Cultural views on marriage are changing rapidly.
The previous slow march of allowing same-sex couples to marry has sped up recently.
A decade ago the question seemed to be: should homosexual couples be allowed to marry? After the initial and resounding “no” by multiple state referenda, by all accounts the cultural, electoral, and judicial answer seems to be moving in the “yes” direction, with no signs of abating.
Count me among those who think that the political influence of Christianity cannot withstand the changing definition of marriage. As the U.S. has joined Western society’s attempts to redefine marriage the full-blown mainstream acceptance of an altered definition of marriage seems to be a matter of when, not if. It’s changing, sooner not later.
Proponents of traditional marriage have made efforts to defend male-female unions as the only definition of marriage, and are thus “protecting” marriage. Yet, their worries that allowing same-sex marriage will destroy the institution of marriage is being undermined – in my opinion – mostly by heterosexuals, rather than homosexuals.
Here are two recent examples:
First, Mexico City lawmakers are busy working on allowing marriage licenses to be temporary, with expiration dates. To express the absurdity of this, I’m going to compare it to some other commitments we’re often asked to keep: your local cell phone carrier typically requires a commitment equal to this marriage license, which we really ought to re-label a lease, rather than a covenant. My last car loan lasted longer than 2 years, and my mortgage company (thankfully) asked for a longer commitment than a two-year marriage would.
I predict that the 2012 Super Bowl will have a commercial promoting the “Verizon ‘Mexico City Marriage’ Package.” The happy couple gets: married + 2 new cell phones, 450 anytime minutes, unlimited calls to their spouse, unlimited texts, and unlimited data. The phone deal, like their Verizon marriage, expires after 24 months.
Or, maybe for branding purposes, another carrier has the advantage: “The Sprint Marriage Cell-phone Combo.” After all, two years seems more like a sprint rather than a marathon (and I’ve only been married for 13 years).
Second, is the ridiculous example of a couple being married for just over two months. This is less time than I was able to keep a girlfriend in the 7th grade. Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries were married for 72 days before she filed for divorce last Sunday.
What’s the remedy? The church can to do a better job of preparing couples for marriage, and can better exhibit the commitment involved. Young couples need to see that the Mexico City Marriage or the 72 day marriage is a ridiculous, corrupted shadow of what marriage is, and should be.
I fear that too often fairytales and “happy-ever-afters” are promoted to Christian youth at the expense of honest dialogue about the weighty implications of marriage.
Here are a few ideas churches should consider to provide a counterweight:
1) Requiring robust counseling sessions before weddings.
2) Requiring post-wedding counseling sessions for the first 6-12 months.
3) Emphasizing and announcing significant anniversaries of congregants.
4) Creating mentoring programs linking newlyweds to couples with marriage experience.
5) Preaching about the biblical views of marriage and sex – in equal measure and proportion – to their correct denouncements of extra-marital sex.
6) Exercise church discipline regarding situations of adultery, especially related to ministerial sexual misconduct.
All churches can do more to fight the corrosive and corrupting redefinition of marriage in our society. While I’m skeptical of turning the tide regarding definitions and laws, I believe the church can be counter-cultural, instilling in our young (and old) people a scriptural and Christ-centered definition and picture of marriage. Marriage is not easy; nothing consequential ever is.
Without the church doing more to promote the covenant and commitment of marriage, we’re leaving it up to Verizon and its 2-year commitment.
Instead, it starts with us. Now.
Dr. Neal earned a BA in Political Science from Texas Tech University. He then pursued theological and ministerial training and is a graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (MDivBL), and the University of Edinburgh, Scotland (MTh; PhD). He is married to Jennifer, and they have four children.
Dr. Neal’s teaching and research focuses on the relationship between biblical interpretation and theology. His Ph.D. research focused on systematic theology, specifically questions raised in contemporary German theology. He is the author of Theology As Hope: On the Ground and the Implications of Jurgen Moltmann’s Doctrine of Hope, and has published a variety of essays, articles, and chapters on theological topics. Dr. Neal has presented papers in several academic venues in England, Scotland, New Zealand, and the United States. Most recently he presented a paper on eschatology at the University of Notre Dame.