Changing the Narratives about Marriage
I hear two competing narratives about marriage, and I honestly have problems with both. The first one, I guess you might call it a "secular" narrative (although that word carries so much divisive and pigeon-holing baggage that I really hesitate to use it), goes something like this: "Marriage is an outdated institution that's designed to subjugate woman and make them the property of men. It's a superfluous, antiquated, anti-feminist idea that needs to die with our parents. For examples of this perspective, you can check out articles like Newsweek's "The Case Against Marriage" or Huffpost's "Is Marriage An Outdated Tradition?"
The second narrative, which I equally suppose might be considered a "religious" narrative (again, divisive baggage and pigeon-holing problems) and can be found on websites and blogs all over the internet, such as Focus On the Family, sounds something like: "Traditional marriage is under attack from the transgender and homosexual agendas and Hollywood portrayals of promiscuity that threaten to corrode the nuclear family and destroy our children's values. Here's the thing: both of these narratives suffer from a severe lack of understanding of what marriage is meant to accomplish. The true purpose of marriage is found in Scripture, and it really only makes sense from that scriptural perspective. If you look at the other reasons people often give for getting married and you'll see what I mean.
- Companionship: A marriage license is not a requirement for companionship. Plenty of people live together and feel the support and connection that comes with that for years without the necessity of marriage. Nor is marriage an effective means of guaranteeing companionship, the divorce rate being what it is these days.
- Love: Again, love does not necessitate marriage. It is possible to both love someone and be in love with them without being married to them.
- Status: Marriage doesn't have the same status opportunities that it once did. Being single is no practical limit on how high you can climb or what you can achieve in modern America.
- Equality: The right to get and be married is absolutely a symbol of equality for the LGTBQ community. However, heterosexuals have had the right for centuries and many choose not to exercise it. Having the right doesn't necessitate using it.
- Pregnancy/Kids: This may be somewhat controversial, but the truth is plenty of people have been raised by single parents or divorced parents with relative success. Marriage is no longer a societal requirement for child raising.
- Sex: Again, while many of us may have moral issues with it, sex can and often is had without marriage - and, again, it's not the societal taboo that it once was.
- Money: I mean, sure?... But, let's be honest, there are easier ways to make money.
- Happiness: See, "money."
So if not these reasons, then why be married at all? What's it for? The apostle Paul tells us what marriage is really about in Ephesians 5. It is a living, breathing, moving picture of Jesus Christ and the sacrificial love he offers, shares with, and inspires in His church. The sense of calling to participate in this picture is really the only sensible justification for getting, being, and staying married. Christ designed the ideal for this picture we paint, and it's in His design that I find my problems with both of the above narratives.
two problems with the secular narrative
- In order for the secular narrative about marriage to make any sense, it has to artificially antiquate the institution itself. Yes, at a time, marriage was largely a strangely transactional relationship where a woman went from being the property of her family to the property of her husband - but it's not that way anymore - at least, not in the West and in much of the developed world. And even if it were marriage were still this patriarchal attempt to own women - I struggle to imagine a less effective method of owning someone. I could get ten marriage licenses, and it won't make me anymore effective at wrangling obedience out of my wife.
- Secondly, I think the fundamental premise of marital antiquity is flawed. As long as the world exists, marriage practiced properly cannot be antiquated, outdated, or irrelevant. There will always be people who can be shown the gospel through God-honoring marriages. The idea of marriage being outdated is just a way of saying, "I don't want to get married because I don't like marriage, so marriage is unnecessary."
two problems with the religious narrative
- The religious narrative - particularly it's brand of verbiage - makes a hostile enemy out of certain communities, particularly the homosexual and transgender communities that I just don't think are that hostile toward so-called "traditional" heterosexual marriage. Admittedly, I don't know any transgender people, but I have met and interacted with many gay people, and none of them seem to care the least bit about destroying the institution of marriage for heterosexuals. They just want to love their partners and live their lives happily together. Obviously, as a Christian, I have moral issues with homosexual behavior, but it's not a worse sin than any other, and no more an enemy to me than any sin is.
- This narrative also shifts the focus inappropriately. Hollywood and the LGBTQ community make convenient scapegoats, but the state of marriage inside the church isn't exactly in stellar shape. We should be proactively setting the standard with the quality & longevity of our own marriages long before we decry the impact of the standards set by anyone else.
I do not make these points to shame anyone who has suffered from the impact of a patriarchal society, or anyone who has felt herself trapped under the power of a man and been unsure of how to get out. Nor do I make these points to shame or hurt anyone who has strong feelings about homosexuality or transgenderism, or anyone who has been through a divorce. No, I make these points just to say that if your conversation about marriage isn't: "How do I better improve my marriage's and the institution of marriage's ability to translate Christ's love for the church into living behavior that the world can see and understand?" then you are simply missing the point. In every instance, we must challenge ourselves to ask, "How does this thought or this statement or this behavior make sharper, cleaner, clearer the picture of Jesus and the church my marriage paints every day?" Because the truth is, the biggest enemy to marriage is not the conservative religious holding on to antiquated understandings of marriage, or the secular liberals trying to destroy and corrupt marriage from the outside in. Second perhaps only to the Enemy himself, the biggest enemy to the institution of marriage is those who have entered it and forgotten what it was for in the first place. Embracing the true purpose of our marriages must become the narrative that surrounds them - and that starts with each and every one of us.