Wednesday, July 9, 2008

family values

What the
says about…

Jesus pointed to His disciples and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in Heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Mt 12:49-50).

What the Bible “REALLY” says about FAMILY VALUES, and what many people think the Bible says about family values are two different things.
Peppy slogans proclaim, “We are family!” It’s a fad to refer to fellow Christians as Brother and Sister such and such. But in practice, this hoopla is usually hypocritical rhetoric. If anyone were to really love his neighbor as himself, he’d be ostracized as an enemy of family values. Today’s family has more in common with ancient Judaism that the new model Christ established.
Jesus made a comment that must have confounded His listeners. “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” He then pointed to His disciples and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in Heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Mt 12:46-50). In one fell swoop, Jesus redefined family.
Jesus redefined what it meant to be a member of the family of God on another occasion. Many believed that just because they were physical descendents of Abraham, this automatically made them members of God’s family and entitled them to eternal life. Jesus acknowledged that they were physical descendants of Abraham. But that didn’t give them a free pass into the Kingdom. If they were really descendents of Abraham, they would do the works Abraham did. In fact, Jesus branded them children of the Devil (Jn 8:31-58).
John the Baptist gave a similar denouncement to unrepentant Jews (Mt 3:7-10). After calling them a brood of vipers, John said, “Do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.”
Paul identified all believers, Jews and Gentiles, as children of Abraham (Gal 3:7).
Jesus was not advocating that we should deny our responsibilities to our earthly families. To the contrary, Jesus criticized the religious leaders for not following the Old Testament command to honor their parents (Mt 15:1-9). Jesus also provided for His mother’s security (Jn 19:25-27). Nevertheless, Jesus was including all believers as His real family because they would spend eternity with Him in Heaven (Mt 12:49-50).
Christians are often closest to their spiritual family. Walking in Christ’s footsteps can cause tension between Christians and non-Christian family members. Jesus came to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. A man’s enemies would be members of his household (Mt 10:35-36).
Peter said to Jesus, “We have left all we had to follow you!” Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth. No one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life” (Lk 18:29).
Peter said all the disciples gave up everything. Peter gave up being a fisherman to become a fisher of men. The passage indicates that at least some, if not all, of the disciples left their wives and families to follow Christ.
Peter was married prior to this. His wife’s mother is referred to earlier (Lk 4:38). Peter had a wife accompany him on his missionary journeys (1Co 9:4; 1Pe 5:13). Whether this is the same wife referred to in Luke 4:38 is not clear. Some suggest the woman referred to in the later texts was simply a female traveling companion, since the Greek word for wife can also be translated “woman.”
Whatever the case, Jesus said if following Him causes us to loose a wife, we will gain many more wives¾not just in the future, but now.
So, first Jesus said everyone who does the will of God is a member of the family of God. Then Jesus said everyone who has left a wife for the sake of the Kingdom would receive many more in this present age. When we combine these two statements, we can only come to one logical conclusion¾all Christian men become married to all Christian women as a result of following Christ.
Of course, most people allegorize this, just like they do with the church being the bride of Christ. But if our marriage to Jesus is just an allegory, then why does Paul get upset with believers for having sex with prostitutes (1Co 6:15)? Paul described the Corinthians as already joined to Christ. To join one’s self to a prostitute was akin to joining Jesus Himself to that prostitute. How is this possible if our marriage to Jesus is just an allegory? If we are literally married to Jesus, then it is also an incontrovertible fact that we are also literally married to one another. To be married means to be united or joined together. It is impossible to be joined to Jesus without also being joined to all other believers. Although author R.C. Sproul would probably disagree that all Christian men are now married to all Christian women, he would at least concede that we are all united. To quote Sproul:

Every individual who is personally united to Christ is at the same time personally united with every other person who is in Christ.[1]

Paul warned husbands and wives not to deprive each other of conjugal duties (1Co 7:5). Isn’t this a clear instruction for all Christians to provide for each other’s sexual needs?
The early church, filled with the Holy Spirit, had everything in common (Ac 2:44). Although the text doesn’t say so, if they had everything in common, wouldn’t everything include wives? Wives were possessions (Ex 20:17). I’m not trying to imply that the early church shared their wives sexually because to do so would probably have been irresponsible since there were no safe and effective means of birth control or ways of preventing the spread of disease. But what if the early church had had access to condoms? Most scientific studies show that quality condoms are almost 100 percent effective if used properly and consistently. What logical reason could there have possibly been for the early church not to share their wives sexually?
The Bible makes it very clear¾all Christians are one big community of believers. Yes, we are family¾“REALLY!” We’re all brothers and sisters and husbands and wives and fathers and mothers if we’re Christians. Regardless of our bloodline, our spiritual bloodline makes us all part of the universal Christian family if we have all been purchased by the blood of Jesus.
According to Harper’s Bible Dictionary, the “New Testament views of the family are somewhat different from those found in the Old Testament.” “Some of Jesus’ sayings subordinate family loyalty to loyalty to the gospel” (Mt 10:34-39; 12:46-50; Mk 3:31-35; Lk 12:49-53). “The traditional view of family was transformed by seeing the Christian community as a new family” (Gal 6:10; Eph 2:19) (p. 303).
The Bible instructs us to prove all things, which means to put all things to the test. We’re to hold on to the good and reject the bad (1Th 5:21-22). Jesus said good trees don’t bear bad fruit, nor do bad trees bear good fruit (Lk 6:43-44). We can determine whether something is good or bad by evaluating the results. Following this biblical mandate, let’s examine the results (fruits) of those who have pioneered alternative family lifestyles. Let’s see if the results have been good or bad.

The Oneida Community¾
Paradise Restored? Or Sodom revisited?
In the mid-eighteen hundreds, John Noyes founded a revolutionary Christian community that practiced group marriage.
Located in Oneida, New York, the community consisted of approximately 150 members¾one third men, one third women, and one third children. In their own words, they were “sober and substantial men and women, of good previous character and position in society.” [2]
According to their beliefs, none of the men had exclusive ownership to any of the women¾every man was married to every woman.
Naturally, they had rules to make their unconventional lifestyle work. Men were not allowed to force themselves on a woman. “No” always meant no. But any man was allowed to sleep with any woman if she consented.
Historians regard this group as one of the most successful communes in history. Unfortunately, after 30 years of harmonious communal relationships in a Utopian setting, the Oneida members were forced to ban due to external persecution.
Detractors denounced them as heathens. In response to their critics, the community vigorously defended their social theories in their publications. They pointed out that they had “conquered and civilized their sexual passions. Otherwise, they could not have survived and prospered for over 30 years.”[3] Detractors accused them of being licentious. Their response was that if they really were licentious, then why was everybody in the community so happy and healthy?
They cordially welcomed visitors, challenging them to examine their fruit. According to Noyes, their fruit spoke volumes. There was social harmony, congenial business practices, and robust health.
Noyes said that jealousy was virtually nonexistent among the members. This evaluation is fairly consistent with other studies done of similar lifestyles today. The following is a testimonial written by one member:

With a strong natural tendency to idolatrous love, the change, which has taken place in my own heart and in the hearts of my companions, seems miraculous. I used to ask myself: “Is it possible for me to ever realize a condition in which I can love all my brothers and sisters and not love some ONE idolatrously?”[4]

Others confessed they had no inkling how splendid life could be until they shared their lives intimately with a wide variety of Christians. Another member writes:

Our sexual fellowship now is as far removed from any approach to carnality as it had previously been removed from Christ. It is a sacrament to us in which we accumulate spiritual vitality in contradistinction to physical waste. My experience has also been that the theory was utterly impractical without the presence of Christ; that like the gospels its benefits can only be appreciated by believers. But no sooner is Christ introduced into the connection than the entire nature of the transaction becomes so changed that the carnal is completely lost in the spiritual. [5]

Monogamous marriage was viewed as a worldly institution, which binds its victims to “cast-iron rules of sexual selfishness.”

Advantages of group marriage
Let’s consider some advantages of group marriage.
In a group marriage, one interacts in a group that is inclusive rather than exclusive. Every man treats every woman as both friend and lover. No one ever lacks attention, companionship, or sex.
Everyone is concerned that everyone’s needs are met, emotionally and otherwise. The goal is for love to flow freely throughout the group. Whenever this goal is not being met, the group makes a conscious effort to remedy the situation.
One goal is to make sure each relationship is equally important, without preferential treatment.
Although no two relationships will ever be the same, each bond of intimacy is special. Everyone has unique strengths and weaknesses to offer.
There is less pressure on a woman to fulfill all the desires of any given man. There is less possessiveness and idolizing of others.
Some sociologists suggest that a main reason for the escalating divorce rate is that people have unrealistic expectations going into marriage. As those expectations are unmet, the seeds of separation are sown.
The current rate of divorce is alarming. An American marriage has about a fifty/fifty chance of remaining intact. In 1996, 2,344,000 weddings were performed, while 1,150,000 divorces and annulments were filed.[6] In 1997, the US figures improved somewhat, with 2,383,700 marriages and 870,600 divorces.[7] In Britain and Whales, there were 272,536 marriages and 146,689 divorces in 1997.[8]
Ironically, Christians are more likely to experience divorce than are non-Christians.

Surprisingly, the Christian denomination whose adherents have the highest likelihood of getting divorced are Baptists. Nationally, 29% of all Baptist adults have been divorced. The only Christian group to surpass that level are those associated with non-denominational Protestant churches: 34% of those adults have undergone a divorce. Of the nation’s major Christian groups, Catholics and Lutherans have the lowest percentage of divorced individuals (21%). People who attend mainline Protestant churches, overall, experience divorce on par with the national average (25%).

Among non-Christian groups the levels vary. Jews, for instance, are among those most likely to divorce (30% have), while atheists and agnostics are below the norm (21%). Mormons, renowned for their emphasis upon strong families, are no different than the national average (24%).[9]

According to a study reported in USA Today, out of all the married people surveyed, 23% of men and 12% of women admitted to an affair.[10] These figures are probably very conservative since some participants were most likely reluctant to admit to an affair.
In group marriage, participants are honest about their desires.
Shared parenting is another big advantage of group marriage. With numerous adults around, children have more role models, and more love. Adults have less burnout. The children do not lose the care and attention of their biological parents. Rather, they gain the care and attention of numerous adults. If a biological parent dies or becomes disabled, there are other adults to fill the gap. Widows and widowers are less likely to be traumatized by the loss of a mate because they have plenty of other mates to meet their needs.
There have been several extensive studies conducted to analyze the psychological effects of group marriage on children. These include studies by Hunt, Constantine and Constantine, and Salsberg. A variety of clinical and field research techniques, including psychological testing, were employed in these studies to assess the outcome. In a comprehensive review and summary of seven separate studies involving more than 150 communal and group-marriage families, a remarkably clear and consistent picture emerged. Contrary to the negative predictions of alarmists, almost all these children experienced a positive outcome. They were happy and positive, with healthy self-images. They were self-reliant yet cooperative. They displayed more competence than competitiveness. And they were friendly and energetic, brimming with self-confidence. Any fears concerning resultant major emotional damage can be laid to rest.
There are many economic advantages to group marriage. Sharing resources, such as food, housing, transportation, and appliances can be extremely advantageous for those who are willing to share in a group setting. Dividing tasks can make work fun and easy. These benefits were commonly reported at Oneida. A small group of loving and well-coordinated partners divided up tasks that could have overwhelmed one or two people. Ecclesiastes 4:9 says that two are better than one. And verse 12 says that a cord of three strands is not quickly broken. The biblical principle of “strength in numbers” definitely described the Oneida group.

A modern-day lesson from Kerista
In more recent times, we can learn from both the successes and shortcomings of a modern-day commune known as Kerista (1971-1991).
Michael S. Cummings, a self-described conscientious communal scholar, studied the Keristas, a communal group in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco. In 1980, the group was featured in Psychology Today and members were guests on the Phil Donahue Show. It was hailed as an exciting, fluctuating, urban, group-marriage community. In the beginning of 1992, the group voted unanimously to disband.
On a positive note, their lifestyle seemed to be working. They maintained sleeping rotations, members expressed sexual satisfaction with the system, and Cummings and his crew sensed little jealousy. Cummings noted that friendships seemed strong among long-time members.
Moreover, Cummings observed that… “…the regularity and variety of sexual activity seemed to have resulted in a high level of personal gratification and freedom from sexual tension without undermining the necessary work ethic.” (p. 69)
So what went wrong? The group expelled their leader Jud for becoming too negative and too controlling. In July 1992, Cummings visited some of the ex-members, who became a new ten-person polyfidelitous commune relocated in Hawaii. According to one member, they had weathered Kerista’s demise “without missing a single sleeping rotation.” The members all seemed optimistic about their future as polyfidelitous lovers.[11] So the downfall of Kerista should not be seen as a failure of group marriage and sexual sharing, but rather as a caution light warning us against cults. Many ex-members described life dominated by Jud as cult-like, while affirming that their sleeping rotation was a success.

Principles to making group marriage work
To make group marriages work, a few biblical principles need to be employed. One of those principles is found in Exodus 21:10. In ancient Israel, if a man took a second wife, he was not to deprive his first wife of food, clothing, or sexual rights. The better a man’s primary relationship is, the better the odds that adding to that primary relationship will be a rewarding experience. However, if a primary relationship is on the skids, then group marriage is probably not the best solution.
Since Christians should have a reputation for honesty, they must not forsake their vows¾marital or otherwise. It is dishonest and detrimental to a marriage to withhold sex from a spouse while having a secret affair. However, marital vows need not be set in stone. As long as couples provide for each other’s sexual needs while engaging in consensual sex with others, there is no cheating. If I pay my rent on time, I am not cheating on my landlord by spending other money elsewhere. Marital agreements can be renegotiated to adapt to changing circumstances, just like other agreements.
Before admitting anyone new into a group marriage situation, all new applicants should be required to get a check-up to prevent any sexually transmitted diseases from infesting the group. Consistent and proper use of quality condoms should also be a consideration.
Can casual sex be ethical?
What if a single person doesn’t want the entanglements of marriage, conventional or otherwise? Is it permissible for that person to enjoy casual sex? According to Paul, single people have a better opportunity to devote more time to godly pursuits, while a married person has more distractions (1Co 7:32-35). Regarding sexual matters, Paul said, “everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial” (1Co 6:12). So, whenever we encounter a sexual situation, the very first question we must always ask is whether or not this experience will be beneficial for everyone concerned. A Christian must never engage in any action, sexual or otherwise, which does not take into consideration the welfare of all parties involved. This applies to couples not looking for secondary relationships who simply enjoy sex with a variety of partners.

Another variety of non-monogamy is swinging, referred to by insiders as “The Lifestyle.” Swinging has been defined by some as “recreational sex for couples where the two primary partners agree to casual sex with other couples as long as there is no emotional involvement.” Some claim that polyamory is different from swinging because polyamory includes emotional involvement along with the sex. However, some swingers do get emotionally involved with other swingers. Also, those involved in polyamory do not always get emotionally involved with their secondary sex partner.
Family expert Brian Gilmartin studied 100 swingers and found that swingers seldom experience jealousy when their mates were having sex with someone else.[12] He also found that not only do swingers have more sex than non-swingers (no surprise there), but they also have more sex and better sex with their mates than non-swingers. Of those surveyed, twenty-three percent of swingers had sex an average of six or more times per week, while only six percent of the non-swingers surveyed had an equal amount of sex. Thirty-two percent of swingers and only fourteen percent of non-swingers had sex 4 to 5 times per week. Conversely, only 11% of swingers as compared to 48% of non-swingers had sex once or less a week. Swingers were also more likely to describe their marriages as “very happy.”[13]
Proponents of swinging, such as The Liberated Christians, claim that the divorce rate among swingers is dramatically lower than among non-swingers.[14] It will probably come as a surprise to many that several studies have found that swinging often has positive effects on the marriages of swingers. For example, Gilmartin (1974, 1975) found that approximately 85% of his sample of swingers felt that swinging posed no real threat to their marriages. The majority felt that their marriages had improved.[15]
In 1974, Varni interviewed 16 couples who were actively in swinging and found that half believed that swinging led to an increased feeling of warmth, closeness, and love between the husband and wife. This feeling was reported to be strongest after swinging with someone else.[16] In 1988, Levitt found that almost three-fourths indicated that swinging had a positive influence on their marriages; only 6.2% indicated a negative impact.[17] Similar results have been found by Bartell (1971),[18] Smith and Smith (1970),[19] and Palson and Palson (1972).[20]
Finally, Jenks (1986) found no reason to believe that swinging was particularly detrimental to marriage. Over 91% of the men and 82% of the ladies indicated that they were happy with swinging. Less than1% of the ladies were displeased with swinging; no males expressed any unhappiness. And, when an analysis was done comparing their perception of their relations, both sexual and non-sexual, before and after swinging, it was found that the majority expressed either no change or an improvement.[21]
So although a small minority of swingers drop out of the lifestyle because they experience negative effects such their inability to control their jealousy, the vast majority of swingers are happy with the results. Perhaps Thio said it best:

We may conclude that swinging is like a two-edged sword – it may swing in the direction of positive consequences or in the opposite direction of negative consequences. The nature of the consequences depends more on the individual who uses the sword than on the sword itself.[22]

So what does the Bible “REALLY” say about family values? Jesus redefined the family. Our eternal family includes everyone who does the will of God.
All Christians are heirs with Abraham and members of the body of Christ. The church is also the bride of Christ¾not just allegorically, but literally. Since the church is literally married to Christ, then all Christians are also married to all other Christians. Since Christians are married to each other, Christians are entitled to have their sexual needs met by other Christians (1Co 7:5). The Oneida community pioneered the way, proving once and for all that group marriage among Christians can work. The ultimate goal of Christianity is to love our neighbors as ourselves. Group marriage certainly approaches this more closely than monogamy, which advocates forsaking our love for all but one person. Group marriage is a more accurate reflection of God’s infinite love.
Can Christendom recognize itself as one family? We’re living in a sexually exclusive culture that glorifies jealous possessiveness and regards monogamy as the ultimate building block of society. I beg to differ. So did Jesus. We need to eliminate unwarranted jealousy and possessiveness. Society discourages us from becoming one family by erecting a barbed-wire fence around the nuclear family. Intruders beware¾No Trespassing is tolerated.
Sharing something precious is usually awkward at first, especially when we’re talking about a spouse and/ or lover. Nevertheless, jealousy can transform itself into ecstasy once we let go of our ego and stop viewing people as property. Group marriage participants have discovered that jealousy becomes less of a problem as individuals mature. Once we recognize God as the real owner of everything, possessiveness becomes less and less of a problem.
God’s ultimate desire is for all of us to be just like Him, sharing our love on an inclusive basis. Then everyone everywhere can grow and develop as a complete human being. Our joy will know no boundaries.
There are many valuable lessons to be learned from group marriage¾lessons about loving ourselves, lessons about tolerance for others, and lessons about communicating deeply from the heart. These lessons can help us develop and mature, both emotionally and spiritually. Once we learn our lessons, our human family will have learned the meaning of infinite love¾and the joy that comes with it!

[1] Sproul, R.C. Getting the Gospel Right. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999, p. 23b.
[2] Oneida Association and its branches. Bible Communism: A Compilation from the Annual Reports and other publications. Brooklyn, NY: Printed and Published at the Office of the Circular, 1853, p. 22.
[3]Oneida Association and its branches. Second Annual Report. Brooklyn, NY: Printed and Published at the Office of the Circular, 1850, p. 20.
[4]Oneida Association and its branches. Oneida Circular. Brooklyn, NY: Printed and Published at the Office of the Circular, June 3, 1872, p. 179.
[5] Oneida Association and its branches. Oneida Circular. Brooklyn, NY: Printed and Published at the Office of the Circular, February 5, 1866, p. 374.
[6] Statistical Abstract of the United States 1998. (118th Edition) Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration, Bureau of the Census, 1998, p. 111.
[7] Statistical Abstract of the United States, The National Data Book. (119th Edition) Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration, Bureau of the Census, 1999, p. 113.
[8] The Office for National Statistics. .
[9] ¾Christians Are More Likely to Experience Divorce Than Are Non-Christians. The Barna Update. December 21, 1999.
[10] Wiederman, Michael W. “Extramarital Affairs: An Exaggerated Myth.” USA Today Magazine, July 1999, Vol. 128, Issue 2650, Section: LIFE IN AMERICA, p. 74.
[11] Michael S. Cummings is Chairman of the Political Science Department at the University of Colorado, an active member of the Communal Studies Association specializing in research concerning contemporary communities, and the owner of a long-time group house in Denver. Mike is coeditor of Utopian Studies III . His conclusions on the Keristas and another group, Sunrise Ranch, are the topic of an article A Tale of Two Communes: A Scholar and His Errors, which appeared in the 1995 Edition of Communities Directory: A Guide to Cooperative Living (published by Fellowship for Intentional Community, Langley, Washington).
[12] Pines, Ayala Malach. Romantic Jealousy. New York, NY and London: St. Martin’s Press, 1998, p. 144.
[13] Ibid, p. 147.
[14] Liberated Christians, PO Box 32835, Phoenix, AZ 85064-2835. Voicemail: (602) 955-0711.
[15] Gilmartin, B.G. Sexual deviance and social networks: A study of social, family, and marital interaction patterns among co-marital sex participants. 1974. Also see Gilmartin, B.G. “That swinging couple down the block.” Psychology Today. 8: 1975, pp. 54-58.
[16] Varni, C.A. “An exploratory study of spouse swapping.” In Smith, J.R., and Smith, L.G. (eds.), Beyond Monogamy: Recent Studies on Sexual Alternatives in Marriage. John Hopkins Press: Baltimore, 1974.
[17] Levitt E.E. Alternative life style and marital satisfaction: A brief report. Ann.s Sex Res. 1: 1988, pp. 455-461.
[18] Bartell, G.D. Group Sex. Wyden: NewYork, NY, 1971.
[19] Smith, J.R., & Smith, L.G. Co-marital sex and the sexual freedom movement. J. Sex Res. 6: 1970, pp. 131-142.
[20] Palson, C., and Palson, R. Swinging in wedlock. Society 9: 1972, pp. 28-37.
[21] Jenks, R. A further analysis of swinging. Unpublished manuscript. 1986.
[22] Thio, A. Deviant Behavior. (3rd edition) Harper-Collins: New York, NY, 1988, p. 270.

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