Thursday, December 15, 2011

Defending Marriage

A letter came acros't me pastoral desk the other day, one from a group of well-meaning local Presbyterian folk who are deeply struggling with the transitions in our culture.  They are eager to set themselves as a bulwark against the gradual unravelling of the social bonds that keep our life together from descending into total gnawing entropic madness.

They are doing so by affirming what they view as the central tenets of our faith, and are making a point of highlighting one of the central teachings of our ancient tradition: marriage between one man and one woman.   This is just as Jesus taught it, and Paul taught it.  Right?

I think, rather obviously, that both their diagnosis and methodology are a wee bit off, but I am willing to agree on one significant point.  Those social bonds are increasingly frayed, and that's not a good thing.  In particular, the bonds of sustained, committed, lifelong relationships...marriage...are reaching the tipping point.   

A recent study by the Pew Research Center shows that marriage is right on the cusp of being a minority position among American adults.   It's a growing and deepening trend, and one that is entirely comprehensible from a sociological/psychological standpoint.  

Psychologically, it's understandable that the last several generations, who have watched divorce rend apart marriage after marriage, might not view it as quite the bedrock foundation of our culture.

Sociologically, there are several factors driving the fading of marriage as an institution.  First, there's the unwillingness to shun those who have experienced divorce, or to belittle and devalue those who aren't married.   This, quite frankly, is a Good Thing.  Yeah, sure, there are plenty of Pastor Mark Q. JudgeyPants out there still, willing to tell you how pathetic you are if you're not married or if you're struggling with challenges in relationships.  But there've always been Pharisees with well-weighted stones in hand, and diminishing the power of their voices in culture is welcome.

Second, and this is Not A Good Thing, there are powerful social pressures coming from our culture that tend to break apart relationships.  There's increasing social isolation and fragmentation, which makes commitment more and more challenging.  There's the radical cult of the self, driven by consumerism, which makes life about the Me and the lizard-brain-immediate, and not about the Us and grace-filled relationship.  We're taught to believe that our value as persons can be measured independently of the way we relate to others, to Creation, and to our Maker.  This is not true.  It leads us to very unpleasant places, personally, socially, and spiritually.

Ultimately, the faithful response is to counterculturally resist those powers.  Where folks of a more progressive bent can find commonality with our more conservative brethren and sistren is in affirming that there is, in fact, value in sustained, committed human relationships.  

Loving relationships and caring, connected communities are blessings from our Creator, and they are well worth encouraging, supporting, and defending.