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Reclaiming Marriage: What it is, what it isn’t, what it will finally be December 22, 2012

Posted by Phil Groom in Advent and Christmas, Church, Current Affairs, Life.
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MARRIAGE: We’re hearing a lot about it these days as Her Majesty’s Government crosses swords and angry words with the religious right and the Church of England’s officialdom in particular, an ecclesiastical officialdom that appears to be increasingly out of touch with its own people, who are the Church. Whilst the government seeks to make marriage inclusive and available to all irrespective of gender and orientation, these self-appointed guardians of public morality seek to restrict it as an exclusive preserve of heterosexuals. Marriage, they declare, is sacrosanct: the government has no right to govern it. Marriage, they insist, transcends government: it is ordained by God, the union of man and woman, given by God to provide a stable family life in which children can be brought up.

To which God, to anyone prepared to listen, replies: balderdash and piffle! And does so in no uncertain terms as he begets a bastard to save the world: yes, Jesus, the bastard babe of Bethlehem, born to an unmarried woman in poverty, dependent upon gifts from strangers to survive as a refugee on the run from the authorities; and this child grows up, remains single, owns no property, befriends prostitutes and others outside mainstream society, ends up framed by the religious leaders of his day and gets murdered. That, my friends, is the true Christmas story: no fairy lights, no romance, no happily ever after as the hero carries his blushing bride over the threshold. Instead, God eschews marriage both as Father and as Son, and delivers a whole new twist to the meaning of “stable family life” — all our precious human conventions tossed aside as eternity breaks into time.

In engaging with humanity, God sets himself outside marriage, for marriage is a human institution, one of the ways that our society has developed — not so much ordained by as approved by God, God’s gift to humanity, like the Sabbath; and if we would but heed his voice, I suspect we’d hear Jesus saying, as he said of the Sabbath, “Marriage was made for people, not people for marriage.”

What, then, is marriage? To marry is, quite simply, to join together: it’s a term used in the construction industry, in carpentry, plumbing and engineering as items are bonded to one another. “I’ll marry up that joint,” says the carpenter. We don’t hear the religious right objecting to the use of the term in these contexts, only when it comes to human relationships. I wonder why?

And what is marriage about? There is an absurdity here: those who claim they want to defend the importance of marriage seem to want to reduce it to nothing more than a sexual union. Really? Is that what marriage is about? A licence to have sex? Of course it isn’t: marriage is about far more than what people get up to in their bedrooms; if you dare, ask any couple, married, cohabiting or partnered, what proportion of their time is spent having sex — I’ll wager few apart from newly-weds make it up to even 5% of their time, and for most it will be far less than that.

What, then, is marriage about? Above all, it’s about faithfulness, about commitment; about making that commitment under the terms of a covenant: a covenanted relationship. Faithfulness is what God calls people to, throughout the Bible. Faithfulness versus unfaithfulness is the constant, recurring theme of scripture: from the story of Adam & Eve’s betrayal of God’s trust in Eden to Judas’ betrayal of Jesus in Gethsemane; in the Commandments; in the Prophets as Israel is lambasted for her unfaithfulness to God; in the New Testament as the church is called to remain faithful to God — and it’s this relationship with God that the human institution of marriage but faintly reflects. Again and again, God cries out to his people to be faithful. Go read those ancient prophets and experience the sorrow in God’s heart at his people’s inconstancy!

What makes a marriage is faithfulness; what breaks a marriage is unfaithfulness — and if marriage is in danger, if marriage is in disrepute, it’s heterosexuals who have done the damage and made a mockery of it. Seems to me God is now saying, “Enough! You people have disregarded my call, have betrayed my trust: you’ve thrown it away; but now I will give that trust to all people who will commit to faithfulness regardless of gender” — a repeat of what happened to Israel when Christ came and threw the doors of the covenant wide open to the Gentiles: no longer an exclusive covenant but an inclusive one, for all who will put their trust in God. Just as God once used an outsider, Cyrus, to restore Israel, it seems — irony of ironies — that God is now using the Conservative Party and David Cameron in particular to restore marriage.

Those people to whom I entrusted this gift of marriage have not honoured it, says the Lord, therefore I will find a people who will honour it.

So, at least, it seems to me. Many will disagree; and no doubt numerous marriages of gay couples will fail just as they have done for so many straight couples. No matter: because the story is not over until our hero carries his bride over the threshold. I said that in this story that didn’t happen, didn’t I? I spoke too soon, for the final threshold is death; and our hero, Jesus, tenderly carries his bride — the Church, his broken, bleeding bride, ravaged by her own self-harm and self-interest — in his own broken, bleeding arms over that final threshold into a place where marriage is no more, where questions of gender are set aside, because all are one in Christ and love wins.

Marriage: here we have the Church being precious about it, trying to put a hedge around it, and all the time Christ calls us beyond it to something far deeper — an eternity of love. Marriages are not made by church or state; nor are they made in heaven: they are made in the heart, forged in the home. Church and state, heaven and hell, can only look on in wonder at a covenanted relationship of love that culminates in God and, for those who will, in that glorious consummation between Christ and the Church, the Wedding Feast of the Lamb.

And what a party that will be!


Acknowledgements

I’d like to acknowledge the following, whose recent thought-provoking posts have helped to shape and clarify my thinking in this area. Those named, however, bear no responsibility for anything here written; that responsibility is mine, and mine alone.


Comments»

1. Clare Flourish - December 22, 2012

It is truly lovely to read a Christian argument for equal marriage. I know that the moral arguments are for it, and that the Christian arguments against are based on fear and misunderstanding- and this is lovely. Thank you.

2. anne blake - December 22, 2012

A very thought provoking article Phil helping us to think outside the box.I am sure it will provide great comfort and encouragement to those people who want to commit to a loved one,regardless of gender

3. Sandra Delemare - December 22, 2012

What a beautiful way of expressing this.

4. Sandra Delemare - December 22, 2012

Reblogged this on MMM… Meditation, Mental health, Mindful crochet and commented:
This is a beautiful expression of the argument for inclusive marriage

5. layanglicana - December 22, 2012

Thank-you Phil.

I live in a remote part of Hampshire which seems from discussions I have been having in the last few weeks with ‘locals’ to have some of the most diehard conservatives (with a small ‘c’) in one of the most diehard dioceses in the country.

Those that I have spoken to under 40 cannot understand what the fuss is all about. Those in their 60s, 70s and over, on the other hand, keep parroting (parrotting?) ‘Marriage is between a man and a woman’ as if this were a statement of morality for all time.

As I suggested on my blog, one of the problems is the language. But another problem I think is a confusion between description of the status quo and prescription of the way we would like things to be. Yes, it is descriptive of the present circumstances to say that ‘marriage is between a man and a woman’ – this can hardly be denied. However, it is quite another matter to say that this is way that it should be. You, I and many many others need to make our voices heard: – this is NOT the way it should be, or at least not exclusively (I do not object to men marrying women – or even vice versa!) just so long as they do not restrict the opportunity to heterosexuals.

6. Michael Calwell - January 18, 2013

What a lot of nonsense, Phil. The clue is in your opening statement that marriage is only open to “heterosexuals”. The institution of marriage pre-dates identity politics, gender theory, queer theory and other postmodern novelties.

Your definition is that it is “joining”. You use carpentry as an example. Indeed, marriage does join, as carpentry does. It joins different and complementary things. Things that when, joined together, become something more than the sum of their parts, that can achieve something that neither can achieve individually, and can only achieve together.

And there is nothing that a pair of united men can do together that they cannot do as individuals. There is no joining, because there is nothing different in each that can be joined.

Marriage is not the recognition of any of the sentiments listed in your article. It is the recognition of the fact that our civilisation itself requires the permanent and exclusive sexual unions of men and women. It is a recognition of the outputs and functions of those unions, and of the needs of mother and children of such unions. It is rooted in biology, anthropology and the human person. That is why it is codeified and protected in much the same way across time and space.

That is why Christians, like most people concerned with the common good, defend it and uphold it, and fight against its legal redefinition into meaningless arbitrariness.

Phil Groom - January 18, 2013

More or less what I expected from you, Michael, given where we met on the C4M facebook page. You are, of course, at liberty to dismiss my views as “a lot of nonsense”, though that sort of approach is rarely conducive to constructive dialogue; but all too often, sadly, it does seem to typify the attitude of those of your persuasion. No matter.

You are also at liberty to attempt to define marriage in your terms, but the reality is rather different: word usage changes and definitions change with them. The 2005 edition of New Oxford American Dictionary (Oxford University Press, Inc.), for instance, offers us the following:

marriage |ˈmarɪdʒ|
noun
1 the formal union of a man and a woman, typically recognized by law, by which they become husband and wife.
• a similar long-term relationship between partners of the same sex.
• a relationship between married people or the period for which it lasts : a happy marriage | the children from his first marriage.
• figurative a combination or mixture of two or more elements : a marriage of jazz, pop, blues, and gospel.
2 (in pinochle and other card games) a combination of a king and queen of the same suit.

You may not like the fact that LGBT people can and do get married; but they do, and the good news is that more and more people are coming to terms with that fact.

Finally for now, perhaps you’d care to clarify what you mean by a “legal redefinition into meaningless arbitrariness”? I’m not aware of anyone calling for that. Enlighten me, please: show me where such a call has been issued and I’ll gladly join you in combatting such folly. In the meantime, I invite you to join me in wonder at the miracle of two people in love making a lifelong commitment to one another: that’s something worth celebrating.

7. Marriage: Defined for the 21st Century « Phil's Boring Blog - January 19, 2013

[...] BELIEVE IN MARRIAGE. It is one of the most wonderful institutions developed by the human race, in which two people can [...]


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