolute need to marry in your immediate family at the outset of creation, and the later forbidding of that practice by God's law. Seth could marry his sister, in fact someone in Adam's progeny was required to do so. We cannot do that.

Woody also immediately tries to throw polygyny in a bucket with divorce. We don't even agree on the existence of the bucket to begin with (classifying divorce as a sinful behavior reluctantly permitted), but if it did exist, there is no passage that places polygyny in that bucket, there's just the bucket, the category. So for now we'll grant Woody his bucket, but dare him to show as none of his allies in the argument have ever been able to do, when polygyny was thrown in that bucket.

I then assert the following:
"It is my declaration that the practice of Polygyny is just as valid today as it was when it was practiced in the Old Testament. There are a couple of tired arguments against it that I would like to discourage up front. In that I am addressing these arguments up front, the simple repetition of them would be to engage in one of the most ancient fallacies known as 'argumentum ad nauseam.' Since I have made the argument already, repeating it is now a fallacy since the argument is answered and that answer must now be replied to."
This is an intentional throwing down of the gauntlet. It is not for the purposes of creating strife, but to say "move the ball" don't echo these arguments. It's like the opening moves in a chess game. Each assertion I will subsequently make needs an answer that adds information to the discussion.

Woody replies:
"I would not demand agreement with the WCF on this matter in order to find a profession of faith valid. However, if an inquirer seriously opposed to our church’s confession on some point seems unwilling to listen humbly and carefully to the church’s official teachers, I would doubt his sincerity with respect to vow #4 (cf. Heb 13:17; 1 Tim 4:15). He seems to be saying: don’t bother me with anything I think I have heard before, and I’ll be the judge of whether or not you are worth my time to deal with."
First and of foremost importance is the outright admission that my stance does NOT call my faith into question. Other things might, but my marriage stance does not. This then classifies it the same way one might classify infant baptism or believer baptism, Sabbath (Saturday) or Sunday worship. Perhaps a larger item of this category of permissible difference, but it is still the same thing. Doubting my "sincerity" is something Woody may not do, though he does anyway. He does not know my heart, and he is wrong about my intentions.

Woody though goes on to try immediately to spin it as foundational. We're now not talking about faith, but 100% compliance with a extra Biblical confession of faith. This is the equivalent of asking me to comply with the misguided pharisees tithing of the spices. Man made interpretive rules win out. We must all swear to the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF), not just the Bible.

This is part five of the membership questions presented to a prospective member of Covenant Orthodox Presbyterian Church:
" 'Do you agree to submit in the Lord to the government of his church and, in case you should be found delinquent in doctrine or life, to heed it's discipline?'

Q. What does it mean to 'submit in the Lord' to the government of this church?

A. It means that you heed the teaching and admonishment of the elders as long as they are teaching what the Bible teaches (1 Thes. 5:12ff). No one, including church leaders, has the right to make any requirements that go beyond those given in the Word of God.

Q. If you ever have a disagreement with the leaders of the church or any other member, how should you handle it?

A. If you believe it is important, you should go directly to the person(s) involved and talk it through. Never gossip, but get appropriate people involved if necessary to help bring peace. God commands us to 'make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of Peace.' (Eph. 3:3)."
So we progress to my first argument, that Woody deals with. It's about the "bucket," referred to above. Woody:
"If John Murray’s treatment of the progressive revelation of God’s kingdom ethic respecting divorce is faithful to Scripture (Divorce, Presbyterian & Reformed), then the connection is indirect, strictly proving only the possibility of progressive revelation of marital ethics when moving into the NT period of the coming of the kingdom of heaven. The actual revelation of a proscription against polygyny must be shown, separately."
So Woody puts off the argument. In debating the topic, I've learned that this is usually to cover up a weak argument. Promise to solve the problem, but solve it later, then put as much distance in between this assertion, and actually showing the connection "separately" and maybe you won't have to. Maybe your opponent will tire. Probably your supporters won't ask you to produce it. Maybe it won't look as weak when there is distance in between your claim you can produce it, and actually producing it. Woody then skips a few arguments pretending not to understand, and then answers them, showing that he did. I have italicized the snippets of arguments he picks up from those he claimed not to "get." First the argument he "answers," his answer being an answer to several arguments he brushes aside as unclear.
" 'It's Adam & Eve, not Adam & Eve & Amber & Crystal' which is a variation of the 'Adam & Eve, not Adam & Steve' argument against homosexual 'marriage.' This is a 'Faulty' or 'Hasty Generalization.' Neither argument holds water. This is not to say I condone Adam & Steve, I don't. There are other reasons why Adam and Steve should stay away from one another, but they aren't spoken to in the creation story. Using the Adam and Eve monogamy example assumes the story in all it's details, before the fall, to be an archetype for all marriage that we must follow without deviation. It is not possible to argue monogamy from their example unless you embrace all parts of the example."
Woody's reply:
"This reads like a mere ungrounded assertion. Jesus does appeal to the way things were from the beginning (pre-fall) as normative, archetypal if you like. 'Unless you got married buck naked, I urge you not to go there.' – A thoroughly unpersuasive, irrelevant argument. God himself sanctioned the covering of nakedness after the fall. That would sufficiently justify the change, irrespective of whether or not the first marriage was intended by God to be normative. 'There are other ways this supposed archetype gets strained as well. You're probably not named Adam, or Eve, you aren't made from a rib or you're not missing one.' – Red herrings. Gen 2 portrays the first marriage as normative of marriage, not of everything having to do with Adam and Eve. 'The list goes on. Adam and Eve's marriage is an archetype ONLY in ways stated elsewhere in scripture to be an archetype or ideal.' I see no more than a high handed pronouncement, here. Gen 2:24 itself (apart from later usage) reads like an editorial (Mosaic) interpolation into a pre-existent (inherited) narrative (the Hebrew grammar supports such an inference, with a break in the waw-consecutive narrative). The author of Genesis is best understood taking the first marriage ('this cause') normatively ('shall leave … and shall cleave') for mankind thereafter. This ('they … shall become one,' marital unification) is what God has established as a normative pattern for the seed of Adam (mankind) through creating the woman as the helpmeet of man and joining them together as one (flesh). The Hebrew tense in v 24 is imperfect (w/o waw) which in this context reads as a decree (cf. 2:16b, 4:7b, 6:15a). While the impf. can be merely predictive (e.g. prophecy, cf. 9:25b), that force makes no sense here since the subject (ish = a man) is an anarthrous generic ‘man’ (as male). (It would make no sense non-generically, for then Moses would then be predicting—based upon what God did for Adam—that one unspecified man (‘a [particular but not contextually identified] man’) will [at some particular future time] marry a wife. What possible sense would that make in context?)

Arguably, Jesus, too, takes 2:24 in this (decretive) way when he appeals to it normatively (definition 3)(Mat 19:5-6): 'For this cause a man shall leave … and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh … Consequently … let no man separate [3rd person imperative].' Interestingly, Matthew (who from time to time appeals directly to the Hebrew (e.g. Mat 8:17) has Jesus following the LXX’s paraphrastic, 'the two shall become …,' implicating the Lord’s agreement that the 'two' is indeed implied in the original Hebrew decree. As such, 'two' shall become 'one' is normative. (The Samaritan Pentateuch, too, has it.)"
And with that, I'm going to give Woody the floor for a while, let that soak in, and reply to it in my next post. This is a kitchen sink reply. It is a lot like talking to a Neo-orthodox theologian who piles on the Big Words, and the God Words so that his answer sounds as if it means something. His argument though is that the Two become One. I agree, they do. What difference does that make though?


  1. Above you state: “I emphasized the epidemic of divorce as one of my concerns, and the effect of understanding acceptable polygyny on divorce doctrine.”
    Are you suggesting here that polygyny would reduce the incidence of divorce in Christian churches, or in American society?
    Polygyny does not necessarily reduce the incidence of divorce in countries where it is practiced. Divorce rates may be lower in certain countries (such as Afghanistan) where polygamy is practiced because the women in those countries do not have the right to file for a divorce, or lack the education / skills / ability to support themselves independently.
    It should also be noted that in countries in which women have the right to file for divorce, such as Nigeria and Indonesia, polygynous unions are associated with a higher rate of divorce than monogamous unions. The divorce rate in Indonesia was higher than the current rate of divorce in the United States until the Indonesian Marriage Law of 1974, which restricted polygyny.
    It should be noted that polygyny does not necessarily reduce the incidence of adultery as well. In one African country, 44% of polygynist married males admitted to engaging in intercourse with someone other than their wives over the course of one month prior to an anonymous survey administered by researchers.
    Source Documents :
    Peoples’ Perception of Polygyny in Contemporary Times
    in Nigeria
    M.A.O. Aluko and J.O. Aransiola, Anthropologist, 5 (3): 179-184 (2003)

    Shariah Journal, Vol. 16, No. 2 (2008) 207-222

  2. I don't think that women should have the right to divorce, I don't think scripture grants that right to them. That's the point about acceptable polygyny. What is adultery for a woman, is not adultery for a man. The sin of adultery is not committed against a woman, but only against men, and against God.

  3. Thank you for clarifying your position on adultery and divorce.

    For further clarification : Polygyny does not reduce the incidence of marital infidelity on the part of men or women. There is evidence that both men and women in polygynous unions have more extra-marital affairs than their counterparts in monogamous marriages(Sources: Carael et al, 2001; Mitsunaga et al, 2005; Nnko et al, 2004). Thus, there is evidence that polygyny actually increases, not decreases, the incidence of adulterous behavior, contrary to your claims.
    Polygynous marriages are associated with higher rates of divorce than monogamous unions in countries in which women are permitted to file divorce actions, whether or not the religious authorities in those countries approved of women filing for divorce. ( Sources : Goldman et al, 1989; Halton et al, 2003; Hertrich 2006; Pison, 1986; Van de Walle, 1990). Thus, in the United States, if polygyny was legalized, one would expect the rate of divorce to increase, not decrease, in society and in American churches as well.

  4. I would be greatly interested in seeing "Christian Polygyny" in action. Forgive me but I classify other religions as false, and thus it might skew the results if fundamental/reformed Christians were polygynous.