St. Paul on Marriage — Radical Conversion

When I was going through the whole business of suspecting DH was gay, I was in a conservative evangelical church that probably would have been very supportive had I not been under the very mistaken idea that I was obligated to stay in the marriage and to protect him, no matter what. That idea of protecting DH was what kept me from seeking help at the time.

But as I’ve read comments from other women, it’s become clear that many of them have been in churches that are not supportive of women married to gay men, or men with SSA (same-sex attraction). The whole idea of submission from Ephesians 5 gets tossed around and used to bully women into staying in insupportable marriages.

But — and this is extremely important! — I don’t think St. Paul ever intended to beat anyone over the head with his Epistle. But I also think he couldn’t foresee a time in which we live, when women have unprecedented rights and privileges and his words would seem oppressive.

Paul was writing to a people who had lived their whole lives in the self-indulgent, even depraved culture of the Roman Empire. Shaped and informed by Greek paganism, although Roman women had some rights, they were still very much under the rule of fathers, then husbands, and the rights they did possess were so connected with their father’s family that I’m really not sure what the point of their being able to inherit or make a will actually might have been. And if she were a slave, she had no rights whatsoever.

Marriage was monogamous, but not a matter of love; most often it was an arrangement between families. Men married in order to establish legitimacy of offspring, to secure a legitimate heir, or for some personal (economic or political) advantage.

Paul, on the other hand, was an elite Jew, highly educated and quite privileged. In Judaism, marriage could occur for love, as demonstrated by many of the biblical narratives (Isaac and Rebekkah, Jacob and Rachel, et al.). The Song of Songs is a highly romantic celebration of erotic love as an analogy of spiritual love (which does not diminish its importance as a marriage celebration).  This was the culture Paul was teaching his Gentile converts to Christianity:  Christianity was Jewish in its moral and social values, its ethos. It was a massive paradigm shift for the formerly-pagan converts.

So when Paul tells wives to submit to their husbands as to Christ, he’s not subjugating them to men.  Society had already done that. What he was telling them was to view their dependence and their legal subjugation in a new and nobler perspective. By serving their husbands as they would Christ, these Ephesian women were given an opportunity to elevate their homes and their relationships with their husbands to a new dignity and importance. And, in the process, to elevate their own status in the home as analogous to the Church itself. Paul goes into this comparison in some detail in ch. 5, vv. 23-24.

But it’s the men who faced the greater challenge. They were instructed to completely change the way they regard their wives:  no longer as property, nor as a status bearer, nor as an object for sex and procreation, but as part of themselves, part of their own bodies!

To love them.

And, even more radically, to love with the same kind of total self-sacrificing self-donation that Our Lord demonstrated when He gave Himself for the Church.

The Greco-Roman culture was depraved. Sexual license and depravity were normal behaviors. From Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, we get a glimpse “Neither . . . sodomists . . . will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. And such were some of you!” (I Cor. 6:9-11) [Yeah, ex-gays.  I totally get that!] That’s how complete  and radical the paradigm shift for these converts was.

So Paul is telling men to love their wives, rather than objectifying them. To honor them as part of themselves. To be willing to die for them.

We ex-wives of gay men have been objectified. We have been exploited, and in many ways abused. This abuse is not a Christian experience of marriage, but more of a reversion to a pagan model.

It really is better than we’ve known.

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