ECT on “Reclaiming Marriage”

Les maries sous le baldaquin, Chagall

 • • •

UPDATE: In light of Eeyore’s insightful comment, I have added another point to my remarks.

First Things has published a statement by Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT) called The Two Shall Become One Flesh: Reclaiming Marriage.

Catholic and Evangelical members of ECT are listed after the article, and then there is a list of people endorsing the statement. At the same link, First Things also includes a podcast in which members of Evangelicals and Catholics Together, Fr. Thomas Guarino and Professor Timothy George, sit down with First Things to discuss the statement—its origins, content, and purpose.

I would like for us to take some time to think through this statement together here on Internet Monk. Without even reading it, you know that it contains what conservative Christians call the “traditional” position on marriage, and that they claim this comports with the biblical witness and the tradition of the Church. But I urge you to go to First Things and read through the statement carefully. Save it to your computer for reference if you like so that you can go back to it easily. Because this statement comes from both Roman Catholic and Evangelical spokespersons (albeit from the conservative ranks of each respective tradition), in my view it carries a certain ecumenical weight and deserves our consideration.

Today we will look at the preamble and section one, “Marriage, Christianly Considered.”

In the Gospel of St. Mark, the Lord Jesus teaches that “from the beginning of creation ‘God made them male and female.’” He then declares a great and beautiful truth inscribed in creation: “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh” (Mark 10:6–8).

For centuries, Christians have proclaimed these words at weddings, for they express the gift of marriage long recognized by all humanity and acknowledged by men and women of faith: Marriage is the union of a man and a woman. This truth is being obscured, even denied, today. Because of that, the institution of marriage, which is essential to the well-being of society, is being ­undermined.

Building upon this foundation, the preamble goes on to say:

  • It is our Christian responsibility to bear witness to the truth about marriage as taught by both reason and revelation.
  • Marriage is the foundation of a just and stable society, and where the decline of marriage culture is evident, the common good is imperiled.
  • Christians must speak the truths about sex, marriage, and family life.
  • There can be no compromise on marriage. Our witness cannot be allowed to be obscured by the confusions into which our world has fallen.

The first section, “Marriage, Christianly Considered,” takes four scriptures and extracts lessons from them on the subject.

1. Genesis 1:27-18 — God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply.”

2. Genesis 2:24 — Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.

3. Mark 10:9 — What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.

4. Ephesians 5:32 — This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.

Newlyweds on the Eiffel Tower, Chagall
Newlyweds on the Eiffel Tower, Chagall

The first text teaches us that “maleness, femaleness, and their complementarity are among the central organizing principles of creation.” These are essential components of our human dignity. It is in the union of male and female that we participate in the divine creativity and its fruitfulness, and therefore sexual union must be approached with reverence and in recognition of its procreative potential. Furthermore sexual acts have spiritual and moral dimensions and should be exercised with self-discipline, as these acts “either honor or dishonor the imprint of the divine that is uniquely borne by human beings.”

The second scripture shows that marriage creates the new reality of “one body” that signifies a common life that promotes the good of the couple, the family as a whole, and the community at large.

Passage three addresses divorce. It first affirms that the human act of being joined together is also God’s work. God’s grace is at work in marriage, making possible a lifelong union characterized by faithfulness and participation in the power of God’s everlasting love. Though divorce may have been permitted and churches today take different views when dealing with its reality, God ordained marriage to be indissoluble.

The final biblical citation, from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, reveals that marriage is a sign of the union between Christ and the Church. It is an incarnate illustration of the “bond of peace” by which God has reconciled humanity to himself. Marriage can only serve as that sign when a man and woman are joined together permanently.

• • •

I will make a few remarks, and then open this up for discussion.

1. I agree that the full exhibition of the image of God in humanity requires both male and female. Furthermore, the union of male and female together in marriage is a unique and special gift of God for the blessing of the world. Men and women who marry are meant to be full partners in the work of representing God and his wise and loving rule in the world.

2. I think it’s a big stretch to say that “the gift of marriage” has been “long recognized by all humanity.” Certainly humans have always figured out that “male + female = baby” and have sought ways of organizing that in their societies. However, to imply that humankind in general has always welcomed marriage as a gift and has universally recognized the one man/one woman for life formula is a curious reading of history.

3. Is the institution of marriage being “undermined” in our day? If so, by what? The statement cites the sexual revolution, widespread divorce, dramatic increases in out-of-wedlock births, the casual acceptance of premarital sex and cohabitation, and a “contraceptive mentality” that separates sex from procreation. I am astounded that no mention is made of homosexuality, for the statement hammers the male/female point repeatedly, and it seems to me that this statement was drafted at this point in time in response to the “gay marriage” issue primarily. Be that as it may, I don’t think changes in our sexual or familial behavior has stemmed merely from human decisions to abandon morality. As I have argued elsewhere, technology, freedom, and affluence have made the world a much different place and have changed the dynamics with regard to all manner of human behavior and institutions. There is a cognitive dissonance between life in today’s world and many aspects of “traditional” morality and it’s not simply because people have consciously jettisoned that morality. If we Christians want to speak to these people in this world in these days, we will have to go beyond simply insisting on traditional morality and bear witness to an entirely different way of life that can come to terms with the vast forces bearing down upon all of us.

4. This statement expresses sublime theology, and its authors say plainly, “In this statement we speak as Christians to Christians, using the language of the faith.” To be sure, Christians do not all agree about everything said here, but still, generally speaking the statement stands as representative of a rather broad consensus of traditional Church teaching. What it does not do, at least at this point, is talk about what it means to live as people of wisdom and love among our neighbors and in our society. Is it possible that one might be able to separate one’s convictions about moral ideals from accepting that we live in a free and diverse society in which people who do not act the way we think they should still deserve equal protection under the law and should be spared the indignities of discrimination? If, broadly speaking, Christians agree on the point that “the crucial and fundamental truth that marriage is a stable union based on the complementarity of male and female,” how does that belief actually affect the way I relate to my divorced neighbors, my gay son, the couple in the church who are living together and unmarried, the single folks who never marry, or the genuine Christians who honestly disagree with my interpretation of Scripture on these matters?

5. The statement lacks eschatological perspective. As one commenter has noted, it only looks backward and deals with the present age and not forward to the new creation, when issues of sex, marriage, and family as we know them will have passed away. Certainly, because we live in the “now” and not the “not yet” we must face life in the present age. But the statement lacks proper Christian balance. God’s people are to witness not only to God’s moral standards for this age, we are to witness to the reality of the age to come. Jesus altered the very definition of “family” when he told his mother, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” And Paul commended singleness as a sign of the eschaton. The Church is not called to “focus on the family” to the degree that she forgets the temporal nature of all institutions in this age.

That’s enough for now. Discuss.

We’ll return and look at more of the statement another time. Read it. Think about it. Talk about it.

103 thoughts on “ECT on “Reclaiming Marriage”

  1. Yeah, I’m not convinced. I don’t want to go through all his ucharitable readings of the texts, but I’ll just say read the end of Proverbs 5. Sounds like the author there certainly knew of loving and happy marriages, and it’s not just an isolated prooftext. The comments here have certainly moved to the left on this issue.

    People have been congratulating themselves for generations on self-serving fantasies on finally living in the era where people invented (or at least normalized) marrying for love. And if you think economics don’t frequently play a part today, you’re fooling yourself (“I want someone who’s successful and ambitious!”).


  2. Just from the title, “Reclaiming Marriage,” I had a good idea this was going to be pretty typical of the culture war. Words mean things, and when you state right off that something has to be reclaimed, that means it’s been stolen, and that means someone stole it. So there’s someone to blame and we can spend oodles of time and language showing how wrong they were, and the rest showing how right we are. And from what I’ve read, that’s pretty much what happens.

    Now, is there some decent theology and insight? Sure there is. But it’s so buried in an ethos of fear and opposition and blame that it easily gets lost.

    It’s a well worn formula and approach. You can see it in a lot of the extremes of any tradition, and it pretty much has the same effect: the underlying theme is always how someone else is wrong and why the author or authors are right, and how those who are wrong are a threat to the truth, etc.

    The main problem with this approach is that it’s really hard for grace and the Good News to show up in any kind of way that all of us who really need them can recognize or take hold of.

    And there’s also very little that has any practical impact on making marriages better.

    As someone who’s been happily married for 27 years, I can tell you that the right culture war stance or any particular doctrinal rigidity, or the right fighting for some generic ideal of marriage, have nothing to do with marital bliss, and will likely do little or nothing to right whatever perceived wrongs the authors claim are happening.


  3. P.S. Found the original reference. It’s in the comment thread about the video with the very fat IFB preacher at “Bible Truth Baptist” literally SCREAMING his entire sermon (against Homosexuality, Hollywood, San Francisco, and the Boy Scouts). One of the commenters likened it to “a blue whale giving birth”.


  4. Lol! I warned you that I’m not much good at benedictions, so should it surprise you that this one sounds like the name of a fictional character?

    But in Sanskrit it means Peace, and is traditionally spoken three times in benediction.


  5. I’ve heard a lot of similar stories. It’s the default mode my mind tracks in at times: anything bad is God’s punishment for…something. Anything. Maybe a mistake I made when I was 5. Maybe one I made 5 minutes ago.

    Yeah. I’ve been there. The feeling that God is up there waiting for an opportunity to punish me. I have vague memories of my mother’s voice saying “That’s how God punishes you!” but nothing beyond that, and I’ve been prone to false memories before so there’s no way to tell if that was legit or imagination breaking through into false memory.

    Strangest thing is that I was NOT raised in a church environment at all — parents completely non-practicing, public schools, interest in science instead of religion — yet I ended up internalizing all the dark side of one. Including modesty attitudes and virgin/whore dichotomy usually associated with Christianese purity culture. Still scratching my head over how I got there.


  6. I don’t know how it speaks to you, HUG; hell, I don’t know if it speaks to me. I don’t have any of the answers. I feel the cold breath of impending old age and decrepitude breathing down my neck every day: body failing, inadequacies mushrooming, cognitive atrophy. And I can honestly tell you that I’m very lonely, despite being married. It may be that I’m more lonely now than I’ve ever been, and more frightened.

    I wish I could speak a good word, a benediction, to you, one with the power to heal and bless. But I don’t know you well enough to know what would heal or bless you, and even if I did know you well, I’m not much good with benedictions, because I have so little faith in them myself.

    But I will dare to offer you a blessing, anyway; not a Christian but a Hindu blessing, one of the deeper blessings out of the great human storehouse of strong words against the darkness of our dark world…

    Shantih, shantih, shantih.


  7. Actually, there is a plethora of romantic poetry (relatively speaking) from the period, and from multiple cultures. The most obviously relevant in this case would be the Song of Songs, but I think the broader point is that people often entered into relationships (including sexual) for love/romance, but that it was very rarely taken into account in marriage (consider the story of Sampson, who wanted to marry a Philistine woman for something like romance, but his parents disapproved).


  8. I won’t mince words: that’s some fucked up shit, HUG.

    I’ve heard a lot of similar stories. It’s the default mode my mind tracks in at times: anything bad is God’s punishment for…something. Anything. Maybe a mistake I made when I was 5. Maybe one I made 5 minutes ago.

    There is no grace. There is no mercy. There is no love.

    Only the overwhelming feeling I need to get right by walking forward to the sinner’s bench and pouring our my heart from God and desperately asking for God’s forgiveness over and over again until I can literally cry no more.

    Just as I did in my childhood church.

    And I…I fucking refuse to do so.


  9. While marriage is of course a very serious commitment and so forth, I think maybe we sometimes get too into the super-serious theological discussions about it and we miss the point that a marriage is a relationship between two people who love each other. For the folks who posted earlier speaking all somber and severe about the huge weight of commitment of marriage and the uniting of families and all that stuff, tell me how often you actually think of your own marriages in those terms? Probably not often. If you have a good marriage, you probably spend more time thinking about how you love your spouse, how you enjoy his/her company, etc. You know, the normal things you think about in regards to a healthy relationship. We can talk about the underlying theological/sociological minutiae of marriage all we want, but really, marriage is supposed to be a fulfilling, engaging, and dare I say fun experience, even considering problems that could arise. I think we would do well to keep that in mind.


  10. Because your smart, interesting, provocative, and apparently a victim of a lot of pain. But your pursuit of zGod and his true attributes provoke and challenge me. God bless you HUG;


  11. I have mixed thoughts on this issue. For starters, I am disinclined to take seriously anything titled “reclaiming marriage”. Now let’s assume the good people at ECT are just concerned with maintaining a solid theology of marriage within Christianity – I’m not sure exactly how Catholics and Protestants intend to go about this since the sacramentality of marriage will ever be in dispute. But over and above all of this is my general skepticism toward the entire issue based on the very broad, often disparate, and sometimes contradictory information in the Bible regarding marriage. In fact, I can’t even wrap my head around the “eschatological” perspective in any meaningful way. My only experience is as a human – to me, “neither giving nor being given in marriage” can only be truly understood as polyamory or perhaps monogamy without the trappings of actual marriage. I cannot conceive of a state of being where my embodiedness – including sexuality – is somehow not. Or perhaps we will be fully human, but unmarried, as Jesus and Paul were. Frankly, that sounds more like Gehenna than Heaven to me. You can’t have it both ways – if marriage is the only complete picture of God or some other kind of abstract nonsense than Jesus got it wrong and good freaking luck to all the singles and celibates out there. On the other hand, if each individual is fully capable of exhibiting the nature of God, then marriage becomes more social convention than theology. But the bottom line to me is why. What on earth do the friends at ECT hope to accomplish through this? Why is this important, and why is a theology of marriage the answer? I know that Luther implied that bad theology was the reason for corruption in the church at the time, but 500 years of Protestantism seems to indicate that theology is not the answer.


  12. Oh, ok. I see where you’re going. Marriage as an integral part of a broader familial picture rather than as an isolated couple? I can go with that, I think.


  13. Less and less do I have any desire to look forward to the horizon of the future for the eschatological dimension of existence; if existence has Christian meaning, the meaning is deep down, not far out.

    I’m getting close to 60. I never married. My “horizon of the future” becomes more limited with every year. How does this all speak to me?


  14. Question: SFL?

    And the start of that rant is one of the reasons I never married. Because from what I kept hearing from various sources when I was in-country, that’s what Christian(TM) Marriage with a Christian(TM) woman was going to be — Just like “Our Duty to the Party”, Except CHRISTIAN(TM).

    I was also haunted for years by a 1980-vintage radio sermon with the constant refrain “LOORD, Take Away All That Stands Between Me & Thee.” The last of the steadily-escalating examples was a man who bonded to his wife who soon after died — implied that his bonding to her had made her some sort of idolatry so God took her. (As punishment?) This one haunted me during the only time in my life I actually had a girlfriend, and helped mess things up; I was scared that God would kill Ann if I bonded too strong to her, and it made me hesitant to pursue her — maybe too hesitant?

    And some movie a few years earlier (at Campus Crusade?) about a missionary to some Third World country (Amazon Basin? Congo River?) whose wife died in the field. She dies, he kneels by her death-bed to pray, then jump-cut to him preaching to the natives. Everyone else (at Campus Crusade?) thought this was a sign of his Great Faith; all I could think about was “no reaction to her death; she meant NOTHING to him.” For years afterwards, when someone would tell me about a death scene in a movie or story, I’d ask “did he cry over her?”

    Thing is, the other three guys in the Cal Poly Gang all married in their churches (one right after the other; everyone expected Ann & me to be next) and their marriages seemed to work. Only thing is, I ended up still single and marrieds don’t associate with singles.


  15. Amen.

    The changes of the 60s and 70s were really about women not being forced to trust and really on the untrustworthy and unreliable men in their lives that they had always been forced to trust and rely on in the past.


  16. Less and less do I have any desire to look forward to the horizon of the future for the eschatological dimension of existence; if existence has Christian meaning, the meaning is deep down, not far out.

    The same is true of Christian marriage: its meaning is deep down in its ordinary every day particularity, in the give and take and ebb and flow of relationship; that’s where Jesus Christ in all his eschatological fullness is, too. The eschaton is a reality waiting to break in at every moment, and breaking in at every moment.

    And this fullness, this eschatological depth, this transcendence, this hope, is for everybody, not just heterosexual couples; single, gay, lesbian, asexual, divorced, remarried, it’s for everybody, you and me, too.


  17. What I was trying to say is that the the delay in what the early Church expected to be the imminent return of Christ forced the Church to gradually find ways to sanctify time and ordinary life, rather than only looking to the eschaton and the new age.

    Now if the Rapture Ready/Left Behinder types would only get a clue.


  18. “Eternal quality” was a poor choice of words. My only excuse is it was early and sleep was still in my eyes, as well as cobwebs in my brain.


  19. What I was trying to say is that the the delay in what the early Church expected to be the imminent return of Christ forced the Church to gradually find ways to sanctify time and ordinary life, rather than only looking to the eschaton and the new age. The development of the sacraments of holy orders and marriage were means of sanctifying time, and finding the eschatological in the ordinary. Marriage is not only covenantal, in RCC theology; it actually is a sacramental conduit of God’s grace and presence, participating in the same sacramental mystery that Baptism and the Eucharist do. One of the historical results of this tendency toward pervasive sacramentalism was that the Church looked less to the eschatological horizon ahead for the coming of the new aeon, and more inward toward the immanent life of the Church in time. This, it seems to me, was inevitable, since Christ’s coming was not imminent, and the Church had to learn to live in time and history; but how it relates to the original expectation of Jesus and his followers of an imminent inbreaking of the Kingdom from the forward horizon of history is problematic, as is the status of marriage given the tension between the two different orientations.


  20. Dana is right. Since the eschaton began with Jesus, a new covenant view of marriage and biological family has presented itself over and against the old. The people of god are not reckoned “in Abraham” but in Christ through faith. The passing of biological family as central to God’s kingdom is in evidence pretty much everywhere Jesus is confronted with it. Even the phrase “born again” is designed for this redefinition. Justification by faith is as well. The adamic calling to be fruitful and multiply to fill the earth is translated into the make disciples command for populating heavens kingdom on earth. Add all this as the backdrop for what Jesus says about marriage in the resurrection and you get ,the picture that marriage and family simply don’t serve the purpose they once did as we approach the age to come. It’s not as if we shouldn’t have families or love them. And heck, for all we know there will still be sex in the resurrection, but differently purposed. But we most certainly should be tiring quickly of “centrality of marriage” declarations from people who are trying to use the Bible as a guideline for the foundations of a moral society or some such thing.


  21. “I am astounded that no mention is made of homosexuality, for the statement hammers the male/female point repeatedly, and it seems to me that this statement was drafted at this point in time in response to the “gay marriage” issue primarily.”

    Unless I read the wrong document, most of the Statement is devoted to discussing same sex marriage. To break it down, after the introduction, there are about 1700 words devoted to Christian theology and teaching, and 2600 words on the current cultural situation. Of those 2600 words, 2000 words are on the topic of same sex marriage.

    The language employed is precisely what I would expect from a culture war call-to-arms. This theme starts with the title—“Reclaiming marriage.” The document that follows consistently summons a language of cultural crisis and decline. “Marriage is in crisis throughout the Western world,” one passage reads. “The data from the United States alone tell an unmistakable—and unmistakably sad—story.” There is no complication here. No trade-offs. No opportunities.

    The gospel is at stake! It always is.

    Predictably, the language is urgent and same sex marriage draws the some of the starkest statements. For example, “By redefining marriage to allow a union between two persons of the same sex—Spouse 1 and Spouse 2—a kind of alchemy is performed, not merely on the institution, but on human nature itself.” Same sex marriage is “a parody” as well as a “grave threat” outweighing all other threats to the institution of marriage. We have entered a “brave new world.” In that world, “The proponents of these so-called marriages are powerful…” and must be opposed.

    Good political sense has led the authors to avoid exploring whether those of us who live in a world that is much less biforcated by sex – a more egalitarian world, compared to that of our grandparents – are also performing alchemy. I am uncertain whether to interpret this silence as a gesture saying, “Yes, we said it, and you fill in the blanks!” or if their silence is a sign “the feminists” are slowly winning.

    So I wanted to like this piece, but I got exactly what the title told me I was going to see. If they had tried to build a robust, positive picture of a Christian theology of marriage, I’d probably disagree with them on points, but I’d applaud the venture — I am convinced that a Christian picture of marriage does, in fact, have something to offer and it needs to get reflected on and articulated.

    And that is why I am disappointed to see a statement that could have discussed Christian marriage turn out to be an argument about how the Christian vision of marriage cannot survive the eclipse of a particular view of gender.


  22. those who are insisting upon certain forms of morality want their cake and eat it too — to have all the advantages of the modern world without acknowledging that they are also partaking in a way of life that contributes to the very idolatry and immorality they decry.

    Which is of course the trap that all such attempts fall into. Even the Amish would not exist without the protective umbrella of the “gentiles” providing all the things (like protection from external enemies) that they will not. But at least you have to give them the credit of at least trying to live by their convictions.


  23. Hi,

    I’m not overly convinced with all StuartB’s assessments, especially, “Which may explain why, as the Church grew less Judaic and more Greco-Roman that the doctrines of the church on divorce and remarriage softened and morphed. The conflicts of societal expectations with the words of Scripture were not a matter of sin versus righteousness, but of different social constructs.”

    If you have a read of history & the development of the monastic movement, the Church seemed to go harder on marriage & divorce as the sacramental aspect came into play, ie our marriages mirroring Christ’s union with the Church. (Don’t you think Jesus has to put up with discontent, disenchantment & disgust as He remains linked to this earthly Church in Love, hmm sounds a bit like our marriages… ?) If you look at guys like Tertullian, he thought the church was going “soft”, in his age, & so did some of the other Fathers. Over time, things seemed to get stricter than Judaism (the outward aspect anyhows). Why ? IF you follow any of the monastic principles, mortification of the flesh, done from the heart, is supposed to bring you closer to God.

    IF you guys are able to access this episode from Australia, I suggest it has something to say in response to Chaplain Mike’s point 3 above. Although this was doctored for Reality TV, it points the way forward.


  24. Another option: God changes how he addresses humanity over time, as humanity matures. In an agrarian society, having more children would be necessary for the success of your culture. Since God was grooming the Jewish people to be the ones to whom Christ came, he would have wanted to ensure that they had the best chance of success possible, so it would be expedient to emphasize it.

    Christ’s coming, however, meant the end of the Mosaic covenant, and with it the need for a specially-groomed tribe. Full quivers were not a necessity by then, as civilization had progressed, and the Kingdom of Heaven was opened to everyone.

    The rocket had broken the atmosphere, so the boosters fell off. God hasn’t changed; he’s been working on the same plan the whole time.


  25. Is there evidence for that commenter’s claims regarding the lovelessness of the Jewish marriage in the Bronze Age? I agree that we shouldn’t be bound by ancient civil code regarding inheritance any more than ancient civil code regarding blended fabric, but the iconographic aspect of marriage at its best gives me pause before throwing it out as an outdated power trip.


  26. The changes of the 60s and 70s were themselves based on the even greater changes to marriage in the late 19th early 20th century when we stopped treating wives as the property of their husband.


  27. I simply don’t buy that way of thinking.

    This has to be my de facto stance with a lot of things. You can’t engage. You can’t reason. You can’t argue against. They will win. They have air tight arguments. They have scriptural backup, and backup to any other Scripture you may counter them with.

    It’s like Plato/Socrates’ argument that all writing is dumb and books should never be written because it destroys the intellect.

    You can’t argue with his arguments. You can only reject them.


  28. This rant by a poster was posted on the SFL comment threads last week. I think it’s relevant to today’s discussion.

    I know that my viewpoints on sexuality have been changing. In some ways that is distressing to me, particularly in some of the ideas that have presented themselves as I study the issues. Nothing is comfortable.

    Part of the issue is that my wife and I did everything “right” (or mostly) as we were taught. Abstinence until marriage? Check. Ignorance about sex? Check. Didn’t know how to kiss? Check. Still don’t? Check. Never cheated in over 30 years of marriage? Check. 4 children? Check. G-rated shows? Check. Homeschooling? Check. Don’t talk about anything with the kids? Check. “The Talk” a total disaster? Check.

    Yet our “love life” is dysfunctional. Wham, bam, thank … well, that’s all that’s allowed. Don’t ever try anything new. Don’t investigate to make things better. Don’t even talk to the doctor about it — not even if she is a woman. Anything even slightly different is dirty and gutter-minded and kills the moment.

    No, it isn’t easy talking about it. But I figure I am not alone. There have to be more people than me with such problems!

    So, what about “Biblical morality” causes such misery? Perhaps because “Biblical morality” isn’t really moral? Perhaps because the rules aren’t about relationships and satisfaction, but about commerce (money) and genealogy?

    Virtually all the laws about sex in the Old Testament were designed to ensure that a man knew the kids his wife bore were his. If they weren’t, she would be killed (along with the unborn baby). Abortion. After all, the husband’s connection with the promises of God in the future depended on him having children who would receive the promises, and he didn’t want someone else’s kids inheriting what was his.

    Men who married a woman who didn’t give him children took on a second wife — or divorced the first one in order to remarry. That is why Joseph was so unusual. He’d made the decision to marry a girl and raise someone else’s child as his own.

    Temple prostitution was forbidden for this reason. With temple prostitution, girls got pregnant and had kids. Someone married them and adopted their children. Not so in Israel! Adoption was rare. Every child had to know exactly who his father was so his genealogy would be clear and he would be connected to the promises of Israel. “Bastards” were excluded. The only person with no father who had a strong spiritual connection to God was Melchizedek. His lack of recorded parentage made him highly unusual!

    Children had to be kept “pure.” You couldn’t get a bride price for a daughter who wasn’t a virgin. It was so much a matter of economy that amidst all the prohibitions of incestuous relations, there is no prohibition against having sex with a daughter. No one would sacrifice so much wealth for sex! As for boys, well, it wasn’t so much that keeping them virginal was anything to be concerned about. But if they were caught with an unbetrothed girl, marriage was automatic — and there went a chance to make an advantageous marriage with another family. Pure economics. Love had nothing to do with it.

    And if they were caught porking a girl spoken for, or someone’s wife, well, death was the merciful end of what would happen to them. Try to sneak their children on someone else to steal their inheritance, will they?

    In other words, the rules were purely economic with a dose of spiritual promises on the side. Relationships, satisfaction — those were never considered.

    The New Testament instructions on marriage are no better. There is nothing in them that actually deals with relationships, even though we have romanticized the readings of certain passages.

    When Jesus spoke on divorce, he noted the following:

    * A Man divorcing his wife for some cause other than adultery and remarrying commits adultery.
    * A Man who divorces his (presumably faithful) wife causes her to commit adultery. Even if he had committed adultery.

    Remember, men could divorce their wives. Wives could not divorce their husbands. Period. If a man divorced his wife, she was bereft. She was out in the street. If she didn’t find someone else to marry, she would starve or die on the streets. She might be forced into prostitution. But the man only committed adultery if the wife he divorced hadn’t committed adultery. No matter for the wife. Remarriage in any case was adulterous.

    And you thought Jesus was being generous?

    Marriages in the New Testament were arranged, not romantic. That’s why Paul had to command men to “love” their wives. Paul also had to use agape instead of eros because there often was NO physical attraction. There was NO relationship before the wedding day, NO dating or mixing between the sexes among young people. Men and women married because their families had contracted it. It was an economic relationship.

    So while Paul did say that it was better to marry than to burn, it was just after Paul had said that joining with a prostitute was a one-flesh relationship (i.e. expect children as a result). Both Paul and Peter essentially told women to behave themselves and not rock the boat. Be submissive so you can keep your husband.

    We get misty-eyed when Paul says he is ultimately talking about Christ and the Church, but remember, that is no romantic relationship either. The church was bought with a Price, and the higher the bride-price the more faithful the woman was expected to be. It was a matter of pride and standing. The woman only had place with her husband.
    Considering that kind of society, it is no wonder that the only kind of Biblical instruction on sex is, “Don’t. Until you are married, for kids. Or possibly to relieve stress. But a romantic relationship? Forgetaboutit.” Purity, not fulfillment.
    And it becomes very, very confusing to us when we try to think about loving camaraderie and mutual physical desire in a social and religious context where that just didn’t happen.

    Which may explain why, as the Church grew less Judaic and more Greco-Roman that the doctrines of the church on divorce and remarriage softened and morphed. The conflicts of societal expectations with the words of Scripture were not a matter of sin versus righteousness, but of different social constructs.

    And today, “marriage” is entirely different from the days of Scripture. There is reason to think about how Christians should regard sex, sexuality and marriage in a society where individuals can choose who they will or will not marry, where children are not considered economic bargaining chips, where people mingle freely and get to know others in ways children never did before, and where one’s genealogy is not the same as one’s connection to God.


  29. Remove a lot of the property and inheritance and titles and stuff from marriage throughout the Bible, and what are you left with?

    Kind of eye opening to realize just how little the Bible has to say about marriage.


  30. Or you could say that verse is just referring to Jesus being the same, not God.

    Or you could just call it hyperbole and poetic and rest easy, accepting that God actually has changed throughout history.


  31. Feels like I’m arguing fan fiction details by this point…

    But all those statements just seem to say to me that the God of the OT and the God of the NT as revealed in/through Jesus are two completely separate entities. Making that verse “God never changes” (paraphrased) utterly false. You have to stretch your brain to harmonize the two.

    Here’s an attempt: most of that OT stuff was just man made that everyone assumed God blessed. Then God corrected it in the NT.

    Simple and complex.


  32. You know it was all Adam’s fault. God offered him the perfect woman who would love and adore him and worship the ground he walked on. Adam asked if there was an associated cost and God said yes it would cost an arm and a leg. So Adam said, “Whataya gimme for a rib?” My wife told me that one.
    Anyway, I appreciate your and Dana’s comments. Real good stuff.


  33. It’s a fundamental shift in the meaning in marriage from the uniting of families and communities to the uniting of individuals. Was watching some old movies a while back about a woman marrying “beneath her station.” The concept still exists, but it is related more toward individual worthiness than maintaining social position for the family.


  34. “Traditional morality” regarding marriage has never been universally upheld, neither in bible times nor later on in the Christian era. Every problem we have now was present in the Greco-Roman society of the first century, perhaps not even to the same extent. There is plenty of documentation of this in later times as well. T, F and A have only changed the speed, and to some extent the economic outcome.

    I know 2 men whose male ancestors disappeared in Europe in WW II, one in Germany and the other in the Netherlands. Their wives could not remarry in the church because the deaths had not been officially accounted for, so these women each chose to subsequently live with another man without benefit of clergy; both men treated the women and their children well and were faithful to them. It was common during the Gold Rush for married men to go west, promising to send for their families once they struck it rich, and never doing so, abandoning the wives “back east” and either marrying or taking up with women in the west. In the fur trade days, many men took native wives; only a very few ever had these marriages recognized by the church, and most men abandoned their native wives and children when “white women” began to go west as well. Such types of incidents can be traced all the way back through history. War, especially, disrupted “traditional marriage and family. It’s extremely shortsighted to blame all our problems on the social developments of the ’60s.

    That said, I find turnalso’s comment at 6:56 to be the most germane. Even the exalted language of “covenant” discussed by Rick at 8:12 is still describing an external code buttressed by social pressure, also external. Michale Z’s comment is pertinent. Though “bound by vows” is our heritage in the west, it is still external. In the Orthodox Church, no vows are made during a wedding. Monastics are received as they assent to questions about their desire to live the monastic life in a particular place, doing so without compulsion; I suppose technically those are vows, but the questions remind me of baptism – again reception. Both marriage and monasticism are undertaken in a community.

    Nate at 11:08 has the crux of it, quoting Eeyore. What is the telos of marriage (or of anyone’s life in general)? How are the ontological issues regarding the flourishing of any human being going to be addressed? To simply assert “traditional morality” doesn’t fly anymore.

    I again refer interested people to Fr Stephen Freeman’s blog, where a discussion of this very issue has been happening. There have been some rabbit trails, but I find Fr’s comments to people’s sincere questions very pertinent.



  35. Dana –

    Do you remember which passage of Maximus that was? I’d be very interested in reading that.

    Thank you


  36. Reading further down through their statement, I can see that there’s going to be a deluge of problems in which they confuse marriage of the state with marriage of God.


  37. St Maximus the Confessor noted this in his Ambigua in the 7th century CE. He notes, I believe, 7 unities that were broken as a result of what we call “the fall” – and that one of the purposes of the Incarnation was for the GodMan to heal them all.



  38. Yes, the biblical material is very scant about how human life will be conducted after the Resurrection. However, eschatology doesn’t only refer to the timeline. It also, and primarily in my tradition, refers to the *kind* of life to which we are all called – the Life of the Age to Come. How is that life to be manifested already in this age, since the Incarnation, Life, Death/Resurrection, Ascension and Bestowal of the Spirit of Christ?

    Anyone, married or not, can participate in that life. I think the questioners asking “how” are on the most important track, and also the most difficult.



  39. As my Hebrew prof explained it. “Becoming one flesh” means that your tie with your husbands family will be stronger than the tie with your own family. In the culture of the day, you would go leave your own family and live with your husbands family.


  40. And during the bloodbath of the Protestant Reformation Wars, married or celibate announced Whose Side You Were On. So since Romish Papists had celibate clergy and monastics, Protestants HAD to have Universal Marriage. (Communism begets Objectivism.) And a couple generations later, it becomes The Only Godly Way To Do Things.


  41. “As the most venerable and reliable basis for domestic happiness”

    Obviously many people would disagree that this is the most reliable basis for domestic happiness, and is a pretty damning claim to people who choose to or cannot help but to remain single. It also overlaps with my issue that most Christians have a really hard time distinguishing between marriage as an institution of the church, and marriage as an institution of the state. It seems fairly obvious to me that people could easily be married in the eyes of either, but not the other. They say they’re speaking as Christians, to Christians, and may well intend that, but by failing to make the state/church distinction they end up dragging in everybody who isn’t and doesn’t claim to be a Christian (and, fwiw, don’t care about what Christians think is necessary for a “stable society”).


  42. Interestingly, the first primordial Unity that is broken into its component pairs is the discord that arose between Adam and Eve when Adam blamed the woman for the Fall.

    “Difference and Similarity are the two poles of Unity” Samuel Taylor Coleridge


  43. And what information do we have concerning how human life will be conducted after the Resurrection?

    The Biblical material is very scant. We have Our Lord’s own words that men and women will neither marry nor be given in marriage, but no indication that sexual distinctions will either continue or be abolished.

    There is that peculiar verse in the Revelation where Christ appears to John as having [female] breasts.


  44. The complementary relationship, the interplay, the union of male and female brings forth something that will not be had or found in same sex relationships. That’s not even controversial but quite evident. They are plain and fundamental opposites. It is that merging of opposites that I think is at the core of the mystery of Christ and the church. That is something both sacred and instructional and worth guarding and preserving. I am not qualified to join the fight, nor am I interested but I just want to go on record saying that as long as we are human, the marriage of the genders, in traditional marriage or otherwise, is normal and healthy and fruitful and advantageous. Whatever else is going on let us never say that marriage is passé. Without the union of opposites, in a more general and ethereal sense in which gender is just one iteration, life as we know it ceases. I’ll see your Yin and I’ll raise ya a Yang.


  45. “You have a short leash today. Either contribute to the discussion or be moderated.”

    Exactly what I said to Athena, my dog today,as we walked out into the cold cold day. Behave or else! She did too. And she wagged her tail on the way home.


  46. Just from the title “Reclaiming Marriage”, I could make a good guess as to the subject:

    1) Salvation By Marriage Alone (I.E. Focusing on the Family).



  47. As Rick pointed out above:

    “Marriage, as far as I can understand it from the weight of history, is almost never about the desires of two individuals exclusively. It is the uniting of families, the forming of alliances, the making of peace among groups. I jokingly say that family is God’s way of making us intimately acquainted with people who, under normal circumstances, we’d have nothing to do with.”


  48. “The statement lacks eschatological perspective. As one commenter has noted, it only looks backward and deals with the present age and not forward to the new creation, when issues of sex, marriage, and family as we know them will have passed away.”

    A primary, and underrepresented, issue in Christian discussions of marriage.


  49. Oh, please, Mike. You should know better. Wasn’t Jacob his nephew, and at least his son in law? It’s referring to a familial relationship, and not in the same way that “becomes one flesh” is applied to marriage.

    And prostitutes are not granted any special status in that passage, either. The point is that sexual union binds two people together.


  50. Conservative understanding of “One Flesh” conveniently ignores Genesis 29:14 where Laban says to Jacob.

    “14 And Laban said to him, Surely thou art my bone and my flesh.”

    Also ignores that 1 Corinthians 6:16 that says you can be one flesh with a prostitute.


  51. The great divorce law revolution of the 60s and 70s was before my time, but I think that shift remains one of the primary underminers of marriage. It changed the perceived nature of marriage from a commitment to a “while it works for the parents” model. Since it was before my time, I don’t know why it happened. I have no doubt that some of the effects were good. But the negative effects of the broken families are also real.

    Another problem is the design of many of our social welfare programs, which punish marriage by significantly reducing benefits when there is another employed parent. Then there are the high incarceration rates from the tough on crime 90s. These combine to be the main reasons that the portion of married people is so different among the college educated, generally wealthy and the non-college educated, generally poor.


  52. Way too many threads here to go chasing after each one. It seems to me the fundamental issue at the heart of this discussion is whether or not religious views of sexuality and marriage (however defined) should be privileged by the state. Our constitution marries (pardon the pun) the concept of the secular state with the idea of religious toleration. I think this document is an attempt to undermine church/state separation and is dangerous and destructive on that basis alone regardless of their particular views on sex and marriage.

    The basis of the democratic legal system is equality under the law. The liberal secular state cannot make the distinction these folks want to make. I suspect our Supreme Court will take this view shortly. If not I want to hear the justices explain why one particular class of people are NOT equal under the law.

    The folks who composed this document are certainly within their rights to express their views and try to influence others to accept their views. What they can’t do is use the coercive powers of the state to enforce their views. This has not always been the case.


  53. But remember that the monster was not bad in and of himself: “I was benevolent and good, but misery made me a fiend.”

    Perhaps we as a society need to develop some mature way to deal with our creature, if we can stand to look at it long enough.


  54. Frankenstein’s monster was never a threat. He was of all creatures most to be pitied. All he wanted was community, a place to belong. His creator, who created him as an expression of his own passions, could never provide that for him.

    This document is a deep document. It is far more concerned about ontology vs. phenomenology or reality vs fantasy than it is about law, morality or “rights”. It is also a shot across the bow for the modern egalitarian warship on which nearly everybody here has booked passage.


  55. I’ll wait for the results of the Vatican conferences on the importance of marriage and the family that have been occurring . . . I’m not sure Catholics and fundamentalist-evangelicals fit in the same boat on these issues completely. The ‘patriarchy’ expressed among fundamentalists these days does not seem healthy to me in its most extreme expressions, no. And the fundamentalist-evangelical CBMW (Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood) seems to be a distraction from the central focus of Catholic faith on the dignity of the human person.

    For some time SOME American Catholics and evangelicals have attempted to form political alliances over the issue of abortion, but even this fell apart when the US Catholic Bishops couldn’t stomach the Republican-backed Ryan economic plan that would have seriously harmed the most vulnerable in our country while rewarding the wealthy.

    I’ll let the Vatican conference in union with input from the whole of Christendom, do its work over time and come to some findings . . . I will look at those findings seriously . . . but I can’t find much to praise in the work of fundamentalist-evangelicals these days, certainly not after the recent attack on transgender people by the Southern Baptist Convention. I hope my Church steers clear of petty stone-throwing and attempts to find ways to minister with compassion to broken families and their children. I think with Pope Francis around, my Church has a better chance of avoiding the pitfalls into which the evangelical-fundamentalists now find themselves mired, all the while protesting that they express ‘truth in love’ and claiming they are under assault from all sides of ‘the culture’.


  56. However, to imply that humankind in general has always welcomed marriage as a gift and has universally recognized the one man/one woman for life formula is a curious reading of history.

    History that is heretical to a group is often ignored or considered not worthy of legitimacy. Of course that requires a different definition of history than most of us would give.


  57. What T, F, and A have done has put us in the realm of Frankenstein’s monster. That which we have created now poses a grave danger to our world, and it threatens to wreak havoc from which we cannot defend ourselves.


  58. technology, freedom, and affluence have made the world a much different place

    What T, F, and A have done is to add sinews to man’s project of self-definition and self-creation. We can jettison the rebellion and keep the flush toilets and the indoor heating.


  59. Eeyore, what I would say to your devil’s advocate line is: I simply don’t buy that way of thinking. It’s too simplistic, lacks grace, and misses my point. It betrays the weakness of a certain kind of theology that lays blame for every ill on individual human choice. It fails to recognize that many of those who are insisting upon certain forms of morality want their cake and eat it too — to have all the advantages of the modern world without acknowledging that they are also partaking in a way of life that contributes to the very idolatry and immorality they decry.


  60. Absent a spiritual component, Christian marriage lacks the ability to counter social pressure. This has been seen in the prevalence of divorce and its acceptance to the point of becoming almost a non-issue in the church. Same sex marriage is just the next shoe to drop.

    Marriage, as far as I can understand it from the weight of history, is almost never about the desires of two individuals exclusively. It is the uniting of families, the forming of alliances, the making of peace among groups. I jokingly say that family is God’s way of making us intimately acquainted with people who, under normal circumstances, we’d have nothing to do with. Marriage in modern western society lacks most of these components and is defined by the choices of individuals, not families. There is no longer any meeting between respective parents to discuss whether the marriage of their children is advantageous to their offspring’s future. In fact, to even suggest such a thing is alien and weird to us. “What? Involve our parents substantially in our decision to marry? Are you kidding? It’s none of their business.”

    The rank individualism of our society has reduced marriage to a personal, and temporary arrangement of two individuals. Romeo and Juliet would make no sense in today’s society. The idea of two people getting married in order to reconcile warring neighbors makes no sense in our urbanized, decontextualized, fragmented society.

    The other missing component is the idea of Promise or Covenant. No one expects to be in a marriage forever any more. It is a hope or a dream, but rarely a decision. Oathbreaking is no longer the mark of shame that it once was and personal integrity does not infuse current marital relationships with the backbone that is required to live with a person in self-sacrificial love that some days you just want to throttle. Lacking that, the breakdown in marriage is not the problem, but the indicator of a deeper problem related to personal integrity and individual obligations in a functioning society.


  61. I feel like this statement over-simplifies the Biblical texts concerning marriage.

    For example, in the OT procreation was *so* important that polygamy and concubinage was common and seems even to have God’s approval. Childless women were viewed as deficient and cursed, and men incapable of having children (i.e. eunuchs) were excluded from the temple. The OT texts seem to assume that a married person with children is a fully developed human being, and everyone else is deficient.

    But in the NT, we see Jesus (a celibate man) as God’s revelation of what the perfect human being looks like. We see the early church led by other people who are celibate, and welcoming converts like the Ethiopian eunuch who would previously have been treated as subhuman. And as the early church developed monasticism flourished: in the early church you no longer had to be married with children to be a full human being. But what monks and married people had in common was that both were bound by vows to one group of people for life. Monastic vows, in fact (poverty, chastity, obedience, stability) are designed to mirror traditional marriage vows.

    So, the OT teaches: a complete human being is one who has a spouse and kids. The NT teaches: complete human flourishing can happen in any context where someone is bound by vows to a particular “family” for life. I’m really cautious of statements that seem to be trying to push us back into an OT framework.


  62. Protestantism being such a mixed bag, I can’t really comment on what they allow, except to say that most of my Methodist and Lutheran ancestors who were widowed young seem to have remarried with no trouble.


  63. I’m confused how you mean “understanding an eternal quality” to marriage. The RCC and the Eastern Orthodox both allow widows and widowers to remarry; surely this betokens a temporary attitude toward the union of marriage, as i would expect a group that claims it to be eternal to require fidelity from the surviving partner. Have I missed the point?


  64. FOR, I’m not “pushing” anything. I made my reasons known in the post. It is a serious statement in the public discussion, worthy of discussion. Your comment amounts to a straw man argument — because they are right-wingers, they have nothing worth listening to. Poppycock.

    You have a short leash today. Either contribute to the discussion or be moderated.


  65. “traditional morality” was simply the reflection of the eternal and unchanging character of God
    I’m no Chaplain Mike, but I would contest the use of “reflection.” Moral codes are external to the individual and coerce him to act, even when his own inclinations would have him do otherwise. This is good and necessary for a functioning society, but it is not the way God works, because everything he does is because he wills to do it. There is no external moral law, no eternal dharma that God is bound to obey, so the sense of reflection breaks down.

    The argument is still tricky once the opening is tweaked (e.g., “‘traditional morality’ is a code of conduct meant to reflect what God, eternal and unchanging, would expect of man…”), but I find this with mentioning because a true reflection of God’s eternal and unchanging nature would look more like people who did just and charitable things because they choose to without coercion, at which point the moral code becomes unnecessary. This is something that can only be accomplished by a supernatural transformation of the heart, and something Christians ought to be particularly interested in.

    We’ve been trying to get back to the Law to perfect everyone for two thousand years, and it seems we always will want it for our first resort, St Paul’s words be damned.


  66. And yet, it was medieval Roman Catholicism that raised matrimony to the level of a sacrament, seeing an eternal quality in it that is like the ordination of a single man or women to a religious order. The Reformers, on the other hand, did not recognize marriage as a sacrament, but as a provisional covenant meant for this life; in a sense, they were trying to recognize exactly the eshatological quality of marriage that they believed the medieval RCC had obscured and covered with sacramental language and thinking.

    I think the reason that Protestantism frequently sounds as if it is returning to a sacramental attitude to marriage, in the sense of attributing an eternal quality to it that seems to conflict with an eshcatological understanding, is precisely because of the delay of the long-expected parousia of Christ. As the years and decades and centuries elapse, and still no new age dawns, the Church must figure out what it will do with marriage, how it will find a place for it in the theology and spirituality of the Church, and this leaves RCatholics and Protestants in the same essential, confusing, ambiguous situation.


  67. Now that my true attitude is laid out in my reply to Robert above, let me turn to you, Chap Mike, and play the devil’s advocate. 😉

    If we Christians want to speak to these people in this world in these days, we will have to go beyond simply insisting on traditional morality

    The way I was taught and trained, “traditional morality” was simply the reflection of the eternal and unchanging character of God, and thus itself unchainging. And if, as is stated above, “technology, freedom, and affluence have made the world a much different place and have changed the dynamics with regard to all manner of human behavior and institutions”, well, that is almost irrelevant. The human behavior and institutions must conform to God’s law, not vice versa. So, we are called to insist on traditional morality, no matter the cost.

    How do you answer that line of argument? I haven’t quite worked it out yet, myself…


  68. As Hamlet would say, “Aye, there’s the rub.” The biggest problem with statements like the ECT’s, and the sentiment that motivates them, is that they miss entirely the eschatological attitude that Jesus and Paul both take towards marriage. Marriage is a part of *this* age. In the *next* age – the age anticipated by the Church, and promised by Christ at His coming – it will no longer be necessary. In a sense, vociferous defenses of marriage are “backwards” looking rather than “forward” looking. The Protestants can be excused for this flaw, but the Catholic Church as a much better historical track record WRT celibacy as part of church life, and I wonder where that wound up in the discussions leading to this statement.


  69. All the highblown rhetoric in the world can’t cover up the stench of right-wing religious bigotry. Anyway, ECT has no particular standing to pronounce on such things–they’re just a lobby group, not the representatives of anybody important. Why are you pushing this, Mercer?


  70. I agree that the full exhibition of the image of God in humanity requires both male and female.

    I’m not sure what this statement means. Does this mean that Jesus did not fully exhibit the image of God in humanity, since he was only male and unmarried? Does it imply that those, male and female, who choose to remain single are somehow disadvantaged in fully exhibiting the image of God in humanity? Or does it merely mean that the human race is not fully human as a community without both male and female, all questions of marriage left aside?


  71. “…how does that belief actually affect the way I relate to my divorced neighbors, my gay son, the couple in the church who are living together and unmarried, the single folks who never marry, or the genuine Christians who honestly disagree with my interpretation of Scripture on these matters?”

    The answer always should start and end with love. With love in the middle.

    If that were the focus and reality, then much of the rest would dissolve into the background.


  72. …except to say, that is, that society can choose whatever it sees fit to do, but the Church is not obligated to practice the same things within its own confines. Some here, in the past, have expressed contrary views, so there is probably no new ground to break here.


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