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FIRST-PERSON: Married: On purpose

WASHINGTON (BP)–When Britney Spears and Jason Allen Alexander emerged from the Little White Wedding Chapel on Jan. 3 in Las Vegas, a collective gasp could be heard from advocates of heterosexual marriage.

Displayed before the world was a mockery of marriage — an act which played into the hands of those who seek legal sanction for homosexual “marriage.” For a cadre of scholars, journalists and theologians who stand at their posts ever ready to offer the apologetic for same-sex “marriage,” their job was made easier by Britney’s 55-hour escapade.

Spears is not alone. What of late night television host David Letterman, who received a standing ovation last Nov. 3 when his son, Harry Joseph, was born? Little attention was given to the fact that Letterman is not married to the child’s mother. His cohabitation has all but become the accepted status for heterosexual relationships in this age of serial monogamy.

The free love of the ’60s has given way to the free market of love in the 21st century, with marriage seen as little more than a formal ceremony with little or no meaning. Sex, not marriage, has become the source of self-fulfillment to the exclusion of a covenantal commitment as the key ingredient for long-term happiness. Such a social calculus will soon wreak havoc on a society emboldened in a race to the bottom.

The church, largely intimidated into silence for fear of being publicly caricatured as founding an ethic upon the Bible, almost wholly has capitulated to a defense of marriage on purely secular terms. Marriage is now described as good for society; the building block of a nation without which children cannot be born; a social utility laden with great good for all people. This is done in hopes that even non-religious people will agree with the church that a singular definition of marriage can be sustained in the court of public opinion.

Perhaps Schopenhauer was right when he said, “To preach morality is easy, to give it a foundation is hard.” British pastor and theologian Christopher Ash in his new book, “Marriage: Sex in the Service of God,” agrees that the gap between morality and its foundation must be closed. “The perceived distinction between ‘marriage’ and ‘Christian marriage,'” Ash writes, “touches on a deep ethical question which affects the apologetics and evangelism of any marginalized church: is Christian ethics for the church alone, or does it have a moral call upon the world?”

And with this, the war begins. To admit that there is a unifying definition of marriage which is binding for both the church and the world is to reconcile what the Enlightenment sought to separate: that every object and action has a purpose for being within the whole of the created order. In other words, nothing and no one is absolutely autonomous. Being and doing are critically linked, and attempts to separate them fashions the facade that each individual possesses both the right and ability to actually create acceptable ethics apart from revealed truth. Such an idea is ethically impossible.

Seeking to shore up support for traditional marriage, the church’s apologetic for the one-man-one-woman-for-life doctrine has come on hard times. How this could be in an age when evangelical ministries abound with marriage conferences and targeted communication techniques designed to make every marriage happy is no longer a mystery. For few churches teach why marriage fits into the overall purposes of God, how it squares with the whole of biblical theology, and what purpose it serves as an aid toward greater and more meaningful service in the Kingdom of God.

The church, like the world, seems to have bought into the thinking that marriage has no deeper theological meaning other than making the couple happy and fulfilled. To think beyond that point — theologically or otherwise — finds modern evangelicals mute on marriage other than, of course, their compliance to valid “secular” reasoning. The result of such teaching is that many church members behave in like manner as Spears and Letterman. In this light, just exactly what difference does marriage make? Why bother?

A defense of marriage on its demonstrable value to civilization might be a viable strategy for public engagement but ultimately it stands on weak and arbitrary foundations if not grounded in an ethic above that of various sociological and psychological constructs.

Marriage, empirically defined, is a human invention rather than a divine creation. As Ash rightly points out, the search for an ethical foundation for marriage is doomed for all who would seek to locate the creation and purpose of marriage “only in human beings.”

It was none other than Michael Foucoult, who in his famous three-volume work, “The History of Sexuality,” insisted that sexual identity is a work in progress — always changing and never given to one dominant view. For Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong, marriage is the path to increased self-actualization and self-fulfillment, while philosopher W.A. Meeks states in his defining work, “The Origins of Christian Morality,” that “the process of inventing Christian and human morality will continue.”

To the contrary, marriage is a creation of God for a certain end and should not be seen as an appendage or something distinctly separate from personal responsibility and service to God.

For Christian and non-Christian alike, marriage’s purpose, rightly understood as a creation ordinance, is to be enjoyed and used as an aid toward true love, loyalty, stability and intentional selfless service to another. Christians should especially take heed of Ash’s warning: “Marriage lived in the light of the purpose of God will be dynamic and actively teleological; marriage considered only in terms of rules and definitions may be coldly static.” Could it be that far too many evangelicals have cold and static marriages?

While the all-important work of public policy should continue to fortify the legal definitions and standing of marriage, the church also should be working on strengthening its own understanding of biblical marriage. Perhaps then, the overwhelming evidence of familial stability and parental duty will be founded on a biblical ethic greater than political pressure and more persuasive than ballot initiatives.
Douglas Baker is a writer who lives and works in Washington, D.C.

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