Saturday, May 10, 2008

Comparing Patriocentricity with "The Jewish Way In Love and Marriage"

About twenty years ago, as my now husband and I prepared to covenant together in marriage, we read every Christian marriage and relationship book available at the time, and they were plenteous. My husband found a beautiful book along the way called the "Jewish Way in Love and Marriage" by Orthodox Rabbi, Maurice Lamm. This, of course, is not the Gospel or the Word, but in keeping with a sound hermeneutical approach and considering that Christianity originated with Judaism, it certainly could not hurt to consider what the other half of the "Judeo-Christian" ethic had to say about marriage and proper conduct. As the years have worn on, I have only begun to appreciate how important and helpful this beautifully written book became to us. Not affected by the Greek/Western prudishness or the austere clinical aspects that are found even in some Christian marriage books, this very Jewish book openly discusses delicate and intimate matters of marriage that most Christians blush over, all with poetic, reverent joy and eloquence. It’s among the loveliest non-fiction books I’ve ever read. It’s not Gospel by any stretch, but it rejoices in so many of the aspects of holiness, love and family that are shared by Christianity and Judaism alike, so I find it very informative. It’s been a great blessing to revisit it after so many years.

I thought that this book would be well-received at our former (spiritually abusive) church in Maryland, especially when I heard how so many people there appreciated some of Bill Gothard’s teachings on marriage. I did not delve deeply into this study, but many that I know did study his ideas, many of which seemed to be based within Jewish law. Hah! As my relationships grew and I met more women within the church as time went on, I eventually learned of the marital problems that some of these teachings and the counsel of the elders promoted there. Here is my most concise and however blunt summary of my overall impression: "Submit to me, Woman!" I had to chuckle when I first read Johnson and VanVonderan’s "The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse," for in similar context, they have a chapter subtitle concerning women that says "Submit, or else!"
Basically, the advice and counsel given by leadership at that church relied heavily upon submission teachings such as those promoted by Bill Gothard, and what was communicated and effectively understood by the women in the church was very different from what I learned from Lamm’s book. Lamm was a rabbi and widely respected teacher, lecturer, writer and counselor (according to his blurb). In the book, published in 1980, on one of the first few pages, he dedicates it to his wife and celebrates their 25th wedding anniversary. I have great admiration for this as well, unlike so many of the "young buck" ministers of today who tell so many others how to live their lives and raise their children while their own children stood no higher than their belt loops and they boast few silver hairs of wisdom. I also find it terribly interesting that Bill Gothard (though he apparently dates young women per the account in "A Matter of Basic Priniciples") gives such specific and authoritative advice about marriage when he has never been married himself. But that's a whole other blog post... When you need brain surgery, do you want the guy who's only assisted through half of one, or do you want the expertise of the surgeon who's had an impecable reputation as an excellent and successful brain surgeon for 10, 20 or 25 years?

Something very interesting happened while I attended that church and heard of some of the outright bizarre and what I believed was sub-Christian advice and counsel that circulated among the women at my former, spiritually abusive church. When I heard things that essentially all boil down to "Submit, Woman" from women in the church, I stated that from my understanding, it was the woman who opens the door to the marriage chamber in the Jewish tradition. I loaned my copy of the book out to several people and, apparently, it caused quite a stir for some. I was approached by an elder’s wife who asked to borrow the book because she’d "heard about" what some of the women who borrowed the book had to say about it. I happily brought it in for her the very next day, and she behaved as though she was excited about it. In the habit of loaning out books but often not seeing them make their way back into my library, my husband and I set up a system to keep track of things. Very neatly recorded with a date and all the vital book information, I noted that I had loaned this book to the elder’s wife. After a couple of months, I asked for her to return the book... And guess what? The elder’s wife insisted that she’d never heard of that book, didn’t know what I was talking about and looked me straight in the eye and said that I had never loaned her any such book! She looked me directly in the eye and said that no such events or discussions had ever taken place. Hmmm... I wonder if they went to lengths to actually burn it? I would not be a bit surprised if someone there had.

I’ve heard many of the same arguments from within the patriocentric movement, echoing the teachings of this church, presumably influenced by Bill Gothard’s teachings concerning the teachings of Judaism and marriage. Based upon Lamm’s book and using that as a comparison, Jewish law and Jewish tradition concerning marriage present a paradigm that is VASTLY different from that followed by the so-called "Biblical patriarchy" movement. Granted, I hear these concepts from women and I don’t doubt that the white-tower patriocentrists will call me a Judaizer, Kabbalist of some sort, a communist and whatever other pejorative rabbit they can pull out of a hat to poison the well and contain whatever I quote here from Lamm’s book. (Milieu Control from Lifton 101...) But to the contrary, I believe that Lamm’s material demonstrates that the patriocentric concepts are actually pagan and not Judeo-Christian at all.

I believe that Lamm’s language will also reveal some of the subtle ways that the patriocentrics deny the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit through faith in Christ alone by actually adopting some of the "sanctifying" works of their own law. Jews live under the law, and I believe that the patriocentrics do as well, though because of professed faith in Christ, sanctification is only partially mediated by works (that which initiated, enhances or facilitates the work that is solely done by the Spirit). Sanctification (for the Reformed Protestant) comes only through faith and is not mediated, enhanced or facilitated by our human works (that which Protestant theologians have termed "Romanist" because this was the practice and teaching of the Roman Catholic church, most notable through the practice of selling indulgences). By adding the significance of the outward works (in this case, adhering to Old Testament or even Jewish Tradition) as having the power to effect that which can only be done by the miracle of the Spirit, I believe that the patriocentrists have adopted the outward signs and symbols of the inner work of the Spirit – a celebration of marriage and family – and have made them a legal requirement for ongoing sanctification in the heart of every Believer. I believe that some of the language that Lamm uses, as it is reflected in the works based faith of Judaism, demonstrates how modern patriocentrics actually use family and marriage as a type of sanctification practice.

The book speaks of what is meant (under the Old Covenant, mind you) by a husband "sanctifying" a wife, how a couple "sanctifies" marriage, how mutual consent and participation governs marital relations, and even how Jewish law demonstrated that married women retained their individuality and their personal rights. Actually, in one passage, the book discusses how men have no rights in marriage and only responsibilities in contrast to the wife who is granted specific rights within marriage. So, though I strongly encourage all who read here to remain faithful to the Word of God and recognize that I am not displacing the Word with any of man’s wisdom or tradition, I encourage you to open up to the practice of good hermeneutics, considering the beliefs of the "other half" of the Judeo-Christian ethic regarding marriage from the viewpoint of a rabbi. (I highly recommend the book, by the way!) Consider what the students of the Old Testament believe about what the Tanach, Mishna and what Traditional Jewish Law has to say about conduct within marriage.

As a little teaser, before I dive into topics that the patriocentrics would prefer to keep hidden, just like the wife of my former elder, I’ll give you a taste of some of the beautiful sections that really rejoice in the best of both Judaism and Christianity. (Why does this sound so much more balanced than the rhetoric of the patriocentrists – and it’s so much more eloquent???)

Pg 121:

Marriage is the natural home of love. Here it can grow and enrich itself, and leave something worthy in its wake. Love that is not able to express itself in the cares of married life is frustrated love. "It is not good that man should be alone: says Rabbi Jacob Zevi Meklenburg, "means that man’s inner capacity for goodness can never be realized unless he has someone upon whom to shower his affections." Mature love is expressed through giving, and through giving comes even greater love.

To have a child is a flesh-and-blood connection with the future, and the birthplace of humanity’s future is the home. The future of the whole Jewish people depends upon marriage, the covenantal relationship of husband and wife. Marriage is not simply a private arrangement designed solely for mutual satisfaction; its importance rests in how the couple perceive their bond, the love they demonstrate, and the constellation of virtues they bring to the home. Every marriage covenant must partake of the original covenant. Jewish values thrive not as ephemeral theories, but as they are lived daily. This means that the Jewish couple needs a religiously-ordered home, an investment in the Jewish community, and a concern with the fate of God’s world.

I believe that the material from "The Jewish Way" will be quite eye-opening! Come by and visit later in the week and over the next couple of weeks as I get some blog posts together.
I don’t know from whence "patriarchy" developed their concepts of intimate relations and marriage (though I have my theories!), but they didn’t get them from traditional Judaism (if Maurice Lamm’s book serves as any indication)!