In my last blog, I ended by stating that I do not consider homosexuality as the threat to marriage and families. In my estimation the threat to marriage and families is that, in our day, marriage has been made into a commodity and not held up as a holy covenant designed by God.
Let’s first examine how marriage is valued as a commodity in Western culture. In our day and age marriage brings with it the idea of return on investment. The returns expected are emotional, romantic, and even economic. If the expected returns are not delivered, leaving you unhappy, you can discard the relationship and opt for a better one. This is what we should expect when marriage is a social arrangement where husbands and wives are seen to exist to promote sexual fulfillment, happiness, economic benefits, and stability.
Another way to understand Western culture’s approach to marriage is that it is contractual. When you buy a car or an appliance you sign a contract. The contract contains the terms of service, warranties, payment agreements, etc. If the contract is unfulfilled by either party, the contract becomes null and void. If the return on investment leaves the customer dissatisfied, her or she can break the contract. When marriage is approached as a contract, husbands and wives bring “escape clauses” into the marriage relationship. Also, we must remember that contracts expire.
Allow me to share an illustration. Suppose you signed a year contract with a lawn treatment company in late March. The company promised to rid your lawn of all pesky weeds within five months. As soon as you sign the contract you begin to imagine how beautiful your lawn will be in September without the weeds. However, at five months, your lawn doesn’t look any different than it did in late March, despite promises and attempts by the lawn treatment company to remedy the weed problem. You use the “escape clause” provided in the contract due to the company’s inability to deliver the service promised. Of course, you have every right to walk away from the company and find a new one. (Please note that this is not a personal example. I’m extremely satisfied with my lawn treatment service).
While this is an appropriate way to view lawn care service, this is not an appropriate way to approach marriage. Marriage is not a commodity. Spouses are not to be tossed aside in order to find someone younger, thinner, healthier, smarter, wealthier, etc. How heartbreaking is it when a husband or wife says to the other who is struggling with health or financial issues, “I didn’t sign up for this, so I am leaving you for someone healthier or wealthier”?
Tragically, for the last several decades the Church has allowed the cultural view of marriage as a commodity to seep in and infiltrate our understanding of marriage. By practice, the Church’s perceived understanding of marriage is not all that different than the view of broader Western culture. Again, this is tragic!
The origins of marriage as a commodity began after the sin of the man and the woman in the garden. Originally, God created the man and the woman to be one. Genesis 1 and 2 tells us two important pieces of information about the relationship between the husband and the wife prior to the fall. First, humankind—male and female—were created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). Second, husband and wife are one flesh and they were naked and unashamed (Genesis 2:24-25). They were not ashamed of their nakedness because they belonged to each other as one. After the fall, the man is confronted with questions from the Lord God.
Where are you? And [the man] said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate” (Genesis 3:10-12).
We see in the man’s reply the loss of communion with God, fear, and self-consciousness. Also, notice that the woman is no longer viewed by the man as being one with him. Instead, she is an object to be blamed, shamed, and found guilty. This is far removed from God’s design for the man and the woman to be one flesh. The woman is now seen as a commodity—an object—that has lost its worth in the man’s eyes. Of course the man fails to see that he has been a culprit in this entire scenario. As far as commodities go, he has lost value as well. This was never God’s intention.
Whereas the cultural view of marriage is based on the social arrangement of happiness, economic stability, sexual fulfillment, and companionship, marriage as a holy covenant reflects the relationship of the Trinity of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. I addressed this in part in my first blog on this topic. The oneness of the man and the woman reflects the bearing of God’s image, being co-creators with God, and self-donation. In marriage, covenant is made between husband and wife, in a relationship that supersedes all other relationships, including relationships in one’s own family of origin. The marriage covenant is a binding agreement based on a promise. There may be times when the promises of the holy covenant have been so violated by one spouse or another that marriages end. I think, particularly, of cases of domestic violence and adultery. In cases of adultery, marriage may be restored through much counseling, prayer, forgiveness, and the rebuilding of trust. In the case of domestic violence, my counsel is for the one being abused to leave the situation. The abuser must also get help and counsel in order to be freed from fits of violent rage. These are serious issues violating the marriage covenant and the dignity of another human created in God’s image. These issues should in no way be equated with escape clauses of contracts.
As co-creators, husbands and wives may create offspring in the marriage through procreation. The creation of a child is an expression of love, which reflects the Trinity. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit contain such great love that the Trinity brought forth humans, and all of creation, to share that love. As image-bearers of the Triune God, husbands and wives create new life as an expression of love and a desire to share their love with another human being. I know this is not always how children come to be in this world but this is God’s design. And all people, regardless of how they enter this world, are creations loved immensely by their Creator and they bear His image.
Self-donation reflects the character of Christ who said, “This is my body, given for you” (Luke 22:19). When brides and grooms make their covenant with one another in the wedding ceremony they are saying to one another, “This is my body, given for you.” Paul likewise instructs husbands that they have a duty to love their wives as they love their own bodies. For spouses to shame one another’s bodies is to join in the objectifying nature of Adam who shamed Eve. Of course, being a co-creator with God brings about self-donation. Not only the self-donation in procreation but self-donation through living sacrificially toward one another, as well as parenting. All parents know the tremendous sacrifices made for their children.
The biblical view of marriage is counter-cultural. The starting point for marriage for the Christian is being created in the image of God and being one with our spouse. The starting point for marriage for Western culture is happiness, as defined by each individual. How does this relate to same-gender marriage and last summer’s SCOTUS ruling? Judge Kennedy, in this landmark decision, made the centerpiece of his decision personal fulfillment, sexual fulfillment, a social contract of convenience, tax benefits, and social accommodations. While some inside the church have been upset—even enraged—over the redefinition of marriage within our country, Christians need to be reminded that God’s definition of the covenant of marriage has not changed. The biggest need for the Church regarding marriage is not to be a vocal group of what the Church is against in marriage. The Church needs to recapture the vision—God’s vision—of what we are for in marriage. Marriage is a holy covenant established by God celebrating the oneness and self-donation of husbands and wives as image-bearers and co-creators with God.
For further reading on this topic:
Arnold, Bill T. Seeing Black & White in a Gray World: The Need or Theological
Reasoning in the Church’s Debate Over Sexuality. Franklin, TN: Seedbed, 2014.
“Part V: Social Principles” of The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church.
Nashville, United Methodist Publishing House. 2012.
Hays, Richard B. The Moral Vision of the New Testament: A Contemporary
Introduction to New Testament Ethics. San Francisco: Harper, 1996.
Pope John Paul II. Theology of the Body in Simple Language. Philokalia Books, 2008.
Snyder, Howard. A. Homosexuality and the Church: Guidance for Community
Conversation. 2014. Franklin, TN: Seedbed, 2015.
Tennant, Timothy. Marriage, Human Sexuality, and the Body, Part I-V. October 2015.
timothytennant.com. Retrieved October 2-14, 2015.
Wright, N.T. Scripture and the Authority of God. 2005, Print. United Kingdom: The
Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. 2011