Who has damaged marriage

My bishop recently wrote these words about the way straight people have messed up marriage:

[T]he institution of marriage has been damaged in recent decades by the misconduct, misuse, and immorality of heterosexuals. We have allowed marriage to be violated, ignored, abused, and reduced to mere convenience. It is the heterosexual community which needs to confess and repent for our destruction of the institution of marriage.

I find his claim here compelling. Our society has reduced the concept of marriage to a legal contract entered into for the acquisition of certain rights and privileges. As a contract, it is an arrangement that either party can break if willing to suffer the penalties that come with that. It is also an excuse to spend obscene amounts of money.

I don’t know how the church can reclaim the meaning of marriage as a lifelong and holy covenant entered into before God and only secondarily endorsed by the state. Even pondering the question makes me realize how far we have drifted from a Christian concept of marriage.

I expect some readers are wondering about the topic of divorce.

The fact that we can’t even begin to talk about a Christian concept of marriage without thinking of exceptions and difficult cases underscores the tenuous grasp Christian marriage has on our imaginations. The very idea of Christian marriage is at odds with everything of society takes for granted when it comes to the topic.

Stanley Hauerwas captures some of my confusion in his book After Christendom:

[T]he Christian tradition’s presumption that we can only begin to think about [sexual ethics] in terms of practices such as singleness and marriage cannot help being subversive to the politics of liberalism and the correlative state powers. Indeed, in a world in which we are taught that all human relations are contractual, what could be more offensive than a people who believe in life-long commitments?

Of course, it is not clear that such a people exist.

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7 thoughts on “Who has damaged marriage

  1. I find it troubling that your bishop has chosen the “worlds” arena to proclaim his thoughts and judgment. His thinking, and the fact that he is a leader within your church is the reason there is such confusion and disillusionment concerning the marriage within the church. Allow me to attempt to briefly explain.

    First of all, there is the problem of dividing and giving separate identities to mankind. Your bishop clearly believes that there is a group of people who are “heterosexuals”. This is likely an identity he uses in contrast to “homosexuals” since the crisis within the UMC seems to be centered on these two identities. It would probably have served him well to have remembered Gal. 3:28.

    God certainly did not endorse this division and identification of people. These two names given to people were entirely unheard of until sometime in the mid 19th century. There was a Hungarian journalist, Karoly Maria Kerbeny, who created these words as part of his response to a piece of Prussian legislation that made same-sex erotic behavior illegal, even in cases where the identical act performed by a man and a woman would be considered legal. All it was, was a very clever bid to try to equalize same-sex and different-sex. His intent was to suggest that there are these two categories in which human beings could be sexual, that they were not part of a hierarchy, that they were just two different flavors of the same thing.

    Most people, including leaders and members of the church have no idea what marriage really was historically speaking. It began as a covenant, a contractual agreement between a man and a woman. It served the community. It was strictly an economic and community-building institution. Marriage didn’t have a whole lot to do with desire. Marriage has always had to do with sex, and the ability to have marital sex and preferably procreate has always been central to marriage. But what was not so important was whether or not you necessarily wanted to have sex with that person. It was your duty, it was paying the marriage debt, and you were gonna do it, by golly, but this was a co-worker, this a partner in business enterprise – not a person you chose to satisfy your own personal whims and desires with. If you happen to also like them and think that they were swell or pretty or handsome then that’s great. But that’s not what you were in it for. (Having said this, a relationship with our loving God certainly does usher into a Christian marriage the beautiful element of love and life lessons of unselfishness, submission, and commitment.)

    And now everything has changed in the “world”, because people now prioritize attraction, desire, love, romance, over the strictly economic and community-building aspects of marriage. We live in a culture now where we find it very odd when women don’t support themselves, if somebody chooses to be a stay-at-home mother. That is a huge change, and that’s a huge change just in my lifetime. I’m in my early 50s and I know that when I was a very small child those discussions were not happening in the same way. The economic and legal enfranchisement of women has gone hand-in-hand with both women’s and men’s ability to choose marriage partners based on their own desire, desires for sex, love, companionship, all of those things, and to put that first.

    It was neither the “heterosexual” or the “homosexual” who damaged marriage. The damage was done as a result of the ever decaying and dying sinful world. Within the church, the damage was done due to the ever present desire to embrace the world in part in order to feel “normal” in the world we live in.

    Sin. That is what has damaged the marriage. Shame on this bishop for making it a war against flesh and blood and not to address that we actually war against the powers and principalities of satan. We are all a part of mankind. Shame on this bishop to join in with the ways of this world that separates and divides mankind in such a way that leads to having to choose for ourselves of what identity do we choose for ourselves. Is it any wonder that the UMC and other mainline denominations are where they are at today.

    There is plenty of blame to go around if that is what the carnal minded man decides to do. Shame on this bishop, who will be held to a greater accountability then any of those he chooses to blame. The cause of what we witness in the church is because there exist not even the idea of the fear of God. We did not like the uncomfortable fear and trembling and so have decided to make it all warm and fuzzy. For ourselves, and with the hope that it will fill the pews.

    Shame on the the church. Shame on us.

    1. I’ve long wondered about the social versus the theological definition of marriage. I’m not convinced that antiquity alone makes one method of social arrangement the will of God. Is it the will of God that parents arrange marriages?

      Hauerwas agrees with one of your main points. He argues the idea of Christian marriage does not require love and desire as part of the marriage. He goes on to say, of course, that love is required of everyone, so a husband and wife should love each other, but as Christians rather than because they are married.

      And yet, Paul speaks of entering marriage as a way to channel or direct desire. Because we burn, we should marry.

      I quite agree that sin is the ultimate cause here. I’m pretty sure Bishop Coyner would agree with that.

      1. I find it so very interesting that he chose to put the blame of that sin and subsequent damage to marriage on a man-made division of people. It may have been an attempt to quiet the argument that homosexuality is the cause of the damage to marriage, but his approach only seems to continue the divide between the “us” and “them”. If our church leaders do not have the boldness to just stand up and identify sins as sin and reveal just how much sin the church has allowed to enter in as the result of compromise and the desire for gain, then what hope does the church today have against the weapons formed against her? The solution to the destruction of compromising the truth is not to compromise the compromise.

        I disagree with you explanation of Paul’s advice as being a way to channel or direct desire. He is not saying that because we burn, we should marry. He is saying to avoid fornication. And the only solution to obtain this avoidance is to marry. Heb. 13:4 says that the whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.” An unmarried couple, no matter how much in love or how close to marriage they are, is still an unmarried couple. Hebrews 13:4 shows that marriage’s physical relationship is to be held in honor.

        Paul was teaching that sex in its rightful place is to be honored, but outside of marriage it is sinful and wars against the soul. I really don’t think his advice was merely a means to the release or relieve their sexual desires.

  2. Your Bishop is mistaken if he thinks heterosexual marriage was only damaged in recent decades.
    There was no golden age of marriage perfection.
    All of us, both heterosexual and otherwise, need to “confess and repent” daily for how we have screwed things up.
    It has always been countercultural to try to live monogamously and honestly.

  3. I think it is important to note that neither The United Methodist Church, nor the Bible commends vows of life-long celibacy. Our standard is celibacy in singleness. Single people are expected to remain celibate until they marry. That is very different than the life-long commitment between a man and woman. One may drift into singleness, one cannot drift into marriage.

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