Marriage, Christianity, and Culture

Mike and Erin had been married for a couple of years and they had one child, a two-year old son named Matthew. Erin was a full-time student at the local community college while Mike was enjoying his new career with the local city police department. Both Mike and Erin were Christians and having grown up in Christian homes, they seemed to enjoy their church and the fellowship they had with the other young married couples at their church.

Like all young marriages, Mike and Erin had a few challenges but nothing too troubling. In fact, everything about their marriage seemed to be fine. That was until Mike’s tour on the grave-yard shift as well as his other overtime duties seemed to be keeping him away from home.

Erin didn’t seem to mind at first, as she was busy with her college studies. She would often drop Matthew off at her parents to be watched while she attended late evening study groups. That’s where she became reacquainted with Tim. Back in High School Tim and Erin had a pretty serious dating relationship. Well, eventually Tim and Erin began an affair.

Mike eventually found out about the affair as Erin told him. Erin informed Mike that she was in love with Tim and that she wanted a divorce. To make a long story short, Mike and Erin were divorced and shortly after that Erin and Tim married each other.

After Erin and Tim were married, they began attending church were Erin’s father was an elder. Officially this church had believed for years that according to the scriptures, Tim and Erin’s marriage was nothing more than an adulterous relationship. Tim had no right to be with Erin because Erin was joined in the covenant of marriage with Mike. But things were different. The church spun a few verses together about the grace of God and this marriage situation was acceptable. When the preacher spoke out against the marriage of Tim and Erin, he was fired.

The above story is true, I simply changed the names and a few slight details for the sake of concealing identity. The reason I have chosen to tell this story is because there are many other stories very similar to this among Christians and churches have increasingly become very tolerant of them. That is, with some exception, American Christianity has already extended tolerance to a view of marriage unfounded in the scriptures.

Added to this is the fact that state laws allow for divorce and remarriage as a legal and acceptable practice. So if we wanted to, tomorrow we could divorce and eventually seek remarriage. Should that remarriage fail, we are free to seek divorce again and remarriage again.

So my point is that within Christianity and society at large, the definition of marriage has already been expanded beyond scripture and the will of God. Why then are Christians suddenly in an uproar about the passing of same-sex marriage laws and the recent announcement by President Obama of his support for same-sex marriage rights?

As I listen in on the cultural conversation, what I am hearing is that Christians are upset because the allowance for same-sex marriage redefines the biblical view of marriage. But that cannot be because, as I have already pointed out, Christians have not responded with the same angst about the way marriage has already been redefined from God’s intent. So Christians are either being incongruent with their concern for protecting the traditional view of marriage or… the angst about our culture’s redefining of marriage is more about waging a cultural war against the LGBT agenda.

For the record, I do not believe that same-sex marriage is the will of God. Further more, right or wrong, it is not my practice to make judgments about the marriage, divorce, and remarriage choices Christians have made in the past (and here I agree with Dan Bouchelle). I am writing this because I am concerned that among many Christians there is a misplaced angst. This angst has motivated participation in a culture war that seems more interested in preserving our version of a “Christian friendly” culture than making disciples of Jesus Christ.

I also agree with Rachel Held Evans that Christians can win the culture war on the issue of same-sex marriage and lose the bigger battle. The reason this will happen is because our ways of fighting the culture war are so foreign to the ways of Christ that we look more like hypocrites, compromising our witness for Jesus Christ (if we are still trying to bear witness for Jesus). Maybe I’ll write more on that later this week. My hope for now is that Christians will think a little more about our own inconsistencies, check our motives, and consider the consequences of our responses to issues facing society at large.


If you wish to leave a small comment or ask a question, I am happy to dialogue. I am not interested in any long, drawn out arguments. If you wish to disagree with a long response, please do so on your own blog. Thank you very much!

22 responses to “Marriage, Christianity, and Culture

  1. If Christianity is a culture, then I renounce it. Jesus did not die and raise again for a culture. He died for #1 His Father’s glory and #2 His Bride. I do not want a cheap and shallow culture war. We live in a secular nation with a secular government, and we are foreigners here as citizens of the Kingdom of God. I’d rather focus on being the Bride of Christ than a protector of religion.

    • That is well said. Part of the problem is that even though we might sing “This world is not my home…”, we are too busy trying to make this world a hospitable place for us.

    • Jace, while I have some agreement with what you said, it is also true that Jesus died “for the sins of the world.” There was a cosmic dimension to his death and resurrection that, in my opinion, we should not ignore. But — I fully agree with your last sentence! The question for me (and I think for many of us) is how we reconcile (?) being the church with being embedded in the larger culture — and this includes the question of our role within that larger culture.

      • benmarston

        Yes, the larger culture, but also the culture of the Church; the culture has bought into the worship of Eros (of Venus), and the pursuit of pleasure has been much bought into by Christians as well, in distinct opposition to the ascetic call of all Christians to deny self, take up cross, and follow Him. Recovery of the ascetic dimension of the faith is a necessary prelude to resistance of a culture that is pleasure seeking and pleasure addicted. The discussion of marriage and of homosexual marriage with respect falls within this larger issue of Christian discipleship and the contrary discipleship that the world, the flesh and the devil call us to.

  2. well said, rex. we certainly haven’t responded to divorce and adultery in the same way we are now responding to the idea of same sex marriages. and very few of us have members of our churches wanting to enter into same sex marriages. it’s interesting to me that we desire to legislate morality outside the church, but not inside.

    • “[I]t’s interesting to me that we desire to legislate morality outside the church, but not inside.” That’s a big part of the problem and I think the tolerance of immorality within the church is just as crippling to our witness as hypocrisy and toxic attitudes are.

  3. Pingback: Marriage, Christianity, and Culture | Kingdom Seeking | Christian Dailys

  4. in Orthodoxy the Bishop’s have the authority to exercise economia, either being more strict than the Tradition or allowing relaxation for sound pastoral reasons. If a marriage has not been between two Orthodox Christians that has ended in divorce and one become Orthodox, a marriage is not opposed because it was not sacramental; not joined by God in Christ in the Church. But remarriage is the stated exception for those in the Church, and require a Bishop’s decision.

  5. Thank you for this post, k rex. i hope that you are stirred to write more on this topic.

  6. Your last 2 paragraphs state eloquently what I have been trying to say lately. Thank you.

  7. You are correct…we are inconsistent in how we apply our theology as it relates to MDR, frequently in opposition to how we deal with gay marriage. I will say that there is much more weight of evidence as it pertains to grace in relationship to dealing with adultery in the gospels (John 4, 8, particularly, and further teaching from Paul in 1 Corinthians 7) that tips the scales to a degree…but, overall, these are two world views that are difficult to reconcile.

    • Indeed, we are in murky waters. I am really not inclined to worry about how Christians might reconcile with the moral values/practices of culture. What I am concerned with is how we express grace and mercy to other sinners.

  8. While I will agree with the premise of the post, I will also disagree with your assumption that Christians have not responded to MDR in the same way as the gay marriage issue. Many of us have and continue to speak on the benefits of marriage and the sin found in adultery, etc. There are many who speak up regarding those issues as strongly as we do gay marriage.

    But, who knows, those I know might be the exception.

    • Chris, I realize that there are still voices among Christianity speaking out against the easy MDR that permeates both Christianity and culture at large. However, I have yet to receive one email or letter asking me to sign a petition against a law that allows for an unbiblical divorce and remarriage; yet I have lost count how many emails and letters I have received in the last six months asking me to sign a petition against same-sex marriage so that Christians can flex their political muscle to win this culture war.

      Any ways, thanks for dropping by the blog and commenting.

    • Chris, the problem isn’t Christians not *speaking* against the sin of frivolous divorce.

      The problem, from the perspective of my homosexual friends, is the hypocrisy of a large percentage of Christians *participating in* the sin of frivolous divorce while simultaneously striving to maintain the moral high ground against homosexual marriage.

      It is not what the church *says* that condemns us in their eyes, but that, like those who sat in Moses’ seat in Matthew 23, we “say, and do not.”

  9. Perhaps the reason for our inconsistency is that we tend to know people in broken marriages, but don’t know as many people with differing sexual orientations. As long as the sin is committed by “them,” it’s easy to call them out. When the offender is someone we know, it’s easier to extend grace. As our circle of coworkers, friends, acquaintances and brothers and sisters grows in diversity, we may be forced to reexamine the severity of our judgments. This doesn’t mean we have to tolerate sin; it does mean we may need a more nuanced response to it.

    • Robert, that is very insightful. It is so much easier to be judgmental and condemning of people we do not know. We need to learn the art of becoming friends with the “sinners and tax collectors” like Jesus had.

    • I have a friend at work. She is lesbian and is very principled and has defended me in difficult spots in our production. My wife who also works with me at the Plant, and I both love this lady. But it is also clear that we do not buy into the assumptions of her lifestyle; but the Holy Spirit loves that lady, and some would suggest that the pride I have to fight continually is as serious a problem as the one that the lady I mention is in. It also seems to me that she is extraordinarily principled when it comes to doing a good job at work, and I think she has been shaped in humility in part by her ‘orientation’. So, there she is being shaped in humility by dealing with a weakness towards a bodily/emtional sin. Lord have mercy. Who’s gonna make it and who aint. The broken and contrite heart is acceptable to the Lord but the proud religious heart….doesn’t register on his Richter scale.
      This has indirect bearing on Rex’s subject matter; for it at least covers some of the ground by which we blunt our judgments; I like it at Church when, before Eucharist (Holy Communion) we confess ourselves as sinners, and take up St. Paul’s words; ‘of whom I am chief.’ If we can allow the Holy Spirit to keep us there, then we cease to judge our brother. And unless we cease judging we can never be in the business of loving our neighbors.

  10. Winning the Cultural War…. in my view, writing as an Orthodox convert, the Protestant movement lost Western Culture once it followed the shift away from a visible and faithful Church, to one that was invisible and in which the individual decided only for himself what Scripture said. Christ prayed that our unity might be present to the world so that they might believe; the Visible Unity in faith and practice of the Church is essential to our ability to engage culture and to win in it. In Russia there was essentially the One Church; they were terribly persecuted for 70 years, with 45 million Christians martyred, yet the Church won the cultural war, is now respected as that which shapes the culture and righteousness; on the other hand the United States which until recently had 90 percent of the Christian teachers, and financial resources has been ceding ever larger aspects of its domain to the forces of secular hedonism, Lord have mercy.

  11. Pingback: A Party for Prostitutes? | Kingdom Seeking

  12. And associated with all this is the abandonment of the possibility of lifelong sexual continence, in favor of lifelong pursuit of unceasing prayer, seen chiefly in monasticism. The encouragements of Jesus and of St. Paul to celibacy for Christ have long been abandoned since Luther abandoned monasticism and married the nun; since Henry VIII launched his murderous pogrom against monasticism in the British Isles. With no witness at all to the possibility of continence sexually, the Western Protestant movement long ago ceded to the secular hedonists their truth of the mandate that all of us needs genital sexual expression; and riding on the waves of that, established deep in the history and psyche of the Protestant movement, we see the continuation of that digression from the Faith Once Delivered…..the same sex marriage boon is the fruit of our failings of faith; it is we that need to repent, primarily, and we have hundreds of years of institutionalized falling from the faith to examine. Lord have mercy on me a sinner.

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