Call me naive. Really, I won’t mind. I’ll readily admit that I was raised in a conservative household that held a fundamentalist view of Christianity. But even though I grew and matured and eventually joined the Episcopal Church, I have always held consistency as one of the basic building blocks of any religious outlook. What’s fair for you ought to be fair for me. When I read that the Episcopal Church has been suspended, like the bad boy of the Anglican Communion, my mind went back to the consistency issue. The Anglican Communion, like many Christian bodies, is marked by strong membership from “conservative” constituencies. This was clearly felt while I was on the faculty of Nashotah House. As a conservative institution, we received many visits from diocesan leaders from more “traditional” cultures. They always expressed concern with America’s sinful, “liberal” culture. We should be more biblical, they opined. They didn’t, however, mind us paying the bill.
The Episcopal Church is being kept after school because of its approval of homosexual marriage. This is a social justice issue that has the backing of many major Christian denominations. Cultures in the developing world, however, see it as sinful and claim marriage is one man, one woman. Well, most of the time. I’m no anthropologist, but I do pay attention to what people say. While at Nashotah House we had a student from Kenya. He was already a priest, but he was there to get some basic training. Naturally enough, his biblical understanding was quite literal. Once I asked him about his life back home. He had a wife, it turns out, and kids. They couldn’t be with him in Wisconsin, so I asked how they lived when he wasn’t there to support them. He told me his brother took her as wife while he was away. His brother was already married, but in his culture it was traditionally for brothers to act as husbands in the absence of the latter. He gave me to believe that “husband” was used in every conceivable sense of the word. He was, of course, against same-sex marriage.
Levirate marriage (a brother “taking over” a wife) is arguably biblical. The problem is that the Bible states the first brother must be dead for levirate marriage to take effect. My point is not to condemn the “traditional” marriage arrangements of the visiting priest’s culture, but to try to get some consistency here. There are a wide variety of “marriage” practices recognized in traditional cultures. They have two things in common: women are subservient to men and their needs, and males mate with females. Beyond that, variety, as the traditional saying goes, is the spice of life. There used to be another traditional saying about the inappropriateness of peering into other people’s bedrooms. So the naughty Episcopal Church has been sent to a corner with a dunce mitre on its head. Meanwhile the other boys, typical of those in middle school, sit around and talk about the girls they’d like to have. It’s tradition we uphold, after all.