I had intended to blog about this before hearing about the engagement of my sister! So the news has added a personal touch to the subject today! What drew my attention yesterday was the Conservatives‘ plan to give tax breaks to married couples and people in civil partnerships.
The concept of marriage is a contested concept that means so many different things to different people in society today. On one hand I have friends in their thirties who have married after living together for almost ten years and on the other hand I have friends who have married in their early twenties, after courting for only one year and they didn’t live together before getting married. On one hand I have friends who are of Christian persuasion who see their wedding as a three-way relationship with God in the middle. And on the other hand I have friends who are atheists who are unmarried but they’ve lived together for years as if they were married to some extent. And of course I have friends who are also in civil partnerships with a partner of the same sex. In short, contemporary society makes any kind of generally accepted definition of “marriage” nearly impossible.
However, people who follow Jesus can still offer a fairly clear definition of marriage. The Bible teaches that marriage is a’n union between a boy and a girl in the eyes of God. The union and the relationship is supposed to reflect the relationship between Jesus and his people – Jesus is the bridegroom and his people represents the bride. Some theologians believe that God created the institution of marriage as an image so that we can get a sneak peep of the love Jesus has shown to his people. Joshua Harris in his book ‘Stop Dating the Church’ (Multnomah, 2004) says:
God invented romance and pursuit and the promise of undying love between a man and a woman so that throughout our lives we could catch a faint glimmer of the intense love Christ has for those He died to save. What passion He has for His Church! Even if you’ve never studied the Bible, you’ve heard echoes of this amazing love throughout your life. Every true love story has hinted at it. Every groom weakened at the sight of his radiant bride has whispered of it. Every faithful, committed, and loving marriage has pointed to it. Each is an imperfect echo of the perfect song of heaven.
I remember discussing with some friends, who also followed Jesus, some weeks ago if there was any purpose and value for people who did not follow Jesus to get married? One of my friends didn’t see the point because their lifestyle did not reflect the pattern of marriage shown in the Bible and because of that marriage would be pointless to them. To put it in a different context – what would be the point of Eric Clapton doing grade eight on the guitar now? The whole process would mean nothing to him, he would just be going through the motions.
But I disagree because I think that God has ordained marriage as a social institution to the whole of humanity not only to people who follow Jesus. Obviously, only people who follow Jesus and have come to realize the depth of his love for us can fully appreciate the depth and significance of marriage, but the institution of marriage is for everyone. It is similar to the nation if you like, one of the other social forms which God has ordained for humanity. Everyone can appreciate the process and see value and purpose of their nation and other nations, but as I’ve argued before on the blog a deeper understanding of the nation comes to people who follow Jesus because they see it all as part of His plan.
I also think that there is a’n important difference between marriage in the eyes of God and the Church and marriage before the State. If I ever get the privilege to marry I won’t sign the marriage register as part of the Church service to show that I’m getting married in the eyes of God and his people and not in the eyes of the State. Obviously, I’ll have to sign the register eventually, because I’m no anarchist. But I’ll sign the register in private without it being part of the service, perhaps I’ll do it after returning from the honeymoon! I’ll be doing this to show that the State’s recognition of my marriage is of secondary importance, the most important element is doing it in God’s eyes in the presence of God’s people in Church.
Although i believe that the state is a’n institution ordained by God I also think that the state should be neutral and secular. Therefore, at state level I have no objections to civil partnerships between persons of the same sex. But it is a different matter when considering marriage within the Christian church because the Christian doctrine of marriage sates that it is something between a boy and a girl before God. But the state, as a neutral institution rather than an instrument of the Christian church, should not necessarily have to follow the Christian doctrine of marriage. The rights of same sex couples should be recognized by the state; but the rights of faith communities to follow and practice their traditional understanding of what marriage is should be assured also.
This bring us back to the election ahead of us and particularly to the issue of tax brakes the Conservatives have pledged to married couples. I’m sure that you have gathered by now that I see marriage as something important that should be guarded in society. At first glance I thought that the Conservatives intend to reflect this through their policies.
But then after closer scrutiny it became increasingly clear that all of this was only a stunt and a gimmick. Some married families could be up to £150 better off because of the tax brakes throughout a year. That is less than £3 a week, the price of a pint in the pub or a coffee at Starbucks.
Marriage is important, but its value to society surly is worth more than the price of a large coffee? And where does this leave single mothers, widows, those women Jesus cared for?