Thursday, July 25, 2013

Marriage Under Reconstruction Part 2


Changing Marriage
Marriage under Reconstruction
Part 2

I left my previous post with a simple question: What can be done? Of course, the context matters. I’m writing about the reconstruction of marriage. So the expanded question becomes: What can be done about reconstructing marriage given its current status in western cultures?
I have some thoughts on what can be done.

Live your values

 People have changed the marriage construct by just living according to their values.

By successfully living as a single person, individuals documented that many people could live a fulfilled life outside of a marital relationship. That’s different for societies that held up marriage as The Way to live life. The change to the marriage construct is one of valuing. In a different way, some religious groups also valued single living as they encouraged some to enter a life of devoted service. Some Christians have interpreted what seem like unusual texts as evidence that being single was superior to marriage (Matthew 19: 10-12; 1 Corinthians 7: 10-16).

 People who live in unmarried relationships also influence the marriage construct by creating a socially accepted alternative. For some couples, cohabitation is a way of living. For others it is a transition between single living and marriage. A 2013 report from the U S Center for Diseases and Control Prevention (CDC) revealed that 48% of women cohabited with a partner in their first relationship compared to 23% whose first relationship was a marriage. There seems to be an educational factor. Cohabiting was more common (70%) among those with less than a high school education compared to 47% for those with a college degree. If the couple was engaged to marry when they lived together, their marriage was as likely to last at least 20 years as was the marriage for those who did not live together before marrying.



People who get divorce also live according to their values and influence the value of marriage within a culture. The divorce rate appears fairly stable with about half of first marriages ending in divorce. It does not seem to make much difference if you are a Christian or not when it comes to a divorce. The CDC report did offer interesting data for those interested in one religious dimension of how long a marriage lasts. The percentage of people whose marriage was likely to last at least 20 years was similar for Protestants (50%) and Catholics (53%). It was lower for those with no religion (43%) but highest for those from other religions (65%).

Be skeptical of simple poll research. In my view,
  the way people live out their relationships is a better indicator of their values than what they say.

Our social institutions have accommodated themselves to the reality of people lives. Governments have revised the questions they ask about relationships. Businesses offer benefits to domestic partners. Some governments changed their laws to care for the children born outside of marriage. Some churches welcome people who are living in ways other than as married couples.

  Every accommodation to support or not to support an alternative to marriage reflects a change in the valuing of the marriage construct.


Social activists work to define the marriage construct then take steps to promote laws that support their views. Laws come with penalties and incentives. The U S Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was one recent example of a major social act to define marriage for all U S Citizens. DOMA defined marriage as between one man and one woman. It had a negative impact on people in a same-sex marriage. The federal construct of marriage was different from the construct in the state of New York. As it turned out, the U.S. Supreme Court respected the state’s rights, and the woman who was to be harmed by a financial penalty related to differences in estate taxes for married and unmarried persons, was no longer harmed. I am not a lawyer but it seems to me that the 26 June, 2013 decision of the U. S. Supreme Court disallowed a particular marriage construct decided by the U. S. legislative and executive branch. Instead, the marriage construct defined by those in New York was supported. That New York construction of marriage allowed for same-sex marriages. The idea of a same-sex marriage as a marriage is a significant reconstruction of the marriage construct, which has only occurred within the past few years on a global basis.


When I thought about the U S Supreme court decision, I noticed that one vote made the difference. It seems to me, whatever way you conceptualize marriage, you could be the person in a given group who makes the difference in the reconstruction of marriage.

Other events are likely on the horizon. The popularity of TV shows about polygamy (e.g., Sister Wives starting a fourth season) has drawn attention to those living in multispouse relationships. Obviously, this bears some similarity to another traditional form of marriage throughout the ancient world and still a part of other cultures. The SCOTUS decision on DOMA did trigger warnings or celebrations related to the approval of plural marriage.

The recognition of cohabiting unions as marriages may become more common as those relationships increase in length and the couples increasingly interweave care of children and sharing of responsibilities. Despite the similarities of cohabiting relationships with common law marriages, there are important differences. Legal issues to be addressed and cohabiting couples should not assume common law marriage rules apply.

As noted previously, women and others worked for various changes in divorce laws, which indirectly changed the way society valued marriage. The previous restrictions on ending a marriage were removed in a matter of decades affording women and men various ways to end a marriage. In turn, some religious groups accommodated the societal changes as they became more and more responsive to the needs of those who were divorced and single as well as toward those who divorced and wished to remarry. Some Christian groups found their way around the adultery-only scriptures by annulling a first marriage. Annulment becomes a way for religious groups to reconstruct marriage.

Spiritual and Religious Individuals

Religious people not only change the valuing of the marriage construct but may also be involved in reconstructing marriage when their actions formally change the published statements of what constitutes a marriage within any particular religious denomination.

Some groups like the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) involved representatives from several religious denominations in their recent document, Theology of Sex, available on their website. The creation of such documents is a way to reconstruct marriage (or the sexual component of marriage) or reaffirm an existing construct. In the case of the NAE, they define Christian marriage for a large group of members. The same is true for documents explaining church teaching on marriage produced by Roman Catholics, which is the largest group of Christians on the planet.





Those who work in denomination-related relationship programs also work to restructure marriage. 
There are premarital counseling and marital counseling programs. The selection of existing programs or the creation of new programs inevitably defines the features of a marriage endorsed by that church or denomination. From a psychological perspective, the content of the program helps determine how much extrabiblical material the group believes they must add to the scriptural texts to have a viable program. In other words, a strictly fundamentalist group would presumably need nothing but scripture and sanctioned rituals like prayer. Those groups who go beyond the text would more likely fit an evangelical or progressive perspective. Such Christians allow varying degrees of human reason and science to inform what they do in these and other counseling or educational programs.


From an ethical perspective, the challenge for these religious-based programs is one of documenting effectiveness. It seems to be a reasonable assumption that groups would only offer a program that helped participants reach the published program goals and objectives. Participants invest their emotions, time, and in some cases finances, in these programs. Basic ethics suggests the programs should do no harm and should do some good. I have primarily focused on premarital counseling and related programs for heterosexual couples, or those going through divorce. But the recent apology by Alan Chambers of Exodus International to members of the LGBTQ community for problems they experienced in the Exodus program offers a challenge to all religious groups to evaluate the efficacy of their programs.

Whatever a religious group does for one group of individuals and does not do for another group demonstrates their commitment to the valuing of one form of relationship living over another. So observers can see how a church cares about singles, women, men, people who live together, married persons, engaged couples, divorced individuals, and members of the LGBTQ community by looking at the programs or ministries listed. How a religious group invests their resources in lives dictates how they are collectively reconstructing marriage and related lifestyles. It’s not just about published documents.

A final point. The way religious groups offer other services to the public also affects how they view members of society who may enter marriage or another relationship in the next several years. One example is the decision by churches hosting scouting groups. The Boy Scouts of America will permit gay youth to be members in January 2014. But gay men cannot be leaders. Some churches voiced continued support for scouting but others will no longer support BSA programs. How these religious decisions will influence the future relationships, including potential marriages, of the young men is obviously unknown.

If people want to redefine a religious group’s construct of marriage there is some evidence it can be done.

The most recent example comes from Christian congregations that changed their views on marriage by blessing or supporting marriages for same-sex couples. But most people are in heterosexual relationships so what can they do? Good question.

One answer by a well-known evangelical pastor, Rob Bell, offers a reconstruction for those living together. In his book, Sex God: Exploring the Endless Connections Between Sexuality and Spirituality, Bell discusses the unusual verses in Exodus 22 and Deuteronomy 22 suggesting that when a man raped a woman he was to treat her as a wife. Sex appears to be a primary or even exclusive criterion of marriage in the ancient biblical world. Here’s a quote from page 130,
 “The point of the Deuteronomy and Exodus passages? Sex, in the ancient world, was marriage. If you had sex, you were married. All that needed to be worked out was the legal and financial consequences of what this man and this woman had just done.”
Bell also opines, “But maybe it’s already a marriage in God’s eyes, and maybe their having sex has already joined them as man and wife from God’s perspective. (p. 132)”



As with any such small quote from a book it’s important to read the author’s context. You will of course encounter various interpretations of these texts. My point is, religious leaders have defined and redefined marriage for millennia. And they continue to do so. Some churches invite the laity to participate in revisions of church policy or doctrine. Change is ongoing for at least some Christian groups.

I have more thoughts on reconstructing marriages. Future topics include:

  • Building healthy relationships—reconstructing real marriages- not just the social construct of marriage.
  • LOVE: Some thinking on a broad construct of love that includes psychological and spiritual dimensions. A way of getting beyond that sentimental-feeling-only type of love.


Sources
Most of the sources are in the article links.
For more news and comments on marriage and related topics, join me on Facebook PsychologyReligion

Constructive comments welcome


Friday, July 19, 2013

Marriage under reconstruction

Marriage Under Reconstruction

The 1950s imaginary sentimental love man as protein-carbs winner (bring home the bacon & breadwinner) marriage has ended for most people in most Western cultures. Some folks retain that image, or some photoshopped version of it, as the ideal traditional marriage. 

Picture the happy couple at church with King James Bibles under their arms and you get the Protestant Christian version of this traditional marriage.


Changes are a constant

The changes in marriage and romantic relationships in the last few decades are staggering for anyone alive before the 1960s. Human behavior is my business. I am a psychologist. The counseling advice offered to couples seems to reflect the mythology of the decade rather than recommendations sourced in science. I would like to say that the nature and extent of the changes in marriage and romantic relationships have never been seen before in human history. But I am no historian. Nevertheless, the changes call for some considerable effort at adaptation that was not required when the religious and social norms for marriage were stable for decades or perhaps centuries.

What’s different?

Age. The life expectancy of men and women continues to grow. For most of human history, people lived shorter lives than they do now. Many women died during childbirth. Many men died during war. Many diseases that ended lives can now be treated and some are eradicated. People live longer and for that reason, people who remain married have marriages that last longer than ever. Even those who divorce and remarry may have two marriages each one of which is longer than one marriage in olden days. There’s another age factor. People used to marry at younger ages than they do now. For several reasons related to independence, people now defer marriage until later in life. The length of marriage poses a challenge.

Discrimination. Prejudice against unmarried persons has declined-- faster in some cultures than others. Marital status is rarely a condition of employment or obtaining a loan. You don't have to marry to have respect.

Education. For millennia, only wealthy men from ruling families had a shot at a good education. Many factors changed that, including the action of women to gain social independence. Now, more women earn college degrees than do men. And more women are earning advanced degrees than ever before. Theoretically at least, education leads to better paying jobs and economic status leads to independence. And independent people don't want to live in dependent relationships.

Emotion. Love stories are entertaining but for most of recorded history, marriages were not love-based. Parents arranged marriages in most cultures. In more recent centuries, it seems children could influence their parents about potential partners. But love-- that smarmy, sentimental, transient feeling kind of love that sells summer books—that was not part of the traditional marriage contract. Love-based marriages seem to have begun 2-3 centuries ago—depends on who you read. Now, marriage is all about love. In the best sense, at least for successful marriages, mature adults have a broader understanding of love than transient feelings.

Sex. Changes in sexual relationships are hardly any surprise to contemporary readers. Even those who have only lived a few decades have witnessed changes in attitudes toward sex. The penalties for sex outside of marriage were not just forms of social disapproval. People –mostly women--suffered. If a woman became pregnant she could hardly find employment of any kind --let alone employment that would be sufficient to care for herself and her child. In many cases, men were coerced into doing the honorable thing- marry the woman they got pregnant. Great start for a happy marriage! What changed? Contraception became widely available. Sexually transmitted diseases could be prevented or treated.

People did not talk about sexual abuse even though it occurred in sacred and secular places for millennia. People often did not believe reports that women were raped and did not believe in the concept of rape within a marriage. Some still don’t. The changing views on sex is probably one of the biggest challenges to contemporary conservative views on marriage.

Gender roles. For millennia only men could hold certain social and employment positions. Women could not vote, attend college, hold certain jobs, join civic groups, get elected, get a loan, get a credit card, or wear the clothes of her choice. She was not allowed to make decisions under what conditions she would have sex or children. Laws have changed. Women have more freedom than ever in recent decades- maybe in all of history. Both men and women need to adjust to contemporary realities. Like the proverbial joke about ordering a cup of coffee, there are many options now... more socially acceptable options than ever before. Gender roles within conservative churches haven't changed much. That's a big challenge.

Divorce. As divorce laws changed, common people – not just royals—were able to get official permission to end painful relationships. At first, it was easier for the common man (i.e., not an aristocrat or powerful king) to obtain a divorce. As women approached equality with men, they too could seek divorce and escape the tragedy of abuse. Divorce rates rose and caused considerable alarm. Was it the end of marriage? Yes. Many forms of previous marriage patterns have declined in frequency. Divorce literally saved the lives of some who only saw suicide or homicide as a way out-- seriously, till death do you part. Children suffered when their married parents fought and when they divorced. This is a significant change for all- including churches.

Social role of marriage. Older forms of marriage are no longer the basic social units of western cultures. People continue to marry in the sense of obtaining a license for a relationship, which entitles them to many benefits. Couples of all ages continue to pursue a wedding blessed within their religious tradition. But marriages are no longer the factor they once were in employment, benefits, or commerce. Nor do marriages create a barrier when unmarried people wish to be parents. There are many ways for an individual or a couple to become a parent outside of marriage. An increasing range of safe and effective medical technologies improve the chances for a successful pregnancy. One child may have five parents—an egg donor, a sperm donor, a surrogate mother, and a different couple who raises the child.  Laws have changed that allow individuals and couples to adopt children regardless of marital status or sexual orientation.

Independence is not just for nations or churches anymore. In the western political revolutions, people were promised liberty. Cries for freedom and the right to pursue happiness took hold. As countries broke away from empires and as religious leaders rose up to challenge empire-like churches, so too have individuals gained independence from governments, churches, parental controls, and in terms of marriage, from each other.


                         The existence of dependency-based marriages is officially over.


Marriage and Religion



The primary but by no means exclusive religion in western cultures continues to be Christianity. Christianity of course comes in many forms. Church leaders have had much to say about marriage in the past two thousand years. Most if not all point to the Genesis verses to illustrate, as did Jesus, Paul, and Peter, that God brought the first couple together and blessed them with the task of having children. Since that glorious beginning many rules governed the relationships of men and women. Sometimes those old Hebrew Laws got pretty detailed about when you could and could not have sex. Christians of course point to New Testament teaching—primarily that of the Apostle Paul.

But Christians are divided in their interpretation of matters related to marriage – including matters of sex partners, sex outside of marriage, contraception, abortion, divorce, and so forth. Most churches have posted their official positions on their website. It’s good to know what a particular group believes before you enter the doors.

The official positions of churches only tell part of the story. People behave differently than what they say they believe they should do. Most churches offer forgiveness and encourage people to turn from their old ways. When it comes to conservative interpretations of scripture, more and more people are out-of-step with official teaching. Like Tevye in the classic musical, Fiddler on the Roof, many churches seem to have reached their breaking point when it comes to adapting to new ways. Not surprisingly, younger people make up a large portion of those who identify as progressive. The problem for the faithful: How much can they change before they reach the point that they no longer endorse a Christian marriage?

What does a conservative view of Christian marriage look like in 2013?

Well, here’s the feature list. You probably already know these items. Some churches will vary in their official teaching. I may have left off some items. Feel free to offer informative comments so I can correct outright mistakes.
  • A marriage is between one man and one woman.
                       …Who never had sex until they got married.
  • The wedding ceremony should take place in a church.
…And the ceremony includes a sermon, prayer, rings, candles, communion, and religious songs (along with various items from pop culture).
  • They commit before God and man that they will be faithful to God and each other as long as they live.
  • They work out their problems rather than get divorced.
  • They only divorce if one spouse committed adultery.
  • They only remarry after divorce if the divorce was based on adultery.

  • Unofficially but felt--They want to have children. If they do not want children or do not have children, then something is wrong.
  • The man is the head of the home. Mutual submission and love are encouraged but, when push comes to shove, the man rules.

Here’s a few unwritten rules related to relationships. You are part of a lower class of Christian if:
  • You are an unmarried woman. Something’s wrong… unless you devoted yourself to care for starving children in Africa.
  • You are a single mother.
  • You are a career woman and your husband has no real job because he cares for your children.

Unless you are willing to change your ways, you are not welcome in a conservative Christian church if:
  • You are unmarried and in a relationship that includes sex.
  • You are living with someone as if you were married.
  • You are in a same sex relationship.


God loves you so the Christians will love you too
… but God hates your lifestyle so you must change.


What can be done? This blog post is long enough so I shall continue another day.  I hope to offer some ideas for change. You probably have some too.

I welcome thoughtful and considerate comments. I welcome disagreement as long as you are polite.

For more stories on psychology and religion see https://www.facebook.com/PsychologyReligion?ref=hl


Sources (Click on links in the text for web articles)
American Society for Reproductive Medicine (2012). Third-party reproduction. Retrieved June 11, 2013 from http://www.asrm.org/uploadedFiles/ASRM_Content/Resources/Patient _Resources/Fact_Sheets_and_Info_Booklets/thirdparty.pdf
Baptist faith and message (2013). Retrieved from http://www.sbc.net/bfm/bfm2000.asp
Bell, R. (2007). Sex God: Exploring the endless connections between sexuality and spirituality. New York: Harper One.
Coontz, S. (2005). Marriage, a history: From obedience to intimacy or how love conquered marriage. New York: Penguin Group. One of my primary sources see her web page for more http://www.stephaniecoontz.com/index.htm 
Duinn, J. (2008). Quitting church: Why are the faithful fleeing and what to do about it. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
Friedman, R. E. & Dolansky, S. (2012). The bible now. New York: Oxford University Press.
Kluger, J. & Park, A. (2013, June 10). Frontiers of fertility. Time. 181, (22), 50-54.
Lang, J. (2013, June 12). What happens to women who are denied abortions? New York Times Magazine. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/16/magazine/study-women-denied-abortions.html?pagewanted=all&_r=2&
Manning, C. & Zuckerman, P. (2005). Sex and religion. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
McLeland, K. C., & Sutton, G. W. (2008). Spirituality, mental health, sexual orientation, and gender: An experimental study of attitudes and social influence. Journal of Psychology and Theology, 36, 104-113
National Association of Evangelicals. (2012). Theology of sex: Honoring God’s good gift. Author. Retrieved from http://www.nae.net/church-and-faith-partners/projects/generation-forum/theology-of-sex
Pargament. K. I. (1997). The psychology of religion and coping: Theory, research, practice. New York: Guilford.
USCCB (2009, November 17). Marriage: Love and life in the divine plan. A Pastoral Letter of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Retrieved from http://www. usccb.org/issues-and-action/marriage-and-family/marriage/love-and-life/upload/pastoral-letter-marriage-love-and-life-in-the-divine-plan.pdf 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Honouring Nelson Mandela




NELSON MANDELA RECONCILIATION 
CONTINUES

As I write this post, Nelson Mandela lies ill in hospital. People have gathered to pray. His example of forgiveness and reconciliation continues as reflected in a BBC news headline: Nelson Mandela is ‘uniting the nation,’ hears church service.

In 2009, I joined my friend Johan Mostert on a visit to religious leaders and ministries in South Africa. I learned of the pain of suffering and the struggle to forgive from people who had lived through apartheid. Mostert, a clergyman and community psychologist and his colleague, Mervin van der Spuy, Chaplain, weave stories of forgiveness and reconciliation with historical events as they explain the value of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in healing the nation. (I’ll include the reference to their chapter at the end of this blog post.) The TRC was set up by the South African Government of National Unity to deal with the results of violent conflicts and human rights abuses that occurred during the apartheid era. 

On 16 December, 1995 Archbishop Desmond Tutu addressed the first gathering of the TRC. In referring to the task of the TRC, he linked forgiveness to confession and truth. And he appealed to all people of all faiths. Here's an excerpt from his speech.

We will be engaging in what should be a corporate nationwide process of healing through contrition, confession and forgiveness. To be able to forgive one needs to know whom one is forgiving and why. That is why the truth is so central to this whole exercise.
But we will be engaging in something that is ultimately deeply spiritual, deeply personal. That is why I have been appealing to all our people – this is not something just for the Commission alone. We are in it, all of us together, black and white, coloured and Indian, we this rainbow people of God. That is why I have appealed to our different communities of faith (Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu etc) to uphold the Commission in fervent prayer and intercession that we may be showered with the divine blessings of wisdom, courage and discernment.

President Nelson Mandela's focus on the importance of truth linked to forgiveness and reconciliation was evident when he spoke at the commissioning service for the TRC on 13 February, 1996. "The choice of our nation is not whether the past should be revealed, but rather to ensure that it comes to be known in a way which promotes reconciliation and peace."


You can read page after page of the confessions. People told their stories. Powerful stories of suffering and loss. Stories that are difficult to read. The work of forgiveness and reconciliation is torturous at times. 

***********

Johan Mostert related a story of political leader Frank Chikane, who was also a pastor in the same denomination as Johan and Mervin (Apostolic Faith Mission). At a meeting in 1997, Johan had the opportunity to see Frank who was Director General of the Presidency in the government of Thabo Mbeki. Among other injustices, Frank had been targeted for assassination when he was General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches, a post once held by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Here’s Johan’s report:
 
With a lump in my throat I confessed to him my ignorance and my guilt. Frank smiled and shook his head and said, “You were a child of your time.  It’s not your fault.”  The TRC had uncovered atrocities against my friend.  On behalf of my people, the Afrikaners, I was able to say “I’m sorry” and Frank was graciously able to forgive me!  More than anything else, this experience brought the healing power of the TRC process into my life!

People who survive oppression and violent struggles for freedom have scenes of violence burned into their memories. Reviewing such awful confessions during the TRC process also had effects. Mervin van der Spuy relates a story illustrating not only the effects of the trauma but the tension between forgiveness—letting go—and the problem of reconciling with an untrustworthy offender. Here’s a part of Mervin’s story:

I (van der Spuy) arranged for Everett Worthington, a prominent Christian psychologist and forgiveness researcher, to visit the TRC in Johannesburg. We addressed the TRC committee on the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. As Worthington shared his personal story about forgiving the person who murdered his mother, one of the TRC staff members became overwhelmed with emotions and ran out of the room. I followed her and listened to her story. Her son had been abducted by the police and subsequently murdered. The policeman who killed her son applied for and received amnesty. Although he did not express remorse, he did reveal the location where her son was buried in an unmarked grave and she could find solace in the fact that she could rebury her son and grieve his death. As a TRC staff member she felt compelled to reconcile with her son’s murderer. But her emotional turmoil was compounded because after the hearings she heard that he had arrogantly boasted, ‘I got away with it’. She wanted to forgive, but did not feel that she could reconcile. Our visit was the first time she felt that the pressure to reconcile was lifted and that she could forgive even if no reconciliation was possible.
                                                                  ***********

Nelson Mandela and the leaders of the new South Africa embarked on a brave experiment to bring healing to a nation. Was the TRC perfect? No. But what are the alternatives to overcome years of offense and intense suffering? Others have reviewed the TRC experience in a depth not possible in a blog post. My point is first to recognize the leadership of Nelson Mandela who, at a great distance from me has nevertheless touched my world by his effect on those who lived under his leadership. And second, to offer the stories and thoughts of my friends Johan and Mervin as lessons about forgiveness and reconciliation that can bring hope and healing in some of the most challenging of situations. 

There's no shortage of news stories documenting conflicts within and between nations. Wars and conflicts not only destroy lives but they tear at the fabric of society so severely that repair seems impossible. Political and religious groups engage in verbal violence aimed at destroying the character of their combatants. Then there are stories that never make headlines. People fight in their houses of worship, at their places of work, and within their families.

Perhaps one way to honor the legacy of people like Nelson Mandela is to give forgiveness and reconciliation a chance. Regardless of religious or secular creed, the words have no meaning unless leaders raise their voices of peace instead of weapons of war.




Reference

Mostert, J. & van der Spuy, M. (2010). Truth and reconciliation in South Africa. In M. Mittelstadt & G. W. Sutton (eds.) Forgiveness, reconciliation, and restoration: Multidisciplinary studies from a Pentecostal perspective. Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications.

Click to link to trailer of film Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom 


Wednesday, July 3, 2013

INDEPENDENCE DAY


INDEPENDENCE DAY

JUSTICE

IMMIGRATION

The people of Boston bore witness to violence. In the late 1760s, things heated up. People were divided in their support for the British government. Troops arrived to manage the conflict. Then it happened. Fighting began. Shots were fired. Bostonians were killed on 5 March, 1770. The troops were arrested. John Adams defended the British Captain and later the troops. The Captain was acquitted. Two soldiers received the death penalty but were freed with a brand of murder based on a special plea. You can read materials related to the trial online.


  • In the midst of conflict, people wanted justice.
  • Both sides wanted a fair trial—perhaps for different reasons.
  • Justice prevailed.

My parents and I emigrated from England and arrived in the USA just a couple of weeks before the 4th of July. It seemed awkward for British citizens to celebrate independence from Britain. There were plenty of jokes about the redcoats and strange English ways—all in good fun with plenty of hot dogs and Coke. As a family we were fascinated by American history and the passionate patriotism of our good-hearted neighbors. When I was 17, I drove to the Cumberland County Court House in Bridgeton, NJ (pictured right) and took a citizenship test, swore an oath of allegiance, and went back to High School, an American. It seemed so easy then. Good thing the two countries reconciled their differences years ago.

Debates about how to handle immigration have been in the news for some time. I want to comment on the wisdom of John Adams and the fair trial. The Bostonians were right to seek justice. It is a serious matter when citizens lose their lives. People have inherent worth. When people are shot and killed, honorable people are shocked and demand justice. Passions run high—especially when the deaths were caused by people from elsewhere. But in all that turmoil, a rational process occurred. Laws were respected. Consideration was given to the facts and the context under which the troops fired those fatal shots. Surely this was a good example of people committed to fairness and justice.

Many of us are immigrants or children of immigrants. I was fortunate to have parents who followed the rules. Other children have lived in the shadows unable to do what I did because of the way their parent’s entered this great land. Where you live and connect with family and friends is your home. Americans have the right to expect people to follow the rules. When people break the rules, fair penalties can and should be applied. But how do you treat people fairly when they are  law abiding strangers who make a contribution to your well-being but were brought here in deceptive ways?

  • What about the abused and neglected? 
  • And what about the children?

We shall see what happens. For my part, I love living in a society where most people treat each other with respect. A place where there’s justice and mercy. The U S Senate found a way to create a path to citizenship. Can the U. S House leaders find their way to balance justice and mercy?
I hope so.


Notes
You can read more about the trial at the John Adams Historical Society (http://www.john-adams-heritage.com) or view the trial portrayed in the HBO miniseries, “John Adams.”

You can also find trial details, related background, and Adam’s speech at http://www.bostonmassacre.net/index.html