A Little Truth Would Go a Long Way

(This is part 2 in my series on 1 Corinthians 5. Click here to read from the beginning.)

One marvels at the repetition of intentionally tragic stories, like Evergreene’s: After her Christian marriage ended in divorce, and after she slogged through the concomitant depression, she decided she’d be happier living a bisexual, polyamorous lifestyle. She hid her new lifestyle from her Southern Baptist friends and family, but not well enough.

“My mother wonders what went so monumentally wrong with how she raised me.” Answer: probably nothing. Believe it or not, despite what the book of Proverbs says, there’s precious little we parents can do to change the direction of our children’s lives. The best a parent can do is to provide her children with a safe environment in which to discover themselves and the world they live in. If she failed, she only failed in that.

“My sisters think I’m sick and disgusting.” A common reaction to anything we think of as immoral. And it’s a learned reaction. Suppose I place before you a plate piled high with rotting meat covered with cockroaches, hand you a fork, and say, “Bon appétit!” Your stomach is probably turning a little just imagining it. But in some aboriginal cultures, they commonly eat bugs and other various items they find lying on the ground. It’s part of how they survive. If I handed the same plate to one of them, the reaction might instead be, “Ooh! What a feast!” as he rubs his hands together lustily.

Evergreene continues: “My father tells me screaming that I am no longer his family.” So much for what Paul says about not being an abusive person.

And the story only goes downhill from there:

Awful, sick, twisted things that I could never imagine saying to a family member – even to another human being. All from Christians. These are godly, sweet people who are generous, loving, and funny—unless you’re different.

Did Paul mean to ruin Evergreene’s life?

If he did, I think he probably failed, because she picked up the pieces and moved on. Regardless, I would like to believe he did not mean to condemn egalitarian non-monogamy while letting child rapists off the hook.

This story in the Corinthian church started at the beginning of 1 Corinthians 5:

It is actually reported that there is bad sexual behavior among you, and such a kind as exists not even among the pagans, that a man is having sex with his father’s wife! And you are proud! … I have already passed judgment in the name of our Lord Jesus on the one who has been doing this. (vv. 1,3)

The Greek word porneia, which I’ve translated “bad sexual behavior,” doesn’t really help us understand where Paul’s coming from. We tend to load it up with modern social conservatism. That’s certainly what Evergreene’s friends and family did. But even the mores of modern conservatives bear little resemblance to the mores of first-century Rome, and our modern society bears almost no resemblance to theirs, making broad ethical comparisons nigh impossible. We need more context.

One has to wonder what, specifically, this Corinthian guy actually did to evoke such ire.

The simplest narrative might go something like this: He walks up to his sexy stepmom, wraps his hand around her ass, and says, “Hey, baby, guess what. Let’s go.”

Remember, this is not an egalitarian society. The father naturally finds this far from acceptable. But the son knows he can get away with it, because his father isn’t going to disown his only son, even if he is a jackass and a social reject. Besides which, he’s got the whole church behind him.

Still not quite The Priest and the Choir Boy, but we’re getting close.

See, a narrative like this makes it easy to take Paul’s side, not because the apostle was moralizing, but because he was applying a culturally relevant moral principle in an ethical manner.

But moral obligations are like knee-jerk reactions: they’re quick, they’re broad, and they evoke strong emotions. They polarize the issue and cloud one’s judgement. Moral obligations are that gut feeling you get, that something isn’t quite right, but you can’t quite put your finger on it. And if you need to make an instant decision what to do, if it’s urgent, you go with your gut.

But if you can, you want to reflect a bit, to make sure you don’t fly off the handle, especially if the situation is not as black-and-white as it initially seemed.

So what if the ethics of the Story of the Corinthian Stepmother were less clear-cut?

(Click here for part 3.)