Like a Postprandial Sloth

I have to say that I didn’t expect that reaction. Courtship is a hotter/bigger topic these days than I realized.

What I would like to do is throw together a series of brief responses to some of the issues raised in the comments. The results may or may not come together as a coherent post. One can only hope.

What effect does a conversation with a father have on the daughter? There is no one answer — people are different, and every situation is different. If she has been desperately in love with the suitor from afar, the response is joy. If he would be perfect for her, but she is skittish, the reaction is different. In such cases, the parents can help her walk through the skittishness — they see that she likes the suitor fine, but that she is nervous about the whole idea. In other cases, the suitor may have been her Platonic idea of a bore, and so a negative reply comes back to him rather quickly.

At what point should a young man make himself vulnerable by going to the father? He should do so when his interest is becoming obvious to others, and three people on three different occasions have asked him if he has talked to her dad. In other words, he should make himself vulnerable when his public demeanor toward her is making her vulnerable. If he knows his interest, but is not flirting his head off, then he can wait as long as is prudent — till he finishes his junior year, or till he notices other guys noticing and doesn’t want to be left standing at the gate. But if his public behavior toward her is above reproach, he goes to the father when he is ready to see something happen.

One commenter said courtship was akin to Communism: “it only works on paper.” I think it would be better to compare it to wealth acquisition within a free economic system; some people do better than others. Freedom means freedom to fail. There are risks involved, and I am not tagging the young men as the automatic reason for the failures. Sometimes they are, sometimes the father is, sometimes the young woman is. But other times, when everyone involved is walking in wisdom, the thing runs like a Singer sewing machine. This goes back to my earlier point about the tendency to assign a false cause.

A young man gets fired from his job stocking shelves at Safeway, largely for moving like a postprandial sloth in the sunshine, and the conclusion he wants to draw is that “capitalism has failed me.” Well, it might not be the system that needs to get its butt in gear.

That said, the anecdotes of courtship weirdness being described are not instances that make me want to say “impossible!” I know that this kind of thing happens, and I know that in some places it can happen a lot. But people behave foolishly in every system — so what system anticipates that, and accounts for it beforehand? If I could paraphrase Winston here, courtship is the worst system imaginable, except for all the others.

Why Courtship Is Fundamentally Awed

Thomas Umstattd Jr. recently made a splash with his article “Why Courtship is Fundamentally Flawed.” To be perfectly honest, I thought a number of his points were very good, like frosted flakes in the bowl glinting in the morning light of your quiet breakfast nook. But I also thought, retaining the honesty theme here, that a number of his other points were like mushrooms that somebody stuck in there.

His good points were the kind of points that would be made by sane people anywhere, whatever steps in the mating dance they might want to use. I am a courtship advocate, and yet have often said that the courtship model too frequently means that six idiots are involved instead of two. So my purpose here is not to defend indefensible things, like courtships from Hell, or power-tripping fathers.

So, Suzy, I have been praying a lot about this, and I have taken the fact that your last name is Lordschoice as a sign . . .

So, Suzy, I have been praying a lot about this, and I have taken the fact that your last name is Lordschoice as a sign . . .

Nor do I want to be dismissive of some of his other good points — such as courtship ramping up an unnecessary intensity for some folks. Sometimes courtship is treated like a done deal, like a fait accompli. Billy is courting Suzy, let us say, and people bustle up to Billy at say, “Congratulations!” That is like being congratulated that you applied to Harvard, and you haven’t even taken the GREs yet.

Whenever you have a lot of human beings doing something, a good number of them are going to do it with less wisdom than others. The bell curve follows large populations inexorably. So nothing said here should be taken as a dismissal of Umstattd’s right to point out the problem cases. I myself have seen more than a few.

But as someone who helped to put the courtship paradigm on the map, I do think I have a responsibility to respond to some of the mushrooms. The mushrooms in this instance would be those areas where he solves problems that are not necessarily problems, or where he fails to account for other obvious possible explanations for the problems he sees.Courtship3

An example of the first would be his discussion of divorce, and the problem presented by those who thought that courtship was divorce insurance. Why are so many couples who courted now getting divorced? His whole article is directed at solving this problem (along with the problem of people who haven’t been able to get married at all), but he acknowledges that we don’t really know if the divorce rate is a problem.

“Then couples who did get married through courtship started getting divorced. I’m talking the kind of couples who first kissed at their wedding were filing for divorce. The deal was that if we put up with the rules and awkwardness of courtship now we could avoid the pain of divorce later.  The whole point of courtship was to have a happy marriage, not a high divorce rate.”

His reasons for writing include this high divorce rate, but his evidence for this is anecdotal, which he acknowledges. But he still assumes — in one of his headers — that the courtship divorce rate is in fact high. “Why the Courtship Divorce Rate is So High.”

He calls for research on the courtship divorce rate, knowing that we don’t really have hard numbers to go on. But if this is the case, then why are we calling for solutions?

No High Like the Most High!

Okay, this is for all you people, like me, who need to get out more. Apparently there is this Christian rock star, Vicky Beeching, who has written worship music that lots of people sing, and who has come out of the closet as being something that rhymes with say. You can read a brief interview with her here.

I want to pick up on a couple of expressions used in the interview because they will serve us well in identifying the basic move here. It is the opening gambit — “not that we expect everyone to go along with this, but we need to establish this as something upon which people can agree to disagree.” But in order for evangelicals to agree to disagree about something, there needs to be some principle of unity. If we let lesbianism inside the fence, we still need to have a fence, and we need to know what it is.

As this particular move gets run on us, that principle of unity is having “a high view of Scripture.” That adjective, like love, is supposed to cover a multitude of sins. Notice how she says it — “I value the Bible highly,” and “my very high view of the Biblical texts.”

But high is not necessary a good thing, as those who have dealt with stoners should know. Once I saw a church sign that perfectly represented an inadequate view of the power of this word: “There is no high like the Most High!”

“I value the Bible highly” does not have the same semantic range as “I read the Bible accurately.” Someone who believed that the book of Romans is actually a coded numerological message from aliens might have a very high view of the book, meaning that he did not think about anything else, but having this “high” view is not the same thing as knowing anything about it. Vicky Beeching

The whole thing is the classic bait and switch. You start with a high view of Scripture, detached from real exegesis, and what you wind up with is a low case of the hermeneutical uglies. How this sad woman looks provides us with a metaphor. You start with Vicky Beeching — quite a pretty woman — but when this story is over and done what we will have later on is Miss Hardcastle in orders. Not quite as alluring.

The Word Count of Righteousness

I am currently reading a (very good) book on preaching by William Willimon. The book is entitled Proclamation and Theology, and Willimon is a bishop in the United Methodist Church. He plainly got to his position of influence there because of intelligence, learning, grace, and wisdom.


He is in a liberal denomination, surrounded of necessity with all kinds of liberal craziness. The crazies are those who have given way to their sodden premises, like a soaked California hillside. They are all down at the bottom. But even with those who have not given way, and who still have valuable things to say, if you look carefully you can see the softness.

“For instance, amazingly little is said in Scripture about human sexuality. Jesus and his disciples present next to nothing said about their sexual interests, inclinations, or orientations. The conventional response to this curiosity is that Scripture was produced by naive, limited, first-century Jews who did not know that sexuality is the most interesting aspect of a human being — which is what we, in our advanced state of human development, now know. Perhaps Scripture shows little interest in our sexual dilemmas, not because it is primitive and limited in its view of a human being but rather because it is working with a very different view of a human being, a view in which our sexuality is not the supreme defining characteristic of our humanity. Perhaps we, in our present notions of what is important and unimportant, are primitive and limited, not Scripture” (pp. 45-46).

This is very cleverly done. It appears to be taking the side of Scripture over against our current sexual manias, but it is actually creating space for all kinds of moderated manias. Instead of absolutizing the perversions, as the crazies at the bottom of the hill do, it is nevertheless leaving room to normalize them.

But there are three problems.

Merchants of Resentment

Is it possible to sow the wind and reap the whirlwind (Hos. 8:7)? Well, of course it is. We live in a world where disproportional effects can follow hard after trivial causes. Not only so, but the disproportional effects can be unevenly distributed. Two toddlers disobey their mothers in exactly the same way, and one of them dies while the other gets a scolding and his family gets a cute story.

It is not my purpose here today to defend the justice of God given the fact of this unevenness. That is another task for another time. I simply want to take that unevenness into account as a fixed given. It happens. Whatever we think of it, we have to deal with it. We have to factor it into our calculations. All mothers warn their toddlers of certain things because some mothers lose their toddlers.

Sometimes the disproportionate effects are the result of sinful, human actions. Sometimes the trivial causes are also sinful, but not nearly as heinous, and other times there is no sin involved at all. The combinations of responsibility are varied and many.

Here is a (made up) example of the former scenario. Suppose a young teen-aged girl has been warned by her mother and father about her circle of friends, and she has been warned repeatedly. There have been scores of discussions about it, and the young girl has rolled her eyes in all of them. Suppose one night she disobeys them by sneaking off to a forbidden party, and suppose that while she is there some vile husk of a human being slips a drug into her drink and rapes her. So her parents were proven right in all their concerns, and she has been proven wrong. But in addition to being proven wrong, she has also been wronged. The consequences were not commensurate with her offense — but they nonetheless happened. I am afraid that it is a fact that the effects of such disproportionate consequences tend to fall heavily upon women.

Now suppose it is years later, and you are a counselor trying to help this woman. She is now a married mother of two lovely daughters of her own. Her life is generally together, but she has this raw place in her heart, and it still affects a number of things negatively — her relationship with her parents is still strained, her sex life with her husband is affected, and so on. It has gotten to the point where she feels like it is some spiritual form of that flesh-eating bacteria, and so she has sought your help.

Sexual Justice

If you stick around, in just a moment I am going to be dealing with the problem created by registered sex offenders attending church. However, before we get there, I want to say something about the cultural context we find ourselves in. And that said, I want to warn you beforehand that the point I am going to draw from that context is probably not what you think I am going to draw, so please hold your wrath until you finish the paragraphs following.

There is no way to pornify a culture the way we have done without making porn far more available to kids than it used to be. And kids obviously learn from what they see, monkey see monkey do. This includes what we call “mainstream” entertainment, and not just the triple-x stuff. We now have young kids who have seen, or who have heard about on the playground, practices that previous generations learned about in their second year of med school. Nobody should be surprised when when some junior high boy tries out some of what he has seen or heard about on his younger sister. When sexual corruption becomes ubiquitous, many more kids are going to get swept up in it. Call it the collateral damage of the sexual revolution.

But I am not saying this in any exculpatory way. Corruption is corruption, and being steeped in corruption from childhood does not remove any personal responsibility. We are a sinful race. So this point has nothing to do with the making of excuses for the perpetrators of sex crimes — while it is true that many victimizers were victims themselves first, that doesn’t make any of it right. Personal responsibility is assigned by the Bible, and not by our experiences.

So why make the point about pornification then? What this is intended to do is point out that those who promote and advance such corruptions in one area ought not to be entrusted with adjudication of crimes and offenses of a sexual nature in another area. Our establishment no longer knows what sex itself is supposed to be, and so cannot know what sexual justice is supposed to be. We therefore ought not to rely on their “wisdom” about sexual justice as it relates to children. They don’t have any wisdom. Our cultural milieu tolerates and teaches courses in our universities (!) which solemnly maintain that all instances of PIV (penis in vagina) are rape by definition,  dogmatically pronounce that TMI sex education for grade schoolers is a moral necessity, say that doing the anal honors should be considered a high privilege, and now with much of the legal resistance to same sex mirage out of the way, has already been preparing to mainstream pedophilia. The last thing in the world Christians should do is join in with any stampeding opinions about any of this from the secularists. They don’t know what sex is for, and they therefore don’t know what sexual justice is.

Here is (just) one example of secularist dogma that Christians are bound to reject. “Sex offenders don’t ever change.” This is not only an error, it is an error which strikes at the heart of the gospel’s efficacy. Now it is quite true that sex offenders don’t ever change themselves, but this is true for the same reason that thieves and adulterers never change themselves. Christ came into the world to save sinners, including the really screwed up ones.

“Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:9–11).

The words translated here as effeminate and abusers of themselves with mankind refer to homosexual behavior, plainly and unambiguously. Anyone who says otherwise is blowing some scholarly smoke at you. And in the ancient world, who does not know that this kind of practice routinely included young boys? But my point in citing this passage is not to prove that this kind of behavior is immoral, as much as that point might be needed in other discussions, but rather to demonstrate that “sex offenders cannot change” is a lie straight out of the pit of hell. Among the Corinthians, do you think there were any converts who had been given over fully to the ancient ways with a whole series of young boys? “And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.”

Thus, if a sex offender is kept outside the congregation, and is served communion in a back room, then what you are actually doing is making a liturgical statement that he ought not be served communion at all. If he is vile, and cannot change, then excommunicate him and be done with it. Your justification for such excommunication would then have to be that “such people never change.” But if he can repent, and be brought to the Table, then he must be brought to the Table with all the other forgiven sinners — which perhaps includes the rest of us.

Crime in a World Without Crimes

“Thou shalt not follow the multitude to do evil” (Ex. 23:2).

In an earlier post, I said that consistency was necessary in any worldview seeking to build a civilization. It is not necessary if the point is to tear a civilization down. If that is the goal, then radical swerves and changes help to achieve the goal.

Think of a small child, flipping out in the restaurant because the entree was not to his liking. He is lying on the floor, drumming his heels, screeching. If the hapless parents cave, and give him what he wants, and he suddenly changes his mind and flips out over that, the inconsistency helps him because the foundational consistency remains — and that fundamental consistency is that he and his sentiments of the moment must always be in charge.

The argument need not be consistent. All that needs to be consistent is the commitment to emotional blackmail.

And remember, in our day, in this culture, the point of the emotional blackmail is the relentless drive to any and every form of sexual expression, with the exception of biblically-based, monogamous and faithful heterosexual marriage. People can still do that, for now, but they can no longer call it normal, or even think in terms of normativity at all.

This relates to the strangely fierce attitude toward pedophilia on the part of those who, you would think, would have a soft spot in their hearts toward pederasty. And they do, but just wait for a bit.

The point of making pedophilia a high crime (in a worldview without crimes) was to undermine the moral authority of the establishment because of establishment hypocrites. Think of the scandals in the Catholic Church, or heterosexual fathers abusing their daughters, and so on. With all the emotional precision of a kid pitching a fit, the terrible offenses of priests and bishops are used to reject the teaching of the Church on sexual norms at all. The fathers who abandon the sacred trust of protecting their daughters from men, in order to become the man she needs to be protected from, is used by the sexual anarchists as a reason for removing godly fathers from the position of being able to protect anyone.