Tuesday, June 14, 2005

We're in favor of marriage, bold, I know, but the times require it. What's that? Of course, between a man and a woman.

Shrimp here: In a monent of lucidity last week, I had the thought, "anything done that promotes marriage between a man and a woman make two people stronger and in a better position to face the world, makes their offspring healthier, makes their extended family better off adn makes the community, nation and world better. So, I am going to do that. Here's another article by a really wise Old Brit:

A "Relationship" not an Institution?

A discussion starter from Peter Toon

"In choosing whether or not to enter into marriage, we often hear it said today that "modern people want a relationship not an institution."

Throughout human history marriage between a man and a woman (or sometimes, several women) has been regarded as an institution. That is, as an established organization with a social, economic and religious purpose. Marriage has been seen as a means of creating, safeguarding and cementing important social, economic, political and family ties. Thus the choice of a wife or husband for a son or daughter was very much in the control of the parents and their advisors. When married, the couple learned to respect and care for each other, guided by their families and friends.

The ideal of a man and woman getting married primarily because they are "in love" is western and hardly more than 150 years old. And it was only in the latter part of the twentieth century that it became the dominant view of the reason for getting married. Naturally this ideal of self-fulfillment in love was expressed through a word never before used of marriage or betrothal, the word, "relationship."

Is there a mid-point between seeing "marriage" as an institution and as a relationship?

It may be suggested that one such mid-point was seriously attempted in the 1950s, when marriage was extremely popular and most people aspired to be married by the time they were in their early twenties. The ideal was of the man as the breadwinner and of the wife as the homemaker and the one who took care of the (at least) two children. Pundits and preachers worked from this model and encouraged/commanded people to make it work and work well. Preachers even claimed that this was the biblical model!

However, this 1950s experiment soon began to disintegrate as the model of "relationships" came to dominate thinking and practice.

If we look back over the 150 years (1850-2000), in which the ideal of marrying for [romantic] love has been gaining ground and achieving virtual total success in the West, we see five major obstacles that had to be overcome in order to give people the personal autonomy and sexual freedom necessary for this ideal to prevail fully and completely.

The first obstacle was the inherited view that there are major, innate differences between men and women with regard to their sexual desires and drives. Only in the 1920s was it generally conceded that sexual satisfaction for women was as important as for men, and that they deserved equal consideration.

The second obstacle was the power and ability of families, neighbors, employers, churches and governments to regulate personal behavior and even penalize aberrations! This gradually collapsed as major changes in the culture and economic and social life occurred and greater degrees of personal freedom and personal anonymity developed.

The third obstacle to be removed was unreliable means of birth control. Only in the 1960s did means of birth control become reliable enough that fear of pregnancy was removed and women were "liberated" to choose when "to have sex" and with whom.

A fourth obstacle was the harsh penalties for illegitimacy both socially and legally in force. By the 1970s the legal category of illegitimacy was removed and it became widely accepted that it was wrong to penalize a child for the actions of its biological parents.

The final obstacle was the dependence of women on men both economically and legally. This broke down gradually and was pretty much gone by the 1980s. During much the same time-frame, the production of a host of labor-saving goods, from clothing that did not need ironing to automatic this-and-that, undercut men's dependence on women as housekeepers. So each sex became free of the other and able to be self-sufficient to a degree. Also a man and a woman each had the freedom to choose or not to choose marriage and to choose this or that partner for cohabitation or for marriage.

Some of the results of this REVOLUTION in the understanding and practice of marriage and sexual relations we know well. When romantic love and personal autonomy are dominant then there will be many marriages but also many divorces; divorced persons will re-marry; couples will enter a first marriage much later than previous generations did; couples will live together as partners in co-habitation without marriage; children will know step-parents as well as parents; birth certificates will have two different surnames as the parents; homosexual persons will claim the same rights as heterosexual persons, and so on.

There is a real sense of inevitability to the fall out from this REVOLUTION wherein marriage ceases to be an institution and becomes "a relationship." Yet, there are still some happy marriages which last, but these are a minority of "partnerships" in the modern West.

How does the Church pastorally deal with all this?

According to its inherited teaching, the Church has a very high view of marriage as the union of a man and woman as one flesh until the death of one of them. The model set forth is the mystical marriage of Christ, the Bridegroom, and his Church, the Bride.

In practice, the Church has accommodated to reality by finding ways to justify the use of artificial birth control, to bless the marriages of those who have been cohabiting and those who marry for the second or third time, to welcome to the Lord's Table those who (by previous standards) are guilty of fornication, to allow clergy who divorce and remarry to continue without discipline as pastors, and so on.

Of course, resistance to the new REALITY is strong in some places and weak in others, but virtually all types of modern denominations have accommodated by compromises to the REVOLUTION that has occurred. Usually this has been done out of pastoral care, of wanting to meet people where they are and being caring towards them. For example, the R C Church has greatly increased the number of annulments it has given to members who are divorced by law and the Episcopal Church has allowed its clergy to bless many "unions" of "gay" people.

One good thing that perhaps can be said is this. Where there is a good marriage today it is usually a truly good one, for the persons involved have had to work hard and make sacrifices to achieve their mutuality and happiness. In many ways they have had to work against the odds, against the culture and against the trends. Perhaps the Church can put more energy into encouraging good marriages and enabling the wife and husband to exert the necessary discipline and graciousness to achieve this end -- by the grace of God. To do this, her Ministers will need to be both chaste and wise, patient and caring, filled with the Spirit and his gifts!"

June 7, 2005 The Revd Dr Peter Toon

No comments:

The good ship ELCA...

The good ship ELCA...
Or the Shellfish blog...