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Friday, December 8, 2006

The Sad State of Marriage

“The best single indicator for how well marriage is faring in American society is: What proportion of American children are being born to and raised by their own married mom and dad in a reasonably harmonious union.” This quote is from a recent document called, Marriage and the Law: A Statement of Principles published by the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy and signed by over 100 family and legal scholars. Given that the statement is fairly accurate, what a mess Americans are making of marriage.

As a defender of traditional (biblical) marriage, my heart aches for the number of men and women who are now ending their marriages, and for the number of children born out of wedlock. Recent government reports show that both events are occurring at the alarming rate of nearly 4 out of 10. Given all the current attacks on traditional (biblical) marriage, these statistics are not so surprising.

Too many Americans are failing to understand the significance of the union between a man and a woman, and our society, especially children, is paying a heavy price. This lack of understanding of marriage should come as no surprise either. Everything from the entertainment industry, to academia, to the church has, to a great extent, failed in teaching what marriage is really about.

From the Murphy Brown sitcom of the early nineties to the sitcoms, dramas, and movies of today, Hollywood regularly mocks and ignores traditional marriage. Take note of the number of couples who are portrayed as “shacking up,” or how often sex outside of marriage is shown as the norm. Our culture has grown so accustomed to these displays that we have become, as the author of Hebrews put it, “hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” (Heb. 3:13)

In the late 1990s the Institute for American Values surveyed twenty of the most popular college textbooks used in undergraduate courses on marriage and family. Their research revealed a dreadfully negative outlook on marriage. One text shockingly (and deceitfully) states that marriage, “has an adverse effect on women’s mental health.” One can all too easily find even children’s books that downplay the importance of marriage. A book aimed at preschoolers talks of the “different kinds of daddies,” the ones who go away and the ones who stay.

In How Now shall We Live, Chuck Colson notes sadly that even the church has not been very effective in stemming the tide against the decline of marriage. He states that, “Few clergy have been equipped to put the brakes on the destructive trends that have torn marriages apart at ever increasing rates, even within their own congregations.” One program he suggests that local churches look into is called Marriage Savers (www.marriagesavers.org). It has a comprehensive strategy aimed at engaged couples, marriage enrichment, and rescuing seriously troubled marriages.

When questioned about divorce, Christ spoke of the hardness of our hearts, and declared that “what God has joined together, let man not separate” (Matt. 19:6). On the issue of divorce C.S. Lewis wrote, “It is more like having your legs cut off than it is like dissolving a business partnership or even deserting a regiment.” Writing in the 1940s Lewis bemoaned the “modern” view of divorce, that it is “a simple readjustment of partners, to be made whenever people feel they are no longer in love with one another, or when either of them falls in love with someone else.” The “modern” view of divorce in the forties certainly seems to mirror the 21st century view.

Writing as a single man about marriage, Lewis displayed a wonderful understanding of how marriages begin and what makes them last until “death do us part.” Interestingly, he did this mostly by discussing marriage in relation to justice and distinguishing “loving” with “being in love.”

Justice, he notes, includes the keeping of promises. Most everyone who has married makes a promise to stay with their mate until death. If “being in love” is the only reason for remaining married, Lewis continues, then this “really leaves no room for marriage as a contract or promise at all. If love is the whole thing, then the promise can add nothing; and if it adds nothing, then it should not be made.” In other words your promise to remain married cannot rest upon your feelings of being “in love.” He continues, “A promise must be about things I can do, about actions: no one can promise to go on feeling a certain way.”

But, he concludes, “ceasing to be ‘in love’ need not mean ceasing to love. Love in this second sense—love as distinct from ‘being in love’ is not merely a feeling. It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by (in Christian marriages) the grace which both partners ask, and receive, from God. They can have this love for each other even at those moments when they do not like each other. ‘Being in love’ first moved them to promise fidelity: this quieter love enables them to keep the promise.”

May God help all of us who are married to keep the promises made to our spouses. And may those considering marriage, or divorce, weigh carefully what those promises mean and all the consequences of breaking them.

Copyright 2015, Trevor Grant Thomas
At the Intersection of Politics, Science, Faith, and Reason.
Trevor and his wife Michelle are the authors of: Debt Free Living in a Debt Filled World

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