Culture Friday – A surprise affirmation of marriage

MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in ItCulture Friday.

NICK EICHER, HOST: It was three weeks ago now that the Church of England issued a statement on doctrine related to marriage and sexuality.  

It’s known as a pastoral guidance, and what it said should not have come as a surprise to anyone. 

Here’s what it said: Consistent with 2,000 years of Christian teaching the church’s stance remains that “for Christians, marriage, that is the lifelong union between a man and a woman … remains the proper context for sexual activity.”

The statement also said that any sex outside of that “falls short of God’s purpose for human beings.”

Again, nothing there that should have come as a surprise.

Yet there was surprise, even if feigned surprise.

BASHAM: Yeah, because these assertions caused major headlines across the United States and Europe. 

About a week later, leaders in the church apologized. 

While they didn’t retract their position, they did say they were very sorry that they had “jeopardized trust” and that they “recognize the division and hurt this has caused.”

We now welcome Trevin Wax to Culture Friday. Trevin is the Senior Vice President of Theology and Communications at Lifeway and author of This is Our Time: Everyday Myths in Light of the Gospel

Trevin, good morning.

TREVIN WAX, GUEST: Good morning, Megan. Good morning, Nick.

BASHAM: So Trevin, as we talk about things that shouldn’t surprise anyone, the way this has all played out with the Church of England should maybe top the list.

But you wrote an excellent article this week that I think offered something more productive than simply mourning what’s happening, though it did do that as well. 

You really examined the consequences of Christians acting embarrassed about Biblical truth, apparently to appear more respectable.

One of the things that really resonated to me was your comment, “The road of reluctance is the road to irrelevance.” 

Can you explain that a little further?

WAX: Well, I was commenting on this idea and this kind of posture and spirit that sometimes I hear from different church leaders or people in church who say, yes, I affirm what the Bible says about this. I affirm what the Christian church has taught about this, but it’s almost as if they’re reluctant in their affirmation. And they’ll even say, you know, I’m a reluctant traditionalist on this. 

And I want to gently press back on that mindset to say I don’t think that’s actually going to be attractive to people in the world. I think sometimes we assume that if we have a very unpopular stance that we win some sort of an audience with people when talking about our faith or what it is we believe we give them the impression that we are as uncomfortable with our own teaching as they might be. As if we ourselves are not really confident in the goodness and the beauty of what Jesus has told us.

EICHER: The other thing I liked about your piece was the positive vision. When you look at this issue through the lens of Christian history, I perceived the argument that the increasing strangeness of our beliefs is the opportunity. 

Why do you think that is?

WAX: Well, I think that’s been the way it has been for 2,000 years of church history. The places where Christianity has really exploded on the scene or that people in the Christian church, some of the heroes that we have of the faith were those that were in direct opposition—joyfully in opposition—to the prevailing teachings of their day. And it’s not just on sexuality, even though that obviously was one of the big things in the first century. 

It’s also on how Christianity turned upside down notions of strength and power. The Christian teaching about humans being made in the image of God. Turning the other cheek has not always been a popular command of Jesus and yet the people that have been most radically out of step with the prevailing norms of their culture, they were ones that kind of like a blazing streak across the sky. Same thing with Jesus’s teaching on riches and wealth and all sorts of things. And so I just want to—when you think about 100 years ago there were a lot of church leaders who were very concerned about Christianity’s respectability in a technological and scientific age.

But it’s the same kind of thing—the desire to appear respectable to the world. And I don’t think we actually win a hearing by apologizing for what we believe, rather than giving an apologetic, a defend the faith kind of moment for what we believe, why we believe it’s true, why we believe it’s beautiful and don’t just say what we believe but we really believe what we say.

BASHAM: Well, I’d like to turn now to another marriage-related topic, but one that made me a lot happier. And I think it’s a nice moment to talk about on Valentine’s Day. 

The Academy Awards took place last Sunday. And as we all might have expected, there was a lot of political posturing as those little gold men were handed out. 

But my favorite acceptance speech of the night involved none of that. It came from a man named Don Sylvester who won the Oscar for sound editing on the movie Ford Vs. Ferrari. Great movie, by the way, and the sound was indeed fantastic.

In his speech Sylvester said something that caused more than a few people in the famous Dolby Theatre to stop clapping. Let’s take a listen.

AUDIO: The real support comes from home, so I want to thank my wonderful wife of 34 years who gave up her editing career for me to pursue my career. But she raised our kids and she did a great job because neither one of them are politicians.

EICHER: You know, I think that’s all we can do is listen to it because we’re a podcast, but you’ve gotta see the video really to get the full impact of this because it was wonderful. This woman was being praised by her husband and then behind her you see these glamorous actresses just—gasp—the dropped jaws. It was incredible to watch how shocked they were acting and that’s what it was. Like he had to recover with making a joke about politicians somehow not to get booed out of the place. That’s what it seemed to me as I watched it.

BASHAM: So, I shot off an off-hand comment about this as I was live-tweeting the Oscars, pointing out that it was a rather courageous, counter-cultural thing for Sylvester to say. Especially given the crowd he was speaking to. 

And I was a little surprised that, you know, given how many funny comments about the movies and speeches I made that evening, that tweet was actually my most-liked! (ha ha)

A few days later I saw that I wasn’t the only one who took note of Sylvester praising his homemaking wife.

EICHER: That’s right, a couple of news outlets wrote hand-wringing pieces about it, characterizing the moment as “uncomfortable.” 

And plenty of people on social media registered their disapproval with comments like, “Brava women heroes, sacrificing careers so white men can do what they want & not raise the kids,” and “That was so incredibly tone deaf.”

But one enterprising reporter at Salt Lake City’s daily paper tracked down Sylvester’s wife, Penny, and asked her what she thought of these reactions. 

She said, “I was paying someone to take care of my special-needs child and I realized they couldn’t do it as well as I could…To say that I don’t work is absolutely ludicrous, but what I did do is leave the entertainment industry.”

BASHAM: So, Trevin, what I saw on the stage last Sunday was a clear Proverbs 31 moment. Penny Shaw Sylvester’s husband was praising her at the city gate, so to speak.

Maybe an obvious question, but why do you think this should have caught people so off-guard? And I ask that admitting that it caught me a little off-guard, though for me it was in a wonderful way!

What do you think?

WAX: Well, if you kind of contrast that speech with one we heard from an actress at the Golden Globes just a few weeks ago, who literally was speaking of sacrificing a child on the altar of her career ambitions, I think you get a glimpse into the nature of Hollywood’s obsession and idolatry of a certain kind of success that is valued over other kinds of success.

But what this woman said is not really that she was sacrificing a career when she responded the way she did. She was actually choosing something else. She was choosing something that she sees as better. And she’s still working but she says, “I was leaving the entertainment industry.”

That’s not the same thing. But what it shows is that there’s a mindset in our society where if you choose to give your life to one thing rather than another, that one thing may look less valuable in the eyes of the world. And I think what her husband was trying to do was to lift up that choice to express gratitude for his own accomplishments but to do that in a way that was praising the decision she made, what she did, in order for that special-needs child to be raised in the way he or she was. So, it’s really a clash of cultures and expectations on a collision course there. And we always say, we don’t want to—you shouldn’t judge other people’s life choices, but it’s just fascinating how judgmental Hollywood can be of people’s life choices.

EICHER: Well, Trevin is Senior Vice President of Theology and Communications at Lifeway and author of This is Our Time: Everyday Myths in Light of the Gospel. 

Trevin, thanks so much.

WAX: Thank you!

(Photo/Blaine Ohigashi, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) Donald Sylvester accepts the Oscar for sound editing during the live ABC telecast of the 92nd Oscars at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, Calif., on Sunday, Feb. 9, 2020.

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