One shoe off

November 5, 2007

That’s “traditional” marriage alright …

Filed under: family values,marriage,politics,poverty,rights,theology — Liz @ 10:53 pm

So the state of Oklahoma, faced with one of the highest divorce rates in the country, decided to pour money into a marriage initiative designed to encourage engaged couples to undergo premarital counseling, provide marriage enrichment courses and disseminate educational material about families and relationships. Prevent divorce, encourage marriage, support families. All that jazz.

O.K. Here’s the thing. Take your blinders off for a minute, especially if you’re married. I’m sure that YOUR marriage is absolutely wonderful, spiritually and emotionally and intellectually fulfilling, the best thing you ever did, etc. etc. etc. Of course it is. But the historical fact is, marriage was created NOT as some sort of fuzzy, warm, “companionate” (to borrow a term from my Psych 101 class in college) thing. Nope. Marriage was created as an economic and political instrument to ensure wealth, security and protection for family groups or clans. Family Group A and Family Group B decide to pair their children to offer protection from rival clans, economic stability, merging of assets, assure the birth of heirs, transfer wealth, assure that there would be plenty of offspring to work the fields … pick one of a myriad of economic and political reasons. And at its heart, of course, regardless of the power, protection or property transferred by the families, marriage involved the transfer of female property from one male — her father — to another — her husband. Unless you’re in extreme denial about the history of civilization, or just completely ignorant about it, you need to accept that this is the history of marriage.

Fast forward. I’m reading the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative page and all their “fact sheets” they have. And they have all these stats from research that Oklahoma State University has done. Any why should you get married, according to their research? Take a gander at the “Is marriage for me?” tip sheet. Why get married? So that you don’t have to do all the housework alone, it says. You can share the labor. Someone will be there to take care of you if you get sick or have problems. You’ll have more money because it’s cheaper to live as a couple than it is to live alone. How different is this, really, from the economic marriages of days of yore? (I know, I said “days of yore.”) Why are we so hung up — why are CHURCHES so hung up — on something that still works out to a matter of economics? And does it strike anyone else as kind of selfish? Save money.Don’t work as hard. Be taken care of. Oh, and there’s the better sex thing on their, too. Hmmm…

The fact is, the state of Oklahoma is getting a whole lot of churches in on their campaign. So, let me get this straight? Loving, committed same-gender couples DON’T fit in with the Christian view of marriage. The Christian view of marriage, DOES, however, gibe with the idea that people should get married (or people should be convinced to marry) because of what’s in it for them. Straight people who want to “save more money” or “have better sex” can get married. Lesbians who want to live out the rest of their days loving and giving of themselves to their soul mate, nope. Straight people who want someone to bring them soup when they’re sick can get married. Gay men who want to care for one another in sickness and in health, nope.

Yes I’m oversimplifying. Yes, it’s true that research bears out that people who are married and who stay married tend to be happier, do better economically, and maybe even have better sex. But it’s my contention that you can’t hold on to the so-called “sacredness” card AND the utilitarian card.

Much (possibly too much?) has already been written in the marriage debate. But I can’t help but insert that yes, the church should have something to say about relationships. Christianity requires that relationships be based on selflessness, love, generosity, concern for the other over the self. And lots of time churches spout that kind of rhetoric in premarital counseling sessions or marriage enrichment classes. The fact is, though, is that those are the rules that are to govern ALL of our relationships. For the Christian, marriage, if and when it happens, should really not be all that indistinguishable from any other relationship we have. And if that’s the case, if we approach all our relationships with the same self-sacrifice, generosity, kindness, love and deep sharing of our self, does the gender of the person we’re “married” to matter anyway?


  1. I agree with you that the general use of marriage came in the form of prearranged marriage where two families would join together for the common good. the prearranged marriages are still practiced in countries that stick more to ethnic and religious tradition, but are barely seen in Westernized culture.

    Marriage in the United States serves more of the purpose of the love between two people rather than the bonding between two families as the greater purpose. Western culture has shown this by the reversal of the chain of events leading up to marriage. For example, by traditional Eastern cultures, the families would meet before the bride and groom would get to know each other, where as, Western culture will have the bride and groom meet each other long before even considering marriage.

    The issue may lie more with the word “Divorce” more than anything. Divorce was not an option hundreds of years ago, and IS not an option for cultures still possessing those ethnic and religious beliefs.

    I agree in the diversity of marriage, and that it should be available to both man and woman, as well as, same sex couples. It is sad that society has not gotten to the point where both are considered to be accepted.

    -Our Country

    Comment by Our Country — November 5, 2007 @ 11:32 pm | Reply

  2. Good post. Well thought out.

    For the Christian, marriage, if and when it happens, should really not be all that indistinguishable from any other relationship we have.

    While I agree that Christian principles apply to all of a Christian’s relationships, I’m sure you would agree there are different levels of relationship.

    If an acquaintance is in the hospital dying of cancer, my level of commitment to that person is certainly less than if they were my good friend, my sibling, my child or my spouse.

    But I agree with you that the Christian church is having trouble coming up with good reasons for people to get and stay married. Political rhetoric doesn’t necessarily make for good theology.

    Comment by Aaron from — November 6, 2007 @ 9:59 am | Reply

  3. Really Liz I don’t believe at all that any of those reasons factored into my wanting to get married.

    I think the problem with divorce today stems from the disposible society in which we live. We only use things as long as we need them. We throw away everything; plates, cups, silverware, diapers, flushable toilet brushes, and friendships. When the convenience is gone we throw away our friends or lovers.

    Committment is the key and while the pamphlet is cheesy I don’t have a problem with the state trying to encourage people to stick out their marriages. Premarital counseling is very helpful in resolving problems before you get married.

    I would like to see you explore the parallels Jesus makes between God’s love for us and a marriage. That would have added to your blog.

    As for same gender marriages… I have a friend who is a student at northpark seminary. He once said that marriage is first a religious institution before it is a legal institution. I think there is something to that. I think that the church has the right to deny same gender marriages however, as Americans I do not see how they can deny legal unions.

    And if you are an American then you know that people have the right to free religion and free speech. Therefore, as Americans we hold that churches can teach that something is sin just as much as someone else can teach that it is not.

    And amazingly there are many followers of Christ that can believe something to be sin and still love the practicioner of said sin.

    let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

    go and sin no more.

    Comment by Jerry — November 7, 2007 @ 11:56 pm | Reply

  4. legalities aside, there appears to be one major flaw in your argument: you aren’t going back far enough to the first creation of marriage. at it’s inception God created marriage to be a full partnership between two fully-present, fully-integrated individuals. eve was created from adam’s side to be his full partner in every sense; she was neither more nor less invested with the imago dei, and as such was created to both meet and have met all of her emotional, physical, intellectual, spiritual, and personal needs within the context of said partnership.

    the problem with marriage is that society for mellinia past has lost sight of that first god-made partnership. we have bastardised it in an attempt to gain and exert power over other individuals and groups. we have committed adultery as a society by diluting the purpose and provisions of marriage partnerships into a series of compartmentalised rules and expectations.

    if we really want to re-build a society that engenders successful marriages, we must, as a society create an environment that engenders appropriate self-esteem based in objective self-awareness and conciousness in living. one cannot experience “oneness” with another without knowing “oneness” with him/her self first. it’s the JERRY MAGUIRE syndrome. God’s math works differently from ours. in divine math 1+1=1, but in our societal minds we believe that another person can complete us, so we focus on finding that other half that will complete us and balance the equation of .5+.5=1.

    the issue of sexual orientation, or christian ethics, or even premarital counselling is exactly the sort of minutae that is preventing the church from having any sort of positive effect on divorce rates within the christian community, let alone society at large. that having been said, can we really expect that after focusing on differances, and fear driven compartmentalisation of both the self and those different from “us” for centuries, that the church would get it right at this point in history? after all, christians are fallible, partially integrated humans just like everybody else!

    Comment by Estellita — November 25, 2007 @ 6:14 pm | Reply

  5. I’m not with you on the God creating marriage thing, but then again I ceased looking to Genesis as an accurate explanation for how ANYTHING came about. God creates people to live in harmony with people. The way I see it, Genesis is several humans’ attempt to describe their understanding and experience of God, as well as their attempt to write down the oral traditions around the origins of the world and society. They see marriage around them, naturally they write it in to their origins story.

    And Aaron, I would argue that yes, the natural human reaction is to be more concerned and caring for the persons who are related by blood or bond … it’s a biological preservation thing, plus our natural affinity for that which we know and that which is like us. However, I don’t think that is what SHOULD be. I think that the spirit of Christ is to go against those natural inclinations to value family ties above anything else. We should be just as sacrificial, loving and committed to a mere acquaintance — or even a stranger — if not more so, than to those in our circle of biological/bond family (taking bond to mean marriage, adoption, what-not).

    Comment by Liz — November 25, 2007 @ 7:37 pm | Reply

  6. Thanks for your wonderful insight, as with any form of life changing events we should always study and look for the right solutions and follow our hearts… and it is never to late to say “I am sorry” for anything! Healing takes time, but worth it when you can forgive others.

    Both premarital counseling and marriage counseling are great place to start to open the lines of communication. And as we know, that the lack of communication is the number one reason, relationships begin to fail…

    Thanks again,


    Comment by Howard MacKinnon — January 16, 2008 @ 8:10 pm | Reply

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