Well, Joseph didn’t know–at least, not until an angel told him. And his first reaction to the situation tells us something different than what I’ve been hearing from a lot of people using him as an example lately.
Most of what I’ve seen was in response to this hot take on marrying single moms from last week:
I’ve never understood as a man why you would date, or marry a single mother if you’re single with no kids of your own.
Seems to me he doesn’t feel he has options or doesn’t value himself as a man.
I’d feel like I was a backup plan helping raise another man’s kids. ?????
— Aubrey Huff (@aubrey_huff) December 2, 2020
And as if with a single voice, everybody seemed to respond, “Well, it’s a good thing Joseph didn’t think like you!”
With Christmas just around the corner, I suppose it’s only natural that St. Joseph would come to mind. I just wish people would’ve actually paused for a moment and pondered the facts before using him as an example. It’s a story we all know, but these folks all overlooked one really important detail: Joseph’s initial reaction was to quietly sever his relationship with Mary precisely because he naturally took her pregnancy as proof of her fornication and concluded that this made her unfit to be his bride.
Matthew’s Gospel even notes how righteous Joseph was for taking this course of action. To be sure, that was in large part was because he sought to avoid ending Mary’s life over the matter–whether figuratively or literally. He did not exercise his rights to have her punished, nor did he seek to turn it into a public scandal. Nevertheless, generously sparing Mary some consequences of what he thought were her actions couldn’t have been the whole of the matter for him. After all, he could have accomplished even greater protection by just going ahead and marrying her anyway. But he didn’t–at least not until a literal angel of the Lord came to explain the truth of the matter.
So despite all the attempts to use Joseph as a counter-example, his reaction to marrying a single mom was probably a lot closer to the original tweet than to its critics.
The key reality that the critics don’t want to acknowledge is that Aubrey Huff’s feelings on the matter are perfectly natural for a man to have. We are, after all, far more inclined than women to care about our spouse’s chastity–and those instincts serve us well. Not to mention the fact that marrying a single mom may very well be deliberately coming between another man and his children. Despite the modern prejudice, many absent fathers aren’t absent by choice. Concerns like these are not vanity–just common sense which participants in an age of rampant fornication would like to abolish.
Do these feelings have to be the end of the matter for a man? Not at all. As I’ve written before, some single moms may be a good choice for some men to marry. To be sure, sometimes there are mitigating circumstances (rape, abandonment, etc), even if they’re not as extraordinary as what Joseph discovered. But far more commonly and importantly, there can be repentance and forgiveness. There can be grace and gratitude. But none of these things can be coerced–neither grace nor forgiveness can be owed. Accordingly, we cannot tell men that they have some kind of moral obligation to marry single moms.
And for those blessings to come about naturally in a relationship, there are two prerequisites. First, of course, the woman needs to have repented and built character in the meantime. Men ought to care enough about their future children that they choose a virtuous mother for them.
But more to the point here, the man needs to actually deal with his natural feelings regarding the unchastity. He cannot do so by pretending he never felt them. He cannot do so by means of people condemning him for feeling that way or by condemning himself for it. That’s merely repression of those feelings, and it will do no good for either the man or the woman in the long run. The only healthy way a mature man can deal with feelings like that is to first acknowledge the truth behind them and then find ways to move past it and work around it.
He cannot do that by pretending that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a prospective wife’s unchastity. He cannot do that by pretending she had no agency in the matter. He cannot do that by pretending fornication, divorce, adultery, and so forth are of no concern–for he instinctively knows better.
Neither can he move on by engaging in the big sexual rationalization of our age, which has also come up in the current conversation. We are told that a woman’s sexual history does not matter–only what she does while she’s in a relationship with you. But this is not a meaningful moral distinction rooted in Biblical sexual morality or in natural law. No, this idea is born from the modern custom of serial monogamy.
For the sake of fornication, we in the modern West treated our temporary but “long-term” relationships as though they were mini-marriages. This has proven to be a disastrous point of view. Not only do we demand undue exclusivity & emotional investment from our dates–and even friendships–but we also endure undue heartache at breakups, all so that we can participate in undue physical intimacy.
As a result, serial monogamy has drawn it’s own set of ad hoc sexual ethics into orbit around these dubious relationships. Excuses like “We hadn’t met yet,” “what we did wasn’t technically intercourse,” “we were on a break,” and so forth are supposed to make a person morally upright. But these are all pale imitations of real chastity just as so-called long-term relationships are pale imitations of marriage.
And everyone knows that serial monogamy makes no sense, which is precisely why it’s being rapidly abandoned in favor of hookup culture. That’s not exactly an improvement, but so long as repentance isn’t on the table, it at least makes more sense to people.
But a man considering marriage has to think more deeply than the rationalizations of modern America. He has to think about chastity. Chastity is a virtue. It’s not so arbitrary that it’s somehow reset every time you transfer to a different relationship. Our persons and our character persist through our sordid histories without a statute of limitations. And so, all fornication is unfaithfulness to our spouses–whether or not it falls within the boundaries of some kind of arbitrary dating relationship.
Now, unfaithfulness can certainly be forgiven and relationships restored. But this does not happen when the unfaithful person refuses to repent or the victim pretends there was nothing unfaithful about it. And even in the best of circumstances, there is a measure of graciousness, sacrifice, and risk when marrying a single mom–one that goes beyond the measure of the same required by marrying even a chaste bride.
I’m not saying never marry a single mom. I’m not saying no single mom is worth marrying. I am saying that Christians need to stop virtue-signalling by pretending unchastity makes no difference.
And stop using St. Joseph as a means to such vainglorious ends. Because until God explained the situation, his righteous actions reveal a belief that premarital unfaithfulness is indeed a legitimate reason to politely walk away.
It’s possible I’ve gone into UFO-conspiracy kookland. Nevertheless, I’ll mention it.
I am no longer convinced that telegony (the idea that a man can share paternity with his partner’s previous lovers) is “discredited”. There have been several published papers recently either demonstrating possible mechanisms or speculating about such mechanisms based on literature reviews. One paper even demonstrated the phenomena (in a very limited way).
Some of the research seems to be by credentialed scientists from multiple countries and some seems to be peer reviewed. E.g. see:
Telegony, the Sire Effect and non-Mendelian Inheritance Mediated by Spermatozoa: A Historical Overview and Modern Mechanistic Speculations by YS Liu
Look for the full pdf.
If true, men have a very strong reason to prefer chaste women. Women wouldn’t want their children switched at birth. Men want to raise their own offspring.
I won’t call you a conspiracy theorist for that. I’ve seen a little bit of research along those lines, and while i haven’t looked deeply enough to say whether I believe it, there is plausibility there.
And your conclusion there is absolutely correct. Maternity wards put a whole lot of effort into making sure you leave with the same baby you brought in. People want *their* babies, not just *a* baby. But whether or not a man is victimized in that way depends on his wife’s chastity.
Another excellent post. I appreciate hearing the truth especially when it is spoken by so few. Some thought in no particular order.
Although I think we agree on this, let me indulge in a rant. “Serial monogamy” is an oxymoron. What most people mean by the term is “serial formication” or at best “serial polygamy.” Although the definition of monogamy has been intentionally changed in recent decades, even the modern dictionaries list it as “practice of marrying only once during life” under the second or third definition.
I really like your point about so-called long-term relationships equating to mini-marriages with undue exclusivity and emotional investment (and physical intimacy, but that goes without saying). Every time I hear of someone moving across the country to accommodate a boyfriend’s or girlfriend’s dreams or career, I think “why?” Why should anyone commit so completely to a non-spouse? If he was interested in spending the rest of his life with her, he would have made her his wife before the move. Before my husband proposed marriage to me on the day before his collage graduation (at which point he would have moved several states away), I already knew that the relationship would be over by the end of May if no concrete marriage plans were made. I did not plan to commit to a man who would not commit to me.
One point that is almost never considered in the marriage-to-single-mother matter is whether Biblically-speaking she is even an eligible candidate for marriage. Although I do not have the space here (or extensive knowledge on the topic), there is substantial scriptural evidence in the old and new testaments that the single mother’s only options are to make her life-long one-flesh union to the baby daddy official with a marriage ceremony or to say single (and chaste) for the remainder of her life.
I also like your points about the practical considerations, e.g. getting in between a father and his children. But just about no one considers what is best for the child in the situation. What is best for the illegitimate child is for his mother and step-father to either get married when he (the child), is very young (perhaps younger than two years) or after he is grown and out of his mother’s house. A man should not even consider dating a single mother unless he commits ahead of time to take her all the way to the alter and to raise her child as his own (this is nearly impossible). It is devastating to a child to bond with a father-figure only to lose him forever when the adults’ relationship doesn’t work out. And all children are devastated when their mother and step-father choose to start a family of their own. The child is then forced to be a visitor in his own home (shipped between two residences to see both bio parents) and to constantly watch someone else’s family life unfold while having no family of his own. This is less painful to the child whose only father figure is his loving step-father from birth, but this is rarely the case (what man is going to date a pregnant woman or a new mother who is breastfeeding around the clock?).
I have more thoughts, but have a bell to ring for the Salvation Army!
“Although I do not have the space here (or extensive knowledge on the topic), there is substantial scriptural evidence in the old and new testaments that the single mother’s only options are to make her life-long one-flesh union to the baby daddy official with a marriage ceremony or to say single (and chaste) for the remainder of her life.”
There is no biblical evidence for this. The single mom doesn’t have a life-long one-flesh union with a man she fornicated with. A life-long one-flesh union is marriage. Marriage is created with the exchange of the consent of the will to God’s definition of marriage. Consent to carnal fornication is, well, consent to carnal fornication – as Thomas Aquinas pointed out.
Christians have always believed this.
I am far more interested in what scripture says than in what Christians believe. Implicit consent has nothing to do with this. “Or do you not know that he who is joined to a harlot is one body with her? For “the two,” He says, “shall become one flesh.”” (1 Corinth 16). Sex, in the context of fornication or marriage, creates a one-flesh union. I did not say fornication creates marriage. I was talking about non-sinful solutions to fornication.
A life-long, one-flesh union IS marriage.
Jesus did say in Luke 16:18 that marrying a divorced woman is adultery. In our culture, this charge would be considered explosive and it’s clearly something that Christians ignore often enough.
It’s continous, ongoing adultery and puts you in danger of hellfire.