existed in the United States roughly in the middle of the 1800’s. It was a utopian community that practiced “complex” marriage, the understanding that every man and every woman in an Oneida community, and they lived in community with each other, were married. The idea was to achieve a kind of communitarian perfection by, in a regulated fashion, sharing everything, including each other. The Shakers, a religious community birthed in England but imported to the United States in the late 1700’s, practiced a strict form of celibacy among those who joined, even the married. The Latter Day Saints, an American religious movement birthed in the earlier 1800’s, adopted for a time the practice of polygamy. Even in the earlier years of our country there were experiments regarding the nature and definition of marriage, family, and sexuality.
Notice, however, that the Oneida community dissolved and turned into a commercial concern. The Shakers simply could not recruit enough members to make up for their aging celibates and only a handful, if any, remain. The Latter Day Saints eventually abandoned the idea of polygamy, except for a few small sects, and now actively for bid it. Have you heard about the “free love” communities of the 60’s? Neither have I. They’re probably around but most of the people who tried out this option have long since left.
And now we’re at it again, we Americans, following the paths of the trailblazers and “prophets” of a sort who decided that a new land needed new definitions of community, family, and marriage. Old ideas are out, and well just “old”, and we’re once again pushing at histories fences on these matters as if those people back then hadn’t a real clue about any of it. As they say “Those who forget the lessons of history…”
Of course these new experiments will fail just like the other attempts have failed. Men and women are designed by nature to be in a complimentary relationship with each other, a relationship which has mutuality, exclusivity, and family at its core. This will not change regardless of whatever laws or notions are enshrined in public policy. Our current sexual revolution is already on this failure track. Designed to free us from the “restrictions” of an imagined puritan past it has instead produced social, economic, and medical chaos. In the absence of any formal and social rules the rules written in nature have taken effect. The farther we get from one man, one woman, one lifetime, the more we experience the harsh repercussions of the law written in the fabric of the world.
That, I think is the real problem in all of this, not that we won’t return to some kind of moral sanity but rather what will happen until we arrive at that place. Sooner or later we’ll be overwhelmed by the data, the costs, the very real problems associated with our current attitude and the purveyors of the current order will one day be seen like we see cigarette company executives. It won’t matter if people heed the warnings of people of faith, the sheer and unfiltered evidence will one day find its way through the screens created by our leaders and into the common understanding. We will wake up one day and say “What were we thinking?” In fact its already under way.
Yet until then there’s going to be an increasing body count, a mounting list of tragedies, a growing list of problems from which we will have to recover. The observant Christian community, and I use the word “observant” because there are any number of “christian” communities that are in fact promoting the current agenda against the clear teachings of the Faith and, frankly, common sense, must be ready for these issues. We need to be a place of sanity in the present keeping our teachings intact and entire even in the face of extreme social opposition. We need to be a place of healing where the victims of this current vision, and they are victims, find a place of healing where they are not shamed or condemned but rather invited to join the community of strugglers seeking God’s grace and mercy. We will need to provide practical help for the very real social, emotional, and economic fallout of the current practices. There will be wounded, there already are, and the larger culture already pushes them out of view because their existence puts the lie to the dominant paradigm, yet we must build their care and recovery into the core mission of our outreach to the world.
Above all its time we in the Church got real about all of this. Not “real” in the sense of accepting what is going on but real in understanding it for what it is and what we need to do about it. The current experiments in marriage and family will one day be a historic footnote like the Oneida community, the Shakers, and Brigham Young with his flock of wives. Until then the time for us to be proactive and not reactive has arrived. Indeed its been with us for some time now.