Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Til death or inconvienence do us part

Fascinating article on the AP wire today: An Evangelical Rethink on Divorce?

I'm of divided mind when I see this. According to the article, last month's Christianity Today (a leading Christian publication, one of the largest in the nation) ran a cover story about rethinking Biblical divorce teaching to be more liberal. The author of the AP article calls biblical teaching on divorce 'inhumane'; actually, the CT author used the word 'cruel', but it's clear that the sentiment was the same: the Bible's 'no divorce except in the case of abuse' flies in the face of modern realities.

The facts of the matter are clear. According to a Barna report on divorce and religion (Barna is a respected Evangelical research group), couples that self-identify as Christians are more likely to get divorced than atheist couples. About one in three Christian marriages ends in divorce, and fundamentalist Christians are more likely to divorce than liberal Christians. Furthermore, the areas of the country where fundamentalist Christianity are common (South, midwest) have a much higher divorce rate than what fundies like to call the 'liberal enclaves'; couples in the very-liberal northeast are half as likely to get divorced as couples in the South.

The AP backs up these findings with their own poll. According to the AP poll, Massachusetts (the most liberal state in the union, and the only one that affords queers completely equal marriage rights) has the lowest divorce rate in the union, at 2.4 people per thousand. Texas (GWB country and a conservative good-ole-boy haven), on the other hand, has the highest divorce rate at 4.1 persons per thousand. Like Barna, the AP found that the Bible Belt had divorce rates 50% higher than the national average, while the lowest divorce rates were found in the most liberal states.

I'm hardly the first to point out the moral hypocrisies of the fundies, but the CT article goes me one better: it proposes that perhaps biblical literalists had been interpreting the divorce passages wrong, and that perhaps divorce isn't the hated sin that fundies had made it out to be. Naturally, rather than provoking a thoughtful response, the outpouring of letters to the editor that followed indicates panic. One of the more influential Evangelical (read: fundie) pastors, John Piper, posted a reply in his blog. The reply pouts about "cavalier covenant breaking", but eventually concludes there are almost never legitimate grounds for divorce.

The tragedy of this tempest in a tea-pot is that many of the scriptures these men argue over refer explicitly to wives sold into slavery to their husbands. One of the passages under debate (Exodus 21:10-11) talks about divorce specifically in the context of 'if a man buys a slave and takes her as his wife', he may not divorce her except under strict circumstances. Oh good, if I ever get sold into slavery to a fundie, I'll at least have the reassurance that they'll be philosophically opposed to divorcing me before we fall prey to the Bible Belt's horrific divorce rates.

Which is to say, in all of this, I wonder where attitudes about women make a difference. It should hardly be surprising, in a culture of liberated women, that areas who base their marriage/divorce morality on a slave code should have higher rates of divorce. It's easy to postulate that liberal states have lower divorce rates because they contain liberal men, who value things like a woman talking about her own opinions or taking a job outside the home. Southern states, by comparison, educate their girls less completely, and are more likely to contain men who will feel threatened by expressions of female independence. I think that one of the fundamental problems with the Bible (and perhaps the one that Evangelicals avoid the most often) is that women in the Bible had the status of property. Even in Pauline times, women were considered property. How should a culture in which women are considered equal citizens interface with a guiding moral document that considers them property? I don't have all the answers, but I'm pretty sure that the answer isn't a literal interpretation.

The problem with divorce, as with a lot of border-guard issues for fundies, is that the culture has changed. Given that this is true, (because no amount of wishful thinking will return the modern woman to a state where she is chattel), what should Christians do about it? The answer is probably more simple than a lot of people make it out to be: evolve. Who knows, perhaps a move beyond the 'women as property' mental game will even lower the divorce rate for the South. It certainly seems to have worked in Massachusetts.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Women are hungry for more (Oh yeah, give it to me baby)

I'd like to take this opportunity to highlight the Women's Ministry of the South Carolina Baptist convention, and laugh at the misogyny and double entendres to be found on their website.

Let's start with the current evangelism theme for the state. To clarify, this 'evangelism theme' is the platform around which all women's bible studies are designed, and all women's literature is written. This is the primary thing that the state's Southern Baptist women will focus on for the next twelve or so months. What's the theme? "Request! Rejoice! Reproduce!" That's right, reproduce, in case you had any doubts that it is the official Convention stance that women belong in the house making babies.

The expanded phrases for each tagline do nothing to dispel the idea that the Convention is encouraging women to get back in the bedroom and be baby-machines: "Request by prayer, Rejoice in praise, Reproduce by producing fruit." In case you didn't catch that, "producing fruit" is a euphemism for having children. It comes from the Bible verse "Be fruitful and multiply", which is non-coincidentally the verse that comes up whenever contraception is mentioned in church. The argument is that women aren't supposed to use contraception or get abortions because that's interfering with God's command to be fruitful.

I couldn't believe it when I saw this theme, and to be fair, a number of female Convention employees also had problems with the campaign. But their objections to the (entirely male) leadership of the Convention produced responses of "it's too late to change". Heaven forbid that female employees get the idea their sensibilities matter to the Convention leadership.

Let's talk about some other slogans for the Women's Ministry. Under the auspices of the "Reproduce!" as a theme, the main conference for women statewide is being called "Women are hungry for more!" That's a double entendre if I ever heard one, maybe even a triple entendre. Could the convention actually be exhorting women to have more sex? Or is it just to have more kids? It's as though all the sublimated sexuality (sublimated because women having sex is bad, of course) in the Southern Baptist doctrine is suddenly being expressed through a series of (unfortunately) inspired tagline choices from this Women's Ministry department.