It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad. CS Lewis
Dee's latest bluebirds
I approach this story with trepidation because it is so easy to misunderstand my motivation in exposing this complex story. However, I cannot get this story, along with the issues that are raised, out of my mind and believe they are worthy of discussion and pondering.
It is important to realize that I have a grown daughter who suffered with brain cancer as a small child and was subjected to two massive neurosurgeries. I also spend time with severely handicapped teens and adults who have extremely limited comprehension and need 24/7 help with the most basic things in life.
I say this not to toot my own horn but to explain I have great empathy for the couple, Ian and Larissa Murphy, that we will be discussing. I admire Larissa’s selfless dedication and love for Ian. I respect and honor Ian’s patient acceptance of his serious disability.
It is vital to note that Larissa has gone public with this story. I would imagine that Ian has some comprehension of the publicity, albeit how much is uncertain. I admire her willingness to tell their story because it opens up her life to minute inspection. I respect her enough to raise the issues presented by the story.
John Piper has pushed this story on his site and the Gospel Coalition has joined in along with Sovereign Grace Ministries. So, the cat is out of the bag. The issues raised by this story are fascinating to explore, particularly the issue of spiritual authority.
Ian and Larissa were planning on becoming engaged when they were 22. Ian, on the way to work, was in a terrible car accident in which he nearly died. He received a devastating brain injury. The medical care that he received was wonderful but he needed to undergo several neurosurgeries and has been left limited.
Many folks are unaware of the serious issues involved in traumatic brain injury. Here is a link to Wikipedia, which does a good job of explaining the medical problems surrounding this sort of injury.
My daughter was 3 when she underwent surgery. A child’s brain is not yet fully developed and is quite elastic, which allows other areas of the brain to take over function for parts that are injured or removed. Although there is some elasticity in adults, it is far more limited.
After hospitalization, Larissa moved in with Ian’s parents to learn how to be his caretaker. This went on for several years. However, another tragedy struck. Ian’s father was diagnosed with brain cancer and eventually died. He expressed hope that Larissa and Ian would marry. One year, after his death, they did. However, they needed to get the permission of a judge to do so. They are members of a Sovereign Grace Church in Indiana.
Here is their video, which was first presented at Desiring God, John Piper’s site
Ian has obvious, serious mental and physical disabilities.
I used to do discharge planning for a hospital in Boston. We would regularly have patients present with serious and disabling injuries and diseases. Occasionally, physicians and social workers would judge these individuals as being unable to adequately make independent life decisions (surgery, residence, etc.). In such cases we would have to go before the court to appoint permanent or temporary guardianship. It is also important to note that judges are loathe to take away such rights unless the individual is truly at risk.
In the video we learn that Larissa, along with her pastor, had to go before a judge to be granted permission to be marry Ian. This means that Ian was judged incapable of making that independent legal decision. The Her.meneutics blog at Christianity Today here adds that Ian's brother, Caleb, spends 40 hours a week, presumably caretaking Ian when Larissa is at work. He needs 24 hour supervision and help.
Is this video an infomercial for John Piper’s book, This Momentary Marriage?
Why is Piper's book prominently featured in the video and in other comments that Larissa has made? I find this apparent attention to his book a bit disturbing. Frankly, I feel it should have been left out of the video because it gives the appearance of advertising. But, I believe Piper is involved for a more serious reason than simple marketing.
When Carolyn McCulley, Sovereign Grace Ministries, John Piper and The Gospel Coalition join forces in pushing a story, we should ask if there is an agenda.
From the True Woman blog here we learn that Ian and Larissa attend a Sovereign Grace Church in Indiana. Also, we are told that Citygate Films, which is directed by Carolyn McCulley, produced the film for John Piper’s Desiring God website. Carolyn McCulley is an ardent supporter and member of SGM and will also be one of the speakers for the upcoming Resolved conference. The Gospel Coalition’s Justin Taylor featured this video on his blog, and an opinion essay was featured by TGC here.
There is a clear agenda – spiritual authority. Ian has it and Larissa does not.
So here is the scenario. Larissa must do just about everything for Ian. She works, cares for the home, etc. She holds his head while he throws up, and she interprets what he is saying. She is in charge.
No, she is not, according to the Calvinistas. This story is quite threatening to the patriarchal movement. It is obvious the Larissa is in control and has authority but that is an anathema to their “authority” definition. So, this situation has been reinterpreted to put Ian back in the driver's seat. Here are some quotes.
From the Her.meneutic blog (see above for link) we learn:
“In the video, Larissa speaks about Ian’s spiritual leadership. From the outside looking in, most people would see only Ian’s disability. Larissa certainly sees the disability, and yet she also sees Ian’s ongoing abilities. She differentiates (following John Piper in his book This Momentary Marriage(another plug) between primary and secondary things within marriage: “Ian can’t do many of the secondary things, like working or making a meal for me. Everything that’s primary, though, he can do, which is leading me spiritually. Ian always comes back to the foundational truths of who God is and kind of reels me back in from my emotions.” For instance, when Larissa asked Ian if he was tempted to curse God, she writes, “[he] answered easily, ‘No, because God has been nothing but good to me.’ ”
“Ian’s brother Caleb, who spends 40 hours a week with him, also testifies to Ian’s spiritual maturity: “So, the best way a husband can serve his wife is by caring for her spiritual condition and seeking her sanctification. This is the most obvious way Ian serves Larissa, and he does it well.”
From the above linked Gospel Coalition essay we learn
“Yet Larissa Murphy is finding God more than faithful. Larissa says that although her husband cannot do the secondary tasks common to marriage, he still does the primary one, which is to provide spiritual leadership. And Larissa is providing something just as striking: an example of Christ-like love.”
From another blog link we read this quote, "He's a profoundly solid and simple leader. Because of that, it's usually a joy to follow his direction."
Is the phrase “the offense of the Cross,”the new “biblical” or “gospel” adjective?
In the same TGC article we read, “We talk about "the offense of the cross." What's offensive about it? Simply this: The cross tells us that we are lost, ugly, helpless sinners whose only hope is in the grace and mercy of a God who took the punishment that we richly deserve. Our pride is offended when we learn we contribute nothing to our own rescue.”
Many of our readers are aware that we believe words such a “gospel” and “biblical” can be misused in order to “prove” that some Christians are real Christians. Take for example the name “The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. The word “biblical” means that their views on issues such as patriarchy are correct. Those of us who disagree with their particular interpretation are obviously “not biblical”.
Recently, I have been hearing the newest Calvinista phrase “the offense (or scandal) of the cross”. Here is how this could work out. We are not allowed to question the very real issues surrounding Larissa and Ian because The Gospel Coalition says we are questioning the CROSS if we do so. If we question the cross, we might not be one of the elect. That folks, is dirty fighting, Calvinista style.
Just so you know, this sort of phrasing using the word "offense" is cropping up everywhere in Calvinista circles whenever Ian and Larissa’s story is told. At Seth’s Oasis link link you see this blatantly spelled out. He calls this the offense of the selfless love and ties it to faith. If you have questions, you obviously know nothing about selfless love and marriage, you idiot.
"Another reader, “Bethany E.,” expressed doubt whether the marriage of Ian and Larissa is really a joining of equals: “It’s hard to get that . . . from watching the video, as the only time we see Ian talking, he’s expressing things that an 8-year-old with Down syndrome could express. There’s a huge difference between knowing that God loves you and having the mental and emotional capabilities to be a spiritual leader, as Larissa says Ian is.”
“What’s behind this unease? Certainly no one praising Larissa says her radical act of love is required by God for everyone facing similar circumstances. We have different gifts and callings, after all.
Such discomfort about Ian and Larissa may reveal a fundamental misunderstanding of Christian marriage. The Bible portrays marriage—especially when entered into by believers—not as a contractual agreement between two parties, but as a covenant relationship before God. Ian and Larissa Murphy know this.
“We know that we have made a covenant to each other, just as Christ made to the church,” Larissa says. “The church that he made that covenant with is so imperfect, and sorrowful, and disabled. Just like our marriage. This church, and this marriage, are hemmed in by Jesus and eagerly long for heaven. He is their author and sustainer.”
Do you see how the editor questions a valid comment? Do you see how Bethany’s comment is now marginalized and her faith subtly called into question? Such tactics are found in spiritually abusive situations in which the idea leaders want everyone to shut up and believe what they are told. Bethany’s question about spiritual leadership is valid. However, these leaders do not want that perspective to be open for discussion. If it is, there is a possibility that some may question the underlying assumptions of male spiritual authority
There is little question in my mind that Ian and Larissa’s marriage is being used by a number of loosely allied groups to push a patriarchal agenda. Their marriage is extremely threatening to the idea that only men can hold spiritual authority or headship. It is obvious to many readers that Larissa is making the decisions and running her family, no matter the serious attempt at spin.
The involvement of Calvinista leaders in this story is worrisome. There is no question that they believe that complementarianism is an “A” issue. The allusion to the Cross to trump any sort of valid questioning demonstrates this. Could it be that there is undue pressure being applied to a young woman who is obviously self-sacrificing and loving? If so, then these groups ought to be ashamed of themselves.
Being There, starring Peter Sellers, is a movie that I highly recommend to our readers. Wikipedia here says
"Chance (Peter Sellers) is a middle-aged man who lives in the townhouse of an old, wealthy man in Washington D.C. He seems simple-minded and has lived there his whole life tending the garden. Other than gardening, his knowledge is derived entirely from what he sees on television. When his benefactor dies, Chance is forced to leave and discovers the outside world for the first time."
"Chance, quickly rises to national public prominence as leaders interpret Chance's remarks about how the garden changes with the seasons as economic and political advice."
Chance is then used by political leaders and opportunists to shore up their agendas.They even propose him for President. With the clips that are included in the video of Ian and Larissa, it is difficult to assess Ian's full level of functioning. It is my greatest hope that neither Ian or Larissa will be used by Calvinista opportunists as the poster children for their patriarchal agenda. I will continue to follow this story to see how, or if, Larissa’s views on authority change through the years. However, my guess is that she will be inundated with theologians "covering" her.
Lydia's Corner: Daniel 11:2-35 1 John 3:7-24 Psalm 122:1-9 Proverbs 29:1