Friday, October 2, 2009

D-I-V-O-R-C-E

Lesbian comedian and musical entertainer Lynn Lavner says it best:

The Bible contains six admonishments to homosexuals and 362 admonishments to heterosexuals. That doesn't mean God doesn't love heterosexuals. It's just that they need more supervision!

Case in point: This Sunday's gospel reading from Mark 10, which spells out what Jesus has to say about that little thing called "divorce." Oddly, Jesus talks about divorce in all three synoptic gospels. But, by golly: I don't see the self-righteous creeps who crack on queers all the time getting ugly toward people who are divorced. And there's whole lot of divorced and remarried people in this country and they obviously missed a key teaching from Jesus' ministry. C'mon, James Dobson: get on the radio and tell all the divorced Christians who've remarried that they've committed adultery and must repent! Better yet: let's raise money for campaigns to constitutionally bar divorced people from re-marrying, so they aren't tempted into sin.

Hyperbole aside, I know that the passage from Mark 10 on divorce is not going to be easy for vast numbers of people to hear. Jesus doesn't mince words:

He said to them, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery."--Mark 10: 11-12

Eek!

But, as with everything in the Bible, there are the words on the page... and then there's more to those words than meets the eye. This is the culture of the First Century... a society where women were property, honor was everything and the Jews to whom Jesus is speaking lived under the thumb and amidst the Roman Empire. According to the Jewish scholar Josephus, Jewish women were not supposed to divorce; however they could under Roman law. And this whole discussion begins with the Pharisees wanting Jesus to explain why Moses told them "a man" could write a certificate of dismissal and divorce his wife. Jesus throws it back at them:

"Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you." Mark 10:5

And he goes on to re-tell a portion of the Adam and Eve story from Genesis about God having made one for the other... and we get the phrase from our Episcopal wedding service, "Those whom God has joined together let no one put asunder." Point being that marriage isn't something for a man to do and then when it doesn't suit him, just write out a certificate and say "see ya, baby!" Matthew's gospel gives an out-clause for the woman's "chastity" if that should come into question. Luke doesn't dwell on the subject more than a verse.

Today, we don't think it's wrong for men and women to remarry after a divorce (unless it's our ex, and then that triggers all kinds of stuff.) But I think what folks should focus on more here in the gospel is not so much the divorce point as the point that if you're going to get married, it's no small whim, and it shouldn't be treated as a lightweight commitment. If you're going to say those vows, you better be willing to do what it takes to live up to them. Otherwise, don't bother.

This is a particularly stingy subject for me, and thousands of other people like me, who are not even allowed to seek a marriage license from the state because we're queer. Some of us have been in relationships for years... far surpassing some of the marriages of our straight friends... and yet we are not seen as worthy of making such a supposedly life-long commitment as marriage. So, I guess I can tune out of this Gospel reading, eh?

No, I can't. Because it finishes with that good stuff about laying his hands on children and blessing them. That's another entry. Stay tuned!

5 comments:

frdougal said...

Pardon my ignorance (America's a big country) but are there legally recognised Civil Partnerships in Florida? In Scotland we have CP's but no freedom to have a religous ceremony as legally valid option - which is the next stage.

I'm always puzzled by the ferocity of the discussion in the US where you have seperation of Church and State and the more moderate tone in the UK where we have established Churches.

SCG said...

Thanks for the question, frdougal. In Florida, there are some municipalities that recognize domestic partners (Gainesville, and I believe W. Palm Beach, Key West). But that's it. Everyone else is chopped liver. And now there are six states in the country where same-sex marriage is legal. And that's lovely... if you live in one of those states. But if a Massachusetts couple were to be vacationing in Miami, and the wife or husband were to become deathly ill... the spouse would be denied access in the hospital because Florida doesn't consider their marriage valid.

Yes, we are quite a puzzle over here, aren't we? A puzzle that has too many pieces missing!

frdougal said...

I suspect we may be going the same way with our little regional parlaiments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland! I wonder though if the British Govts recognise same sex marriages from, say Canada as legal. An intriguing conundrum!

Anonymous said...

Glad to see your discussion here Fr.Dougal and Susan. Our little state of NH recognizes marriages from other states and we also bless same sex marriages, etc. etc. But of course that is because our motto is "Live Free or Die"

Peggins

SCG said...

Thanks be to God for New England, Peggins. If only the rest of the country would follow suit...

As for "Old" England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland: I hope they do recognize the marriages performed elsewhere. I have a feeling Florida will be lagging far behind the rest of the world... and they'll be proud of it!