by Peter Menkin
“This is a comprehensive and well-researched paper that should encourage those working to preserve marriage as an institution that strengthens our society.”
Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I.
Archbishop of Chicago
The paper on marriage written by Alan Wisdom titled, “Is Marriage Worth Defending,” has been on my own interest-screen since January, 2011. This likeable and readable paper of some note and considerable interest on the subject of traditional marriage, with a section on Gay Marriage, was originally produced in 2009 by Institute on Religion and Democracy as one of its Mt. Nebo papers. The Institute, a conservative think-tank, produces a few papers and offers thoughts, press releases, and talks to groups and the press about religious issues like marriage—the traditional kind.
Surprisingly, as this writer spent some time talking via email and in person with others on the subject of marriage, it came to pass that most were obsessed with the subject of Gay Marriage, and they turned to that as their subject in conversations, ignoring the more traditional kind. This even if they themselves were married in a Church, under vows, the part of which offered their relationship as a couple as married in the eyes of Christ, even in Christ Himself, as well as in their Christian Church. I am not sure what this means, but no doubt it indicates again a pre-occupation on Gay Marriage. Nonetheless, this article has as subject, the paper, “Is Marriage Worth Defending,” whose theme is “Yes.” And as its subject, the interests of marriage in our American society and in the various Christian Churches that Alan Wisdom mentions in his paper.
As an example of various viewpoints on the paper, I asked people to comment. Here in the County where I live, north of San Francisco, I asked a family law attorney, a prominent woman in this local area, her thoughts on the paper. After a few drafts by her, one from an interview, this result came about—again emphasizing Gay Marriage. Of course, in San Francisco’s Bay Area, a liberal place, the subject holds tremendous interest and support. Marin County attorney Charlotte Huggins reveals more of the same that indicates the misery people hold regarding marriage itself and more so, the decline in their mind and lives of the institution itself as they hold it not dear.
Marin County in the USA is an affluent community with a strong sense of NIMBY (Not in My Back Yard). Homes are generally valued close to if not at the average price of a million dollars—even more than that is not so unusual. Low income is $35,000 a year or so. With that understood, let us turn to Attorney Huggins for her comment on the paper.
I am not a religious person. I am a family law attorney and I am an agnostic. I am looking at it [the paper by Alan Wisdom] from a non-religious standpoint. I think that marriage is defensible, but should not be strictly an act between a man and a woman. Anyone who wants to marry should be able to marry, either straight or gay. People like being married; there are a lot of emotional and legal benefits to being married. People like the fact that there is a legal sanction to their personal union. They like to be able to say they are married.
It’s the only union that has a ceremony attached to it. People like celebrations and the acceptance that is gained from others by getting married. I can guarantee that every person who gets married has an idea as to what is going to happen post-marriage, and how their marriage will be, but they have never discussed it with their partner.
In my experience, short term marriages of less than ten years have the most anger and resentment during the divorce. Their expectations of who their spouse was or would become didn’t materialize and those failed-expectations create a lot of anger and desire to punish the other partner.
I was looking at the conclusion [of the paper “Is Marriage Defensible,] where it goes through what is and what should be a consensus among Christians. Numbers 6 and 8 discuss how no union, other than marriage, confers its benefits, and why the state has a vital interest in marriage. Wisdom seems to be saying that only married people should be conferred the legal benefits of marriage, and that civil unions are not something that gay couples push for. I agree but that is because gay people don’t want a union that grants them fewer benefits than those granted to straight people. They already are treated like second class citizens. The idea that God only sanctions marriage between a man and a woman flies in the face of Christian teachings – that a good Christian should embrace all mankind, no matter how different than them. I believe that a church has every right to take a stand against gay marriage or anything else; what I do not believe they have to do is to interfere with the civil or legal rights of people to be treated the same outside the church. Mr. Wisdom’s Second Option of “admitting defeat in society but try somehow to maintain traditional teachings inside the church,” is the only way to square up the issue of separation of church and state and keep the church away from taking a religious position and politicizing it.
The “Marriage Savers” program is a good idea. I may be a divorce lawyer, but I don’t advocate divorce. If your church offers a program whereby a couple can have counseling before and after marriage, great. The point is, non-church goers will never do that and church going homosexuals find no comfort because according to Christian dogma they are sinners. I’m all for strengthening marriage but in order to do that you have to accept all marriages, and not use any god as a way to defend what is really just discrimination against someone who doesn’t think like you do.
The clients that I have represented who are religious, and this may seem a little presumptuous on my part, they seem to go through a worse time in their divorce. Since the Church sees divorce as a sin, they suffer greatly and rather than getting the help and support they need during the worst time of their lives, they often times are ostracized by their pastors and friends. Many change churches or drop out of practicing their religion altogether due to what they perceive as hypocritical philosophies.
Charlotte Huggins is a Certified Family Law Specialist who practices in the San Francisco Bay Area, California.
Alan Wisdom offers a definition of what the Mt. Nebo papers are trying to do, and in so doing tells us what his paper on marriage has as its goals for its readers. He writes this explanation in the beginning of the paper, and in doing so does at the same time tell us something of the good intent of the Institute for Religion and Democracy. Not everyone thinks the Institute for Religion and Democracy is doing a helpful job, and some denominations find them more than a pain in the side, and believe they are hostile to liberal mainline denominations. To wit, Episcopalians in the Diocese of New York passed a General Convention vote in their area to admonish and say how awful the Institute is in their work and hostility towards liberal decisions and plans. If memory serves correct, and I believe it does, that Diocese is suing the Institute for what they see as their bad works.
More than once this reporter asked the Diocese of New York to comment, and they declined, even refusing to send a copy of their General Convention statement regarding the Institute for Religion and Democracy. Presbyterians find the Institute not quite the pariah as the Episcopalians in New York do, but they, too have expressed distaste of strong kind for the conservative Institute.
I asked the Diocese of New York to comment on the Mt. Nebo paper by Alan Wisdom, “Is Marriage Worth Defending,” and they wrote via email:
Dear Mr. Menkin,
Thanks for your inquiry, but we will not be commenting on this at this time.
Communications Officer and Editor, Episcopal New Yorker
The Episcopal Diocese of New York
Here is the intent of the papers as noted in the beginning of the work, so we can see what the Institute offers as their purpose and intent:
The papers offer a model of how thoughtful Christians should engage public policy issues. They start with a survey of relevant biblical teachings. They then look for guidance from church history and tradition. The papers next examine the perceived problem facing society. The pros and cons of several policy options are weighed. Attention is given to the positions adopted by church bodies and leaders of various Christian traditions. The papers conclude with a summary of matters on which all Christians should be in agreement, as contrasted with matters that should be left to the prudential judgment of individual believers. The name Mount Nebo is borrowed from the mountain, in present-day Jordan, from which Moses was permitted to view the Promised Land that he would not be able to enter (Deuteronomy 32:48-52). We find in this biblical incident an apt analogy for what we wish to accomplish in this series of papers. We are trying to take a broad view of large topics, gaining a sense of the “lay of the land.”
As we go through a few threads of the 48 page PDF of the paper, “Is Marriage Worth Defending,” let us turn towards the end and look at Alan Wisdom’s statements regarding different denomination policies regarding marriage. We will return to the Gay Marriage issue as a thread, not so much because it speaks to traditional marriage itself in a defining way as is argued, as it also argues in its desire to consider that Gay Marriage will help marriage in general and gives us new and better, more relevant, and contemporary ways to view the Bible, but because it is so much an American concern and pre-occupation. In the County of Marin where I live, a place north of San Francisco as was mentioned previously, Gay Marriage is the liberal topic of interest, the preoccupation, and in this County where the preponderance of citizens voted for Obama because he was either Black, the Republican was so bad a choice, or they thought him the likely strong candidate, politics goes hand in hand with the marriage issues here and in the United States.
But what binds the Christian to the Christian, what are a few of the matters that Christians have in common? One we can agree on as a bonding and binding fact is scripture, both New and Old Testament. Alan Wisdom thinks so too, and he offers this approach in his paper’s text:
The verses cited by Jesus come from the creation accounts of Genesis 1 and 2. Genesis 1:27-28 says: So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”
These verses suggest a number of insights that are developed later in Scripture and Christian tradition. First, the division of humankind into male and female is no accident. It is, on the contrary, the first feature that the biblical writer mentions about humankind. Being “gendered,” having a male or female body, is a fundamental aspect of our humanity as God created it.
This sexual duality seems to be related somehow to the “image of God” that is found in humankind. Later Christian theologians have speculated that the communion of the three persons of the Trinity is reflected whenever distinct persons join together in community, as a man and woman do in marriage. Moreover, the creation of humans as male and female is linked to God’s command to “be fruitful and multiply.” Procreation is necessary if humankind is to fulfill its destiny of sharing in God’s gracious dominion over the earth. And, obviously, procreation occurs only through an act involving one man and one woman Genesis 2 tells how God brings the man and woman together.
God starts with the observation that “[i]t is not good that the man should be alone.” God then resolves to “make a helper for him as his partner.” After none of the animals is found to be suitable for this role: So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh…
Now that we note Biblical influence as a uniting factor in agreement among Christians on important and basic matters, like Religion with a capital “R,” Presbyterians see marriage this way, so Alan Wisdom reports.
The 2.9-million-member Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) (PCUSA) is currently studying questions of marriage and sexuality. But its constitutional documents already contain much doctrine on these questions. The denomination’s “Directory for Worship” states:
Marriage is a gift God has given to all humankind for the well-being of the entire human family. Marriage is a civil contract between a woman and a man. For Christians marriage is a covenant through which a man and a woman are called to live out together before God their lives of discipleship.126 Among the PCUSA confessions, the Westminster Confession offers the most guidance on marriage. It teaches, “Christian marriage is an institution ordained of God, blessed by our Lord Jesus Christ, established and sanctified for the happiness and welfare of mankind, into which spiritual and physical union one man and one woman enter….” The confession explains, “Marriage is designed for the mutual help of husband and wife; for the safeguarding, undergirding, anddevelopment of their moral and spiritual character; for the propagation of children and the rearing of them in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
The conflicted Episcopal Church USA, with their 2012 convention looming so early on the horizon with its proposed issue of allowing Same Sex Blessings, an issue hard fought over by the homosexual contingent of the Church, (Integrity) apparently supported by the administration on a national basis as judged by the anecdotal evidence of attitude and stance of officials…and even the Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori, and certainly accepted as a kind of okay-thing to-do if-you-think-so attitude by some Episcopal Diocese, holds this denominational approach to marriage according to Alan Wisdom’s paper:
(Note it seems the Episcopal Church USA is approaching with seriousness a policy similar to that held by the United Church of Christ, hence the Episcopal Church policy is followed directly by that of the United Church of Christ.)
For the Episcopal Church, with 2.1 million members, the central document is probably the denomination’s Book of Common Prayer. The wedding liturgy in the most recent edition of that book begins with this statement by the priest: Dearly beloved: We have come together in the presence of God to witness and bless the joining together of this man and this woman in Holy Matrimony. The bond and covenant of marriage was established by God in creation, and our Lord Jesus Christ adorned this manner of life by his presence and first miracle at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. It signifies to us the mystery of the union between Christ and his Church, and Holy Scripture commends it to be honored among all people.
The union of husband and wife in heart, body, and mind is intended by God for their mutual joy; for the help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity; and, when it is God’s will, for the procreation of children and their nurture in the knowledge and love of the Lord. This marriage ceremony is clearly intended for a man and a woman.
But at its 2003 General Convention, the Episcopal Church accepted “that local faith communities are operating within the bounds of our common life as they explore and experience liturgies celebrating and blessing same-sex unions.”
The 1.1-million-member United Church of Christ, at its 2005 General Synod, became the first—and so far the only—sizeable U.S. Christian denomination to endorse same-sex marriage. The UCC synod approved a resolution that “affirms equal marriage rights for couples regardless of gender and declares that the government should not interfere with couples regardless of gender who choose to marry and share fully and equally in the rights, responsibilities and commitment of legally recognized marriage.”
This writer attempts to balance the paper by Alan Wisdom, through a dialogue held by email between Alan Wisdom and The Reverend Doctor Jay Johnson of the Graduate Theological Union. The Reverend Doctor Jay Johnson, a popular figure among the homosexual community both in the Western States like California where Gay Marriage is so popular and its interest groups like the Episcopal interest group Integrity are so active, teaches Gay issues at a seminary. He’s quoted from time to time in The New York Times, making him something of a press-public figure and man to go to for a respected comment. The reputation he holds, says this is earned and he is a good figure as spokesman for Gay Marriage and Gay issues, besides his personal and professional popularity as a homosexual figure in America.
My apologies for taking so long to get back to you. And thank you for thinking of me regarding this kind of issue.
I have read the attached article and have a few comments to make, which I’ll do here. If you want to follow up with a phone call, I can do that, but I’m headed out of town this week and won’t return until Saturday evening. I might be able to find some time tomorrow but things are very tightly scheduled these days. (Way too tightly scheduled for my taste!)
My initial comments on the article:
*Mr. Wisdom’s article implies that marriage has been a stable institution for many centuries prior to the modern period here in the U.S. This simply isn’t true. Marriage has taken a variety of forms and has carried a range of meanings (including for biblical writers).
* The article likewise implies that Christian traditions have always understood marriage to be the best way to reflect God’s own covenant with us in Christ. Again, this simply isn’t true. In fact, for the first few formative centuries of the Christian tradition, most Christians eschewed marriage entirely; one of the few good things they could find to say about it was that marriage was not necessarily a grave sin.
* The institutional church did not fully insert itself into the marriage relationship until rather late in its history; it was not understood as a “sacrament” of the church, for example, until the 13th century, at the Fourth Lateran Council.
* Religious life (the vocation to monasticism) was considered for many centuries to reflect even better than marriage the ideal form of Christian commitment; it wasn’t until the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century that marriage was understood to be as equally spiritually significant as vowed monastic life.
All of that is to say that Mr. Wisdom’s claims do not actually stand up very well to history or to biblical texts. The theological meaning he assigns to marriage is as well a significant departure from how most Christians have thought about marriage for most of Christian history. It’s a shame that we can’t talk today about the importance of marriage in our lives of faith without these historical and theological distortions.
The Rev. Jay E. Johnson, PhD
Senior Director, Academic Research & Resources
The Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry
Pacific School of Religion
Alan Wisdom: I am grateful to Dr. Johnson for his attention to my paper on marriage. I agree with many of his observations—for example, that “the vocation to monasticism was considered for many centuries to reflect even better than marriage the ideal form of Christian commitment.” Readers will find the same point expressed in my paper (pp. 9-10).
Dr. Johnson attributes to me categorical assertions that I tried to be careful to avoid—“straw men” that he then proceeds to knock down. I do not contend that “marriage has been a stable institution for many centuries.” The historical section of my paper, “The Church Changes the Culture,” notes many shifts in the understanding and practice of marriage: in the early Church, in the medieval period, during the Reformation, and in the modern era.
What I do contend, and try to illustrate by my narrative, is that there is a continuous tradition regarding marriage within Christianity and within almost every known human culture. There is a core meaning of marriage that is deeply rooted in human biology and human social patterns. I cited David Blankenhorn’s definition (p. 10): “In all or nearly all human societies, marriage is socially approved sexual intercourse between a woman and a man, conceived both as a personal relationship and as an institution, primarily such that any children resulting from the union are—and are understood by society to be—emotionally, morally, practically, and legally affiliated with both parents.” There are many and wide variations on that pattern—different emphases in different societies and different time periods—but the pattern run continously. Marriage is variable, but not infinitely variable.
The Christian tradition has a richer understanding of marriage that builds upon—in some cases extending, in some cases redirecting—that universal human heritage. On p. 8 of my paper, I list 11 central Christian understandings about marriage. It goes back to creation, uniting the two created sexes. It is a total and exclusive and unconditional union of bodies, goods, families, and social bonds, intended to be lifelong. Marriage is the normative institution that God has given for the right ordering of sexual relations. My section on “What Churches Are Saying about Marriage” shows that these common understandings are held through all major branches of the Christian faith.
I do not assert that “Christian traditions have always understood marriage to be the best way to reflect God’s own covenant with us in Christ.” Instead I would maintain that marriage is one particularly powerful way, among others, to reflect God’s covenant love. The Church Fathers had more than a “few good things” to say about marriage. I quote praise for marriage from Chrysostom in the East (p. 9) and Augustine in the West (pp. 10-12). Augustine concludes, contrary to what Dr. Johnson suggests, that “[m]arriage and fornication, therefore, are not two evils, one of which is worse, but marriage and continence are two goods, one of which is better.”
It is not plausible to claim that “most Christians eschewed marriage entirely.” If that had been the case, the Church would have died out quickly, as did the 19th century Shaker movement. Monastics were always a small minority, admired but not imitated by the vast majority of Christians.
My paper concurs (p. 12) with Dr. Johnson that marriage was not categorized as a sacrament until the 13th century. That is because the seven sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church were not systematized until that time. But the Church had a long prior relationship with marriage. Marital blessings can be found as early as the second century. Augustine referred to a “kind of sacramental quality” in marriage. What changed in the High Middle Ages was that the Church endeavored to control marriage by means of canon law.
Later, secular rulers attempted to control marriage through civil law. Now many argue that marriage should become an essentially private relationship controlled by neither the Church nor the State. I’m not sure that is a good idea. My paper is intended to engage that discussion. As Christians consider the different policy options, we need to ask whether those options build faithfully on the continuous tradition of Church teaching regarding marriage, and whether they accord with what history and social science teach us about the unique nature and functions of marriage as a central institution of human society.
I appreciated Mr. Wisdom’s responses – fair and insightful.
Responding adequately to all of the arguments and claims made in his paper, however, extends well beyond the scope of the comments I can make here. Generally, I would make these observations:
First, the executive summary is misleading given what is included in the main body of the paper. Just one example: The summary implies (and rather strongly) that “homosexuals” are seeking to change the institution of marriage. The implication here is that before now, the institution has not changed. In fact, it has undergone countless changes over the centuries. Since a good many people read only executive summaries carefully and often just skim the main body of a paper, I believe more care ought to be given to the kind of impressions such summaries create.
Second, I believe the paper combines both anthropological/sociological research on the one hand with biblical interpretation on the other in a way that confuses which kind of source is being cited. This is important to note for a number of reasons, not least is that neither the social science nor the biblical scholarship is nearly as clear-cut as Mr. Wisdom’s paper would otherwise suggest.
Concerning the former, I would note the sociological research done by Stephanie Coontz (among others) that offers a very different kind of narrative about the role of marriage and family in human history and cultures than the one presented by Mr. Wisdom. I would also note that nearly every professional association of scholars and researchers in the social sciences and medical fields (the AMA, the APA and many, many others) have strongly disavowed the kind of research Mr. Wisdom cites concerning the suitability of same-sex couples to raise children. To present such claims as if they were reputable science does a disservice to everyone.
Concerning the latter, the biblical scholarship, here again I scarcely have the space to list the dozens of books and hundreds of peer-reviewed articles that present a very different approach to Scripture than the one Mr. Wisdom presents. From that very long list of sources I could refer to here, I would just recommend “A Time to Embrace: Same-Gender Relationships in Religion, Law, and Politics” by William Stacy Johnson. I note this one in particular because Johnson (an Evangelical scholar at Princeton) offers a particular helpful analysis of the kind of overall argument Mr. Wisdom is trying to present and the kind of biblical, historical, and sociological flaws inherent to that argument.
In generally I would note that Mr. Wisdom’s paper stands in a long line of such arguments that have been circulating for more than four decades now. Merely repeating them does not actually address how they have been refuted by many scholars in many disciplines and for quite some time now.
Alan Wisdom: Dr. Johnson wonders whether my executive summary implies that same-sex advocates are trying to change a static institution of marriage. My summary makes clear that marriage, after its earlier evolutions, has also shifted its emphasis in the modern era. “Our society’s view of marriage, centered on mutual emotional satisfaction, is already far from classic Christian teaching,” I say.
And if marriage is really all about the emotional satisfaction of adults, then same-sex marriage is indeed a logical next step. After all, members of the same sex have emotional attachments just as much as members of the opposite sex. Heterosexuals justifying their non-marital relationships have set the stage for homosexuals to claim the same privilege. And the irresponsible heterosexuals have done far more damage to society and to children than the gay and lesbian minority ever could.
Nevertheless, same-sex marriage would be a further radical step in deconstructing the core features that have undergirded marriage through all the previous changes. Gone would be the intuition that marriage is about bringing together the two complementary sexes into which humanity is divided. Gone would be the understanding that marriage is a total union in which the two dissimilar bodies risk everything to become “one flesh.” Gone would be the link between marriage and the possible conception of children uniting forever the two genetic heritages. Gone would be marriage’s function as the setting promising children the lifelong joint care of their biological father and mother. There is no use in pretending that same-sex marriage would be anything other than a massive cultural shift. The question is whether it would be a change for the better. I think not.
Dr. Johnson raises a good question about the relationship between the biblical exposition and the social science evidence introduced in my paper. The two are intended to be independent but complementary. They point in the same general direction—the unique value of the marriage of man and woman—but they do not take us by the same route.
The social science points to marriage as, on average, the pattern of sexual relationship most conducive to a happy, healthy, productive life for both men and women, adults and children. This evidence suggests that society would be wise to prefer and encourage marriage. But it does not prove that marriage works out best in every case, as we all know from sad experience. It does not imply that we should prohibit or punish other sexual relationships. But it is poor policy to equate other relationships with marriage when they do deliver the same benefits.
The evidence for the superior social benefits of marriage is overwhelming and widely accepted. It is accessibly collected in a booklet entitled “Why Marriage Matters,” published by the Institute for American Values.
What is less certain is the research on children raised by same-sex couples. Some professional associations have endorsed same-sex parenting, but this posture is more a matter of ideological principle rather than hard scientific proof. The research to date shows some differences in children reared by same-sex couples, but not dramatic ones. Careful literature reviews, such as one published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, point out many shortcomings in this research so far. Samples are small and not random, and children have not yet been followed over the long term. Many children being reared by same-sex couples are products of previous heterosexual relationships that dissolved, thus further complicating the picture.
The fact is that in every previous comparison made, children separated from at least one of their biological parents have on average fared worse than children reared by their two biological parents married to one another. Is there any reason to expect that the result will be different with same-sex couples, which by definition cannot include both biological parents? Early studies of children of divorce in the 1970s suggested that the breakup of their parents’ marriage had little impact on the children. Later, more thorough and long-term studies showed that preliminary conclusion to be gravely mistaken. We now know that divorce is, in general, bad news for the children. Will we see the same trajectory of research regarding same-sex parenting?
For Christians the Bible has an authority more solid than the shifting sands of social science. Christians honor marriage because Jesus did (Matthew 19/Mark 10), and they would do so regardless of whether marriage conveyed any individual or social benefits. The marriage of man and woman was the normative channel for sexual relations in the Old Testament, and even more emphatically so in the New Testament.
All of the biblical passages dealing with homosexuality are negative toward the practice. This point is exhaustively established in Robert Gagnon’s magisterial The Bible and Homosexual Practice. None of the other scholars has refuted Gagnon’s reading of the passages. On the contrary, same-sex-affirming scholars like Stacy Johnson increasingly admit that the biblical authors uniformly disapproved. Their argument tends to be that the scriptural condemnations no longer apply because we moderns know better than the Bible. That is not an option that I believe should be available to an orthodox Christian seeking to stand within the tradition.
There is no doubt that Alan Wisdom has long answers to The Reverend Doctor Jay Johnson’s pithy criticisms. There is a kind of studied confidence in Jay Johnson’s responses, and this writer is grateful to both parties for being willing to engage in what is a dialogue rather than debate.
The United Methodist Church, with 7.9 million U.S. members, is the nation’s second largest Protestant denomination. The United Methodist “Social Principles” state: We affirm the sanctity of the marriage covenant that is expressed in love, mutual support, personal commitment, and shared fidelity between a man and a woman. We believe that God’s blessing rests upon such marriage, whether or not there are children of the union. We reject social norms that assume different standards for women than for men in marriage. We support laws in civil society that define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
The “Social Principles” go on to say: God’s plan is for lifelong, faithful marriage. The church must be on the forefront of premarital and postmarital counseling in order to create and preserve strong marriages. However, when a married couple is estranged beyond reconciliation, even after thoughtful consideration and counsel, divorce is a regrettable alternative in the midst of brokenness. We grieve over the devastating emotional, spiritual, and economic consequences of divorce for all involved….
The Methodist principles recognize sexuality as “God’s good gift to all persons,” but maintain that “sexual relations are affirmed only with the covenant of monogamy…
Some found the paper compelling, and this writer wrote:
Alan F.H. Wisdom, “Is Marriage Worth Defending?” Mount Nebo Papers No. 2, Summer 2009 (Washington, DC: Institute on Religion and Democracy)
By Peter Sprigg,
Senior Fellow for Policy Studies, Family Research Council, Washington, DC
Alan Wisdom of the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) in Washington has produced one of the most useful analyses I have seen of the institution of marriage from a Christian perspective. As part of IRD’s series the “Mount Nebo Papers,” Wisdom’s 2009 piece “Is Marriage Worth Defending?” provides a comprehensive treatment of marriage in both theological and sociological terms, and from both a historical and contemporary perspective.
I have read widely on the subject of marriage in my ten years at the Family Research Council, but I still learned things that were new and useful from Wisdom’s paper. For example, most evangelicals are familiar with the Biblical passages dealing with marriage—but they may not be as familiar with the writings of the early church fathers (such as Augustine’s declaration that marriage “in all nations exists for the same purpose, the procreation of children”).
His historical overview acknowledges the changing relationships between church, state, and marriage over time, while avoiding the selective readings of some leftist scholars such as Stephanie Coontz and Nancy Cott, whose denials of any common elements in marriage over time have been accepted uncritically by some American courts. Sources such as the medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas (who called marriage “an office of nature”) and the reformer Martin Luther (who called it a “worldly matter”) shared the view that marriage has both religious and secular dimensions which cannot be neatly divided from one another.
Addressing the modern scene, Wisdom describes the impact of romantic ideals and individualism, and demonstrates cogently the harm done to society by the retreat from connecting “marriage, sex, and childbearing” as “a strong three-legged stool upholding society.” Sidebars on cohabitation and “same-sex marriage” show why these cannot be considered equivalent to the historical ideal of marriage.
Wisdom examines three options for going forward, including going with the cultural tide, or cloistering the church and its view of marriage from the rest of civil society. But one could hardly make a more compelling case than Wisdom has made for “Option C”—to “renew our appreciation of the biblical and traditional doctrines of marriage, and take practical steps so that more people may live out those doctrines in society.”
For a long time Unitarian Universalists (ten years or more) have been favorable to homosexual marriage. In a conversation with the Dean of the Stanford University Chapel the subject of Gay Marriage was unavoidable, for as The Reverend Scotty says:
THE SANCTITY OF MARRIAGE
By Scotty McLennan, Dean for Religious Life, Stanford University
March 17, 2011
(Adapted from his book Jesus Was a Liberal: Reclaiming Christianity for All
(New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009)
When thinking about the sanctity of marriage these days, we would do well to remember the story of Davis and Perez, who fell in love and tried to get married, only to be turned away by a county clerk who refused to issue them a marriage license simply because of who they were as a condition of their birth. A courageous state court in California became the first in the nation to find that clerk’s refusal unconstitutional.
“Marriage is something more than a civil contract, subject to regulation by the state. It is a fundamental right….” With those words in 1948 the California Supreme Court in Perez v. Sharp became the first in the nation to strike down an anti-miscegenation law, at a time when marriages between blacks and whites could not be performed in a majority of these United States. It took almost another 20 years for the United States Supreme Court to speak on this subject in a 1967 case, Loving v. Virginia. The state of Virginia had argued that the scientific evidence about black-white differences and their implications was still in doubt. Religion had a central role to play too, as the trial court judge cited scripture and wrote in his opinion: “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay, and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement, there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”
In the 1948 California decision, it was the Catholic Church, however, through its interracial Council in Los Angeles, that made a religious argument on behalf of the partners in the case, both of whom were Catholic. The claim was that Davis and Perez were being denied their right to participate fully in the sacraments of their church by being denied the right to marry. A number of churches and other religious bodies now defend and promote the sacred right of same-sex couples to marry. I predict that in twenty years most of us will be as astounded and appalled that there once were religious and legal objections to this form of marriage as we are now that there once were objections to marriages between the races.
Here is more of what surrounded the discussion of Gay Marriage in Reverend Scotty’s book.
From a religious perspective, marriage of course has long been held to be sacred, and it’s often noted that, in the Gospel of John, Jesus’ very first miracle was performed at a wedding at Cana of Galilee… What can we learn… about the boundaries of the fundamental, sacred right to marry? In particular, what does the Bible teach us about how to approach this question as religious people, especially when very different conclusions seem to be drawn from the same Bible passage?
First of all, it should be noted that there are only a few references to homosexuality in the Bible, compared to a huge corpus, for example, that assumes and defends slavery. The abolitionists had much more of an uphill battle eliminating slavery in the face of its biblical defenders than the proponents of marriage equality for homosexuals should have in eliminating this form of discrimination. Jesus never references homosexuality. It’s not found in the Ten Commandments as adultery and covetousness are. The Old Testament Sodom and Gomorrah story refers not to consensual sex but to homosexual rape. The two references in Leviticus are in the context of setting Jews apart from their Gentile neighbors by avoiding so-called ritual impurities like eating pork, having tattoos, wearing clothes made of two different kinds of materials, and having sex with a woman who is menstruating. In the New Testament, homosexuality is referred to in three letters of the apostle Paul, in which it is likely that he was referring to pagan practices of prostitution and sex with children. In none of these cases was anything vaguely contemplated along the lines of a lifelong monogamous commitment between same-sex partners.
This is more of what surrounded Reverend Scotty’s discussion on his book. I add this here for the sake of argumentation regarding traditional marriage, and some key “love” references to why Gay Marriage is so good. Reverend Scotty wrote this as part of our email conversation and gave permission to quote from the email. Count this as part of the compilation made in regard to Alan Wisdom’s paper:
Jesus always went out of his way to bless those who are hated, excluded, reviled and defamed. He also blessed those who weep, who are hungry, who are impoverished. It seems to me that there are two central messages that Jesus tries to convey, again and again throughout the New Testament: first, a message of deep concern for those who are oppressed and, second, a message of profound love that passes all understanding. The scandal of Jesus’ ministry in its time, and today as well, is that he constantly stood with the outcast, those who were discriminated against, and those who suffered at the hands of the established principalities and powers of his day. Upon the oppressed he pronounced God’s blessing. Secondly, Jesus brought a lesson of love that turned the world on its ear. He went beyond the love represented between husband and wife at Cana of Galilee to ask us to love our neighbors as ourselves, and then beyond that to ask us even to love our enemies. The Apostle Paul explains, in a passage often read in marriage ceremonies, that “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal…Love is patient; love is kind…It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; …It endures all things.”
None of this helps us specifically to know what Jesus and his disciples would say about marriages between blacks and whites, and it’s possible to find a proof text in the Bible for virtually any claim, but for me the feel is clear. Instead of the judge’s proof-texting — “the fact that he [Almighty God] separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix” — the New Testament record as a whole leads me to believe that Jesus had a generous view of life-long, committed, monogamous, loving relationships between any two people who freely chose each other to marry…
On the other side of the question of social consensus lie those individuals who are deeply hurt and harmed by claims that they are inferior or sinful and that their marriage would be unnatural and productive of deplorable results. How horrible for them. Again, it seems to me that these are precisely the kinds of people whom Jesus always comforted and sanctified first: ”Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. I read the New Testament record as a whole as one which places a very generous conception of love at the very center of Jesus’ teaching and actions. Those are the criteria — standing with the oppressed, and a generous conception of love — on which I believe we should try to distinguish true prophets from false prophets….
By way of conclusion, though, on the issue of conscience, I must say that I’m haunted by the fact that it took the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, the Southern Baptists (which is the tradition of two recent American presidents) until 1995 to apologize for the role the denomination had played in the Biblical justification of slavery in the nineteenth century, and in the maintenance of a culture of racism in America in the twentieth century. It had used Biblical proof texts like the words of Paul I cited earlier or this one from the Letter to the Ephesians: ”Slaves, be obedient to those who are your earthly masters, with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as to Christ.” The social historian C. Eric Lincoln wrote in 1995, after the church’s historic apology: ”Just think of all the violence and bitterness we might have been spared if the Southern Baptists had repudiated racism earlier.” To that I can only say Amen.
What of a Roman Catholic view? Here is a comment from a Roman Catholic organization on Alan Wisdom’s paper:
Contained at the heart [of the ruling] is a mistaken and dangerous claim that the marriage debate is primarily a religious squabble in which the state has no compelling interest other than to uphold state constitutional equal protection and non-discrimination statutes.
Although the Church has always understood that marriage is both a sacred union and natural institution, its natural meaning does not, and never has, originated from the state or Church. Marriage, from the beginning, exists naturally as the basic cell of society which protects and replenishes it with the next generation. Marriage attaches children to both a mother and father according to the child’s dignity. The societal stability this promotes is precisely why politicians and courts are obligated, not to redefine marriage or treat it as a religious question, but to protect and encourage it.
Proponents of same-sex marriage continue to decouple the meaning of marital love from its natural and divine purpose. As a result, the definitive expression of marital love, the sexual embrace, open to new life, is rendered sterile, devoid of natural meaning or expression. This, driven by Identity politics and judicial activism, must be resisted.
+Phil A. Webb Jr.
Director, Office of Marriage & Family Life
Archdiocese of Denver
As this writer compiles some of the quotes and comments garnered for and about the paper, “Is Marriage Worth Defending,” it is worthwhile to continue with the various denominational definitions of marriage, for both interests sake and to get the record on where some Churches stand. Let us turn to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, a group that is in Communion with the Episcopal Church USA and another of the mainline denominations that struggles and argues about Gay Marriage which tells us they, too, are concerned about the question of marriage in our times. Note ELCA addresses the subject of coitus.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), America’s fifth largest Protestant denomination with 4.7 million members, adopted a new policy
statement on human sexuality at its August 2009 Churchwide Assembly. “Marriage is a covenant of mutual promises, commitment, and hope authorized legally by the state and blessed by God,” the ELCA statement says. “The historic Christian tradition and
the Lutheran Confessions have recognized marriage as a covenant between a man and a woman, reflecting Mark 10:6-9 ….”
The statement appears to value the social functions of marriage more than its form: “The critical issue with respect to the family is not whether it has a conventional form, but how it performs indispensable individual and social tasks.” The new ELCA standard for Christian sexual behavior is not marriage but the vaguer concept of “social trust” manifested in relationships that are “loving,” “life-giving,” self-giving,” “fulfilling,”
“nurturing,” “truth-telling,” “faithful,” “committed,” “supportive,” “hospitable,” and “a blessing to society.” The ELCA policy affirms “that the greatest sexual intimacies, such as coitus, should be matched with and sheltered both by the highest level of binding commitment and by social and legal protection, such as found in marriage.” It “opposes non-monogamous, promiscuous, or casual sexual relationships.” But it stops short
of saying that all sex outside of marriage is wrong.
The ELCA “does not favor cohabitation arrangements…
The 5-million-member National Baptist Convention USA Inc., the fourth largest U.S. Protestant denomination, takes a similar view. Here is how the pro-homosexuality Human Rights Campaign describes the position of the black Baptist body: “Traditionally, however, the denomination has regarded homosexuality as sinful. It also forbids clergy to officiate at commitment ceremonies for same-sex couples.”
The New York Times in 2005 paraphrased the convention president, the Rev. Dr. William J. Shaw, as saying that “he does not believe that the Bible permits such [samesex] unions, but he pointedly rejects a government ban on them.
There is less evidence on the positions of historically black denominations. They tend to be more congregational, lacking large national structures with detailed policies. But all of the evidence available points to solid support for the traditional Christian understanding of marriage.
The 2.9-million-member Assemblies of God has a position paper on “Divorce and Remarriage.” The paper asserts: “Two sexes, male and female, are required to complete the divine image in humankind. Neither male nor female alone may procreate the race and fulfill the divine purposes.”
“Marriage is to be sexually consummated,” the paper says. “At the Creator’s command, the first man and woman were to ‘become one flesh’ for purposes of procreation, bonding, and mutual pleasure in a safe and loving relationship.” It adds that “[m]arriage is to be heterosexual,” “a permanent union,” “monogamous…
This kind of paper, “Is Marrage Worth Defending,” by Alan Wisdom of the Institute on Religion and Democracy of Washington, D.C. speaks to the subject of traditional marriage so very well. This writer commends it to readers, and hopes it receives a wider reading than it has so far. On asking Alan Wisdom by phone regarding the number of PDF copies downloaded from their website, he said there were no statistics kept.
The current obsession in America with Gay Marriage frequently overwhelms discussion of traditional marriage as sought by this writer. Jennifer Herdt, an ethicist from Yale University Divinity School says to this writer she has changed her mind from a stance for traditional marriage to this statement regarding the paper–specifically written for this article:
Alan Wisdom is right to resist reducing marriage to a private relationship defined in any way the parties so choose. Marriage is not just “a purely private affair involving the emotional attachment between two autonomous individuals” (30).
Marriage is properly a social institution involving the public commitment of two persons to lifelong sexual fidelity in openness to the bearing and rearing of children, an institution which for Christians reflects the love of God for humankind and the love of Christ for the church. As such, it is worthy of defense and support, both from the churches and from society at large. But Wisdom is too quick to assume that marriage must be “reduced to just an attachment between any ‘two persons who love each other’” in order to accommodate same-sex marriage (31), and that a marriage between persons of the same sex cannot remain in substantial continuity with traditional Christian marriage in constituting a one-flesh union open to fertility, capable of embodying the traditional unitive and procreative goods of marriage.
True, the sexual union of same-sex couples cannot itself result in the conception of new life, but same-sex married couples could adopt children as do infertile couples of opposite sexes. As Wisdom’s account of the history of the marriage makes clear, it has hardly been a static institution. Christian reflection on marriage has evolved to require the explicit consent of both parties, to incorporate marriage more fully into the life of the church, to become a more public commitment, and to place increasing emphasis on its unitive goods.
If we acknowledge that developments of this kind can be legitimate and reflect more fully God’s purposes for humanity, should we not be open to the possibility that the same is true of same-sex marriage? Moreover, if same-sex marriage is prohibited, gays and lesbians have little choice but either to remain among the ranks of the unmarried, whose health and psychological problems Wisdom documents, or to enter into private relationships unsustained by church and community, the instability of which Wisdom deplores. How would this work to strengthen marriage?
Jennifer A. Herdt
Professor of Christian Ethics
409 Prospect St.
New Haven, CT 06511
She writes via email:
I’m glad you find this useful. The issue has been a very challenging one for me to think through, and my own position has changed. I think we need many people thinking prayerfully about this. I hope you do hear from Cardinal George and others.
All best for your article,
The Yale Ethicist Jennifer Herdt well exemplifies this changing attitude and stance on marriage values. Though not quite revolutionary, it is an upheaval of kind that shakes traditional marriage and values that are so well outlined and defended, even, in Alan Wisdom’s paper.
Many schools, including more seminaries were approached for quote or comment on “Is Marriage Worth Defending.” Disappointingly, most if nearly all turned down the opportunity to comment on the paper.
After a while, this writer saw a pattern in the turndowns and with curiosity asked for a reason that schools and professors would not comment when contacting press officers. The response was this: The subject that interests them is the changing nature of marriage, how it is changing and why. This reveals that many sociologists and other academics, including the few psychologists who turned down the inquiry to help build a compilation and article of comment and reporting were not so interested in traditional marriage itself.
This is news on its own, as is the subject of traditional marriage, so well presented in the paper, “Is Marriage Worth Defending.” The answer is, Of course marriage is worth defending.
In A News Release, Roman Catholic Archbishop Dolan speaks to the refusal of the Federal Government of the United States to speak to the Defense of Marriage Act. Here is the article in its entirety:
Archbishop Dolan Calls Refusal to Defend Defense of Marriage Act an ‘Alarming and Grave Injustice’
WASHINGTON (March 3, 2011)— “Our nation and government have the duty to recognize and protect marriage, not tamper with and redefine it, nor to caricature the deeply held beliefs of so many citizens as ‘discrimination,’” said Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). His statement followed the February 23 announcement that President Obama has instructed the Department of Justice to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a move Archbishop Dolan called an “alarming and grave injustice.”
Archbishop Dolan’s full statement follows:
The announcement on February 23 that the President has instructed the Department of Justice to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is an alarming and grave injustice. Marriage, the union of one man and one woman as husband and wife, is a singular and irreplaceable institution. Only a man and a woman are capable of the “two-in-one-flesh” union of husband and wife. Only a man and a woman have the ability to bring children into the world. Along with that ability comes responsibility, which society historically reinforces with laws that bind mothers and fathers to each other and their children. This family unit represents the most basic and vital cell of any society, protecting the right of children to know and be known by, to love and be loved by, their mother and father. Thus, marriage represents the bedrock of the common good of society, its very foundation and future.
Contrary to the Attorney General’s statement, DOMA does not single out people based on sexual “orientation” or inclination. Every person deserves to be treated with justice, compassion, and respect, a proposition of natural law and American law that we as Catholics vigorously promote. Unjust discrimination against any person is always wrong. But DOMA is not “unjust discrimination”; rather, it merely affirms and protects the time-tested and unalterable meaning of marriage. The suggestion that this definition amounts to “discrimination” is grossly false and represents an affront to millions of citizens in this country.
The decision also does not stand the test of common sense. It is hardly “discrimination” to say that a husband and a wife have a unique and singular relationship that two persons of the same sex—or any unmarried persons—simply do not and cannot have. Nor is it “discrimination” to believe that the union of husband and wife has a distinctive and exclusive significance worthy of promotion and protection by the state. It is not “discrimination” to say that having both a mother and a father matters to and benefits a child. Nor is it “discrimination” to say that the state has more than zero interest in ensuring that children will be intimately connected with and raised by their mother and father.
Protecting the definition of marriage is not merely permissible, but actually necessary as a matter of justice. Having laws that affirm the vital importance of mothers and fathers—laws that reinforce, rather than undermine, the ideal that children should be raised by their own mother and father—is essential for any just society. Those laws serve not only the good of the spouses and their children, but the common good. Those laws are now under relentless attack. If we forget the meaning of marriage, we forget what it means to be a human person, what it means to be a man or a woman. Have we wandered away so far in our society as to forget why men and women matter, and eroded the most central institution for our children and for our future?
The Administration’s current position is not only a grave threat to marriage, but to religious liberty and the integrity of our democracy as well. Our nation and government have the duty to recognize and protect marriage, not tamper with and redefine it, nor to caricature the deeply held beliefs of so many citizens as “discrimination.” On behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, I express my deep disappointment over the Administration’s recent decision. I have written of these concerns to the President in separate correspondence, and I pray that he and the Department of Justice may yet make the right choice to carry out their constitutional responsibility, defending the irreplaceable institution of marriage, and in so doing protect the future generations of our children.
Feb. 2, 2011
Modesto’s Answer to Marital Breakdown
By Mike McManus
America’s central domestic issue, the breakdown of marriage, is ignored by politicians.
First, few are marrying. Indeed, the marriage rate has plunged 53% since 1970. There are only two million marriages a year, when there should be three million. Why? Many who were children of divorce, fear marriage. Cohabitation has soared 14-fold from 530,000 in 1970 to 7.5 million now. Couples believe they can test their compatibility in a “trial marriage,” to see if their relationship is strong enough for a full-fledged commitment.
Seems logical, but it’s a myth. As one marriage educator puts it, “You can’t practice permanence.” Of the 7.5 million couples living together, only 1.4 million marry. What about the 6 million who break up? They experience “premarital divorce,” which is so painful that never-married Americans tripled, from 21 million in 1970 to 63 million in 2008.
But those who marry after cohabiting have better marriages, right? Nope. Another myth. A Penn State study reports such couples are 63% more likely to divorce than those who remained apart.
That’s why the numbers of America’s divorces remained high even while marriage rates have plunged. Soaring cohabitation is the engine driving unwed births, which have exploded from 5% of all births to 41%. Children of non-marriage have the dimmest prospects in life. Example: they are 22 times more likely to be incarcerated than a child of married parents.
This is secular evidence Paul was right when he urged the Corinthians to “flee sexual immorality.”
Fortunately, there are answers. Twenty-five years ago last week, the clergy of Modesto, CA adopted America’s first Community Marriage Policy, which was ultimately signed by 95 Protestant pastors and Catholic priests plus one rabbi.
They were the first clergy to pledge, across denominational lines, to require all couples getting married in a city to take a premarital inventory to help them assess their relationship strengths, and where they needed to grow. The PREPARE-ENRICH inventory, for example, asks couples whether they agree or disagree on 150+ statements such as:
- · To end an argument, I tend to give in too quickly.
- · Sometimes I wish my partner were more careful about spending money.
Clergy also trained mentor couples in healthy marriages, to meet with premarital couples for 5-6 sessions over four months to discuss the issues identified on their inventory. These marriage mentors also taught skills of communication and conflict resolution.
The clergy set this new pastoral standard for Modesto in 1986 as a result of a speech I made in which I predicted that if they adopted these strategies, that the city’s divorce rate could be cut in half in five years. Within two years, the divorce rate was dropping. By 2001 the divorce rate had plunged by 57%. More important, for the entire past decade, the divorce rate has been about half of what it had been.
What difference has this Community Marriage Policy made? Look at the lives of Modesto children. For a decade the teen birth rate has been down 30%, and high school dropouts have fallen 18.4%. If more kids are brought up in homes by their own married parents, they will fare better in life.
Furthermore, the number of marriages has doubled from 1,300 to 2,600! Though that is due in part to an increase of population, there has been a genuine increase in the marriage rate, in sharp contrast to the 53% plunge in marriage rates nationally.
In the Modesto covenant, the clergy declared, “Our hope is to radically reduce the divorce rate of those married in area churches.” Clearly, more than that has been accomplished.
Modesto’s success encouraged me to research other answers. Four examples:
- 1. Enriching marriages: “10 Great Dates” is a series of brief DVD talks on such topics as “Resolving Honest Conflict” and “Becoming an Encourager.” Couples come to church 10 evenings to watch them and then have a date to discuss the assigned issue.
- 2. Restore distressed marriages by training couples whose own marriages once nearly failed to mentor those in current crisis, saving four out of five of them.
- 3. Reconcile the separated with a course, “Marriage 911,” taken by a spouse whose partner wants out, typically with a same-gender friend. Result: half the marriages are saved.
- 4. Help stepfamilies who divorce at a 70% rate, create a Stepfamily Support Group saving 80% of them
My wife and I have helped 10,000 clergy in 229 cities to implement these strategies in Community Marriage Policies. On average divorce rates have fallen 17.5% saving 100,000 marriages, cohabitation has decreased by a third, and marriage rates are rising.
Churches can cooperate to create a new marriage culture. How? Go To www.marriagesavers.org.
Mike McManus is President of Marriage Savers.