Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Beyond the Gateway Conversation

With the Supreme Court hearing arguments over gay marriage issues, the topic has come up in a lot of conversations lately. Being an evangelical minister, there's an added layer of theological questions that come with such conversations.

Most of the time these conversations leave me unbelievably frustrated - not that people aren't sincere about their beliefs or even that they're not being kind (most people have been exceedingly kind of late, a welcome change) - but because they always focus on what "should" be the definition of marriage, either legally or doctrinally.

Of course those decisions do have to be made, but I've never had a conversation with any Senator or Supreme Court Judge on the matter, quite frankly none of the people I talk to have any real say in how those things are defined. What most people do have power over is the way they define and participate in their own relationships.

I'd love to just publicly admit that we're not going to agree on who should be married (if you've never been to a wedding that you thought was a mistake, more power to you), and move on to conversations about how marriages should work.

I understand that the position of some will be, "marriages should work the way that works best for the couple." That is a fine position to take - although it's awfully individualistic for my taste. I don't think an open marriage is a healthy one, even if it "works" for the parties involved.

I'm going to draw some lines. Of course, people do still get to make up their own minds about things. I'd hope all of us can at least consider other ideas with an open mind.

The thing I'd love to discuss with couples is how dominance and submission play a role in the relationship. This is especially intriguing to me in homosexual relationships because of the stereotype that one partner must be "the man," even if both or neither are men. The same issues arise in heterosexual relationships, but that's been so ingrained in culture that we hardly notice.

Perhaps the real issue is our understanding of dominance as a masculine trait. That's been the course of human history for, well, all of it. Men are in charge and women follow. The feminist and equal rights movements have done a lot to make this less of a given, but for the most part, they've really only made it acceptable for women to be dominant and to assume those traditionally masculine traits.

It's as if we take power as relational currency for granted. I don't think it "should" work that way. I take this position because of my faith and my understanding of scripture. I know Christianity, for a long time, reinforced this male-dominated position - but the Church was wrong.

From the beginning God designed people, human beings, specifically married couples, to be complementary powers - supporting and encouraging each other, not fighting for "hand." Paul reinforces this in the New Testament with his calls to mutual submission in marriage.

We are to love and serve each other - not control by manipulation or power. That's good advice for all our relationships, but I think it's essential to getting marriage right. The need to express, emptiness of lacking, or struggle to gain, power in relationships are responsible for a whole lot of the issues that mess things up.

I speak mostly from experience here - and while my marriage is far from perfect, one of the things I think we get right often is our ability to let the other lead in areas of strength. My wife makes decisions in some areas, I in others. I'll freely admit (and she'll freely agree) that I make them too often, but we're working on it.

The issue of dominance and submission were marriage issues long before gay marriage became an acceptable topic for public discourse. However, I'm intrigued by the way this plays out in relationship contains a non-traditional gender mix.

I'll freely admit I know little to nothing - I apologize if any of this has been insensitive or offensive - it's only because of ignorance. Yet these are the types of conversations that just don't get had. It's partly due to the personal nature involved, but also because the gateway conversation, the one about who should be in marriages, always blocks the conversation about how they actually work.

I have some general beliefs about marriage, but for the most part, I don't care much about how one "defines" marriage in terms of make-up. I do care quite a lot about individual relationships and the way they help and harm individuals and stifle or further the work of God in the world.

I believe God is at work drawing all people closer to God. I suspect the path for many (perhaps even for myself) will be uncomfortable to witness, might challenge my assumptions and beliefs. I also believe, though, that God is bigger and more capable than those challenges; they are not something to fear. I think we'd all be surprised at the things that could happen in our lives if we'd converse deeply and just stop blocking the door.

No comments: