Sunday, June 19, 2016

How the Church Built the Argument for Marriage Equality ... Pill by Pill and Condom by Condom

One of the arguments made by the LGBQT community over the question of marriage definition risks resembling a jeremiad from a Church father against the Church contemporary. Supporters of traditionally defined marriage invoke the important aspect of marriage to the stability of how children are reared, to the interest in creating a legal framework within which couples conceive and bear children. From that view, marriage is about as related to same sex relationships as are fish to bicycles. Because simply by saying that I may offend, I mean that in our current biological state, a physical act of union might occur in three separate kinds of two-person couplings: between two men, between two women, between a man and a woman. Despite popular headlines about a transgendered man giving birth, which involved a biologically female person that identified as a male, only the male-female couple is independently capable of fecundity. Men only in a physical act of coupling never become pregnant. Women only in a physical act of coupling never become pregnant. So, essentially, this particular argument against redefining marriage reflected the erection and maintenance of social and legal structures to assist the fecund in procreating, bearing, and raising children. The LGBQT community offered several answering arguments. For example, they argued that, with sperm donation, artificial insemination, and adoption, gay couples and lesbian couples too could become the parents of children needing the supporting social and legal structures of marriage. Of course, much offense -- whether intended or not, well-founded or not -- was created when traditional marriage advocates contended that recognizing and normalizing same sex marriage would institutionalize a harm for children, namely that they would be denied thereby the best possible outcome by being denied a stable, opposite sex couple as parents. Another argument made by the LGBQT community for recasting the institution of marriage was that, de facto, society had already has recast marriage. By that, they did not imply that society redefined marriage to include same sex couples. Rather, they meant that society had opened marriage to include opposite sex couples that were not physically capable of producing, or even possibly likely to see, offspring result from a physical act of union. Think of it: we have elderly couples -- who meet in Senior Living communities -- falling in love and marrying. But the wife will have long since passed menopause and be infertile and for the husband, unless the little blue pill or its variants are available, the ability to successfully conduct the unitive act is likely to be substantially degraded. We have scarlet fever victims who marry -- just as George Washington -- whose illness was, effectively, a biological vasectomy. And we have survivors of uterine and ovarian and testicular cancer that marry, even though they can never produce offspring. Yet society was not asking Fred if he had been mechanically castrated by a farm accident or Wilma if she had survived ovarian cancer but had lost her ovaries. In these circumstances, society was testifying that procreation was no more than "a part" of the reason for marriage, and, indeed, not so significant a part as to insure that there was at least a biological possibility of producing offspring.
One argument that I never saw in the long battle over same sex marriage was that society had also testified loudly and proudly against this very interest by helping to develop, to widely distribute, and to make moral the use of artificial contraception to control fertility. Yet, and I realize again that I may be stepping on toes, by the widespread teaching and availability of artificial birth control, by its acceptance in churches, by its use in marriage, they do exactly that. They testify to a certain perspective, namely that marriage isn't always, or even principally about, fecundity and the bearing and rearing of children. Some who've read this far will suspect that I am foisting a falsity on them, the falsity being that there was ever a time when churches generally agreed that artificial contraception and abortion violated God's design for marriage. It's a funny thing, that. A thing becomes so commonplace that one disputes that another condition -- the absence of that thing -- ever existed. For example, I recently saw a Tweet from a knucklehead who queried in a Twitter post why old push button home phones had a hashtag ("#") key, when Twitter wasn't even invented until 2006? Well, in much the same way, Christian folk who are not versed in the history of our society nor in the teachings of the church over time may suspect that, setting aside the rather bizarre Roman Catholics, all other Christian denominations had always recognized that artificial contraception was an important tool for married couples. The fact is that, until very modern times there was little dispute amongst the denominations about the nature and purposes of marriage, and that, as such methods became available, the use of artificial contraception struck a defiant note against God's design. Let me take an aside here. Do you enjoy C.S. Lewis? Perhaps his Chronicles of Narnia, or some of his nonfiction? I'll start with an honest confession. I have read **some** C.S. Lewis, specifically Mere Christianity, The Great Divorce, and Mere Christianity. I also read his Space Trilogy, Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength. Here's the confession, I tried and tried to read The Chronicles of Narnia, but I just never was captivated by them as I was with his Space Trilogy or with J.R.R. Tolkien's Ring Saga. But I loved Lewis' Space Trilogy, loved it and read and re-read it.
The last book in the trilogy is, essentially, apocalyptic literature. It speaks of a great confluence between forces of good and forces of evil. I recommend the trilogy for a good summer read, and I heartily recommend That Hideous Strength. In That Hideous Strength, there is a scene that relates to my musings here. Allow me to relay it to you: As the forces of evil and of good are separately drawing together and organizing, both look to the rediscovery and reintroduction into Britain of the legendary Merlin, of the Arthurian legends. In Lewis' version, Merlin, not dead, lies buried and awaiting a re-awakening. Evil believed that Merlin would join forces with it, but that reflected Evil's failed misinterpretation of history. Merlin seeks out and finds Good. It is in the finding of the fellowship of Good that the scene I have in mind occurs. Merlin is in the company of the man that leads the Good and that, like he, is part of an ancient order. As they are speaking in an ancient language, one of the book's protagonists, Jane, comes into Merlin's presence. Merlin discerns a truth about Jane, a youngish, and fairly recently married woman. That truth is that she and her husband have deliberately avoided conception of young in their physical couplings. Lewis leaves no doubt that Jane and her husband unite sexually. An earlier passage in the book pokes fun at how little time it takes for that shared activity to be completed and her husband to be soundly asleep. So, this wasn't a couple on the outs, withholding from one another in physical relations. Rather, as Merlin discerned the matter, this was a deliberate defiance of the Creator's plan. Lewis wrote the passage thus:
"Up to the first landing they were in darkness; on the second and last the light from the first floor fell.
"Looking down on them from the balustrade were two men, one clothed in sweepy garments of red and the other in blue. It was the Director who wore blue, and for one instant a thought that was pure nightmare crossed Jane's mind. The two robed figures looked to be two of the same sort. . . and what, after all, did she know of this Director? And there they were, the pair of them, talking their secrets, the man who had been dug up out of the earth and the man who had been in outer space. . . . All this time she had hardly looked at the Stranger. Next moment she noticed his size. The man was monstrous. And the two men were allies. And the Stranger was speaking and pointing at her as he spoke.
"She did not understand the words: but Dimble did, and heard Merlin saying in what seemed to him a rather strange kind of Latin:
"Sir, you have in your house the falsest lady of any at this time alive."
And Dimble heard the Director answer, "Sir, you are mistaken. She is doubtless like all of us a sinner: but the woman is chaste."
"Sir," said Merlin, "know well that she has done in Logres a thing of which no less sorrow shall come than came of the stroke that Balinus struck. For, sir, it was the purpose of God that she and her lord should between them have begotten a child by whom the enemies should have been put out of Logres for a thousand years."
"She is but lately married," said Ransom. " The child may yet be born."
"Sir," said Merlin, "be assured that the child will never be born, for the hour of its begetting is passed. Of their own will they are barren: I did not know till now that the usages of Sulva were so common among you. For a hundred generations in two lines the begetting of this child was prepared; and unless God should rip up the work of time, such seed, and such an hour, in such a land, shall never be again."
"Enough said," answered Ransom. "The woman perceives that we are speaking of her."
"It would be great charity," said Merlin, "if you gave order that her head should be cut from her shoulders; for it is a weariness to look at her.""
So there you have it, Jane and her husband, though fecund in the strict sense of capacity, had made themselves barren.

Nor was theirs a conscienceless coupling like rabbits. The backstory reveals both a church wedding, and an intimate recall on Jane's part, at least, of the vows she spoke.
I mention C.S. Lewis for my Christian friends who may think what I am saying about artificial contraception is solely a matter of concern for Catholics, and doesn't reflect a teaching common to Christian churches in any era of church history. While C.S. Lewis enjoyed a great friendship with the Catholic author Tolkien, Lewis was no Catholic. He was, however, both a Christian, and a learned man. My surmise is this: the controversial Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops of 1930 admitted for the first time that certain circumstances might warrant artificial contraception and avoidance of pregnancy in a Christian marriage. The Lambeth Conference was highly controversial and both the product of and instigator of conversation about human sexuality and marriage. When Lewis published the Space Trilogy the 1930 Conference was just fifteen years past, certainly it was even more recent while he was in the process of writing the series. Lewis followed the Lambeth Conferences. We know that he did. He wrote a letter to the 1948 Conference on the topic of admitting women to Anglican priesthood. I think Lewis perceived the moral error of Lambeth, of teaching that salting the womb could be a moral right. And so, when the unleashed terror of holy judgments -- Merlin -- is restored to life and perceives the self-inflicted infertility, he simply states what is, to him, obvious. Here there is a gross moral imbalance.
Now, do I think you should draw your moral theology from, or solely from, the fiction of C.S. Lewis? Hardly. The point of the story's use here is Lewis' use of the commonplace recognition of God's role in the marital bed and procreation, and the offensiveness of asserting an essentially atheistic autonomy in the face of what had been designed by God. Returning to the topic on which I began writing, there are vials and vials of expended bile in the word wars between those that support and those that oppose expanding the definition of marriage to include same sex couples. I haven't seen, however, any acceptance of (im)moral responsibility on the part of churches and Christians for their own abandonment of God's marital designs and their own personally justified rebellions against God's purposes in their lives. I suppose that if Churches and Christians hope for a revival and reversal of fortunes in the land, they might begin with profound repentance to God for turning away from Life's door the living gifts they rejected in contraception and abortion. Until they do, they will always be weakened by their own insistence on defiant autonomy.