Understanding marriage

Christians must insist on tolerance, compassion…

This weekend I celebrate my forty-fifth wedding anniversary. I feel very blessed. I married a man who has allowed me to be my own person, who has never been unfaithful, and who has always supported me financially. That doesn’t mean that we haven’t had our challenges, some of them pretty serious ones that have split other couples. But we both agreed at the outset that divorce wasn’t something either of us ever wanted to consider. That of course doesn’t mean that it couldn’t have happened anyway. It takes two to stay married — much consideration, agreeing to disagree, etc.

One reason I have stayed married, however, is because of my understanding of the Christian sacrament of marriage. That understanding is that God’s original intention was for the partners to be joined for life — literally becoming one with each other, sharing burdens and joys, tolerating and trying to understand each other’s weaknesses, loving each other’s families. This theme is introduced in Genesis, and reappears throughout the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, in spite of the many times in Biblical history when people rationalized and practiced polygamy, subjugation of women, adultery, orgies, etc. Jesus’s teachings are clear: divorce was not God’s original desire, and reciprocal love and respect were part of the definition of marriage.  Some people don’t see in the language of the translations an expectation for equality between partners, but I think that, properly understood, the Scriptures do communicate that expectation. That, however, is the subject of another blog.

As an American, I cannot force my definition of secular marriage on an increasingly diverse culture. As a Christian, I am eager to support the rights of believers to be able to speak about and practice our beliefs without being suppressed or persecuted.

For the present, this is an election year, and the nature of marriage has become a very divisive issue. For me as both an American and a person of faith, reconciliation lies in the recognition that secular marriage and spiritual marriage are two different things. As an American, I cannot force my definition of secular marriage on an increasingly diverse culture. As a Christian, I am eager to support the rights of believers to be able to speak about and practice our beliefs without being suppressed or persecuted. I extend that right to people of other persuasions, even to Christians with whom I may disagree about some issues.  If we are to respect a line between civic life and individual right to both public and private free speech, that line must not be crossed in either direction. We Christians must insist on the same tolerance, compassion, and accommodation that is afforded to others, but we must grant to others the right to disagree with us.

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