Tuesday, April 5, 2011

In Defense of Good Fences

We all agree children need rules. "Wait for your turn." "Don’t accept candy from strangers." "Eat your vegetables before dessert." "Always tell the truth."

But do grownups need similar Do’s and Don’ts in the area of maintaining faithful relationships?

Some believe we shouldn’t need to focus so much on boundaries as to learn to live from our inner center, our core values. Cultivate a healthy relationship with God--and with a mature dating or marriage partner--and you won’t find yourself straying. It’s a little like providing cattle with good water and pasture, they say, then not having to worry so much about maintaining strong fences.

There’s certainly some truth to that, but on our farm I remember livestock needing both good food and good fences. Even with lots of green grass on their side of the fence line, our herd would sometimes break into an adjoining field for a feast of even greener looking corn or clover. The results could be ruinous both to the health of the cattle and the condition of the crop.

Sadly, without good boundaries, even some of our church’s trusted teachers and pastors have had affairs with people in their trust. And more and more younger and older folks alike seem to be ignoring other time-honored fences, are hooking up and breaking up in increased numbers. Results of these crossed boundary lines often include not only severe heartbreaks, but career disasters, financial headaches, fractured families and emotionally distressed children.

Experience tells us an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure--or a ton of regret. Thus the Calvary Community Church, a large African-American congregation in Hampton, Virginia, has come up with “Ten Commitments to Righteousness” for its young people. These include unapologetic boundary markers like “You shall not be sexually active until marriage,” according to Glen Guyton, Calvary’s youth pastor.

But defining clear ethical standards like that these days has some folks seeing only legalism. In order to show their open mindedness, they are prone to not only want to move boundaries, but to simply remove them and leave all moral choices up to the individual.

To me, Genesis-old, congregationally supported fences around sex and marriage are at least as necessary as rules governing driving. Should I consider it a violation of my freedom when I’m bound by dozens of common sense traffic laws every day?

For example, I don’t arbitrarily choose which side of the road I drive on. I also obey the stop sign at the end of Hamlet Drive every time I enter the highway. As I head into town, I’m expected to slow my speed to 45 mph, then 35, for everyone’s protection. I’m required to wait at several traffic lights before crossing an intersection. And all the while I display a state license plate on my vehicle, and I carry a driver’s license in my wallet. Just a piece of paper, some say, but one that serves a legitimate and useful purpose.

Somehow I fail to find these rules restrictive. Good boundaries are not road blocks, but are like safeguards and guard rails that give help me get from point A to point B with less hassle--and a lot less risk of having a wreck.

I know a bad one of those could really rob me of my freedom.
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