Tuesday, December 1, 2009

If it ain't broke, don't fix it. But if it is broke, ditch the game plan and find one that works.

One of my readers made the following comment in a recent blog thread of mine which is entitled: “What is wrong with everyone?”

He said:
“There are plenty of evangelical, protestant, orthodox, and adventist churches, where sex in marriage is not covered in the pulpit. This problem is not confined to the Catholic Church. Many other congregations have the exact same difficulty. Human sexuality is not covered at all within those faith groups, or if it is, it is discussed in terms of sin: Do not fornicate, do not commit adultery.”

I posted the following lengthy response to what was being discussed in the thread. Please do not take offense to what I am sharing. No offense is meant towards any Christian Faith. My point in all this is to encourage us all to be bold enough to do whatever is necessary to fix what is broke in our marriage and in our marriage bed.

In the first place the teaching of healthy marital sexuality need not be "from the pulpit" to be effective. It can be taught just as well in sufficient premarital counseling and/or in classroom settings. In regards to marriage bed issues on TMB forum--- I do not mean this in an insulting way. I am just trying to explain how I see it from my POV of having been in all three Christian Faiths. Which Christian Faith is most represented on TMB forum by a good 80% or higher? The Protestant Faith, of course. So if this is a huge problem for Roman Catholics (RC) and Christian Orthodox why are more of them (us) not on TMB crying for help? Also of the three Christian Faiths it is the Protestant Church (PC) who is most at liberty to preach/teach anything they want "from the pulpit" so why are they not doing it? If pulpit teachings on sex are the answer, why is it not being done in the PC?

My opinion? Respectfully, I think the keeping of secret sins of porn, premarital sex, sexual refusal in marriage, etc., is more rampant in the PC because of the huge public shame put on those who are caught in these sins AND because true confession before a pastor/priest is not exercised in the PC. Instead Protestants are told, "Your sin is only between you and God. You do not need a mediator so when you sin, just confess to God and all will be well." The problem that we saw when we were in the PC is that most people chose to ignore their sexual sin. If you refuse to acknowledge sin even to God, how can you possibly confess it and turn away from it? We can only turn away from that which we acknowledge to be sin in our lives. Even as adults, having a Father confessor can be greatly helpful in guiding us to thoroughly search our hearts so that nothing gets overlooked.

Rather than undergo public humiliation that many PC are known for putting people through when caught in sexual sin, the guilty parties choose to keep this sin secret as long as they are able until the sin is discovered by a distraught spouse. By then the lies and deception are so great that it takes twice the time and effort to correct the wrongs if they are ever corrected. From personal experience this is why my dh and I finally felt the need to walk away from the PC and to join the Christian Orth Faith. For years as a Protest Christian I had little conviction of the way I spoke to my dh or of my sexual refusal AND I knew that if I confessed anything to our pastor in search of help I would have been humiliated beyond what I felt I could handle.

Secret sin-- It is a horrible, terrible habit to keep sin secret. You are essentially telling God, "Am I not the good Christian? I do not do anything in public that you would call 'sin' but do not bother me about how I behave behind closed doors." This kind of reminds me of the many Protestant denominations who adamantly state, "We do not drink or smoke because it is sin." At one time we were in such a church and I cannot tell you how many folks in our church made that claim while drinking and smoking in secret." Who are we kidding with secret sin?

Really, this is not about RC vs. PC vs. Christian Orth. Rather it is about all Christian Faiths stepping up to the plate to practice deep soul searching, true confession, seeing lies and deception as sinful as other sins, eliminating the useless public humiliation over sexual sin, etc. PC can make fun of RC and Orth use of a Father confessor but I can tell you that when we became Orthodox and I began confessing my sins to God before our priest, it was like I had an "ah-ha" moment as I learned to dig deep and quit hiding secret sin. That was when I first began acknowledging that my sin of sexual refusal was indeed sin.

So, I guess what I am trying to say is that if it ain't broke, don't fix it. But if it is broke, ditch the game plan and find a new one that will work. Having a Father confessor works for my dh and me. We have also seen it work for our kids for things that in the past as Protestants they would have kept secret but now have no reservations in confessing before our priest.

Btw- Technically we do not confess TO our priest. We confess to God WITH our priest present as witness and spiritual adviser. We know we can confess ANYTHING with our priest and he will keep it in confidence and counsel us to spiritual health. In the event that the counsel needed is over his head, he does not hesitate to point us to the appropriate professional.

10 comments:

job29man said...

Gemma,

Thank you for this article. I guess I never put 2 and 2 together to realize that your breakthrough came in confession before a Father Confessor. This would break the secrecy and impose some counseling where often otherwise no counsel would be sought.

I remember growing up RC and hearing the priest say "Te absolvo" (I absolve you.) Later I rejected that the priest had power to absolve sin. He stood between me and God and that seemed wrong. But it seems you are saying that in EO the Priest is not a mediator but a facilitator/counselor. I can accept this more easily and consider that it could be a good thing to implement in Evangelical churches.

It seems that with the age of internet porn, secret sin has become turbo-charged and super-accessible. I remember growing up when to get porn a person would have to go into a porn store. Just the creepiness of that was enough to keep me away. Now the lure of porn is at everyone's fingertips in the privacy of their home. If a man was to confess this before a Father Confessor the Priest could then say "OK, first thing is we need to get you into accountability." I like that idea.

And the same for refusing spouses. The confession could be followed up immediately with counseling.

Let me ask this... I EO confession "anonymous"? i.e. behind a veil? or face to face?

And is it one way? i.e you talk to God and the priest just listens? Or does he ask questions? A discussion. Does he probe a bit to even ask if a spouse is refusing (for perhaps they don't even know that it is sin so it might not even reach the level of "I must confess this.")

Gemma said...

Job said:
>>>I remember growing up RC and hearing the priest say "Te absolvo" (I absolve you.) Later I rejected that the priest had power to absolve sin. He stood between me and God and that seemed wrong.

Job,

Between the RC priest absolving sin and then issuing penance, yes, it was not good.

>>>And the same for refusing spouses. The confession could be followed up immediately with counseling.

GR and I have on several occasions attended confession and followed it up with suggested (by our priest) counseling. It’s a very private but effective combination.

>>>Let me ask this... I EO confession "anonymous"? i.e. behind a veil? or face to face?

It’s anon in the fact that nobody hears it except you and the priest. We generally do confession before or after services and it’s done in the front of church near the altar. Our priest stands beside us as we face the altar and confess. Again, he’s more witnessing as we confess to God. GR and I and our girls generally attend confession on an average of once every 3-6 months…. often enough to keep us on our toes in obedience to God. This frequency doesn’t allow much time between confessions for long-term bad habits to develop.

>>>And is it one way? i.e you talk to God and the priest just listens? Or does he ask questions? A discussion. Does he probe a bit to even ask if a spouse is refusing (for perhaps they don't even know that it is sin so it might not even reach the level of "I must confess this.")

We first talk to God while the priest listens. If he sees a need he doesn’t hesitate to comment or ask questions. And if he sees that more extensive counseling would be a help, he’ll offer at that time for us to meet with him another time in his office. And it can vary from priest to priest. The priest we had before we moved here did more counseling right then and there in the midst of confession. We always knew to allow extra time on days we did confession because we knew ahead that he might see a need to counsel for a while. Our current priest keeps confession more brief, preferring to counsel later on in his office. We have had several awesome priests in the EOC. And our priests are usually married with kids so they understand marriage issues. But you know, our current bishop has never been married and we’ve talked with him enough to know that he has great wisdom with marital issues so I know our clergy receives extensive training in counseling.

Ancient Mariner said...

I used to be Anglican. We had confession too, although it was rarely used. We in the High Church prided ourselves on being just like the Catholics, only better.

Hiswildcherry46 said...

Hey Gemma,

Been reading around Taken in Hand...interesting and must admit, a bit attractive to my rebellious soul even though I baulk at some of the patriachal gunk. Been bludgeoned around the ears by the like, in the form of church leadership, and am quite frankly so burnt out that I did not even have the stomach to add my two pennies worth to this latest post of yours.

Hanging onto my very real love between my Saviour and myself with tenacity....just not in love with any church at all and feel totally put off by the false impressions and reactions I am getting when I try to return to my former church body. I can do without all the crap and would still love to find a group of open and sincere believers. Whine over.

Ancient Mariner said...

...then I became Catholic, so where is my British pride now?

Incidentally, in the Catholic Catechism, it says in bold print (section 1441) Only God forgives sin. The formula the priest uses is:

God the Father of mercies,
through the death and the resurrection of his Son
has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins;
through the mystery of the Church may God give you pardon and peace,
and I absolve you from your sins
in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

This formula is roughly the same for all the denominations, since they draw from the same source in the Bible. To say the priest says "I absolve you" is to take the phrase out of context, and thereby give it a completely different meaning. As far as I can tell, no denomination has the hubris to think that any man can, by his own power, can forgive sin.

job29man said...

It was mostly Latin for me. I didn't get the nuance. Still I never felt I could get forgiveness without the Priest.

Ancient Mariner said...

That is one of the big plusses (for me) of growing up Protestant. I never felt the need for an intermediary. Perhaps I was at the other extreme, being too familiar with God, in a shallow way. I was also extremely skeptical of all catholics, and believed them to be a bunch of lemmings mindlessly following a self-important old man (the Pope). Before I went for the classes to become catholic, I made a pact with God (how is that for insolence?) I said I probably would never become catholic, because I was convinced (based on my protestant upbringing) that there MUST be something fundamentally wrong with catholicism. But, I told God, in the event that I was proved wrong, I would convert.

Before the classes, I read the catechism from cover to cover. Twice. I also took copious notes, and wrote down all the questions that I believed showed how catholics were in error. Then I went to the classes, from September to Easter. It was me, a young woman, and 12 papists. That first day, I felt like I was entering a den of ravenous lions.

Well, those catholics turned out to be the nicest people I have ever met: humble, enthusiastic, and willing to answer any question no matter how snippy it was... I was impressed, but troubled, because as time went on, I saw that I was regularly losing theological arguments, and my wager with God began weighing on me.

In the end, I lost convincingly, and I had to convert (or risk getting struck down by lightning!) All is not sweetness and light, though. There are things I don't understand, and many things I don't like. For example, it took me a LONG time to get used to how highly catholics regard Mary. I struggle with their belief in her perpetual virginity. I could accept the immaculate conception (of Mary), the miraculous conception (of Jesus), but why did she have to be celibate throughout her marriage? Isn't that a mockery of marriage and of conjugal love? What does that say of us unremittingly horny people who love sleeping with our spouses? There is also the vexing question of the behaviour of the church through history, as in the conquest of the Americas.

Still, when I read about the early martyrs and how they willingly went into the coliseums to be eaten by wild animals, I know there is something real there I want to learn more about. I am on a journey of discovery. When the Anglicans split off from the catholic church, they removed the names of all the early (non-English) saints from their Book of Common Prayer. Imagine my surprise to find so many, many holy men and women who had suffered and died for their faith so long ago. (I wondered what else the Anglicans had kept from me!) The salvation of your immortal soul is too important to be left in the hands of any person, so you owe it to yourself to read, investigate, and always seek the truth. I don't believe there is only one path to God which everyone has to take, or risk burning in hell.

And I love Latin. It is the only language I know where you can insult someone in the crudest, most vulgar way, and have it come out sounding highly cultured!

I hope I don't sound too preachy; that was not my intent...as for Gemma's observation, I cannot explain it, but I am glad for it, if it is borne out. I just read a report on Reuters yesterday, about the totally uninhibited attitudes the ancient Greeks and Romans had toward sex, to the point where they decorated their buildings with explicit sexual pictures.

http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE5B828Z20091209

Since this is the culture the early church formed in, I wonder whether some of those attitudes enabled the orthodox and catholic churches to be less squeamish about "fleshly things"? Just speculation on my part...

job29man said...

Job29man is praying for the house of GR and Gemma.

Gemma said...

Thank you, Job. I covet all prayers. GR, oldest dd and I have been in a huge battle, trying to gain some sense of stability in our youngest dd with her bipolar disorder. Her meds have been all out of whack since September resulting in episodes of both mania and depression complete with suicidal thoughts and we haven't seen much stability.... until now. We are just beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel.

So yes, folks, please pray for us. Thank you.

Hiswildcherry46 said...

Hey Gemma,

Will continue to remember to pray for all of you.
My heart goes out to you with this much pressure in your family.

Yes, there is a light at the end of this dark time for all of you...hang in there with the deep knowledge that He is able to abundantly more than we could ever ask or think. Keep asking and believing. You got prayer buddies lady ;-)