To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain single as I do. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion. – 1 Corinthians 7:8-9 (RSV)
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Well, this translation does lose the “better to marry than to burn” rendering of the King James. But what a contrast to earlier sexuality in the Bible, with all of its soap-opera intrigue and pleasure! Paul’s own sexuality, all the while, remains open to conjecture, even though he looks to the condition of a candidate’s marriage when considering a possible elder or bishop. And what happens if marriage does not direct and contain or even feed the sexual passion? Where is the promised helpmeet then? What if the opposite sex does not satisfy this burning desire?
Here’s where I see the thrust of New Testament marriage pointing to faithful monogamy, with its degree of equality in comparison to polygamy or extra-marital affairs (where someone is always slighted). Monogamy, in fact, mirrors monotheism, in the relationship of an individual with a single Holy One.
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As we examined the importance of open acknowledgement of our conditions within the faith community, I keep reflecting on a related issue that too often gets swept under the rug: divorce.
One of the objections to same-sex marriage has long worked something like this: It’s not legal. (No longer the case where I live, by the way.) Implicit in that are related issues that remain unvoiced: How do we know it’s over, if you split up before one of you dies? Or is it just a play marriage? How serious is the commitment if it’s not bound up in law? (We could resolve some of that, I suppose, by contracts, such as wills and insurance policies.)
But the other issue, of how do we know it’s over, touches on both heterosexual and homosexual unions.
With marriage, events are already well in gear when a couple approaches the Meeting: they know they want to get married. Similarly, though, by the time we know a couple is headed for divorce, it’s too late. The fact is that today’s marriages too often end in divorce. The transition can be extremely painful – and un-Quakerly – for both individuals and for any children they may have. If both parties are involved in the meeting, one or both might find that continuing to be present among us can be very awkward or traumatic – this, precisely at a time when they most need a place of spiritual refuge and loving Friends. I have seen a small meeting torn apart by several simultaneous separations and subsequent divorces. I believe each faith community should be prepared for such situations, and have mechanisms ready.
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Therefore trust you in him, whose Name is, the Lord of Hosts, yea, the Lord Jehovah, in whom is everlasting Strength; who is a strong Hold in the Day of Trouble, and he knoweth them that trust in him. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)