Keeping Matrimony Holy Starts with Singles
- Tuesday, January 17, 2012
EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is the latest installment of Solo Zone, a monthly article series focusing on believers who have taken advantage of serious opportunities God has laid in their faith walks—and whose singleness actually works to their benefit, as well as God’s glory.
The institution of marriage.
Governments issue marriage licenses, tax people according to their marital status, grant divorces, identify children by their legally recognized surnames, and allow residency based on a spouse’s citizenship.
Yet in actuality, don’t governments borrow their authority over marriage from God and his church? Shouldn’t believers in Christ actually serve as stewards of this holy covenant?
After all, governments didn’t invent the concept of marriage; God did. Marriage, and the family a marriage immediately creates, serve as society’s basic building block by virtue of its, well . . . virtue. Virtue as a prized set of interpersonal relationships in which exclusive rights and responsibilities are shared and guarded.
Virtue, however, cannot be encoded into law. Neither can the logic and pragmatism of marriage and the family unit, even though governments recognize them as efficient ways of managing populations. To the extent that the virtue of marriage originates with God, then, we people of faith bear the primary obligation of serving as its advocates by modeling it well and preserving its purpose.
For the most part, unfortunately, Western thought has parted ways with matrimony’s virtue and pragmatism. Witness our evolving age of divorce, cohabitation, and gay marriage, all destructive forces working against biblical provisions for marriage and the family that no amount of legislation can preserve. Perhaps now more than ever, those for whom marriage and family were originally designed need to renew our commitment to them.
Whether we’re married, or not.
In fact, the responsibility of keeping matrimony holy starts with us singles.
As media and society invite non-marrieds to march with them towards an increasingly individualistic nihilism, featuring the purported irrelevance of marriage as its centerpiece, single believers are in a unique position to champion both what we may hope for ourselves someday, and that which God is currently withholding from us.
Single for All the Wrong Reasons
Part of our struggle involves the warped perspective our culture holds of singlehood. Perhaps you read Kate Bolick’s sprawling cover story in The Atlantic last November, “All the Single Ladies,” in which this post-modern feminist writer gives an epic narrative of why at 39, she’s still single.
Like many today, Bolick pretends to esteem matrimony, but she makes no pretense of considering it holy. She’s bitter over not finding a man who’s the perfect blend of arm candy and aggressive careerist. She’s decided that America’s new feminism has finally conquered the anachronistic baggage of conventional wedlock, and too many of the self-centered men she’s met are only too anxious to oblige her misconception. Indeed, her hobby these days has become successfully feigning respectability despite years of gratuitous sex which, to her credit, she admits has actually been stripped of all its eroticism.
Bolick seems baffled about why her fastidious career-climbing, made easier by her singlehood, hasn’t compensated for her spouselessness. So she finds solace in faulting modern men for hardly being worthy of the affections they seek from trophy specimens of womanhood like herself.
Ultimately, however, Bolick’s attempt at celebrating modern singlehood simply unravels into a grim caricature of it, providing a cautionary tale for us singles of faith.
Our challenge is to be the exception to her norm.
Families Under Fire
In the big picture, families provide the pragmatic function of social stability from which we all benefit. However, since commitment is now considered superfluous for procreation, individual choices regarding extramarital sex are changing what the family unit looks like. Recent statistics put the percentage of married couples in our society at 51%, a new record low. But our maternity wards aren’t sitting empty, are they?
Meanwhile, courts in California have become increasingly involved with decisions affecting what the family unit looks like. Rulings in several child custody cases have re-defined what it means to be a parent as courts reassign parental rights, often replacing biological lineage with communal affectations based on who is performing conventional child-rearing roles.
Granted, California’s courts wouldn’t be making such sweeping reallocations of parental rights if biological parents weren’t so inept at caring for their own offspring. It’s a sad testament to the dysfunction of the family unit when it’s hard to disagree with court rulings transferring custody from drug-blitzed birth mothers to kindly neighbors.
But can we assume that such tinkering with the traditional family unit by California’s courts is that much worse than divorce and the resulting patchwork of blended families? According to a 2008 report by the Barna Group, divorce rates of churched Americans mirror those of the unchurched, at about 32% and 33% respectively. That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement of the holiness of matrimony, is it?
Grace is wonderful after divorce papers are signed, but wouldn’t grace be even better when practiced before those papers were necessary? Singles considering marriage must resign their desires to the Lord’s leading, and recognize the holiness of the covenant they’re making with him and their potential spouse. After all, a biblical marriage is more faith than fairy tale.
Having our courts come along behind damaged marriages should be a worst-case scenario, not a back-up plan.
The Responsibility of Singles Toward Marriage
Which brings us back to non-married Christ-followers, and our role in preserving the sanctity of marriage.
In some cultures, marriages are arranged by other people. Whom one marries, and even the wedding itself, carries deep social significance between castes, classes, cultures, and even countries. Here in North America, our modern marriage customs have become relatively unencumbered by such peripheral considerations, and indeed, even though people like Kate Bolick have their reasoning wrong for being single, singlehood itself isn’t the anathema it used to be.
Yet obviously, the primary way societies perpetuate themselves is through marriage and family. It remains to be seen how long a society can continue functioning effectively when families start outnumbering marriages. Which is the direction much of Western civilization has been marching for years.
Against this backdrop of social change and indiscriminate mores, and regardless of the ways and reasons people marry, singles of faith can testify to God’s provision of marriage by the way we treat it.
For example, by our very willingness to forgo jumping in the matrimonial pool out of desperation, we promote the legitimacy of marriage. By abstaining from extramarital sex, we promote the marriage covenant’s procreative benefit to society. By not pegging our self-worth on our marital status, we demonstrate a recognition that marriage cannot fulfill us and holds no automatic keys to happiness. Plus, the fewer misconceptions we hold about the purpose and benefits of marriage, the more joyful we’ll be as followers of Christ, regardless of our marital status.
We also testify to the primacy of marriage as our testimonies of patience and reliance on God’s sovereignty correspondingly bequeath upon holy matrimony our appreciation of the role it plays in our faith and society.
It’s not just married evangelicals who should redeem marriage from our culture. Oftentimes, the value of something is not simply seen in our possession of it, but how we treat it when we don’t possess it.
That means even singles have a role to play in preserving the sanctity of matrimony.
For God’s glory, and our good.
From his smorgasboard of church experience, ranging from the Christian and Missionary Alliance to the Presbyterian Church in America, Tim Laitinen brings a range of observations to his perspective on how we Americans worship, fellowship, and minister among our communities of faith. As a one-time employee of a Bible church in suburban Fort Worth, Texas and a former volunteer director of the contemporary Christian music ministry at New York City's legendary Calvary Baptist, he's seen our church culture from the inside out. You can read about his unique viewpoints at o-l-i.blogspot.com.
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