Am I just a curmudgeon? Not sure.
I wrote a fews weeks ago about Ministry or Marriage – looking at a number of people who are admired for their brave and pioneering struggle (in particular Nelson Mandela and John Wesley) – but who in the process negelcted their spouse and family. My question was “Is it right to achieve something great at the expense of your family?”. My feeling, in the light of the New Testament is “no” – our first calling and commitment is to someone who we have covenanted to “have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse …..” – and perhaps even more so to any children that come from the marriage. Anything else, however important, should come second.
I thought I had said quite enough on the subject (you may have to!) – until I came across the stories of a couple more Nobel Prize winners who have made big sacrifices with their families.
Aung Sung Suu Kyi was released from house arrest in Burma on 13th November 2010. After years of protests from millions of people, governments, the UN and the Pope she is finally free. There was much joy in Yangon (Rangoon) and around the world. Lots of writing and broadcasting followed. I listened to a documentary on Radio 4 shortly after her release and discovered something I didn’t know. Suu Kyi (as her friends know her) lived in London for many years and married an English academic Michael Aris in 1972. They went on to have 2 children who are only a few years younger than me. In 1988 when her 2 boys were young teenagers, she went back to Burma – never to return to the UK, and only saw her husband and sons a handful of times again. Now, don’t get me wrong – this must have been incredibly hard for her – but it was a choice. She wrote to her husband, before they were married ““I only ask one thing, that should my people need me, you would help me to do my duty by them.” Now, perhaps Michael Aris was prepared for this – perhaps he was willing to make the sacrifice – but what about the boys? As one of her London friends gently put it on the Radio 4 documentary – her sons have not found it easy. Did she make the right choice?
Perhaps more disturbing for me personally is the story of Rev Dr Martin Luther King – the famous civil rights campaigner from USA, by James Earl Ray in 1968. Famous for his courage in leading the fight for black civil rights and equality in the face of often violent opposition from many in the dominat white population. I was inspired and moved by King as a teenager – his speech on the night that he died (“I have been to the mountain top”) still grips me. My sympathy for King was one of the things that made me receptive to Christianity – as King and so many other of the leaders of the civil rights movement were Christians whose faith shaped what they were doing.
However, there is a problem with King and his legacy. Whatever his commitment to the cause of black civil rights – it doesn’t seem to have been mirrored by his commitment to his wife, Coretta Scott King. One of his closest colleagues Ralph Abernathy wrote in 1989 “”Martin and I were away more often than we were at home; and while this was no excuse for extramarital relations, it was a reason. Some men are better able to bear such deprivations than others, though all of us in SCLC [Southern Christian Leaders Convention] headquarters had our weak moments. We all understood and believed in the biblical prohibition against sex outside of marriage. It was just that he had a particularly difficult time with that temptation.” It appears that King had a number of adulterous affairs, and one inparticular if his biographer David Garrow is to be believed.
Once again, which is more important – commitment to spouse and family, or commitment to the cause. Most people honour King as a hero and an icon – they even have a public holiday in his honour in America. His work for civil rights was brave and inspirational. But for my money, I think he should have focussed more attention on his marriage (especially as a Baptist minister!).
I believe that God will ask us first about how we have treated those that we have commited ourselves to – especially husbands, wives, children, parents, grandchildren – and others that are close to us. For example:
“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it” (Ephesians 5:25)
Don’t worry – I am aware that in asking questions about others – the first thing I need to do is ask questions about myself. As the bible says “You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister ? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.” (Romans 14:10). How am I doing at first being faithful to my family? Perhaps I should go and ask them.