Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Marriage

My thoughts have been very much on marriage of late. There are two obvious reasons for this -- the first is last Saturday, on a crisp sunny winter afternoon, I walked my younger daughter, Lindy, down the aisle, and watched her marry John Womack. This is the second time I have "given away" a daughter, and while I had my emotions more under control than when we married off her sister, there was a vast array of feelings that I have yet to have the courage to confront.

Last week a Baptist pastor friend of mine shared with me a quote from Chuck Swindoll as I was grappling with my inner feelings: "No matter how wonderful the groom, the father of the bride feels that he is placing a priceless Stradivarius in the hands of a gorilla." My new son-in-law much appreciated the joke when I shared this with him, which augers well for our future relationship!

The second reason it is much on my mind is that I am reviewing the Marriage Course materials from Alpha with a view to using them for marriage preparation and as an outreach into the area in which we are situated, where I am discovering not a few couples are living in a personal hell with one another. As this is proving to be a particularly difficult area into which to present the Gospel (five churches of varying backgrounds have ceased to exist during my time here), here is a need which might be a point of focus for presenting Jesus Christ.

But circumstances like this do concentrate the mind and get one thinking hard, for whatever label you put upon yourself in the spectrum of Christian believing, all of us have fudged, and fudged badly, on the sanctity of marriage, and its importance in a stable society. I live in the heart of the Bible belt where you would think higher standards would prevail. Not a bit of it: I would say that Southern Baptists and the Church of Christ are just as sloppy about marriage as Episcopalians and Presbyterians. For example, the mother of one of our church members belongs to a little Baptist church whose pastor is now on his third marriage.

It has for a long time been my conviction that one of the points on the ethical downward spiral of North American Anglicanism was the Episcopal Church's weakening of the marriage canons in 1973. I fully agree with my revisionist friends who say that those who claim orthodoxy cannot have it both ways when it comes to the sexuality issues that divide us. Unlike them, I do not believe this justifies changing our values to suit the climate, rather I would prefer to see us recovering what we have lost.

I am increasingly convinced that one of the primary building blocks for putting the Christian faith in the West back together is to not only reassert the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman, as counter-cultural as such a fundamental idea is becoming, but also to do all in our power to enable marriages that have been contracted to survive and prosper.

David McCarthy, Rector of St. Silas Church, Glasgow, was with us for the weekend to conduct my daughter's wedding, having been her pastor in Scotland for six years, and he was talking about the wrestling (or lack of it) being done by the British churches as they struggle with the civil unions legislation that has been passed. This legislation effectively devalues traditional marriage while raising the profile of other approaches to domestic partnership. This has created real challenges for marriage, but the flip side of that is that we should, perhaps, now be reasserting the value of this holy state.

Meanwhile, in the last few days I have been sent an article from the Washington Times that begins, "Polygamy rights is the next civil rights battle." Actually, you can probably make a better case from Scripture for traditional polygamy than some of the other alternatives now on display. However, I should imagine that what so-called polygamists want is something that enables multiples of people to live in some kind of legally-sanctioned relationship with one another, and that within this menage anything goes sexually and in every other way. Such households must by their very nature be unstable, especially in the context of the instability of today's society.

I shudder for the wellbeing of children brought up in such an environment. Having spent much of yesterday minding my five-month-old granddaughter, I would have hated for her to grow up with such identity and relationship confusion. As I have cradled this precious child in my arms, and as I baptized her on Sunday, I pray that she will grow up to be a woman of God not a confused individual not knowing who or what she is.

Which brings me back to my point that the time is upon us when we need to re-emphasize the importance of marriage, and also to do all in our power to enable husbands and wives to live the lives in partnership until parted by death that the Almighty intends. In such homes children can be raised in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and hopefully discover for themselves how to become mature men and women able in due course to covenant in marriage with a partner of the opposite sex. We in the churches must help this happen in every way.

I believe that such homes is what a vast majority of people want, but most of that majority have not the slightest idea how to make a healthy marriage and happy home happen so much damage has been done in the last 40 years.

I have been delighted as I have read Nicky and Sila Lee's The Marriage Book, which is a really accessible tool for building a lasting marital relationship. This is one of the resources my daughter and her new husband have been using in their marriage preparation, and I have found it both thoughtful, godly, and very practical. Within the context of Alpha's Marriage Course, which I think we may do at Apostles, this is one of the best ways of challenging today's malaise and laying a new foundation for tomorrow.

I write all this as someone who has been married for thirty-seven years, and who values this relationship more than anything else in life except his faith in Christ. But it has not always been this way. When we were in our late thirties, Rosemary and I came within an ace of coming apart. From that agonizing experience (as well as the other setbacks that have happened in our life together) we know how hard marriage can be, especially when the culture is beckoning with all sorts of false alternatives, erotica, the sex industry, experimentation, and so forth.

Both Rosemary and I now fear that we will outlive the other, for after nearly forty years of knowing each other within the context of our common faith in Christ, and I shudder at the thought of life without her. Of course, this is likely to happen, but it is one of those things we would rather not dwell on!

The truth is that despite all the pressures upon it, marriage is an honorable state given to us by God, and that for most people this is going to be the place where we can experience a fullness of life that is impossible elsewhere. This is not to say that marriage is necessarily for everyone, or that we should lack charity, grace, and generosity to those whose marriages have not survived the rough and tumble of today's living, but it is to say that Christians should work their hardest to make successful marriages the norm and not the exception.

If we were to start now concentrating on this one area of human life and relationships, I believe that faithful biblical Christians would have created a whole new church and culture within a generation or so. In the midst of so much "creativity" in human relationships now is the time to applaud and work for success in this most basic relationship, that which began between man and woman in Eden.

1 comment:

James the Thickheaded said...

Peter Toon has been making these points nicely as well. I will admit that my understanding of our faith was deepened by my marriage...not the other way around! Marriage as it should be...is indeed the earthly model of Christ's love for his church..and the model for our understanding of God's love. It does even have its revelations! Like those we receive in the gift of children...and a parent's love for their child is I believe as close as we get to an earthly understanding of unconditional love. Sadly, the pain of rejection is also part of this passion as well. And the mysterious link between affirmation and rejection is brought home as well.

I think when John Paul II died I realized there was a deeper faith...a deeper sort of love for God and a way to build a better relationship with Him that would be more like what I felt here in my marriage: a personal and engaged relationship. This has pushed me into the anglocatholic part of Anglicanism..but it could have gone in other directions as well if the other parts had been 1) more faithful, and 2) more openly comprehensive. I don't think you marry part of God (extreme protestantism) but the whole. Here, too, Peter Toon seems on the mark that Anglican Evangelicals no longer seem to conform to the full dimensions of the noble definition of their own traditions as they once did.

I like your comments on giving away your daughter. That day is a few years off but still coming faster than I'm ready for...and I think every father both welcomes and dreads it.

The day my daughter was born there was a film on TV about a WW2 British chap dating an unsuspecting, young woman of passing (noble?) wealth willing to sacrifice all for him while his true love was elsewhere; in some London slum...and all I could think of was climbing through the tube to smack him as dirty two-timer. No need, the phone rang and I couldn't watch the end anyway. Film left me without an ounce of charity for the guy...and I can still feel that passion. Never had felt that way before...and all this in a matter of 6 hours after birth. Wow! What a woman can do to a guy!

On the other hand, today's young women in our aggressive, secular, no-holds barred society can be as assertive and cold as men were traditionally pressumed. We might rightly fear for our sons as well: Will they, CAN they be lucky enough to find young women from intact-families or that might learn what an intact family is, or hope to lead one....that they are willing to sacrifice sufficiently to make it happen...to make both of them understand the virtues of making it happen. From what I read, the children of the generation of divorce have no clue other than that marriage is a thing of the moment: here today and gone another. Spouses are like clothes: they come in fashion, you buy them, you wash them, but if they get a spot...it's simpler to get rid of them and go get another. Who needs to work anything out? Why bother? I think the church got involved in marriage way back when in order to increase the solemnity and raise the stakes...to make it something we entered into with more consideration...not less. This supposed to make the union more stable. What was accomplished over 100's of years has been undone in 40. Women are in fact worse off for it in particular as their re-marriage possibilities are measurably fewer. So how is this their liberation?

I think the terms used in Francis J. Hall piece I saw somewhere is that we have exchanged marriage for serial polygamy. So maybe we have already done both!

Thanks!