Thursday, February 09, 2006


The marriage wars

As I listened to the 2004 presidential election returns, I was one of many observers who was struck by a message that the American voter had sent through the election's results. Regarding certain issues of morality, many voters seemed to say, "Enough is enough! We're putting our foot down right now." In particular, referendums on homosexual marriage rights in several states were resoundingly defeated. The message seemed clear: the voting majority of Americans were willing to stand up for the sanctity of marriage as being the union between a man and a woman. It seemed like such a victory for traditional marriage.

What a pity, then, that this victory came so long after traditional marriage had become a mere shadow of its former self. By 2004, the time when marriage was viewed by most as a lifelong committment--"till death do us part"--was long, long past. For many years now, 50% of American marriages have ended in divorce. If marriage has ever been viewed as an covenant that's dissolvable only by death or in cases of adultery, those days are a distant memory. The fact of the matter is that the institution of marriage had long been a pathetic joke, a mere sham of what it once had been or ought to have been, so the leap to homosexual marriage was really not so large as it seemed during that election. In fact, the largest steps towards the destruction of marriage as a permanent covenant relationship between a man and a woman had been taken many years before.

Among my various avocations, I'm a fan of classic Hollywood movies and early 20th Century popular music. Compared to today's movies and music, this stuff seems ultra-clean. In some ways it is, but in other ways it reflects the sad fact that American society had already begun to lose sight of the true nature and foundation of marriage. Think of the classic Hollywood romantic flick of the 30's or 40's. With precious few exceptions, the love that is shown as being the prerequisite for wedded bliss is portrayed as emotional euphoria. Although there are instances where the lovers are shown as making great sacrifices for each other, the reason is invariably that they feel so much in love.

Now, I'm the first one to agree that there's something special about affectionate feelings for another person. Should I marry one day, I hope that I will share such wonderful feelings with my wife. However, I question whether such feelings ought to be thought of as sufficient grounds for entering into a permanent relationship. OK, let's say I'm swept off my feet by a lovely lady and we end up marrying. Time passes, and our feelings for each other cool markedly. In fact, we get downright sick of each other. We married for feelings, so why shouldn't we divorce over feelings? My friend, this is essentially what countless men and women have done for several generations now. One is in love when one feels love, and one is out of love when that wonderful feeling goes away. No wonder the divorce rate is sky-high, and no wonder adultery is winked at! My friend, this kind of marriage is hardly less a joke than homosexual marriage!

It is long past time that we face up to facts. Even if homosexual marriage or civil unions are outlawed in every ince of U.S. territory, the institution of marriage is anything but safe so long as the vast majority of marriages are based solely on the flimsy ground of emotional attraction. Pragmatism isn't the answer, either. Several decades ago, couples who detested each other would stay married for the sake of the children. Mind you, that was better than divorce, but yet such marriages were a mere shell of what they ought to have been. Not even social stigma--the fear of losing face--is a good enough reason to keep a marriage together.

In fact, there's only one way to start a marriage, and it's the same way that you've got to keep it together. It's the way that's laid out for us with the utmost clarity in Scripture. Although the Bible does indeed celebrate the joys of conjugal love (esp. in the Song of Solomon), it clearly teaches that marriage is a covenant--a binding relationship sealed by a solemn promise--based not on feelings of love but on Biblical duty love. This is the essential truth that's long been forgotten by American society: love is a duty. Think of the Ten Commandments. They are an expansion or commentary on the two Royal Laws: to love God with all one's heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love one's neighbor as oneself. Love, my friend, is not primarily a feeling: it is a duty. Husbands are to love their wives, and wives their husbands, not because they share feelings of affection or attraction, even though such feelings ought to be coveted and even cultivated: no, they are to love one another because God commanded them to do so. The difference between this type of love and this type of marriage is as different from the world's view of love and marriage is as great as that between day and night.

Let us make no mistake. Marriage is not under any new threat now. No, it has been under threat ever since our society rejected the essential truth that marriage is a covenant that's kept on account of divine Commandment. If marriage is to be rescued, it is not enough to overturn homosexual marriage. Instead, God must grant our nation the grace to reject our individualistic, feelings-based notion of romantic love in favor of the Biblical standard of duty-based love. In so doing, we need not discard our desire for a affectionate romantic relationship, but rather we must come to realize that true affection can only be built upon the foundation of a love that is constant both in fair and foul weather. It is only the love that denies self and puts others above oneself that can be a proper foundation for true marriage. Until our nation is granted a God-given revival of true religion, marriage will continue to be a faint shadow (at best) of what it ought to be. So, let us not be unduly dismayed if homosexual marriage or even polygamy become legal, for our hope for the revival of marriage is not in presidents or courts but in God!

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