Several weeks ago on April 25, the LDS Church joined other religious bodies and leaders in signing the letter â€œto protect and preserve the institution of marriage between a man and a woman.â€ You may read the Churchâ€™s full statement on their website.
Just what does the Bible teach us about love, sex, and family? Well, over thousands of years, about anything one could conceivably (no pun intended) want to know. A pretty graphic book, the Bible. Daughters getting dad drunk and themselves pregnant, for starters. But the very continuation of the species, I believe, was in their mind at least; at issue was issue. So lest we get lost in all this tangle, perhaps, at least for starters, let’s stick to the New Testament. A more slender book, and quite meaningless without the Bible, but let’s start here.
Dear bishops of Roman Catholic persuasion. Dear brothers and sisters of my Mormon roots. And Protestants (aren’t we all?) Chapter and verse, please. Bring your bibles. Mine is worn to a frazzle. But I’ve memorized most of it. Choose your venue: Rome, Salt Lake City, Geneva. Teach me, I pray you, just what did Jesus say about the family?
With one stupendous exception, just about everything Jesus had to say about the family can be subsumed in his challenge that we rise above, way above the politics and pettiness of family, tribe, and blood. In fact, hugely the statements on family values, made by Jesus Christ, the last time I checked still the founder of the faith, are negative. If loving one’s brother and sister are all we are about, then forget it, he says, over and over and over again. He was about a much higher vision. Not resisting this pun, he did have other fish to fry.
Mary and Joseph notice a bit late (by a day or two…. where is Family Home Evening when you need it?), that the young Jesus is not in the camel caravan leaving the holy city. Like god-fearing parents in Salt Lake City, or Rome, in Geneva, or the Mafia, they go in search of him. They find him in the temple, conversing with the priests, about the Law and the Prophets. Jesus is not quite yet a teen-ager when he tells his worried parents that he must be about his Father’s business. [Luke 2:41-51] His time was approaching. God help Mary when this young man reaches his teens. Joseph, an older man, likely in his fifties or sixties, is not mentioned again in Jesus’ life. Perhaps Joseph, seeing Jesus at twelve, has premonitions of Jesus’ teen-age years, and died. Mary, a young girl in her teens when Joseph, a man twice or thrice her age, asks for her hand, lives on in the scriptural record, to the end of the gospels’ account. Then through the histories, scriptural and otherwise, of the infant church, clearly as one of its central leaders.
When Mary and Jesus’ siblings want to talk to him, and send in their note into a room crowded with Jesus’ disciples, Jesus exclaims: “who is my mother? My brothers and sisters? Those who do the will of my Father who is in heaven.” [Matthew 12:46-50]
When a devout young man wants to follow Jesus, but piously asks first to be allowed to bury his father, who has just died, Jesus responds: ” Let the dead bury the dead.” [Matthew 8:20-22] Now, there’s a Jeremiad when you need one.
Jesus says that a man’s enemies would be those of his own household. [Matthew 10:34-37] Indeed.
He does not marry, as far as we know. Clearly, it is not his priority even though, of course, it was the standard social custom for the Rabbi, or teacher to marry, just as anyone else would do. Jesus says he has no place to lay his head. He lives the life of the penniless teacher, mendicant, itinerant, on the go. So too, his disciples. He says, “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.” [Luke 14:26-27] We soften these stern pitiless words at peril of our own souls. It would seem that the disciples leave their families to fend for themselves as they follow Jesus. They are fishers of men and women everywhere, through two thousand years and hundreds of thousands of miles, in time and space. Prophets and apostles in deed.
Yes, Peter had a mother-in-law and I assume, a wife. [Matt. 8:14-15] I had both, once. God help Peter, if he inherited a mother-in-law without ever having a wife. Did he abandon his wife? St. Paul, burned once, suggests that such might be a very good idea. [1 Corinthians 7]
Just like Joseph, Brigham, and me. I was called as a young Mormon missionary while on my honeymoon, which I spent, strangely, reading the “standard works,” all, for the first time, ever. The Bible, the New Testament, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. Cover to cover. My eight children’s births remain a mystery. After the honeymoon (I was one of the last virgins on earth at my marriage), within weeks I was in Bradford, England. Then Aberdeen, Scotland, for the coldest winter of my life. What the Scots consider a roaring fire, in place of central heating, would not warm sushi. Then Glasgow, Edinburgh, Manchester, and London. From London, throughout every little village and city in England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. Dublin and the Republic of Ireland as well. There to make Mormons of perfectly decent Episcopalians, Catholics, Presbyterians, and….well, the Welsh. For these hardy folk, they simply said, “no, I’m Welsh.” Somehow, we Mormons still obtained the Tabernacle Choir, almost exclusively of Welsh stock. But from Dan Jones, not Ed Firmage. I spent the first lonely month of newly-minted celibacy pondering just how I might throw myself under one of the very few automobiles in England in those days, just so as to be injured sufficient to be sent home, with honor intact, but not so badly wounded such that other portions of myself were still intact, allowing me once again to enjoy my wife’s favors. Not figuring a foolproof way, I remained. I’m a Libra.
By my reading, and I claim no infallibility, the only time the founder of the faith spoke positively of “family values,” was from the cross. To John the Beloved, and to Jesus’ mother, Mary: “woman, behold your son,” looking toward John. And to John, Jesus’ Beloved: “son, behold your mother.” [John 19:26-27] Church history and tradition join in informing us that Mary lived for the remainder of her yet long life with John. It might enlighten and intrigue us all to take a long hard look, with a magnifying glass, at the great artist’s rendition of the Last Supper. Notice Jesus and John. What great love.
My dear sisters and brothers of all faiths. I beseech you. Reconsider. Lest the present path lead us all to questions and precipices we may be well advised to avoid. While we still can. If we still can. The joker, in all this, is that we will only be sure, really sure, just how close to the precipice we are, after the fact, that is, in retrospect. Or are we indeed now plunging pell-mell over and down, into the abyss? A sobering thought.
Sisters and brothers, of the Book; and of all the holy books of all faiths. Truly we are all one. Whether we use the metaphor of DNA and a double helix, or the stories of all the mystics since time began and beyond the speed of light and looking back as it again overwhelms us. We are one. The one and the many. In all directions. Among all faith traditions. And among all those who think, not without a lot of evidence, that God, the very idea of God, is as very bad joke. NEVERTHELESS! We, like mountain-climbers roped together on the high Himalayas, or the Rockies, either make it to the top together, or together we go over the precipice. This life is not a zero-sum game.
Whether or not any religion, anytime, saves anyone else, it just may be that those we seek to save, if we are very, very lucky, or blessed, may just save us. We of the First World, so-called, may just be saved by our sisters and brothers in Chad. Or on Chicago’s South Side. Or in Salt Lake City. Our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. Our divorced and remarried or never-married neighbors. Our friends from south or north or east or west of the border, whatever “border” means in this time. If we act now, in this Kairos moment. This moment in time, as Jesus says in St. Mark’s gospel, the first story of Jesus Christ: “The Kairos is among you.” That means now. If we now act, in charity, in love–shalom, salaam–without judgment. They may just save us.
Thus, we may be able yet to avoid such questions, as: just why do we need all you old men anyway? Personally, I was just made emeritus. That means I now teach free. I got fired. Though nicely done. The English, with their famous sensitivity, tell those in retirement that they have “been rendered redundant.” Just why, good bishops and priests and high priests, just why do we need any of you? To allow our speaking to God? And just why do we pay you tithes and offerings, when all scriptural support says “freely have you received, freely give?” [Matthew 10:8] Just how, and when, and why, did we invent a priesthood, anyway? With nary a woman, or a gay man, in sight? By my count, that’s about 58% of the human race, not represented. Didn’t our forebears have some words with Mother Church and Mother Country about this? Taxation without representation? And a Tea Party in Boston’s harbor? Didn’t the Protestant Reformation, birthed in part in Geneva, Switzerland, deal with some of these things? Is it time for another Reformation? Or Restoration, if you will? Perhaps, just perhaps, we might begin to meet this ideal by considering, always considering, a Reformation, or a Restoration, a once and future thing, never quite finished, or perhaps yet begun, always just ahead and aâ€™birthing. A once and future Restoration, always, elusively always, just out of sight, around the corner, on another star. So, with Milton, Merton, and Dante, take me out among the stars.
Pace ‘ e Bene. – Ed Firmage