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Photos and Impact Story #2 from Empower’s July 2012 Africa trip

Below are some more photos from our July trip. Here is our impact story #2.
This is a little story but put it into its context of a much bigger story that cost nearly a million lives.
One pastor who attended the seminar in Rwanda had been separated from his wife for more that 15 years because of the genocide (no doubt they were from opposing ethnic groups in the conflict). They were finally reunited but faced a lot of discouragement from the pastor’s fellow Christians, who argued that he should not take her back as he could not trust what she had been doing during those years they were separated.
Encouraged by the seminar’s message on marriage, the pastor decided not to listen to what other people were saying. He committed himself to love his wife more and without regret.

Setting up for Kigali conference with IJM staff
Setting up for Kigali conference with IJM staff
Scripture Union, site of Rwanda seminar
Sarah Nutter, translator Antoinette, Carrie Miles

The study guide in Kinyarwanda!
Kigali seminar
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Impact report #3 — Highlights from Empower’s July 2012 trip to Africa

I was invited to present two plenary sessions at the international conference of Christians for Biblical Equality. My second session addressed the widely held belief that God cursed the first woman (Eve), and therefore all women, after humankind’s Fall from grace in Genesis 3.  That the woman was cursed is not an unusual belief even in the United States.  Americans don’t normally practice witchcraft, however, and so don’t understand the full meaning of what it means to be cursed. In societies that still use curses, the words pronounced as a curse are believed to come literally true. If a father says to a child, “You will never amount to anything,” or if someone hires a witchdoctor to curse a neighbor whom he envies, everyone expects those cursed to sicken, lose their possessions, fail their exams, and otherwise wither away.

So when Genesis 3:16 is believed to be a curse from God, women appear doomed to fulfill its words: Woman must bear children in sorrow, serve men as work donkeys, and also as their sexual property. Further, if woman is cursed, she no longer shares in the blessings given to both man and woman in Genesis 1–dominion over the earth, children, and every good thing for food. If any particular woman has access to more than the necessities of life (and sometimes not even that), it is entirely at the pleasure of her husband.

Imagine what it means for a woman to believe that God is trying to hurt her, that God wants her to be treated as an inferior, and that God wants her to suffer. A cursed person has no claim to better treatment. Further, how hard will even Christian men work to increase the welfare of women when everyone, even the women, believe that God doesn’t want any better for them?

The biggest surprise in the New Man, New Woman, New Life seminar is the study on Genesis 3. We point out that a careful reading of Genesis 3 reveals that only 2 things were cursed: the serpent and the ground. We teach that the bad things that God says will happen to the woman and the man, including the rupture in their relationship, are consequences of humankind’s choosing to live outside of God’s abundant provision. The human beings were not cursed, not even the woman! (In one of the Bondo seminars, the group gasped audibly when Paul Ololo, who was debriefing this study, said that God did not curse the woman.) Instead, God wants to restore them both to the blessings for which He created them.

I first taught this interpretation of Genesis 3 in 2007 in Matana, Burundi. There was a lot of surprise expressed by the audience, and I wondered if they really understood what I said. I got my answer when the group reassembled after lunch. As we reconvened, a choir sprung up and began to sing in the local language. There was not a choir scheduled, but I thought nothing of it. Then my translator leaned over and whispered, “They are singing about when King Balak sent Balaam to curse the children of Israel.” Do you remember the story? God did not want his people cursed, and sent an angel to block Balaam’s path, but no one saw it except the ass Balaam was riding. Balaam, impatient with his balking beast, beat the animal until it finally turned and spoke to him. The lesson gleaned from the ass and the angel, and the title of my talk at CBE, is the song’s refrain:

“You can’t curse what God has blessed.”
God created us all in his image, and blessed, male and female. God intended us for blessing, not curses. You can’t curse what God has blessed.

“Your lectures in Limuru were excellent….When you said that ‘You can’t curse what God has blessed,’ I felt uplifted and a big burden taken away from me.  This was excellent and good news to me.”–conference participant Christine Omolo.

CBE poster

Empower team at CBE conference
Empower/Uganda president Margaret with Ugandan ladies performing a cultural dance
Bishop Johannes (our host in Bondo) speaking at conference

Carrie receiving CBE’s Lifetime Achievement Award from CBE president Mimi Haddad

Frank Tweheyo’s Report from Nigeria

By Frank Tweheyo: Feb 5th, 2012, found Phobice and me with our good friends Pastor Francis and Dorothy in Kigali, Rwanda. Francis is also our Empower contact in Rwanda. We preached for him that Sunday, having been dropped by Ben (a British missionary to our church) at the Katuna border that morning. After Sunday service we relaxed with Francis and family, who dropped us at the Kigali Airport early Monday morning.

Rwanda Air flew us to Lagos, Nigeria. We were met by Pastor Leo, a friend of Rev. Joses Hizkiah, our Lagos contact. He helped us get to the airport for local flights where we caught the last plane for the day to Benin City.

Our good friend, Rev. Godwin Chika was at the airport to meet us. Rev. Chika has been interested in Empower since 2008, and was our chief host in Nigeria.

Lo and behold, RAIN ! After two months without rain in Kabale, a welcoming rain was very refreshing and also prophetic for fruitful time in Nigeria. As we finished saying our last prayers at the end of that week, it rained again. We believe it was God’s welcome and stamp of approval!

Rev. Chika helped us find a good hotel, Doris Dey (which I recommend for future Empower teams) and we had a good deserved rest. Nigeria is generally hot and so the hotel rooms have fans and AC and a powerful generator to cure the great Nigerian disease of power (electricity) cuts.

Rev. Chika had arranged for us to speak at a gathering of pastors (the United Pastors Prayer Association, which has about 200 members) which we did Tuesday morning. We introduced Empower, gave an overview sermon, shared from the Word of God and distributed Empower brochures. There was scramble for the brochures since we had few. We also shared our program for the rest of the week with them. Some of these pastors joined us Thursday to Saturday as well as some from Pastor Chika’s ministry, God’s Family Bible Church(es).

Thursday 9th to 11th were very exciting days. By Saturday we had nearly 50 pastors and leaders at the seminar, some of whom had just attended only on Saturday because they are workers.

I want to thank God for Apostle Chika. He is a great man of God and a great mobilizer. He made sure everything was in place and on time.

The first day of the training we put people in groups as they came and they began the introductory discussion questions, as follows:

1. What are the challenges of Christian marriage
Some of the responses: Lack of love in the couple, marriage based on infatuation, immaturity leading to early divorce, comparing partners with other people, lack of forgiveness, sexual denial leading to extra-marital sexual affairs (rampant in the society), lack of communication, favoring some children above others, usually boys over girls…the list goes on and on.


2. What customs interfere with Christian marriage today?
Some responses: Traditional beliefs persist even when one turns Christian, men given prominence, woman a work donkey, in-law demands on the wife, like doing work for them even when pregnant or sick, no welcome in family meetings with the woman regarded as a foreigner.

3. How is modernity and western Influence affecting marriages
This generated the greatest concern and debate. People thought the results of western influence on marriage are more negative than positive. The list is too long but few examples are: dressing code changed, with a lot of immodest dress, especially by women; economic translocations, with men going to work in far places including abroad leaving wife to fend for family; pornography; homosexuality; contract marriages; divorce; e-marriages; carefree life in parents and children…list goes on and on.

4.  What are the burdens of women in our customary culture?
Women have no voice, position or inheritance. Widow neglect and property confiscation at the demise of a husband; delay in marriage due to dowry; cohabiting rampant.  In some cultures women can’t eat certain parts of a cow except the bottom part (call it the anus)!! Woman is a slave, a. work machine. She works for money and the husband takes it for his pleasure. If you can’t produce a boy you are not a woman. And in some churches, women are not recognized in ministry.

For the next three days, pastors kept coming and more were added every day.

People were so interested in our small group approach, as they discussed issues in depth. All could participate and teach it there and then.

The most surprises (as usual) were about Gen 1, 2, and 3: Man and woman created equal, Adam and Eve (man and woman) being together as woman was being tempted, the debate on who or what was cursed and who or what was not – this all generated a lot of debate and the AHA AHA!!! phenomenon that has now become a signature tune for Empower trainings.

At the end of three days, there was excitement among pastors. They convened a meeting without my input and decided to meet in March and lay strategies of taking this message to all churches. Pastor Chika said he will teach it to the church systematically. Rev. Robinson who owns a bible school would like us to give him permission to add the New Man, New Woman, New Life manual to his curriculum.

We got invitations to take this teaching to towns like Ekpoma (we had one delegate, Pastor Dabala , from there) and to different states where Rev. Chika has churches.

We preached in God’s Family Bible Church on Sunday 12th Feb attired in Ugandan traditional attire and really enjoyed the typical Nigerian dance. The week ended with a sumptuous meal of Egusi (melon) soup and foo foo, a wonderful bread made of cassava and yam. It was truly a refreshing week!

The next day, Monday 13th Feb, we traveled back to Lagos by bus and enjoyed the country side. We were received by Pastor Leo, who had received us the previous Monday from Mutala Mohammed International Airport in Lagos. We next met Rev. Joses Hizkiah and his wonderful wife Love, who gave us a great lunch. We were also received by Rev. Simeon Folorunsho who together with Rev. Joses and Pastor Leo united to become our hosts for that week.

Keep watching for the next part of our report.

Great excitement teaching biblically-based gender equality in Nigeria

From Pastor Frank Michael Tweheyo, Empower’s African Program Director, currently in Lagos, Nigeria, with his wife and co-worker, Phobice:

Yesterday we spoke in ministers’ meeting and gave overview of the book, and it was well received! God has really given us breakthrough in Nigeria. It is unprecedented to speak in two cities in about a week’s timeto pastors assembled. Talk of God’s divine appointment and favor! As a pastor I know it is not easy to get many pastors assembled in a city at a go. It takes the grace of God !

The slow start and anxiety has been overcome and we are on a good footing now.

Yesterday pastors agreed that marriage and family are at critical stage in history and need to be urgently addressed. Today in the program we had 38 including a doctor (PHD) (we had two in Benin, one a practicing medical doctor who is also a pastor) There was great excitement as we did the preliminary questions but more so when we got to Genesis 2 and 3. Surprises of ezer kenegdo vs eben as well as the nakedness and unashamedness of man and woman in Ideal marriage relationship; the Adam-Eve being together in the garden at temptation and the issue of who was cursed and who was not generated alot of Aha! phenomenon!

I can’t get tired seeing people get these things for the first time after resisting and then being convinced from the bible of these age long truths! The laughter, the joy, excitement… Pastor Leo, one of the organizers, came to where we are staying this afternoon and said.. ‘Pastor Frank, this is so deep! I can’t imagine how I have been in ministry for over 15 years and all studies I have done yet i have never seen these things. It is amazing!’

Rev. Joses Hizkiah who is co-ordinating for us told participants as we closed for the day, ‘Do you see that there is a lot hidden beyond our smiling faces yet we hide so many failures in our families and marriages in the name of culture! I have found out many things I am going to rectify, I urge you to do the same!’  Very good his wife was also present.

We are continuing tommorrow and Saturday. We believe for the best. To God be the Glory! Thanks Carrie for trusting us to bring this to Nigeria. I know God used you to release us and so thank you for obeying him. You will not regret! Frank

Update from David Wanyonyi in Kenya

From Apostle David Wanyonyi, Kenya:

This is the report from Kuria District Kenya NMNW Seminar which was done from 30th -1st Feb 2012.I thank God that He broke down the cultural strongholds of how men treat women.There was a strong conviction from men that what they had been doing was not according to the teachings of the Bible. Because of this culture women have been treated as inferior in the homes and community.

 What I thank God most is that men were open and receptive and not defensive regarding the teachings on the equal worth of men and women.I learned that the women and men did not have a good association in communication and they were ashamed to sit together the first day. But on the second day the Lord broke the shame and they were together even discussing together. … I literally saw men confessing and shedding tears before their wives and asking God to forgive them. When the women saw their men crying before them as they repented, they also broke into tears. At the end of the day there was a joy that I had never experienced since I started teaching the New Men, New Woman, New Life study material.

I had 75 people in attendance and we were blessed of the Lord from the teachings. Pray for my next sminar in Trans nzoia on 23-25 Feb 2012 that the Lord will provide all the finances needed for the seminar. Pray also that the Swahili Translation be printed out for many people need the Swahili Study Manual. any ministry and Churches are willing to invite us again for such seminars in future for the glory of God.

May the Lord bless you and give you safe trip in Haiti,so that you can empower the people in Haiti for the glory of God.We are looking forward to see you in July 2012 for the seminar in Limuru.  I will encourage pastors and  church leaders from Western Kenya to attend the seminar when you come to Limuru Kenya. By doing so,you will empower them and in return they will empower their people at home when they return. May the almighty God grand you the favor you need and all the provision from Him.  Looking forward to hear what the Lord is doing in Haiti and Nigeria with Pastor Frank. Yours in His divine perfect plan,

 

Apostle David Wanyonyi, EMPOWER, NORTHERN KENYA.

Haiti

The Empower team (Wayne Pelly, Kristina Sachs, and Liz Guy) and I returned Thursday night from 10 days in Haiti. I am happy to say that there has been much progress since the earthquake two years ago. Our host, Betty Prophette, of Haitian Christian Mission, took us on a tour of Port-au-Prince last Saturday and was happy to point out many spots that had once been tent cities that were now cleared and returned to being parks. There is a lot of new construction and on-going construction.

Empower conducted two seminars in Fond-Parisien, a small town about 45 minutes from Port-au-Prince and about 7 miles from the border with the Dominican Republic. The seminars went really well, with all participants eager to teach the New Man, New Woman material in their congregations. Kristina Sachs will return with a team to conduct more seminars in a few months. Wayne Pelly will come in 2013 to conduct a master class. Wayne preached in Port-au-Prince at a service that began at 6:30 AM! I was fortunate to preach in the church next door to where we were staying at 9:00 AM. There were 500 people in attendance! I will post my sermon on You Tube soon.

I went on this trip to work on adapting the New Man, New Woman material to Haiti. I was surprised to find that while Haiti looks like Africa (similar building construction, obviously people of African-ancestry), culturally it is more like France than Africa. While different, there are still many challenges to the Christian family in Haiti, and we look forward to working further with the Haitian people.

We absolutely love Betty Prophette and so many of the people we worked with!

Thanks to all of you who supported this trip.

Empower update from Kenya

From Apostle David Wanyonyi, Kenya:
This is the report from Kuria District Kenya NMNW Seminar which was done from 30th -1st Feb 2012.I thank God that He broke down the cultural strongholds of how men treat women.There was a strong conviction from men that what they had been doing was not according to the teachings of the Bible. Because of this culture women have been treated as inferior in the homes and community.
What I thank God most is that men were open and receptive and not defensive regarding the teachings on the equal worth of men and women.I learned that the women and men did not have a good association in communication and they were ashamed to sit together the first day. But on the second day the Lord broke the shame and they were together even discussing together. … I literally saw men confessing and shedding tears before their wives and asking God to forgive them. When the women saw their men crying before them as they repented, they also broke into tears. At the end of the day there was a joy that I had never experienced since I started teaching the New Men, New Woman, New Life study material.
I had 75 people in attendance and we were blessed of the Lord from the teachings. Pray for my next sminar in Trans nzoia on 23-25 Feb 2012 that the Lord will provide all the finances needed for the seminar. ray also that the Swahili Translation be printed out for many people need the Swahili Study Manual. any ministry and Churches are willing to invite us again for such seminars in future for the glory of God.
May the Lord bless you and give you safe trip in Haiti,so that you can empower the people in Haiti for the glory of God.We are looking forward to see you in July 2012 for the seminar in Limuru.  I will encourage pastors and  church leaders from Western Kenya to attend the seminar when you come to Limuru Kenya. By doing so,you will empower them and in return they will empower their people at home when they return.
May the almighty God grand you the favor you need and all the provision from Him.  Looking forward to hear what the Lord is doing in Haiti and Nigeria with Pastor Frank. Yours in His divine perfect plan,
Apostle David Wanyonyi, EMPOWER, NORTHERN KENYA.

My talk at Veritas part 2

2. What is the root cause of the problem?

In part two I weave my socioeconomic approach to understanding the cultural dilemma of sexuality with the Biblical explanation of what went wrong between men and women.

I talked about the Creation Ideal in Genesis 1 and 2 earlier. Genesis 3 is the story of humankind’s Fall from grace. Even if you never went to Sunday School, you know the basics: Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, the serpent, the forbidden fruit. But beyond the Eve and the Apple story, the question posed in Creation is one that every human being has to face: Will we live life according to the flesh, on our own terms, seeking to fulfill our own needs in our own way? Or will we live in faith, in relationship with God?

Until and unless we return to the relationship with God and with each other for which we were intended, the Creation account tells us that we will be subject to the natural world.In Genesis 3 we see the first man and woman as stand-ins for all of us, as they decide that they want to be in charge and independent. In consequence, they have to leave the Garden where everything is provided for them and no choice is necessary, and live instead in a world in which the ground brings forth weeds and thorns.

Here is where the economic analysis comes in.  The field of economics is defined as the study of “choices made under conditions of scarcity.” Before the Fall, an economic analysis of life in the Garden makes no sense, because there was no scarcity.

After the Fall, economic analysis of human life becomes possible. People live in a world full of thorns and weeds, and they have to make trade-offs in the face of scarcity. Scarcity means that you don’t have enough, so you have to decide how you are going to use what you have got. And I’m not talking about just money, but also your time, energy, interests, etc.

The need to make these trade-offs is quite pronounced in subsistence economies. Subsistence means that you are just barely getting enough to survive on. Until the Industrial Revolution (dated to about 1800), most people lived at subsistence level (and still do in the less-developed world).

As a result of this poverty and struggle to survive, on the most basic material level, for most of history, the ‘sexual relationships’ that people were having were not really relationships at all, but economic transactions, even within marriage.  In the agriculturally-based economies that characterized much of history, everything that you consumed was produced in a household. This required the labor of a lot of people, and children were vitally needed to provide that labor. Children were also a source of security and men needed them as much as women did. Women spent most of their lives pregnant, nursing, or trying to get pregnant.
But women didn’t get to just take care of themselves or the children but had to do a lot of other work. Human beings very quickly discover that there are things that you just can’t do when you are pregnant or nursing. Doing work that is too heavy or strenuous might cause you to lose the pregnancy or your breast milk.

So women become what economists call ‘domestically-specialized’. They do the things that are compatible with child bearing – cooking, spinning, weaving, gardening, caring for the sick and aged. Any tasks left over after women do all they can in the presence of children become the work of men. Thus the tasks that require power outside of the household, become ‘men’s work’ – women were simply too busy in the household to do them.

The sexual division of labor has two consequences: One, on the levels of economics, politics, and even personality, women became powerless relative to men. Two, men become subject to the male-status hierarchy or patriarchy. Patriarchy is usually thought of as the subordination of women to men, but it is actually the rule of a few men over everyone else, male and female. Where a man falls in that hierarchy became extremely important in procuring the resources needed to live, so social status came to play a big part in men’s lives.

Because the critical task of child bearing leaves women powerless relative to men, virtually every society has some kind of marriage contract to protect women in her role of child bearer.  The marriage contract provided that a man can’t just use up a woman and then replace her with someone younger, which is his ‘natural’ tendency.

This should give you a hint that marriages in pre-industrial economies were not love matches, but were arranged by fathers to advance their own agendas, with little regard for the feelings of the bride and groom. Men expected children, food (farming is women’s work until the invention of the plow), and sex from the women they married. Women expected protection and men to provide labor for ‘men’s work. They preferred men high in social status because the man’s social status, and therefore ability to bring in resources, depended on it.

But that was it. Marriage was not expected to be about companionship, romantic love, or even about sexual attraction. Further, people had more children than they could care for in even very basic ways, because the purpose of having children is for the children to care for their parents.

It’s not that couples never loved each other or their children. It’s just that feelings were not culturally or economically important, and sometime considered inappropriate.

This historic pattern of relationships based on the need for children began to change a couple hundred years ago with the Industrial Revolution. With the Industrial Revolution, more and more of the things that people needed to survive were being produced outside of the  household. As this happened, the birth rate dropped like a rock, as people didn’t need all these children anymore and they had to educate them, which was expensive.  For the first time, people could begin to think about forming these life-time relationships on a basis other than material considerations.

By the nineteenth century, the compelling question was, ‘Do you marry for love or money?’  People began to ask, can you base a relationship on romantic attraction rather than economic need?  Read Jane Austin.  Eventually, economic development allowed this to happen, and marriage gradually came to be based not on the need for children and sexual complementarity, but on sexual attraction and romantic love.

Here is where we meet the first partial answer to the question of ‘what are the root causes of problems with modern sexual relationships?’ Romantic love – that overwhelming feelings of ‘being in love’– alone is a weak base on which to build a life-long commitment, in part because, all other things being equal, that overwhelming feeling only lasts a year or so. Unfortunately, modern culture tells us that we must be ‘in love’ with our mate, and that when that overwhelming feeling fades and sexual attraction fades, we ‘owe it to ourselves’ and to our partner to end the relationship and find someone who loves us properly.

By the middle of the twentieth century, however, sexual relationships took another twist. In the US, by mid-20th century, there was very little or nothing being produced in the household. Children became a huge expense rather than an economic necessity. The birth rate continued to drop.  Eventually it became more economical for women to get a job and buy the things they needed rather than produce them themselves at home.

The decline in the economic value of children had far-reaching repercussions. If marriage was a contract to protect women in their child bearing capacity, and children no longer have any economically value, men can no longer be forced to make a legal vow to care for a woman for the rest of her life in exchange for her sexual products. And if marriage is no longer economically valuable there was no longer a need for traditional sexual morality.

Often people thought that traditional sexual morality and the sexual double standard came about because men wanted to be sure that their wives’ children were their own. No doubt concerns about paternity play a part in this. But I think the sexual double standard is due more to the truth of the old adage, “No one buys a cow when he can get the milk for free.” Although the woman’s productive contribution within the marriage would at least equal, and
arguably even exceed, that of her husband, traditional marriage requires an
upfront transfer or commitment of resources from the man to the woman.

But how to get the man to make that commitment? The problem that women faced in the past was that if any one held out for marriage before she gave him her services, all other things being equal, the man’s first impulse would be to go looking for another, more obliging, woman.  So in order for societies to survive, in this kind of world all women needed to all agree that no woman would give away her sexual services without marriage.  I call this a ‘sexual cartel’. Women who chiseled on the cartel were sanctioned and severely marginalized, and sometimes even executed.

So in the 60s, with children no longer economically important, traditional sexual morality broke down, and the sexual revolution began. In the sixties, public opinion polls showed this huge decline in the number of people who thought that ‘pre-marital sex’ was always wrong, and among the young, behavior followed suit. Men have never had a problem with sex outside of marriage, in large part b/c the traditional sexual double standard always allowed, even expected them, to have it. But in the sixties, large numbers of young women were in a position to consider this for the first time.

With the movement of production out of the household, sexual complementarity was no longer necessary, and in fact committed relationships became very costly. In many ways, we just don’t need each other anymore. Today, we can have a perfectly comfortable life without another person involved.  If you are cold, you don’t need children to gather firewood, a man to chop it, or a wife to tend the fire. You just move a little switch on the wall, and you are comfortable again.

In fact, having another person around may add to our domestic burden rather than alleviate it. Women ask themselves if they really want a live-in man who can’t pick up his own socks. Men ask if they really want to give up half their toys to support a wife and children.

In addition, people today have two careers to accommodate. A committed relationship may require relocation, which one of the partners might not be willing or able to undertake. Busy with their work, modern couples may not be able to spend much time together. That research on sex on campus found that college students in relationships felt that they took too much time, time they didn’t have.

Now, in the 21st century, this ability to live completely independent of another person means that the only thing men and women seem to need each other for is sex – and with Internet porn, maybe not even for that. Hook up culture is the result: sex without any relationship at all.

My talk at the John Hopkins Veritas Forum, part 1

Pre-forum Publicity

Is Paradise Lost? In Search of Sexual Commitment

This is the text of the talk I gave at the Johns Hopkins Veritas Forum, Baltimore, Maryland, October 19, 2011.

The forum was a panel discussion featuring myself and Dr. Christopher Ryan.
Dr. Ryan has published a book, Sex at Dawn, arguing that monogamy is not ‘natural’ and just doesn’t work. He represented the ‘naturalistic’ or evolutionary approach to understanding human sexuality. I represented the
socioeconomic and Christian approaches to understanding modern problems with sexual relationships.

We each answered three questions. Today I am posting my answer to the first question.

Carrie at Veritas

Christopher Ryan, moderator Carsten Vala, and Carrie Miles at the JH Veritas Forum

1. What is the problem with modern relationships?

Finding happiness in sexual relationships has never been guaranteed in any place or time, but I think it is a particularly serious problem for the current generation of young adults, and will continue to be a problem in the future.

One way to think about the problems with modern relationships is in terms of the collapse of community that was the result of the Industrial Revolution.

Unlike earlier generations, young people today face a vast cultural divide when it comes to sex. On one extreme is popular culture, which on college campuses takes the form of what is known as hookup culture. At the other extreme is the
conservative religious reaction to the sexual revolution, which I’m calling the
religious purity movement.

And in the middle, there is nothing.

Which means that if you don’t want to participate in either of these two extremes, there is no place else to go, and no one else there should you get there. The moderate institutions that should be helping single people just don’t know what to say or do for them. Ironically, a large majority of college students today themselves say they prefer a middle ground between these two poles. The new ‘silent majority’ tell researchers that despite the casual insouciance of hookup culture, they really do want meaning in their relationships. But because there is no ‘culture’ or community to support them, they can’t admit it. And if there is no community to support people who want a relationship, how do you meet someone to have a relationship with?

From both a Christian and socioeconomic standpoint, having a real, loving, committed relationship today requires us to purposefully choose values and behaviors that are quite at odds from where the world is pushing us.

Let’s explore a little further the kind of relationships on either side of this divide.

The most common, at least in the popular media, is ‘hooking up’, or casual, relationship-free sex. Hooking up is actually just the college version of where the current socioeconomic forces are driving us as a culture, that is, what I would consider ‘natural’ now. Hooking up is when singles meet at parties, usually with lots of alcohol involved, and then pairing off to have some kind of sexual contact. What is done on a hook up is left purposefully vague, but it can mean kissing or making out, (with or without clothes on), sexual touching, oral sex, or intercourse.

There has been a flurry of research on hooking up in the last few years, and the findings suggest much of what college students think they know about who is doing what is wrong. While hooking up appears to be total freedom and empowerment, these studies show that hook up culture is actually controlling (lots of gossip), contradictory, and kind of crazy-making. Furthermore, the studies uncovered a lot of feelings that people don’t feel safe admitting to their friends: many of the people who hook up actually don’t like it. Lisa Wade’s in-depth study (although with a small sample size) of first year students found that only about 11% of the people who hooked up were really happy with it. 50 % were ambivalent, some having endured some very bad experiences, and about 38% (24% in Donna Freitas’ larger sample) didn’t participate at all. Wade notes that these students still want to have sex, but they are not willing to accept having it under the emotional disconnection of ‘hooking up.’

An example of the kind of dirty secrets being exposed about hooking up: “In public, women maintain a lax attitude about no-strings-attached hookups, but in private, they express ambivalence and even dismay that they allow themselves to be pressured into sexual behaviors that often make them feel used and unhappy” (Freitas, p.99).  Women in particular go along with
doing things they really don’t want to do because they are hoping it will lead
to a real relationship. Unfortunately, while hooking up may lead to a string of
hook ups with the same partner, apparently it rarely leads to a real relationship.

But as Lisa Wade argues, the real problem is not so much hook up behavior, as it is that the culture dominates campus life. There is no alternative, no place else to go to meet people who are interested in something else, at least not among the undergraduates. Hook up culture allows no vision for romance. As Freitas poignantly writes, the most romantic advice book available to singles in hook up culture is Greg Behrendt’s, He’s Just Not That into You.

At the other extreme is the purity movement. Purity culture is usually thought of as the Christian response. This is inaccurate in two ways, however. First, the purity movement can be found not just among Christians but also in the Jewish and Muslim communities.

In many ways, the purity movements are a reaction to the sexual revolution, i.e., many in these groups actually became more conservative than they were before the new sexual norms. I first became aware of this about 15 years ago when my son brought home a book called, I Kissed Dating Goodbye,
by Joshua Harris. Part of it are programs like the ‘Silver Ring Thing,’ in
which fathers give their teenage daughters rings, which the girls wear until
they are married and then present to their husbands as a symbol of their purity.

‘True Love Waits’ is another one. Conferences in which young people take
abstinence pledges became popular. But the purity movement is not just about
waiting until marriage for sex. To be ‘pure’, singles are not supposed to date
or go out with a variety of people, but are supposed to ‘court.’ In courtship,
a young woman waits passively for a man to decide he was interested in marrying her. Ideally, he then asks her father’s permission for a chaste courtship, with marriage as the ultimate goal. The ideal is that the first kiss would be at the marriage altar, or at least, not until engagement.

Purity culture is the norm in some religious colleges, in conservative congregations, and among some of home-schooling groups, but this kind of culture is unrealistic for most people. It only works if you live in a very restricted environment – a community — in which everyone shares the same viewpoint and you can get married relatively young. It makes men and women see each other as a source of temptation and afraid of each other. There are lots of regulation and judgment and policing of each other’s behavior and dress. The sense of guilt that results if an individual is unable to follow the rules alienates him or her from God.

Now the purity culture movement is not nearly as widespread as hooking up. Freitas reports that students on secular college campuses had not even heard of it. But as far as I know, this is the only perspective on sex that is being offered by religion right now. The liberal churches have little to say, except to tell you to do what seems right to you, which is often no help at all. No community.

The second problem with the popular perception of the purity movement as the Christian teachings on sexuality is that the purity movement is one expression of modern cultural Christianity, but is at odds in many ways with primitive or biblical Christianity. In the Song of Solomon, a lovely erotic love poem found in the Old Testament, the female character does not wait passively for a man to notice and court her, but initiates the relationship. She makes her own decision about commitment — her father is not mentioned at all, let alone asked for permission. Similarly, the notion of male authority over women – the father over the daughter until she marries, when she is transferred to the authority of her husband – is not biblical.

Further, the restricted interactions, suspicions between the sexes, and
judgments typical of purity movement are contrary to Jesus’s and Paul’s
examples encouraging men and women to work and socialize together without
sexual thoughts interfering. Jesus also refused to let women be confined to the
narrow social confines of gendered expectation, and spoke freely with
prostitutes and other women whose sexually behavior was very suspect. He was opposed to defining a woman’s worth solely in terms of her sexual ‘purity’ to the exclusion of all other qualities.

But I think the real problem with restoring a biblical model of relationships is
that the more moderate Christian communities also think, or are afraid, that
the purity-extreme beliefs are biblical Christianity, too. That’s why they
aren’t saying anything.

In Search of the Lost Middle

Let’s explore that problem, of the middle shying away from the Bible because of a fear that it does teach the repression of women. The bad news first: As we
begin, we have to recognize that people read the Bible through the eyes of
their own culture, and their own assumption. They translate it through those
eyes, too. Virtually all biblical translations are horribly biased against
women.

So don’t try this at home. (My book, The Redemption of Love, presents a more accurate picture of what the Bible is really saying about sex and gender.)

The good news: The biblical portrayal of sexuality and gender is not about rules, condemnation, judgement, or repression. It is about what is possible for us, about what God intended for us to be to each other when he made our created us as sexual beings.

When Jesus was asked about how the husbands and wives of his day should be interacting, he told his questioners that the way men and women were interacting in his day did not reflect God’s will. Instead, Jesus said, look at God’s intent in Creation.

Since the other speaker on this panel is talking about evolution, I need to say that I’m not going to get into that whole evolution versus creationism argument. The Bible is not a biology textbook but is a spiritual tool intended to teach us about what we can be in our relationship with God and with each other.  If you don’t believe in a seven-day creation, that’s okay, because the Creation accounts are still profoundly meaningful. They aren’t just entertaining ‘just so’ stories but convey a religious truth about human nature, our relationship with God, and our relationship with each other.

The Creation narrative has been badly abused in the battle over gender, but if you read it carefully, you see that:

God created man and woman as equals, with both given dominion over earth and the blessing of children. This may not mean much in the U.S., but in much of Africa, the idea that the earth and one’s children belong to the woman as much as the man is a liberating idea. (Come to think of it, these were radical and liberating ideas in the U.S. not that long ago.)

The Creation account explicitly disallows patriarchy, or the male dominance of women. Couples put each other as first priority before material concerns or before loyalties to one’s family or inheritance prospects.

The ideal relationship is that two people become one flesh, naked and unashamed. This is a relationship of honesty, openness, fearlessness, transparency, sharing, and trust. There are no games, no hiding in shame in the ideal relationship.

Such a relationship is not natural – but it is our heart’s desire.

Coming soon: the next two questions: ‘What is the root Cause of problems in modern relationships?” and “What is the way forward?”