As we approach the Fourth of July, it is once again time for me to shut-down Another Voice until at least the end of July. A number of “summer projects” await me around the house.
Though marriage has ancient roots, until recently love had little to do with it. I am glad times have changed. Today my wife and I celebrate forty-five years of marriage; and we are still in love! Today as well, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it is legal for all Americans, no matter their gender or sexual orientation, to marry the people they love.
Some reflections about marriage milestones.
Stephanie Coontz, marriage and family life historian at Evergreen State College in Olympia WA, (whom I had to good fortune of meeting a few years ago) sees thirteen marriage milestones. I strongly recommend her book: Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage, (Penguin Books, 2006).
From polygamy to same-sex marriage: the 13 milestones in the history of marriage.
1. Arranged alliances
Marriage is a truly ancient institution; but early marriage was seen as a strategic alliance between families, with the young-to-be-married often having absolutely no say in the matter. In some cultures, parents even married a child to the spirit of a deceased child in order to strengthen familial bonds.
2. Family ties
Keeping alliances WITHIN the family was also important. In the Hebrew Scriptures, we see for instance that Isaac and Jacob married cousins; and Abraham married his half-sister. Cousin marriages remain common throughout today’s world, particularly in the Middle East. Rutgers University anthropologist Robin Fox estimates that the majority of all marriages, throughout history, were between first and second cousins.
3. Polygamy preferred
Monogamy may seem central to marriage now, but in fact, polygamy was common throughout much of human history. Several prominent men in the Hebrew Scriptures were polygamists. Abraham, Jacob, David, Solomon, and others all had multiple wives. In 2 Samuel 12:8, God, speaking through the prophet Nathan, said that if David’s wives and concubines were not enough, God would have given David even more. King Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines according to 1 Kings 11:3.
In fact, although polygamy may have been an ideal that high-status men aspired to, for purely mathematical reasons most men likely had at most one wife. In a few cultures, one woman married multiple men; and anthropologists point out there have even been some rare instances of group marriages.
4. Babies optional
In many early cultures, men could dissolve a marriage or take another wife if a woman was infertile. The early Christian church was a trailblazer in arguing that marriage was not contingent on producing offspring. Stephanie Coontz points out: “The early Christian Church held the position that if you can procreate you must not refuse to procreate. But they always took the position that they would annul a marriage if a man could not have sex with his wife, but not if they could not conceive.”
5. Monogamy established
Monogamy became the guiding principle for Western marriages sometime between the sixth and the ninth centuries. Once again Coontz observes: “There was a protracted battle between the Catholic Church and the old nobility and kings who wanted to say ‘I can take a second wife.”
In Charlemagne’s seventy-odd years of life, he had four wives, six concubines and at least seventeen children. Less is generally known about Charlemagne’s illegitimate children, but contemporary sources indicate that he greatly loved all his children. Many of his illegitimate children attained prominent positions within the Catholic Church.
The Church eventually prevailed, with monogamy becoming central to the notion of marriage by the ninth century.
6. Monogamy lite
Nevertheless, monogamous marriage was very different from the modern conception of mutual fidelity. Although marriage was legally or sacramentally recognized between just one man and one woman, up until the 19th century, Coontz asserts, men were in fact given wide latitude to engage in extramarital affairs. Any children resulting from those affairs, however, would be illegitimate, with no claim to the man’s inheritance. “Men’s promiscuity was quite protected by the dual laws of legal monogamy but tolerance — basically enabling — of informal promiscuity,” Coontz observes. Women caught stepping out, by contrast, faced serious risk and censure.
7. State or church?
Marriages in the West were originally contracts between the families of two partners, with the Catholic Church and the state staying out of it. In 1215, the Catholic Church decreed that partners had to publicly post banns, or notices of an impending marriage in a local parish, to cut down on the frequency of invalid marriages (the Catholic Church eliminated that requirement in the 1980s). Still, until the 1500s, the Church accepted a couple’s word that they had exchanged marriage vows, with no witnesses or corroborating evidence needed.
8. Civil marriage
In the last several hundred years, the state has played a greater role in marriage. For instance, Massachusetts began requiring marriage licenses in 1639, and by the 19th-century marriage licenses were common in the United States.
9. Love matches
By about 250 years ago, the notion of love matches gained traction, Coontz said, meaning marriage was based on love and possibly sexual desire. Mutual attraction in marriage wasn’t considered important, however, until about a century ago. In fact, in Victorian England for instance, many held that women didn’t have strong sexual urges at all.
10. Market economics
Around the world, family-arranged alliances have gradually given way to love matches, and a transition from an agricultural to a market economy plays a big role in that transition, as Coontz points out in her book. Parents historically controlled access to inheritance of agricultural land. But with the spread of a market economy, “it’s less important for people to have permission of their parents to wait to give them an inheritance or to work on their parents’ land,” Coontz observes. “So it’s more possible for young people to say, ‘heck, I’m going to marry who I want.'”
Modern markets also allow women to play a greater economic role, leading to their greater independence. The expansion of democracy, with its emphasis on liberty and individual choice, may also have stacked the deck for love matches.
11. Different spheres
Still, marriage wasn’t about equality until about 50 years ago. At that time, women and men had unique rights and responsibilities within marriage. Marital rape was legal in many states until the 1970s; and married women often could not have credit cards in their own names. Women were entitled to support from their husbands, but didn’t have the right to decide on the distribution of community property. If a wife was injured or killed, a man could sue the responsible party for depriving him of “services around the home;” but women didn’t have the same option.
12. Partnership of equals
By about 50 years ago, the notion that men and women had identical obligations within marriage began to take root. Instead of being about unique, gender-based roles, most partners conceived of their unions in terms of flexible divisions of labor, companionship, and mutual sexual attraction.
13. “Gay marriage” gains ground
Changes in straight marriage paved the way for gay marriage. Once marriage was not legally based on complementary, gender-based roles, gay marriage seemed like a logical next step.
Today, June 26, 2015, the United States Supreme Court ruled that it is legal for all Americans, no matter their gender or sexual orientation, to marry the people they love.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, who authored today’s ruling legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the United States, managed to close his opinion with one of the most beautiful passages about marriage that you’ll likely read in any court case:
No union is more profound than marriage, for it embod- ies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people be- come something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be con- demned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.
Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change comes out officially tomorrow. Today my brief reflection is about climate change in the American Catholic Church.
One can say the waters of change are rising. Or, membership is sinking.
In seven years, the Roman Catholic Church in the USA has lost about 3 million adult members; and the Millennial generation shows no indication (no interest) in rebuilding church membership.
As we boomers (actually I am a pre-boomer, born three years before the boomers started arriving, but have always felt like a boomer) die off, the church will decline even more.
In the last 25 years, the RCC has had a net loss of 2,137 parishes nationwide: In 1990, there were 19,620 U.S. Catholic churches. Today, there are 17,464.
The New York archdiocese announced the consolidation of 112 parishes in October 2014, effectively closing 31 parishes. In December, it announced that it is considering closing another 38 parishes.
The Boston archdiocese has closed more than 125 parishes in the past 25 years. In November 2012, it announced the consolidation of the remaining 288 parishes into 135 “parish collaboratives.”
The Archdiocese of Chicago had 1,000 fewer priests in 2014 than it had in 1980. In last 20 years of Cardinal Francis George’s administration, everything was down: 2,000 fewer women religious, 21 fewer parishes, 74 fewer elementary schools and 11 fewer high schools. There were also 10,000 fewer baptisms, half as many weddings, and 33 percent fewer funerals annually.
Nationwide, Catholic priests may be a disappearing species? Today, there are 3,496 U.S. parishes that have no resident pastor. There are nearly 20,000 fewer priests in the United States than there were 25 years ago.
Half the diocesan priests in the United States will retire in the next five years. Many dioceses in the U.S. do not have sufficient funds to pay their pensions.
Religious orders of brothers and sisters are disappearing even faster than diocesan priests. There are only about 50,000 U.S. sisters today, down from almost 180,000 in 1965.
The only really bright spot in the Roman Catholic vocations picture is the permanent deaconate. Today there are more than 17,000 permanent deacons, up from about 900 in 1975. When it comes to ordained ministry, maybe marriage helps?
In St Louis, at their recently completed Spring General Assembly, the U.S. Catholic bishops voted on and approved a draft of their priorities for the 2017-2020 strategic plan and the “Program of Priestly Formation, 5th edition.” They also voted on English translations of the Old and New Testament Canticles.
In a 165-14-3 vote, the bishops approved a working draft of the Conference’s strategic priorities for their 2017-2020 planning cycle. Input shared by the bishops from the floor will be provided to the various committees as they write the final version. The resulting draft will be presented for approval by the full body of bishops at the November 2015 General Assembly. The priorities are:
Family and marriage
Human Life and Dignity
Vocations and ongoing formation
As a specific agenda item, I would also have liked to see “U.S. Catholic climate change.” On the other hand, perhaps one has to be realistc: according to the Pew Research Center, only 47 percent of U.S. Catholics attribute climate change to human activity. Perhaps only 47% of U.S. Catholic bishops feel the same way about climate change in the church?
(Church trends data, thanks to Pew Research Center and Fr. Peter Daly, Parish Diary, NCR)
On Friday night, July 21, 1967, in a rectory on Detroit’s West side, I was having dinner with a couple college classmates and two of our former professors. It was one of those unpleasantly warm and humid July nights. We were chatting and laughing, when another friend arrived. He had a worried look on his face: “The natives are restless tonight,” he said. “There is something in the air.”
On Saturday night and early Sunday morning, July 23, Detroit’s “12th Street riot” broke out: one of the most violent urban revolts in the 20th century. Detroit has still not yet recovered from that revolution.
I have no desire to be melodramatic, and I am hardly a pessimist; but these days there is indeed something in the air. Revolutions, when they begin, are invisible, at least to the wider society. They start with the slow discrediting and dismantling of old — no longer effective — structures and ideologies.
Along with critical historical observers, like journalist and Presbyterian minister Chris Hedges, I am convinced that a very deep cultural shift — a kind of revolution — is now well underway, in the United States and around the globe. It will end up reconfiguring national governments and international political arrangements, global economics, mass comunications, ethics and moral behavior, and of course religion.
Old ideologies are collapsing, as they should: patriarchy, clerical superiority, gender inferiority, racial and ethnic superiority, and nationalistic superiority in a globally inter-dependant world.
Although leaders in my particular Christian tradition continue to condemn homosexuality as intrinsically disordered — and spend millions of dollars each year trying to convince legislators to vote against it — the latest Pew Research Center report indicates that USA public support for allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally continues its rapid rise: A 57% majority of Americans now favor allowing same-sex marriage. Just five years ago, more Americans opposed (48%) same-sex marriage than supported it (42%).
A key element in shifting American attitudes on same-sex marriage is the strong support for gay rights among younger Americans. Younger men and women have long been more accepting of homosexuality and of same-sex marriage than older generations. As Millennials (who are currently ages 18-34) have entered adulthood, those views have influenced overall public opinion. Nearly three-quarters of Millennials (73%) currently favor legal recognition, with fully 45% saying they strongly favor it.
Are we approaching a socio-cultural breaking point? Quite possibly. Old ideologies are collapsing but the process, for many people, brings anxieties. Polarization is strong and fierce: between races, between religious traditions, in political parties, between the capitalist haves and the no-longer-middle- class have-nots, about migrants and immigration policies, and of course around issues of sex and gender. Bruce-become-Caitlyn Jenner is but a small example.
To begin with, whether people want to admit it or not, racism and prejudice are still very much an issue in the United States, where every 28 hours a person of color, usually a poor person of color, is being killed with lethal force — and, of course, in most of these cases they are unarmed. People march in the streets and people protest; and yet the killings don’t stop. I still remember — during the first year that Mr. Obama was President — a big sign put up in a field not far from where I grew up: “We used to hang Niggers,” it said “but now we put them in the White House.” I doubt that sentiments have changed that much today…..While people of color make up about 30 percent of the United States’ population, they account for more than 60% of those imprisoned. Pale-faced people are less crime-prone?
And then of course we have our exaggerated American gun culture. A few weeks ago a Catholic priest in Lansing, Michgan blessed his parishioners’ hand guns. I am not surprised.There are some 310 million firearms in the United States, including 114 million handguns, 110 million rifles, and 86 million shotguns. There is no reliable data on the number of military-style assault weapons in private hands, but the working estimate is about 1.5 million. The United States has the highest rate of gun ownership in the world. I sometimes fear that our US addiction to gun violence marks a nation in terminal decline. (No. I am not anti-American; but I am a deeply concerned American.)
Yes there is something in the air; and we can begin now to take some prophetic and protectve measures by moving away from some of the old ideologies that had maintained our cultural status quo. A good starting point would be to throw-out the old “just-world ” theory.
According to the “just-world” theory, the world is basically just and people get what they deserve. A couple years ago an outoken archbishop, whom I know, proclaimed that when gays come down with AIDS they are getting just what they deserve, due to their disordered sexual behavior. A lot of contemporary Roman Catholic bishops would agree with him. (Perhaps even the ones who are actively but clandestinely gay?)
If one believes that the world is always fair, one can explain or rationalize away just about every prejudice and every injustice: usually by blaming the victim. A local politician asserted not so long ago that young women, for instance, who get raped, are sexually abused because of their suggestively indecent dress. Full of such political wisdom, he also asserted that people live in poverty because they are too lazy to work…..
More just-world ideology. If the Inquisition burned heretics, they only got what they deserved. In Reformation Germany, Catholics burned Lutherans and Lutherans burned Catholics. They all got what they deserved, depending on where one lived. Fascism was a just-world theory. If Jews died in the concentration camps, they got what they deserved. The point is not simply that good people get the good things, but that bad people get bad things. Neoclassical economics, our principal source of economic policy norms, is a just-world theory. As the economist Milton Friedman said: “The ethical principle that would directly justify the distribution of income in a free market society is, ‘To each according to what he and the instruments he owns produces.’”
We can only hope that Christian churches will recognize the signs of the times and become prophetic voices in contemporary society. Perhaps they can discover, in their own traditions, the very things that people today are yearning for so passionately: a sense of meaning, purpose, and direction in their lives.
There are of course other dangerous ideologies that we need to combat, during this time of great cultural shift. When people sense their world is collapsing around them, they often grasp, without much thought, the most convenient ideology or fundamentalism. Without thoughtful consideration of where we are and where we want to go, our cultural shift can easily turn into a very disasterous climate change.
Among today’s dangerous ideological groups, the people I fear most are the “anti-government” militia people. Put a gun in their hands and you will have many a sleepless night.
Whenever there’s an instance of police brutality, whether real or imagined, one inevitably finds someone from “Cop Block,” “Open Carry,” or some other fanatical group, who tries to use the situation to promote an anti-government agenda. These people really don’t want police reform and police accountability. Their goal is to smear all law enforcement and abolish the police. They want nothing more than a society in which they alone can impose their own beliefs on people, at the barrel of a gun…..and many of them claim, of course, to be devout Christians. In the same way that IS militants claim to be devout Muslims.
When “something is in the air,” the churches have a lot of contemporary-reality prophetic work to do. They need to reassess their own mission and focus. It is no mystery that one of the main reasons that so many people are distancing themselves from churches these days is because they find them more interested in addressing all the old questions that no one is really asking.
Unfortunately, church members and church leaders have often tended to think of Divine revelation as something over and done. That however is only part of the Christian picture.
If we truly understand and believe what Jesus said, the Divine — also and still — reveals itself to humans directly and intensely in the happenings of the contemporary moment. We need to pay attention to the signs of the times. We need to continually probe and discover more authentically who Christ is for people today, how the Divine is disclosed in contemporary life, and how we can commit ourselves in ever new ways to Christian ministry and mission
When “something is in the air” and short-sighted (and occasionally craz) people are trying to push us in all directions, we need to critically reflect, to listen carefully; and then, hand in hand, to move ahead.