A Muslim, a Jew, and a Southern Baptist walk into a, uh, the Vatican?

Woot woot! There is a big old shindig going down at the Vatican right now, and no, I wasn’t invited either.

The party people are going by the fancy title of Humanum Colloquium. For us unpopular kids it can be digested more easily as a consortium on the value of marriage and complementarity of the sexes and includes ALL the heavy hitters. It is an interfaith hoedown of Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and Jews and because they like a big party they included representatives from smaller groups like Jainism, Sikhs, and even a Baptist! My people. Again with the WOOT!

While being late to pick up children and burning soup, I’ve been availing myself to as much coverage of the event that I can and I am here to tell you that the star speaker by far, in my humble opinion, has been Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. He says everything I want to say but with more eloquence, theological depth, and poetry. Here are some highlights, but I do recommend donning your pointy party hat and watching the video summary. If I could find a spare six minutes, you can too. I believe in you.

Just go turn off the stove first.

Hit it Rabbi:

“Some cultures teach that we are nothing. Others teach that we are everything. But the Jewish view is we are half and we must open7.5x4.75 inch b&w r05 draft 01.indd ourselves to another if we are to become whole… In Judaism, faith is a marriage.”

“What made the traditional family remarkable is what it brought together. And what it brought together was sexual drive, physical desire, friendship, companionship, emotional kinship and love, the begetting of children, their protection and care, their early education, their induction into an identity and a history. Seldom has any institution woven together so many different drives and desires, so many different roles and responsibilities. It made sense of the world and gave it a human face. The face of love.”

“Almost everything which marriage once brought together has been split apart. Sex has been divorced from love, love has been divorced from commitment, marriage has been separated from having children, and having children has been separated from responsibility for their care.”

“The injustice of it all. The children who are deprived of these things, cry out to heaven.”

“It will go down in history, the western abandonment of marriage, as one of the tragic instances of what Fredrick Hayek called the “fatal conceit.” That somehow we know better than the wisdom of the ages and can defy the lessons of history. No one surely wants to go back to the narrow prejudices of the past, but our compassion for those who choose to live differently should not inhibit us for being advocates for the single most humanizing institution in history.”

“And so it has been ever since, that when a man and woman turn to one another in a bond of faithfulness God robes them in garments of light. And we come as close as we will ever get to God himself, bringing new life into being. Turning the prose of biology into the poetry of the human spirit.”

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36 thoughts on “A Muslim, a Jew, and a Southern Baptist walk into a, uh, the Vatican?

  1. Thank you so much for this post. Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks is an all time favorite of mine. You picked some very beautiful words indeed. Keep chargin’ fellow blogger 🙂

    • I’m sure your blog was the inspiration for his words, Insanity. ;). You are different sides of the same coin- he’s got the Old Testament covered and you got the New.

  2. Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks? Improper form 😉 You have to choose which one you use. Ideally it’s Baron Sacks of Aldgate, or just Baron Sacks. Or, Chief Rabbi Sacks. Or if you really think it’s necessary, then: Chief Rabbi, The Right Honourable, Lord Sacks. Generally, though, it’s considered best to keep the mention of ‘honours’ to a minimum.
    If his excellency the Count hands you his calling card, he will discreetly put a line through any titles or crests written on the card. If he doesn’t- you know he’s nothing at all, or a first generation alpinist.

    • I know that we disagree on the content of the Chief Honorable Baron Lord Rabbi Sacks’ presentation. But I appreciate your ability to get in on the discussion in non-combative form, and give us a little high-brow education in the process. I’ll be sure to strike the titles on my business card when the Vatican comes a callin’. 😉

          • We’re a lot less different than we may seem on the surface. Every day we both wake up, we make ourselves look presentable, we deal with our own, and family, and community issues- we try to find a millisecond to breathe between all that. And we both like big hair, although she’s much more successful at achieving it than I am 😉

  3. ““What made the traditional family remarkable is what it brought together. And what it brought together was sexual drive, physical desire, friendship, companionship, emotional kinship and love, the begetting of children, their protection and care, their early education, their induction into an identity and a history. Seldom has any institution woven together so many different drives and desires, so many different roles and responsibilities. It made sense of the world and gave it a human face. The face of love.”

    Traditional family? Of which century? In biblical times the tradition included complete subjugation of women in the marriage, which still exists in many religions and orthodox sects. Until quite recently (end of 19th century), upon entering a marriage, the woman lost her legal persona. A husband assumed complete legal power over the family affairs. And also spousal rape has been legal.

    Coincidentally, the quoted paragraph above also completely describes same sex civil marriage.

    • Not the bit about “the begetting of children,” and everything that follows.

      A man and woman get together as husband and wife. They have a baby, and now we have mother, father, and a son or daughter. That’s the nuclear family, the fundamental building block of society. Although there has been much variation in marriage laws over time and across cultures, the essential characteristics of the traditional family have been pretty much the same.

    • Even granting your cynical characterization of marriage in “biblical” times, it is still the case that it involved both sexes, which is the chief point under debate here. Would you also deny that it is natural and good to consume food orally because past cultures had different culinary and dining traditions?

  4. Having heard Lord Sacks on “Thought for the Day” so often, I could hear his beautiful, rich voice as I read your extract. My question is, what does being “advocates for the single most humanising institution in history” entail? Certainly not opposing equal marriage- gay people marry as straights do, in England, and straight marital breakdown rates do not seem to have gone up as a result of that. In Scotland, next month! But what of divorce? How does holding couples together when they hate each other do their children any good?

    He’s not “Lord Jonathan Sacks”- that would mean the younger son of an earl or duke. He is a Baron in his own right. It is lovely to see Pink and I together, on the conservative side for once.

    • My response would be that it entails advocating for the ideal, not simply pointing to failures in that ideal and presuming those to be justification for novel, ad hoc social constructions.

        • Yes, but as progressives well understand it is almost impossible to roll back their gains, so I don’t expect this to happen. It seems only reasonable to assume that when divorce is painful you will have more deliberation before entering a marriage, and more energy spent in the attempt to salvage a faltering marriage.

          • Yes. Going back up next week to see the parents again, along with other family members for one last hurrah in their house before they downsize. Bittersweet times, but as my mother will testify, God has been mightily with them in greasing the wheels to get them to a new haven.

            Good to be here for a bit. I think I crossed paths with you on FB. Perhaps you saw a Like from me on your comment on someone else’s wall.

          • I am entirely in favour of traditional marriage (not the interracial rules, or the “perpetual tutelage of women”, or marital rape, but the stripped down version). Two people pledge they will love each other, become one flesh, and stick together. Beautiful.

            But what happens when it breaks down? Lying, hypocrisy and bullying are always possible. You want painful divorce. Divorce is easy in England, and the current marriage breakdown I am aware of has had a great deal of energy spent in the attempt to salvage it. “Progressives” believe in facing the situation honestly and truthfully.

            Similarly with gay couples, lying bullying and hypocrisy are possible. Their love is wrong, or worthless, says the conservative, and their marriage should not be recognised. They should not have the immigration or tax rights of straights. Or, an honest truthful acceptance of the situation: they are as strong a building block of society as the Straights are. This is David Cameron’s argument, oddly enough.

        • Your justification presumes, a priori, that same-sex marriage is “equal” to a marriage consisting of one of each sex. This is supported primarily by your selective qualification of what is important to the institution. The ability to reproduce, by design, is surely a meaningful distinction between the two types of “marriage.” A same-sex couple must adopt or involve surrogacy, of necessity. For a heterosexual couple, it is only a fallback in the event of biological problems. Even so, adoption is the attempt to emulate the provisions of nature (or God). Most who adopt would much rather avail themselves of natural means. The same-sex couple rejects nature, but would have its benefits by whatever means necessary. Additionally, even sex is ad hoc in the case of the same-sex couple. Even the couple that cannot reproduce can still engage in the sexual behaviors, as designed, which would otherwise result in an offspring.

          • OK. How about we make a distinction between church “matrimony”, and the civil marriage. For the state, only the civil marriage has legal force, gives legal privileges and brings legal responsibilities of the parties. We understand that there are different concepts of marriage in different religions. In some religions, a divorce is not allowed. Though you can buy an annulment. In some religions, only a husband can grant (instant) divorce.

            But in the civil law, a marriage is a civil exclusive contract which creates a marital estate. It’s not a licence to have children, and it’s not a requirement to have children. It gives the spouses implicit parenting rights on the children born into marriage. In death of a spouse, it gives the other spouse some survivor privileges, including inheritance.

            These days, people enter civil marriage because they love and care each others and want to enjoy the legal protections and privileges given by it. Not because you bought a bride off her father, or took her as war’s trophy. As it was in old good Biblical times.

            With what the civil marriage is, there is no rational reason to deny it to the loving same sex couples. Yes, there are loving committed same sex couples. Deal with it. They’ve always been, they’ll always be. They deserve the privileges and protections of civil marriage.

            Tricky question 1: If a male (or a female) marries an intersex person, is it a “traditional” opposite sex marriage, or same sex marriage?

            Tricky question 2: If a male (or a female) marries a transgender person, what makes it an opposite or same sex marriage? Legal gender, karyotype (set of sex chromosomes), or physiological gender?

          • Some observations:

            Same-sex couples appear to be seeking something identical to the religious conception of marriage. I’ve not seen any advocates happy to settle for “civil unions” or simply focus on obtaining whatever legal benefits they feel to be lacking.

            It’s not the right to “love” and be “committed” to a same-sex partner that is in question, and gays are free almost everywhere to have commitment ceremonies. It is the privileging, normalization, state involvement, children’s rights, and forced acceptance of this which is of concern.

            The definition of marriage (or the prior definition of it) seems to be an adequate umbrella for many diverse groups. For instance, my Hindu friends, who have arranged marriages and wouldn’t think of divorce, are fine with it. The only thing it doesn’t accomodate is polygamy or same-sex marriage. Those are categorically different things that require essentially new definitions.

            There are indeed Christians who realize that the state conception and the religious conceptions are parting ways, and are considering bowing out.
            http://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2014/11/a-time-to-rend
            I think part of this is a matter of self-defense, since the state is increasingly positioning to punish pastors who would deny marital services to same-sex couples.

            Saying, “Yes, X exists. Deal with it,” is not likely to persuade anyone and can be used to argue for anything.

            As far as your “trick questions,” I think they are irrelevant. For #1, we do not define the normal according to the complexities of dealing with the abnormal. For #2, since I don’t advocate gender reassignment in the first place I’m not required to constrain my ethical principles to such contexts that arise from living on the outs with them.

          • “Same-sex couples appear to be seeking something identical to the religious conception of marriage. ”

            No. Same sex couples seek marriage licences from the state.

            “I’ve not seen any advocates happy to settle for “civil unions” or simply focus on obtaining whatever legal benefits they feel to be lacking.”

            But you’ve seen the “marriage amendments” that also banned any civil unions for same sex couples.

            “It’s not the right to “love” and be “committed” to a same-sex partner that is in question,”

            That’s only true after Lawrence v Texas (2003). Ask Antonin Scalia if he’s questioning that or not (spoiler: he does).

            ” and gays are free almost everywhere to have commitment ceremonies.”

            That don’t have any legal force and don’t give any legal recognition of their common property and other legal privileges.

            “since the state is increasingly positioning to punish pastors who would deny marital services to same-sex couples.”

            That’s not true. The state can punish wedding businesses who would deny service to same sex couples. Note I’m talking about “businesses” (corporations), not about “pastors” (persons). Also, those “pastors” in question often don’t have a problem in conducting a civil or inter-faith ceremony (Exhibit A: the Knapps of Lakeside Post Wedding Chapel), where they can’t be “pastors” by definition.

            “For #1, we do not define the normal according to the complexities of dealing with the abnormal.”

            But we need to define what’s legal and what’s not. Legal is not necessarily normal, and abnormal is not necessarily illegal.

            “For #2, since I don’t advocate gender reassignment in the first place I’m not required to constrain my ethical principles to such contexts that arise from living on the outs with them.”

            Again, I’m talking about legalities, not about ethical principles.

          • “Same sex couples seek marriage licences from the state.”

            I think they seek more than a mere document granting certain legal rights, which is why “civil unions” are not the end game for many. I hate attempts on either side to psychologize, but it seems to me that a desire exists to achieve equivalence in every way possible with traditional marriage — legal, cultural, and in some cases, spiritual.

            Those who reject the civil union compromise tend to do so because they understand that there is no functional difference between that and “marriage.” It is only a matter of terms and cultural normalization, and only a stroll (not a leap) from one to the other.

            “That’s only true after Lawrence v Texas (2003). Ask Antonin Scalia if he’s questioning that or not (spoiler: he does).”

            What I get from his dissent is not that he has any personal problem with homosexuality (he says he doesn’t), but that he thinks the court overshot its charter. It is one thing to find sodomy a permissible liberty, it’s another thing to say there is a constitutional right to it and that there is no justification for any legal or moral restrictions upon it. He foresaw that the legal groundwork had been lain for future cases (such as gay scout leaders, gays in the military, and same-sex marriage), which it was neither the time nor their place to rule upon.

            It may surprise you to know that many of those who have an issue with homosexuality also believe that it should not be illegal to engage in homosexual acts. Similar thinking to cigarette smoking.

            “[Gay’s freedom to commitment ceremonies] don’t have any legal force and don’t give any legal recognition of their common property and other legal privileges.”

            I was responding to your point that gays should be able to love and commit to each other. This they can do. If legal rights were all they cared about, then that is how they should argue. Instead, they argue primarily for social equality.

            “That’s not true [that pastors are increasingly in danger of suffering consequences for denying same-sex marriage].”

            We’re not quite there yet, but the trajectory is going there.
            http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/oct/20/idaho-citys-ordinance-tells-pastors-to-marry-gays-/
            There is precedence elsewhere.
            http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/denmark/9317447/Gay-Danish-couples-win-right-to-marry-in-church.html
            And with it increasingly becoming a crime for pastors to privately speak against it, what principle will be left upon which they can deny such services?
            http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2004/augustweb-only/8-9-12.0.html

            “But we need to define what’s legal and what’s not. Legal is not necessarily normal, and abnormal is not necessarily illegal.”

            I’ll have to demure on discussions of law, since that is not my area. I am perfectly willing to discuss moral principles, though this is certainly (or should be) the foundations of such relevant laws. Again, I should stress that there is a difference between what the law may allow and what should be considered good/normal/ideal (as you seem to affirm). The main problem with laws regarding homosexuality is that they are advanced (or worded) in such a way as to disallow such distinctions. Homosexuality then becomes a matter of rights and equality, and there are no grounds upon which to object to gay men taking our boys camping in the woods or GLSEN teaching our children the joys of anal sex and being bi-curious. I oppose those laws that leave no place for the rights of traditional marriage advocates.

          • “not that he has any personal problem with homosexuality (he says he doesn’t)”

            Yea, he’s totally OK with his son. As long as he’s a celibate priest.

            “It may surprise you to know that many of those who have an issue with homosexuality also believe that it should not be illegal to engage in homosexual acts.”

            I’m sure Scalia didn’t want homosexual acts to be illegal when he was voting against striking a law that made them illegal. He just didn’t want that to be legal. Which means he wanted to keep it illegal.

            ” If legal rights were all they cared about, then that is how they should argue. Instead, they argue primarily for social equality.”

            Ummm… The social equality means equal rights and freedom from discrimination. Equal legal rights. Including legal marriage equality.

            “(such as gay scout leaders, gays in the military, and same-sex marriage)”

            Regarding gays in military, they’ve always been there, and even Barry Goldwater didn’t see any problem with that. Just let me remind you that one gay man simply created US military. You ever heard of Baron von Steuben?

            I see you mentioning the Hitching Post Chapel story again. Let’s get the facts straight. First, there was no legal threat from the city. The lawsuit filed by AFA on the chapel’s behalf is just a made up controversy. Second, the chapel happily performed civil and inter-faith marriages. Are Christian pastors supposed to do that? Third, a for-profit business which works as a public accomodation, by law cannot discriminate. A non-profit club (churches also are classified as a non-profit club for the tax and incorporation purposes) CAN discriminate. Hitching Post Lakeside Chapel is not a church.

            “There is precedence elsewhere” (link to the story about Denmark)

            There is no equivalent of 1st Amendment in Denmark. There is STATE CHURCH in Denmark. Denmark government CAN tell their state church what to do and what not.

            “there are no grounds upon which to object to gay men taking our boys camping in the woods”

            There are laws against molestation and statutory rape. Though it didn’t stop those sex abuse scandals of Catholic church, or Bishop Eddie Long, or Rex Allen Murphy.

            ” or GLSEN teaching our children the joys of anal sex and being bi-curious. ”

            You must be more familiar than I with those abbreviations, because I have no idea what GLSEN is. Is it another straw man?

    • Atomic! I agree that this gathering is so beautiful and critical for this time in history. I listened to some of Pres. Eyring’s message. Beautiful the way he speaks of growing into one and absorbing strength from one another without diminishing their personal gifts. Here’s some of my favorite quotes: “They made a better whole.” “Partners with God in creating human life.” “Where there is unselfishness differences become complimentary and provide opportunities to help and build each other.”

  5. It’s interesting that in a culture that has a fascination with the wisdom of the ages (herbal medicine, meditative practices, symbiosis with nature, etc.) we find that in the area of family and sexuality it is most prudent to forge into uncharted territory.

    • Agree. The nuclear family is a part of each faith because it is founded on natural truth. This is a subject on which we can work together.

  6. As a side note on titles, I pray from last year’s version of The Koren Siddur that says on its front page, “with introduction, translation, and commentary by Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.” Considering he stepped down from the chief part then…literally, in my book, if your use of his titles matches that of Koren Publsihers Jerusalem, you must be doing something right 😉

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