Why are you fighting with each other?

When you stop to think about the reasons people get mad at each other, what do you find?  Something has been violated to be sure, but what?  What about anger?  There is none who avoid anger – not even Jesus did.  Of course His anger wasn’t unrighteous but what made it righteous over against unrighteous?  (BTW, an excellent book on anger is Robert Jones’ book “Uprooting Anger: Biblical Help for a Common Problem“.) Or, given my last post with the voice-over from John Piper, what about politics?  How do people of great conviction navigate in that realm?  Are we supposed to believe that it is ONLY a dirty profession with callous and self-serving people?  I’d hardly call a man like Henry Hyde a self-serving dirtbag!  They’re out there to be sure, but ALL of them?  I think not.

So, folks getting mad at each other?  Why?  Or angry, why?  Or politics, why? I’ve been thinking  about this lately as I consider my parenting: I’ve got a pile of kids and a pile of mess.  Verbal sparring is a reality but why?  I think part of our problem is that we are actively engaging people not on the basis of whether something is right or wrong (in the objective and biblical sense) but right or wrong as I define it.  We define right and wrong in one of two ways only: internally (I write the rules) or externally (someone else writes them).

I’ve watched VERY young children act out in amazingly sophisticated ways.  Any parent will tell you that little Johnny and Susie weren’t taught to say “no,” they just do it.  That grows and blooms into a worldview where we easily define what is right and wrong and that’s what we pursue in relationships.  We hold two rulebooks in our hands all the time: mine and God’s.  Think of a balance: my rulebook on the left, God’s on the right.  If we hold these two rulebooks equally, then if you violate God’s rule or mine, the consequences (as I meet them out) are the same.  Other options include mine over God’s (my response to your violation: harshness, coarse language, grumpy, silent treatment…you get the idea); God’s over mine (my response to your violation: gentleness, firmness, restoration-aimed…you see the difference?).

Back to the balance: in my left hand, is my rule book. My “rule book” is life according to me.  It is how you should act.  It doesn’t usually include how I should act, just you.  (Maybe a chapter in there about me but many in there about you.)  They include things like: don’t criticize me unless I ask you to; don’t instruct me unless I ask you; don’t fail to call me back when I call you; don’t send me texts; vote R–; don’t drink PBR…you get the idea.

When you violate one of my rules, what have you done?  Have you sinned against me?  No.  You’ve violated a preference; you’ve acted in a way that I’d rather you didn’t.  In the end, who cares – I need to get over it (in the church we call this “Christian Freedom”).  When it concerns my rulebook, I can’t compel you to act as I would want you to.  Here’s the catch: I STILL try because at the heart of it all I think you SHOULD obey my rules just as you would obey God’s.  As I pursue my rules in your life if you fail to obey, we fight. All of this is wrong, of course.  You would be right to tell me to pound sand as I ask you to obey my rules.

Now, in my right hand I hold God’s rules as we read them in the Bible.  If you violate one of them, I’d be right to confront you, be angry, etc.  God gives His people the right to be in each other’s lives with His rulebook.  If you lied to me, I would be right to warn you that’s a sin against me: you would’ve violated a rule that God clearly gives in the Bible to govern our conduct (Ephesians 4:15).  If, however, you told me truth in the “wrong place” (my rule) then I’d have no right to get chapped at you.  How many spouses (men especially) get ticked because the other confronts in a place they’d rather not have to deal with it?  Man, do I hear that a lot (even lived through that one)!

Let’s review:

Rulebook #1 (mine) = preferences.

Rulebook #2 (God’s) = sin.

If you find yourself in a sparring match you would be well served to ask if you are holding up your end of the fight because someone has violated one of your precious preferences.  If so, get over it and yourself.  Put down your weapon and realize that the other person is no more obligated to obey your preferences than you are to obey his.

If we were more inclined to hold to the Word of God in the Bible and ask people to hold to that as well and that only, we would fight less.  Ask someone close to you to help you with your list of preferences that drive them crazy – I’m sure it won’t take long.

Among the All-Time Dumbest Things Ever

A friend of mine will often send me links to articles of mutual interest.  Recently, she sent me one written by Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times.  The line that stopped me cold was the following: “It has become crystal clear to me that we can’t make progress against global poverty unless we do more to reduce fertility.”

I am amazed that before dealing with a real and more dangerous threat to poverty, dictatorial governments, we’re going to go after people with large families.  Because some standard of living isn’t being met, we resort to the easiest and more cowardly of solutions.  Are you kidding me?  Reducing fertility as the road to poverty reduction?  How about dealing with the thugs in these countries that hold up charity shipments of food on the docks or take them for the stores houses of the ruling elites?  How about the genocidal maniacs running local militias who terrorize populations with rapes and pillaging?  No, bad idea.  Let’s go out and find all the single mothers with large families and tie their tubes.

The NYT Key to Poverty = Reduce Fertility I’ve linked to a short video on their site where you can see his interview of a Haitian woman upon which, in part, he bases his lunacy.  It amazes and scares me that we would believe the answer to poverty is reducing fertility.  And how realistic is this?  If we reduce fertility, then people can have unimpeded sex without the risk of pregnancy, which, I suppose is among the highest ethical goods of today. In fact, Kristof glowingly discusses President Obama’s opening up of funds for global family planning efforts (read: US subsidized abortions).  It’s not hard to know what is really at stake here. Whereas, in the past, we used to highly regard temperance, restraint and self-control.  Now, those things are only acceptable if promiscuity, choice and sexual freedom are allowed (although I’m not sure how that’s possible).

Any number of left- or right-wing websites that discuss poverty will attest to its complexity.  Maybe Kristof doesn’t really believe that fertility is the key; I hope not.  I’m not sure if fertility reduction has any place in these plans.  What about the dead beats who find impregnating women a fun sport?  They do so and, like the bum in the video, wish the woman who requests (rightly) to be supported that she’d “die.”

I think it is high cowardice that we’d target the women’s fertility as the answer and let the dead beat men go off scot free just to do it again.

Brothers and sisters, not husbands and wives Part I

Religious people should act differently than non-religious people.  Among the reasons people engage in the religious cultus is the effect is has on living.  Seems logical, right?  Active participation in a set of practices motivated by unique beliefs should mark people A as different than people B.  Clearly, Christians should be marked by a specific set of behaviors and those behaviors should set them apart from others.

Alas, one look at a barna.org survey or article in any major newspaper will reveal that in the area of relationships (marriage preeminently) there is little to no difference between professing Christians and non-Christians.  The challenges in accurately defining “Christian,” notwithstanding, we who make claims to follow Christ don’t demonstrate our faith skillfully in relationships.  Here are excerpts from data from such a survey found at ReligiousTolerance.org

Religion % have been divorced
Jews 30%
Born-again Christians 27%
Other Christians 24%
Atheists, Agnostics 21%

More specifically:

Denomination (in order of decreasing divorce rate)

% who have been divorced

Non-denominational ** 34%
Baptists 29%
Mainline Protestants 25%
Mormons 24%
Catholics 21%
Lutherans 21%

And what about region?

Area % are or have been divorced
South 27%
Midwest 27%
West 26%
Northeast 19%

So much for the “Bible Belt” having any effect….Divorce, premarital sex, extra-marital sex, hostility, coldness, late-marriage divorces, etc. mark Christian Marriage.  This is pathetic, sad and hypocritical.

Why is it that way?  What are the reasons for these startling statistics?

Of course, the diagnosis is complicated.  But, as a student of young professing-Christians adults I tend to believe part of the problem is a poorly-managed pre-married relational life. By this I mean the period of time we spent dating, pre-engaged and then engaged.

This K-I-S-S-I-N-G or PDA blog thread has been aimed at this issue.  And this particular post strikes close to the heart of the relational problems.  The character of our pre-married relational life is most often marred by the fact that we don’t view each other as brothers and sisters but rather trial-husbands and trial-wives.

As a result, this relational time is marked by “dating divorces.”  How do you know if you have had a “dating divorce” or if what you’re watching in your close friend is a dating divorce?  By how it has or will end.    In other words, you can gauge the biblical character of a relationship by how it ends.  If a “break-up” is like a quasi-divorce in many ways, then the man and the woman treated each other like spouses during the relationship rather than like siblings.

A quasi-divorce would include things like great anger at each other, follow on depression, arguing over material things, indulgent addictive behavior, rushed follow-on relationships, no communication, or splintering among friend groups along “party” lines.

Many (most) Christian dating relationships-in-progress look like marriages with minor modifications:

  • Unrestrained physical touch save (usually) only sexual intercourse
  • Vigorous exclusion of other people and relationships
  • Baring of all secrets, thoughts, and desires
  • Intense dependence
  • Presence of jealousy
  • Practice of marriage roles: heads and helpers

Many operate on the “test drive the car before you buy” theory.  On Chicago public educator who, with her fiance, waited until their wedding day to kiss (gasp!), replied, “You can’t take the car out of the parking lot until you pay for it.”  Nice.

If many of our marriage problems find their roots in our pre-married relational life, then we should be more concerned about doing that part of our life right.  Right.  What makes a relationship between a non-married man and non-married woman “right?”  Let’s consider three things: authority, audience and approach.

Authority.  The appropriate constellation of questions to ask regards the regulation of such relationships: what standards are they using?

  • What is the relational playbook being used?
  • What is informing the conduct of such relationships?
  • Where are the rules written down for them?

We don’t do anything without rules, folks.  Whether they’re explicit or not we follow some set of rules.  It could be what you grew up seeing in your parents.  Maybe you’ve had “satisfying” relationships in the past and you’re just trying to do current ones that way.  Some search through the myriad of self-help relational books you can find at any Christian bookstore.  Oprah, Dr. Phil, Judge Judy, Joyce Meyer, Joel Osteen…the list of celebrity “experts” is limitless.  Peers also provide rules – whatever my group is doing, I do.

We do all of this – Christians, now – because in some sense we believe the Bible doesn’t provide any relevant guide (save “No Sex”) for us.  Or worse, we won’t follow what the Bible does say.

Since this is part I of this particular topic, why don’t you take a minute and write down what you think the Bible says regarding non-married, heterosexual relationships.  What instructions does the Bible give to you?  How do you understand verses like 2 Timothy 3:16-17 relative to relationships?