Too cool to marry...

Today's New York Times has an article on heterosexual couples who refuse to marry until homosexuals are granted the "right" to marry as well.

The Times would have us believe it's a burgeoning movement. In fact, as the article itself makes clear, it amounts to a few celebrity couples, several cohabiting engaged couples and a UCC minister, her two-decade boyfriend and their 18-year-old son in Massachusetts.

Interestingly, as the article continues, its fundamental conceit of couples' sacrificial-devotion-to-civil-rights-leading-to-delayed-marriage implodes before our eyes. The husband-to-be of one engaged couple says he'd rather go ahead and marry his fiance--leaving us wondering why his bride-to-be really refuses the formal ceremony. Meanwhile, the UCC minister and her man still refuse formal marriage despite Massachusetts legalizing homosexual marriage two years ago.

The obvious truth, folks, is that marriage has become an effete concept in American culture--an affectation, even a political statement rather than a one-flesh union. And Christians are as guilty of bringing things to this sorry pass as anyone. We have diminished the institution of marriage even as we've sought to aggrandize our individual unions. By delaying our own (and our children's) weddings until bride and groom are finished schooling, financially stable and established in careers, we make marriage out to be a valedictory, a statement of accomplishment rather than merely the first really adult act of most married couples' young lives; the start of life's hard work rather than its end; matriculation rather than graduation.

Even more fundamentally, we have diminished marriage by refusing to acknowledge the truth of God's Word that marriage is not a grand and complex thing uniquely tailored by each married couple to their own desires and circumstances, but instead, a Divinely-established monolith, a foundational institution established at creation by God through which those who marry submit to the will of God by conforming to the wisdom of the ages.

Finally, the insanity of a couple who have made commitments to each other and engaged in carnal union claiming they're not man and wife should be clear to all. That it's not is a serious indictment of the Church which is charged with being the pillar and foundation of God's Truth in this world. God's Truth says that these couples by engaging in sex and making promises have established a one-flesh union in His sight. Whether we call them married or not, God deems them man and wife. They will give an account to Him should they break their union as surely as all other adulterers. We are not promoting marriage by making it something more than it is Scripturally, we are diminishing the reality and danger of adultery.

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Several months ago my wife e-mailed to me a quote that she had found from Benjamin Franklin on marriage. It seems quite wise to me. I post it below:

"I am rather inclined to think that early [marriages] stand the best chance for happiness. The tempers and habits of the young are not yet become so stiff and uncomplying as when more advanced in life; they form more easily to each other, and hence many occasions of disgust are removed. And if youth has less of that prudence which is necessary to manage a family, yet the parents and elder friends of young married persons are generally at hand, to afford their advice, which amply supplies that defect; and by early marriage youth is sooner formed to regular and useful life; and possibly some of those accidents or connections that might have injured the constitution or reputation, or both, are thereby happily prevented."

Well said--I've personally told people who were "living together"/living in sin that they were in fact married according to Colorado law, which recognizes common law marriage. They didn't go out and get rings, though. Oh well..

I wonder what results the habit of treating marriage as a valedictory, rather than as a start to adult life, might have for couples? Perhaps part of the high rate of divorce and such might come from having the wrong attitude towards what it is?

By this logic, "shacking up" is not a sin, because, after all, they're married in God's eyes. Why bother with the ceremony and the license? This idea devalues marriage.

Not quite true, Jenny. Keep in mind that our gracious host noted that it required not just becoming one in flesh, but the making of commitments to the other. Ask most couples "shacking up," and you'll quickly find they're doing so to avoid the long term commitment.

Hi I found this a very interesting article. I'm wondering if anyone can help with some advice on this issue of marriage and cohabitation.

I'm a Presbyterian minister not long ordained in my first congregation.

I've had several couples, members of our church, come to me regarding baptism of their children, but as it turns out they had been living together, some of them for many years. As I have always viewed this as fornication, I said that I wouldn't perform the baptisms unless the couples were willing to consider marriage. I believe that church discipline is an essential mark of the church.

The responses from all the couples were extremely heated at the suggestion that they were 'living in sin'. In each case, they left the church.

The question is, am I giving myself uneccessary hassle and causing uneccesary anger for these couples, especially where there is an informal committment without formal state/church recognised marriage?

many thanks.

Mr. Murphy,

The term "informal commitment" is a curious one. I'm sure my wife and I would have never had a future together if I had asked her if, instead of getting married, we just make an informal commitment to spend the rest of our lives together. The problem is that an informal commitment is really no commitment at all (or at least in the vast majority of cases.) A man's refusal to make a formal commitment is that he knows that he will then be bound not only by the state who, at best, will hold him fiscally responsible if he should break that commitment, but also by God who will hold him to account. How unsettling! What could be more threatening to me than to vow that I will stay faithful to my wife in sickness, poverty, and until death?

I would suspect that any man (or woman) who says that the commitment has nothing to do with why they are not uniting under the ecclesiastical and legal authorities either does not know the least thing about himself, has successfully decieved himself, or is a liar.

I think you are on the right side of the issue. God is pleased when we, like a good father, protect those under our care by saying His NO (i.e. you cannot have the blessing of the sacraments if you are intentionally living in sin and refuse to come to see this and bend the knee) as well as His YES (God has given us the blessing of marriage which comes with a host of benefits such as children who will grow up to honor their parent and have faith in God!)

Also, consider what this arrangement says about God's husbandry and His fatherhood. When we refuse to commit under the authority that is greater than ourselves, we lie about the Fatherhood and authority of God by setting ourselves up to be the highest authority - or at least the highest authority to which we are willing to commit.

(I find myself hoping that you get a more thorough response from someone who has thought the issue through more deeply. It seems that this is a horrible symptom of our faithlessness - one which often leaves many women alone to fill both parent's shoes. God have mercy on us and move us to care for those who are most often left holding the bag - the mother and her children!)

Dear Francis,

This is a more vexing question than it may at first appear. Vexing, because marriage biblically is a one-flesh union and covenant. Thus, those who make commitments to each other and consummate those commitments are effecting the heart of what constitutes marriage. We could argue that to fulfill all righteousness couples should be willing to register their marital commitment with the state, but failure to do so does not invalidate what has privately taken place. Neither the state nor the pastor marry (in the transitive sense) a man to a woman. We officate, solemnize and register a marriage effected by the couple.

In Calvin's Genevan consistory much time was spent dealing with unions contracted in secrecy. A couple would "drink marriage" to each other in a tavern, then consummate the union and no one would be the wiser until one of the pair would deny it by seeking another marriage partner. Thus the ancient custom of posting the bannes--publicly announcing intent to marry so that: a) someone could object who might have secret knowledge that the union would violate the bounds of consanguinity, or; b) someone secretly married to either member of the couple could make clear their prior claim.

The Church has long opposed the practice of secret marriages because of their tendency to promote such sin, but the Church does not deny the reality of a marriage contracted privately.

In your situation I would tend to question if the couples are truly believers if they fail to appreciate your concern about the nature of their relationship. Perhaps they have contracted a legitimate marriage, but in a hook-up culture which views marriage as disposable I would say that their failure to regularize their commitments to each other either through the Church or through the state indicates a certain rebellion against authority inconsistent with Christian faith.

I hope this helps, brother. May God give you wisdom and courage as you fulfill your calling.

Yours in Christ,

David Bayly

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