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Marriage’s importance to society underscored by Union faculty

JACKSON, Tenn. (BP)–The declining esteem with which people hold marriage is detrimental to society, and it is the responsibility of the church to address, Union University faculty members said in sessions held at First Baptist Church in Jackson, Tenn.

“There is no doubt that the traditional family, defined as one man and one woman in a covenantal lifelong relationship as the bedrock of civilization, is under assault in our contemporary culture,” said Greg Thornbury, assistant professor of Christian studies at the Baptist-affiliated university.

Thornbury, Union President David Dockery and Christian studies faculty members David Gushee and Hal Poe spoke at First Baptist over a three-week period about the future of marriage and society.

Dockery began the workshop by describing the purposes of marriage and by giving a biblical and historical overview of the subject.

Marriage, Dockery said, was established by God to reflect the relationship of the Godhead, to foster the loving communion of the spouses and to provide a means of populating the earth and nurturing children.

“Creation of male and female is not an incidental fact or afterthought, but the very apex of God’s creative activity,” Dockery said. “Even more, it is the sexual pairing of male and female that is the pinnacle of the creation process. To deny the distinction of the two sexes is to deny what is integral to God’s ultimate creative act.”

The Union president said marriage is designed to be a covenant relationship in which two individuals become one -– relationally, spiritually, physically and reproductively. Such a union demands loyalty and fidelity, disallowing such practices as homosexuality, polygamy, adultery and premarital sex.

“Marriage is the most basic and significant social relationship among humankind,” Dockery said. “This relationship must be nurtured and maintained for the welfare of all. Without marriage, the breakdown of society is inevitable.”

Poe talked about the societal benefits of marriage, noting that it is not a uniquely Christian invention. Other societies in places like China, India, Africa and South America likewise have embraced marriage because of its benefits to the economy, healthcare, child welfare and education.

Strong, stable marriages are the best way to ensure that children become productive members of society, Poe said. But the counterculture of the 1960s and its emphasis on radical personal freedom have led to the decline of marriage, mainly because “successful marriage in any culture always requires the surrender of some personal freedom.”

Too many people today don’t want such limits on their freedom, Poe said, and the result is rampant divorce, with evangelicals just as guilty as secularists.

The only way marriage can ultimately succeed, Poe said, is if it is rooted in Christ.

“You take Christ out of the quotient and you’ve got a disaster brewing,” he said. “In America, people are entering into marriage as a civil contract that can be broken.”

Thornbury discussed the current state of marriage, both in the United States and worldwide, which he described as a depressing scenario.

Various members of the cultural elite -– media, politicians, academics and the judiciary –- have rallied to attempt to change the definition of what a family is, Thornbury said. Feminists and homosexual activists are attempting to do this through the courts, because they have realized the power of the judiciary to redefine law.

Thornbury cited examples from Europe to show where the United States is headed if such activists are successful. In Russia, for example, there are now more abortions than live births –- a development that is leading to a population implosion.

In France, Thornbury said the French people could be a minority in a couple of decades because their low view of marriage has kept people from settling down and raising families. As a result, they will be outpaced by Muslims who do hold marriage and family in high regard.

“When you get rid of the institution altogether, you have these unintended consequences that happen down the road,” Thornbury said.

There are positive signs, however, he noted; the church seems to have been reawakened on the issue, and he’s encouraged by the rising popularity of covenant marriages.

“I believe if the church does what the church needs to do, it can revitalize and re-energize our culture,” Thornbury said.

Gushee spoke about the future of marriage and society, and provided some steps churches can take to help reverse the trend of a weak view of marriage.

God created marriage for companionship, for sex, for children and for society, Gushee said. But people today are twisting those purposes and are creating their own rules for these God-given gifts.

“We should see it as a rebellion against a Creator and not just as an unfortunate social development,” Gushee said.

Marriage is a public act that needs the support of the community -– both the civic community and the church community, Gushee said. He emphasized the importance of successful marriage to others in society, and not just to the two people married to one another. When families fall apart, it has negative consequences on the community because children are more likely to be delinquents and families are more likely to be on welfare.

“When our families are strong, the community is positively affected,” Gushee said. “Every child that goes out into the world from a stable, happy home is a blessing to the community or able to make a contribution, rather than being a drain on the community.”

Gushee said the church, in some cases, has explicitly capitulated to society’s pressures and abandoned biblical instruction about marriage altogether. In other cases, the church has maintained an uneasy silence and failed to speak out prophetically and authoritatively.

Among the proper responses for the church, Gushee said, is the faithful preaching and teaching of God’s truth about marriage.

“We need to emphasize basic discipleship –- that what it means to be a Christian is more than believing the right thing, more than having the right feelings and the right experiences, but being a committed follower of Jesus Christ in every area of our lives,” he said.

Gushee added that churches should establish appropriate ministries to youth, college students and singles that teach them about effective marriage, and it needs to emphasize premarital counseling, to minister effectively to those recovering from divorce and to return to a biblical model of church discipline.

    About the Author

  • Tim Ellsworth

    Tim Ellsworth is associate vice president for university communications at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally.

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