There is good news here though, I think. The good news is that this is one more indicator that the sexual revolution is, ultimately, boring. Marriage and family can be discarded, but, in time, their proposed replacements become the new norm, and it’s time for the revolutionaries to rebel again. That can only go on for so long before a broken and bored people begin to wonder what else is there out there?
That’s changing, however, as churches face declining numbers and look to new ministry models to make ends meet. Thumma sees more mainliners cutting back to halftime or one-quarter-time packages for clergy, who increasingly work second jobs. The unpaid cleric model is gaining traction among Episcopalians. In the mid-1990s, for example, the Episcopal Diocese of Wyoming had few if any unpaid clergy serving its 49 congregations. Now, 20 priests in Wyoming – more than one-third – are unpaid.
Orthodox academics have also been contributing to the insurrection against the church hierarchy. In the Soviet period, scholarship had to be couched in crudely Marxist terms, and the Orthodox Church was mostly excluded from any scrutiny. But since 1990, sophisticated scholarship on contemporary religiosity has been a growth industry. Conferences on, and studies of, religion abound. And, as with the religious mass media, the striking thing is the Orthodox academia’s refusal to commit to the party line. A growing number of scholarly publications emphasize the diversity among Russian spiritual beliefs — what the religious life of believers actually looks like (many Russians claim spiritual rewards from buying organic produce from Orthodox farmers), as opposed to what sociologists or clerics think they ought to look like (say, praying or going to church). Sociologist Nikolai Mitrokhin, who has studied the contemporary Orthodox Church in the greatest detail, goes furthest in criticizing the church-state alliance — including what he calls the “gay mafia” in the church hierarchy. But even those scholars who do not support an explicit political agenda have helped to undermine the church’s claims about a single “true” Orthodoxy.
This seems straightforward enough, but things become complicated when the question is asked: How is property obtained? First, Aquinas refutes the idea that man individually or corporately gives and takes away property: “God has the chief dominion over all things. And he in his providence has ordained some things for the material sustenance of human beings.” Property is a gift from God. All things belong to the Creator who graciously gives man material goods.
Now, after several semesters of discussing marriage with my introductory ethics classes, I’ve heard these concerns expressed enough times to conclude that, for all their righteous zeal concerning sexual freedom, undergraduates do actually know that they are confused about marriage. This is interesting, particularly since the young people in question are not particularly religious or conservative. My students represent a fairly standard cross-section of middle-class American 20-year-olds. They can talk all day about the evils of global warming and homophobia, but the decline of marriage is, for most of them, a fairly new subject. Nevertheless, they are easily convinced that our society has a marriage problem, because they know that they have a marriage problem, which their teachers and parents have done little to help them resolve.