I've been thinking about an old moral dilemma recently, from Ezra 10, in conjunction with the recent case of the woman who became a Christian, left her lesbian relationship, and then was told by a court that her former partner, who hadn't been in a legal relationship with the now-Christian woman's adopted daughter, had joint custody and that the now-Christian woman can't expose her daughter to homophobia. This court decision makes no legal sense, but it does raise some very hard choices for Christians in slightly different but certainly very possible situations. (Note: the extended entry is taken from what was originally linked to from my other blog that didn't have extended entries, so it may repeat some of the above.)
I've been thinking about an old moral dilemma recently, from Ezra 10. If divorce is presumed wrong without certain extenuating circumstances (e.g. unfaithfulness without repentance), then a marriage that was wrong to enter into is no reason for divorce. Ezra rightly led his people to repent of the wrong they did through intermarriage with those whose beliefs and practices would have undermined the returned exiles' true worship of God. Their actions had been condemned in the Mosaic law. They had a great revival service and recommitment to follow God's law. Then Ezra led the people in what I see as at least a morally ambiguous act -- divorcing those wives, presumably sending them back to their families. Nowhere does the account itself endorse this, though it doesn't portray it as bad either. It just seems to result naturally from the genuine repentance and revival that occurred earlier.
However, in the scope of biblical teaching in general, it seems to be the wrong response. What about the children of such unions, who could be instructed in the law of God but I assume were sent back with the wives? Now these children will have no fathers and no godly influence in their lives. Scholars disagree on the exact time of Malachi's prophetic ministry, but I think the best arguments favor a time earlier than Ezra, possibly slightly overlapping it. Malachi condemned divorce in no uncertain terms ("God hates divorce"). For that reason I think there had to have been a better response. I can't see this as the lesser of two evils, as some commentators do.
Now there's a new dilemma that hasn't quite happened, but something close to it has. In the actual case, a lesbian became a Christian and changed her mind on the issue of homosexuality. She now believes that homosexual acts and relationships are wrong. The problem was that she was in one, and she had adopted a daughter who for the previous seven years had been raised by her and her partner. She left that relationship because she considered it wrong. Since her daughter had been adopted by her and not by her partner, her partner legally had no right to retain a parental role.
The court didn't see it that way and awarded the partner joint custody, calling her a psychological parent. Because of the psychological parent's sexual orientation, the court ordered the legal parent not to expose the child to anything that might be viewed as homophobic. 'Exposing someone to homophobia' is a notoriously wide-ranging expression that can cover anything from irrational fear of homosexuals to simply mentioning that the Bible teaches that homosexual acts and relationships are wrong and explaining what the reasoning behind such a view is. Prohibiting the first is somewhat understandable and probably would have been done anyway by a former lesbian, knowing what it is like to be subject to people's fears and intolerance. Prohibiting the second seems to me to violate both freedom of religion and freedom of speech, not to mention what courts have frequently ruled to be parental rights.
This raises for me a very interesting moral dilemma much like the one Ezra had to deal with but perhaps much more difficult. As with the cases Ezra was dealing with, this sort of union is one that Christians committed to the authority of the Bible should believe it's morally wrong to enter into. Additionally, I think a Christian has to say that it would be wrong to continue in a sexual or romantic relationship with someone of the same sex. That's perhaps the only crucial difference between these cases. In this case, the woman had no reason to think she couldn't just leave this woman. According to Christian belief this was no marriage, even if (contrary to current policy) the government were to call it a marriage. I don't think that reason against divorce would really hold. However, there's a daughter involved. In this case, it shouldn't have been a problem, since this was her adopted daughter, and this other woman had no legal relationship to her. Yet that's just this case. What if the same situation arises except with two women who together have adopted a daughter? Obviously she shouldn't leave her daughter to be raised by someone who will not teach her godly values. Yet she shouldn't stay in the relationship, should she?
Here's what I think would be the best resolution of tension created by principles that seem to conflict in this case. She should tell her partner that she's committed to continuing in the relationship as a non-romantic, non-sexual relationship and that she's committed to continuing to raise their daughter together. If the other woman refuses, then the other woman is the one to leave. That's her prerogative. Paul says something similar about married couples, one of whom becomes a believer and the other who doesn't. If the non-believer leaves, that's that. The believer shouldn't be the one to do so. In that case, the marriage would either continue or not. Here it can't be that way. So she has to say that she will continue the relationship simply as a joint parental friendship relationship. The law should then, I believe, grant the custody to the one willing to stay in this arrangement if the other woman leaves. If she had done this in this case, it would have resulted in a better arrangement, difficult as it would have been. I wouldn't have thought that to be necessary, however, since in this case there was no prior legal connection between the girl and the mother's partner, so I wouldn't blame her at all for what she did. She couldn't have foreseen such an unprecedented legal decision.
Thanks to Jason Suh for bringing this to my attention.