I'm not a political person, I mean I enjoy listening to the pundits and reporters and so on, but I have no desire to actually be in politics. I'm not even a good church politician and I hate church politics, it seems to always get in the way of what maters like the mission of the gospel. The truth is politics is often and unavoidable topic and it's often and unavoidable topic in our churches. Sometimes we just have to deal with the politics even when we don't want to. Politics is one of those things that drives a wedge between friends, family and the people of God. For whatever reason so many of us are more passionate about or political opinions than we are the gospel. Whatever your politics are, I love you despite them and I respect them, I may not agree with them and you may not agree with mine, but I hope you love me despite them and that you'll love me when I'm done with this sermon ;)
Our nation has become a politically polarized nation. We define ourselves by what political party we belong to and in turn we judge others based on their political allegiance. There are people from both sides of the isle who claim that you can't be a Christian if you're part of that other party. I find this rediculus. I don't think Jesus cares to much about our political membership, though I do believe Jesus' message had a political side to it, after all "Jesus is Lord" is one of the most politically subversive statements of all time, but he did once say, "give to Cesar what is Caesars, and to God what is God's". One of the most politically charged issue in our nation today is the issue of marriage and marriage equality, in fact it's not just an American thing. Parliaments a Congress's from all over the world are dealing with this issue. What it comes down to is definition. What is the definition of marriage? And who can be married? How we answer this question will determine what the future of marriage in America looks like.
Before we even attempt to answer this seemingly loaded question, we must better understand the nature of marriage. Marriage is a two part issue. Marriage is both spiritual and civil. Marriage encompasses the spiritual and mystical union between a man and a women. Two persons, two lives, to sets of goals...two hearts, all becoming one through the sacramental act of marriage. Marriage is also a legally binding contract, authorized and enforced by both the state and the federal government. Two separate legal entities agree in principal and in part to join together all of their assests. For this reason divorce is a legal preceding and can become very, very nasty and be very difficult for all who are involved.
Lets first look at the spiritual and religious part of the marriage covenant. Though not officially sanctioned by the UMC as such, marriage is sacramental. It's another one of those things, like baptism, that God does in us to make us more like him. Ephesians 5 tells us that marriage is a reflection of the love that Jesus has for the church. Husbands are to love their wives like Jesus loves the church, and wives are to submit to the leadership of their husbands like the church submits to Christ's leadership. Now before you hubby's get to excited and big headed over being the leader and having your "women" submit to you, just take a moment to reflect on all the suffering that Jesus endured on behalf of the church. Just think about how much he loved and loves the church, so much that he gave of himself so fully that it cost him his life. And wives don't think that this gets you off the hook either. Submission isn't some passive/aggressive way of getting what you want or just doing what you are told. It's a partnership. It's important that you help guide the heart of your husband and help him find God's heart for the both of you and your children. It's so beautiful and so sacred because it's the one earthly thing we have that really exemplifies the kind of perfect mutual love and submission that exists between Christ and his bride. It is truly a mystical union.
Hebrews 13 says marriage should be honored by all, but how have we as a nation honored marriage? In 2012 7.2 million Americans were "co-habitating". That's 11 times more than in the 70's. 70% of that increase came during the decade of the 90's. 4 out 10 first marriages end in divorce. America has the highest rate of divorce in the Western World. The good news is that rate has declined 1% since the year 2000. Also good news, 3/4 of men divorced from their 1st wives remarry and 2/3 of all women divorced from their first husbands remarry. Plus the rate of divorce drops significantly for 2nd marriages to about 2 out of every 10 divorcing. Due to the increase of life expectancy more marriages last 50+ years than ever before. I remarked to a couple at one of my churches in OK, who were celebrating their 75th wedding anniversary, that 75 years was a long time. The husband in turn remarked, "it would have been even longer with out her."
If we want marriage to survive in America we need strong biblical marriages, honored by both partners and blessed by God. Strong marriages make strong families and strong families instill good morals in the children they raise. The foundation of any healthy society is a strong emphasis on families. whatever those famiies may look like or be made of it needs to be strong and it starts with honoring the marriage covenant.
Part two of marriage is the legal and contractual part. Prior to 1563 at the Council of Trent, which by the way was also the church council that gave us "canonized scripture", marriage was purely a legal and contractual thing. At the council of Trent the Catholic Church decided that marriage was a spiritual act as well as a legal act, but until then It was a financial transaction. One equal man was exchanging goods with another equal man. You see men's wealth and status was determined by land, livestock and children, especially male children. The more of each that you had, the better off you were, but in order to have children you needed a women to bare those children. Girls were commodities that were traded for other commodities. A young man might trade a portion of his father inheritance for a girl so that he would have sons to pass all his things down to. Marriage to our ancestors had more to do with property and progeny than love and spirit. In 1753 the English Parliament made part of English common law marriage as an issue of the state. Marriage was no longer a transaction between two men or two families, but because of the property being exchanged in marriage it became monitored by the state. In 1948 the US Congress enacted a law that allowed married people to file their taxes jointly. This was done to encourage marriage by giving married couples a tax break. This act of congress is what lead to the baby boom following WWII. In 1996 a Republican Congress voted and was signed into law by a Democratic President the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). This act made only heterosexual marriages legal and binding at the federal level. This past June The Supreme Court Of the United States (SCOTUS) ruled that the defense of marriage act that prohibited same-sex marriages sanctioned by the states from being recognized federally was unconstitutional. There you have it, a brief history of marriage in the West!
Strangely, but maybe not so strange, of all the things that Jesus and the gospels are silent on, marriage is not one of them. Jesus says in Matthew 6 that God hates divorce and that the only reason we ought to divorce is for marital unfaithfulness. He also says in that same passage that divorce is a result of humankind's hard and selfish hearts. Jesus points to the spiritual nature of marriage when he quotes from Genesis saying that for this reason a man shall leave his fathers house and join himself with another and the two shall become one flesh. Again, theres that mystical union. In our passage this week Jesus is again approached by another sect of Jewish leaders, this time it's the Saducees. The Saducees were the ruling class of Jew's. From this sect came the High Priest who was elected from three different families every year. They did not believe in demons, angels, divine healing, heaven, hell or the resurrection of the dead. Basically they were Episcopalians ;) J/K. For real though, they did not believe in anything spiritual or supernatural. There was only now. You live and you die...that was it. Jesus on the other hand was a very spiritual person. He was more or less a part of the school of pharisees. They believed in the resurrection of the dead, in angels, demons, divine healing, miracles, heaven and hell (most people were going to hell) and the supernatural. Basically they were Pentecostals ;) j/K...again. One of the ways these Saducees tried to discredit Jesus was asking him some outlandish question with and even more ridiculous scenario. Torah law required a brother to marry his own brothers widowed wife if they did not have children (a law to protect family property, including women). The saducees proposed that there was a women who out lived 7 brothers and had no sons with any of them! And then they asked, "whose wife will she be at the resurrection." Jesus said, "You have no idea what you are talking about! The relationships in heaven are beyond your earthly understanding."
Jesus, as usual has a great point. We think we know what marriage is about and how God wants relationship to be handled, but then we say and do things that only reveal that we have no idea what we are talking about.
The United Methodist Book of Discipline says in paragraph 161c that, "Marriage is a mutual covenant that is expressed in love, mutual support and personal commitment and is between one man and one women." Despite church doctrine and teaching 50% of married men are having affairs, while 30% of married women are having affairs. It seems like to me we have lost the true meaning of marriage in America. We in America are at a cross roads for marriage. What will the future hold for marriage in America? Will marriage sink into irrelevance as so many institution have, or will it emerge as a vital part of the moral fabric of our nation?
For marriage to rise from a failed institution we need to recognize it's two parts. We need to see that it's not just spiritual and we need to see that it's far more than contractual. Most of all we need to realize it's about far more than sex. Sex is only one aspect of a marriage and as a couple grows together it becomes less and less a priority. Our nations obsession with who's having sex with who is ruining marriage in our country. Marriage is about love and commitment and paitence. That's the truth we have lost as a nation and thats the truth we are ignoring as a church. The UMC continues to up hold it's traditional and biblical position on marriage, a position I support as a soon to be Ordained Provisional Elder, but or nation is not the church. Our nation is founded on mutual civil rights and on the premiss that the state will not enact laws that favors religion over liberty. It is unjust and a violation of the constitution to enact laws that discriminate or favor any one group over another and laws that ban homosexuals from engaging in a legally binding contract are such. My religious views are mine, and yours are yours, and never should we force others to agree with them.
So what does this mean? Is there a future for marriage in America? Yes, but only if we began to honor marriage and honor other peoples rights, then an only then will marriage have the same life giving value it once did in our society.
I'll finish with this... A few years ago Kim Kardashian married a little known basketball player name Chris Humphries. Their marriage lasted 7 days. At the end of the first week Kardashian filled for divorce. 7days...something that is a sacrament, a deeply rooted value in our country, so we say, was worth 7days. I have a gay friend in Indiana. He's a man my fathers age. I went to seminary with him at United. He and his life partner, who are not allowed to "marry" just celebrated 40 years together.
Which love sounds more like God's love?