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A Marriage Revolution

By practicing what we believe, Christian marriages can transform our society.

Between the high number of divorces—particularly among Christians—and now the new furor over redefining the institution of marriage to include same-sex partners, it seems that traditional marriage as God designed it is under attack.

We've watched the culture and our court system take almost an "anything goes" attitude—that marriage is okay between any two people who say they love each other. The editors of Marriage Partnership want to clearly stand for what marriage is and what it contributes to our world. This is not about wagging the finger at those outside the boundaries of God's will. Instead, we want to hold up the "light," as Jesus tells us to do in Matthew 5:14–16. Marriage Partnership is committed to helping Christians model such good, God-honoring marriages that our culture takes notice.

Not often does MP run editorials. But we felt this opinion piece by David Neff, editor of our sister publication Christianity Today, was so strong, we knew you'd want to read it.

—The Editors

Same-sex marriage makes perfect sense—if you buy North American culture's take on sex and marriage. More than four decades after the introduction of the Pill, hardly anyone now getting married remembers the time when pleasure, procreation, passion, companionship, and parenthood were all intimately knotted into a bundle called marriage. Without those connections, marriage has become an arena for mere self-fulfillment and sexual expression. Even the Ontario Court, in its June 10, 2003, affirmation of same-sex marriage, could describe marriage as only an expression of love and commitment. If that's all there is to marriage, why not grant the same legal benefits to committed same-sex couples as to married heterosexuals?

There is, however, an alternative view, rooted in the Bible, in history, in tradition, and in nature. And those of us who see marriage through those lenses can only think of "same-sex marriage" as we think of "fat-free sour cream"—a triumph of the modern, technologically blunted imagination.

The modern spirit has often been devoted to overcoming nature with technology. This has been a blessing when it has nearly wiped out some life-threatening diseases. Unfortunately, it's also synthesized inferior substitutes for real things, ranging from the invention of calorie-free sweeteners to the recent creation of embryos that were genetically both male and female.

That same modernist spirit is at work in the juggernaut that seems bent on normalizing same-sex marriage. May God bless the resistance.

A laboratory for marriage

Still, the local church has a key role in recreating a biblical understanding of marriage in our society.

First, we must admit that the church's current record is dismal. Divorce statistics inside the church are indistinguishable from those outside.

Second, we need to repent for allowing our culture's blind abandon toward expressive individualism to permeate the way many of our churches relate to marriage, divorce, and remarriage.

Third, we need to restore the community context of marriage. A married couple is more than the sum of its parts. It's a thread in a community fabric. Societies are built out of people who are loyal to one another and who work and sacrifice for the common good. Expressive individualism is a poor foundation for a society, and marriages so conceived don't build loyalties or give us practice in sacrificial service. Marriages and families should be schools for service.

Fourth, we need to recover the sense of human limitation inherent in marriage and family life. This is the beautiful biblical picture: a two-gendered, complementary couple improving on and channeling nature, but neither conquering it nor twisting it.

Modernism is about conquering nature, but marriage is about living with nature. Illness and irritating habits, economic reverses and recalcitrant children—these things give us practice in living with limits. Sing Me to Heaven is Margaret Kim Peterson's affecting memoir of building a marriage in the face of limitations. Knowing that her husband had a terminal illness from the beginning helped her realize that marriage isn't choosing a future; it's choosing a partner with whom to face the future. And to varying degrees, that always involves living with limits as "helpers suitable for each other."

Fifth, churches must help their members recover the link between marriage and procreation. In the 1970s, the evangelical subculture rightly affirmed the delights of marital sex through popular books such as The Total Woman and Intended for Pleasure. ("Fundies in their undies!" joked church historian Martin Marty in response.) Unfortunately, even in the church, the procreative dimension of sex has been sidelined by economic pressures, cultural ideals, and technological fixes. Churches need to celebrate the fact that every marriage is procreative by design.

Sixth, churches must continue to help their members learn the practical skills associated with all of the challenges of married life. There is no lack of resources: organizations such as Marriage Savers and Marriage Encounter, cautionary studies such as Judith Wallerstein's The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce, and inspirations such as Mike Mason's classic Mystery of Marriage. While resources abound, focus is needed. The restoration of Christian marriage should be at the top of our congregational agendas.

A favorite anthem of early '70s counterculture was Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi." In a familiar refrain, she mourned the passing of unspoiled nature: "Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got till it's gone? They paved paradise and put up a parking lot."

When the states passed a rash of no-fault divorce laws in the '60s and '70s, few anticipated the disastrous impact on the economic and psychological well-being of women and children. When same-sex marriage is legalized, the unanticipated cultural impact and personal costs may likewise be enormous.

The truth about marriage is embedded in nature, and nature has a way of reasserting itself. Inevitably, the Big Yellow Taxi factor will come into play: People will long for what once was. The challenge to the church is to be a countercultural outpost, modeling marriage as it should be for the world. Those with an impoverished understanding of marriage will be able to grasp it only when they see the real thing.

It's time to start the revolution.

Related Elsewhere:

A ready-to-download Bible Study on this article is available at ChristianBibleStudies.com. These unique Bible studies use articles from current issues of Marriage Partnership and other magazines to prompt thought-provoking discussions in adult Sunday school classes or small groups.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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