James Kushiner is the Executive Editor for TOUCHSTONE, a christian journal that I read, almost cover to cover, each month as I receive it. This journal is an odd (not really) gathering of Catholic, Orthodox and Evangelical authors who, in my opinion, get it right almost all of the time. If you can afford only one religious journal (and you do need at least one) let TOUCHSTONE be it. What follows is Kushiner’s email newsletter I received August 29. I commend to you both the journal, the newsletter and this particular discussion of marriage. Here it is………..
Today is the Commemoration of the Beheading of John the Baptist,
noted in the St. James Calendar of the Christian Year
. (2014 will be available in a couple of weeks!)
I am struck by the example of John after taking a phone call yesterday from a reader commenting on the Sept/Oct Editorial in Touchstone by Allan Carlson (“American Idolatry: Meditations on Same-Sex Marriage.” The caller opposed government “coercion” in propping up the definition of marriage (he opposed DOMA), but apparently he didn’t oppose government coercion in redefining marriage. The church needs to be more focused on its spiritual mission, he said.
John’s mission was spiritual–a call to repentance and preparation for the ministry of the Messiah. But John also spoke against Herod’s illicit marriage to Herodias, his brother’s wife. So the tradition here and subsequently suggests that Christians not keep silence over moral concerns, including marriage, even if public.
John is often caricatured as a stern, rebuking prophet, which he sometimes was in his responses to pharisees (“You brood of vipers!”). But I can’t help but wonder what was John like when Herod heard him speak in prison? Consider this verse from Mark:
…Herod feared John; knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and kept him safe. When he heard him, he was much perplexed; and yet he heard him gladly.
Gladly? I don’t picture a fire-breathing John haranguing Herod in prison–but he also was not silent. Perhaps John, after his arrest, his public preaching days behind him, might be compared to a Russian staretz, an elder, or a desert father such as Anthony of Egypt. Herod’s hearing him “gladly” suggests to me that John spoke directly to Herod’s conscience with a compassion energized and informed by truth. Herod sensed something “righteous and holy” in his prisoner, in much the same way others sense a spiritual depth in certain spiritual “elders.”
Herod in the end couldn’t turn the corner on repentance and caved to the wiles and wrath of Herodias. Saints are often both respected and hated. Mother Teresa earned the respect of many non-Christians and yet was scorned by Christopher Hitchens (and surely others).
Herod also caved to the social expectations of his guests after he promised to give Herodias’ daughter whatever she asked for. A text from the Orthodox service for Aug. 29 asserts that Herod would have been better off to break his solemn word and be called a liar than to kill God’s righteous prophet. Using what others will think of us as a final measure in taking a position is one way to pave a road to perdition.
We should speak such that some might hear us gladly, but also with the knowledge that the ruler of this world wants to silence us. The hearer might repent … or hate, persecute, or even kill you. That’s his choice.
The best soldiers do what they are given to do, knowing they may live or die. We should ponder the example of the righteous and holy John the Baptist gladly.
Yours for Christ, Creed & Culture,
James M. Kushiner
Executive Director, The Fellowship of St. James