Sunday, July 15, 2007

The Sanctity of Marriage

David Cameron is right to advocate that the tax and benefits system should be changed to provide incentives for couples to get, and stay, married. According to The Sunday Telegraph, marriage is certainly popular - in their a poll, 80 per cent of people believe it is ‘very important to me personally’, and most people think that it would be right for the Government to encourage marriage (57 per cent are in favour, 35 per cent against).

Marriage is an essential building block for the functioning of society. Throughout Scripture, family units, or ‘houses’ are seen as part of the basic building blocks of society. Marriage is an institution that provides stability for both clan and a nation; it is intended by God to be a place of nurture for children and a place of love and peace for members of a community, and for Christians it is the model used to explain the mystery of Christ’s relationship to the church (Eph 5:25-32). It is not, therefore, something to be tampered with lightly, nor re-defined casually.

In Genesis 2, the Lord says: ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him’ (v18). It continues: ‘for this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh’ (v24). Although these verses do not purport to define marriage, they do describe its origin, and are therefore crucial for understanding the Bible’s teaching on marriage, which is both heterosexual and monogamous. This precludes all notions of homosexual marriage for both genders (Exod 22:19; Lev 18:22f cf Rom 1:26f). Some heterosexual unions are also prohibited (Lev 18:9-17; 20:11-21; Deut 22:30; 27:20-23), and bigamy, though evident in the Old Testament, is not ideal (Lev 18:18; Deut 17:17), being portrayed negatively (Gen 16:4ff; 21:10) or deemed problematic (Deut 21:15-17).

There are three principal purposes for marriage arising out of this: (i) the procreation of children; (ii) companionship, and (iii) sexual union. Marriage is a covenant before God, which is explicitly confirmed by Jesus when he states that marriage is that which ‘God has joined together’ (Mt 19:26). When Christ met the Samaritan woman and asked about her husband, he affirmed the truthfulness of her reply when she said she was unmarried (Jn 4:17b-18), thereby not recognising cohabitation as a marriage. Jesus refers to being ‘yoked together’ (Mt 19:6; Mk 10:9), meaning a profound union. The marriage covenant was designed by God to last until at least one of the spouses dies (Rom 7:2), though it could be severed by divorce.

Genesis 2:24 (cf Deut 24:4) contains the idea of the indissolubility of marriage, but exegesis of the terms ‘leave,’ ‘be united to,’ and ‘one flesh,’ is necessary to evaluate this. The word Hebrew term for ‘leave’ points to the establishment of a new unit in society. It is the word used in reference to religious apostasy (eg Deut 28:20; 31:16), and links with breaking the Covenant that Israel had with God (Deut 29:24). The word translated ‘cleave’ or ‘be united to’, in interpersonal relationships denotes the idea of commitment, loyalty, or close proximity. The crucial point of interpretation is contingent on the word translated ‘flesh’, which suggests that the first marriage was regarded as a kinship (‘flesh and blood’) relationship which supersedes all such blood relationships, even that of parent-child. It depicts the consequence of their bonding, which results in a new person. There is the element of full personal intercommunion of husband and wife at all levels of their lives.

In a postmodern world of moral relativism, the biblical ideal remains that marriage is an institution designed by God to form a lifelong relationship between one man and one woman. In today’s world there is a genuine concern for meaning and value in relationships, which is a concern for the quality and very soul of a relationship. Homosexuality and incest are simply perversions of the marriage covenant, not valid marriages, despite the recent actions of certain legislatures. Cohabitation, however, while traditionally viewed as fornication, may be viewed as a marriage insofar as there is an intention to meet the biblical criteria for marriage. In this context, ‘fornication’ may be perceived as the practice of casual sex; cohabitation can constitute a loving, stable relationship – indeed, some couples who are cohabiting may have a better ‘marriage’ relationship than many who have legal married status. It may therefore be termed an ‘embryonic marriage’, noting the only omission may be the lack of a formal ceremony and public recognition. Whether it ought to be recognised in law through the tax and benefits system is, however, quite a different matter. Yet Mr Cameron wants to recognise ‘gay marriage’, but not heterosexual cohabitation. This is profoundly flawed.

Scripture teaches that any sexual relationship makes a couple ‘one flesh’ (1Cor 16:6), with indications that the union is more than physical. Adultery forms a ‘one flesh’ relationship between two people who do not have a marriage covenant with one another, thus damaging the ‘one flesh’ relationship between the husband and wife. Genesis 2:24, and the implication of a ‘profound union’, suggest that when two people have sex, they become closely joined, helping to explain why extramarital and ‘casual’ sex is such an egregious sin, and ultimately destructive to society.

The Conservative Party is right to embrace marriage as the solution for addressing the problems of social decay. As Iain Duncan Smith has concluded, its demise contributes to high crime rates, low aspirations, low educational attainment and high dependency on the state. Michael Gove has Cranmer’s prayers as he battles for children, schools and families, not least because, as Professor Rowthorn writes: ‘children from broken homes generally do worse on every significant measure than those raised in stable families. They are more likely to leave school without qualifications, more likely to end up in prison, more likely to be poor, and more likely to raise children in broken homes themselves’.

And this is, by the way, a moral issue. It is fatuous to pretend otherwise, and deceitful to assert that it is not.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Religious mumbojumbo

15 July 2007 at 10:57  
Anonymous Dr Mabuse said...

Anonymous said...

Religious mumbojumbo

I don't know if the describes anonymous or its lack of belief in anything, or simply elicited a Pavlovian response, but it was wholly inadequate as a comment on anything and can only reflect the mental vacuity of the troll posting it.

15 July 2007 at 11:16  
Blogger Ed said...

Marriage is a very important institution, and no doubt nearly always the best environment for brining up children. But is it really the government's job to undertake social engineering? Aren't the Conservatives now making the same mistakes that Socialists have been making for so long?

You can't "design" a harmonious society by statute.

15 July 2007 at 15:21  
Anonymous Fred said...

Three cheers for His Grace. An article that considers the relevant points, and comes to a conclusion that would have been the expected standards of society 50 years ago. How much have we turned our backs on the ways of The Lord?

Jer 6:16ff is still relevant today!

15 July 2007 at 15:23  
Anonymous Andrew Lilico said...

Cohabitation seems to me a somewhat trickier concept, Scripturally, than is often acknowledged. The issue with the woman at the well was presumably not that she was living without an exchange of vows, but, rather, that the man she was living with was not her husband (i.e. she had not been properly divorced) - this is, taken straightforwardly, what Jesus says. As far as I understand it (though I would be happy to be corrected), the New Testament writers would not have had any concept properly aligned with our "cohabitation" - such people would, on their picture, be married (or living adulterously - if a previous undivorced spouse still lived). The notion that someone might in some sense evade responsibility by not making a public exchange of vows, even though they openly lived with the other person, would be incomprehensible to them.

Thus it seems to me, also. Cohabitees are (assuming not adulterous) just married people. The moral drawback of cohabitation is that, because we have not made an explicit exchange of vows, we are being imprudent and allowing imprudence in our covenant partner. This might not be immoral - it might merely be ignorant or foolish. Cohabitees need (a) to be in no doubt that the legal obligations that go with their moral responsibilities will still bind (thus, I support imposing marital responsibilities and rights on cohabitees); (b) to be urged to prudence, so that those of us with knowledge and understanding cannot be held to blame for Error on the part of those we should have informed.

15 July 2007 at 18:03  
Anonymous Observer said...

But is it really the government's job to undertake social engineering?

Which is exactly the point His Grace is making - when one reviews the school curriculum, the preaching from Ann Furedi, Trevor Phillips, and the QCA, and a host of government-backed organisations we find the government is engaged in social-engineering.

It dictates what children are taught, what they may say in the school playground, what games they may play, and even atempts to condition what they may uses a tax system to filch money from pensions but does nothing where pension plans are uses the tax and benefits system to benefit one group at the expense of another; it categorises a whole slew of psychological conditions as a "disability" and consigns relatively young people to lives on benefit and brands them as unfit for employment

It even decrees that its own employees can retire on full pension in their 50s (rule of 85) and demands that others work until they are 68.

It pays benefits to polygamous households but is restrictive in its support of mongamous married couples.

It gives free school meals to children of asylum-seekers but not to children of EU nationals from Central Europe...

It pays compensation to those wrongly convicted of crimes, but not to those held on remand and subsequently acquitted

The State shapes our society in ways that are perverse, and encourages behaviour most citizens consider detrimental to society whilst punishing those who uphold those values that hold society's bonds together

There is a concept of positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement and the government seems to reward behaviours not conducive to the public good and by weakening the glue that holds society together, may well preside over its disintegration and violence.

To say the government is not engaged in social-engineering is to be oblivious to everyday reality. There is a concerted effort to deconstruct society

15 July 2007 at 18:03  
Blogger Cranmer said...

Dr Lilico,

His Grace has much sympathy with your reasoning. The marriage 'vow' in law developed as a means of empowering the state to determine property rights. The cohabitee may, therefore, be considered to be in a state of 'pre-marriage', which is not necessarily 'sin' at all. It is certainly far removed from the concept of 'gay marriage'.

15 July 2007 at 19:00  
Blogger Ed said...

There is a concerted effort to deconstruct society

I couldn't agree more! But is the solution yet more public money thrown in the other direction?

15 July 2007 at 19:18  
Anonymous Voyager said...

Your Grace I understood a large proportion of cohabitees to be either divorced or separated and reluctant/unable to marry.....the five year rule on contested divorce almost invites cohabitation and illegitimate births....only adultery offers the immediate option....and two year separation for those without children seems a ridiculous imposition when arrangements are agreed.

Surely what these irregular arrangements require is an update on the 1973 Divorce Act which I believe, is causing increased levels of cohabitation

15 July 2007 at 19:21  
Anonymous 16words said...

extramarital ... sex is such an egregious sin, and ultimately destructive to society

Catholic countries like France, where extra-marital affairs appear to be condoned, also seem to have less damaged children. At least for now. His Grace's teaching takes a hard line on this issue. Perhaps too hard for many humans. His Grace would not appear to be an inerrancy-job, and may therefore admit of some latitude in interpretation of the Bible. Would he allow, for example, for extra-marital sex by the wife to bring fruit to an otherwise barren union?

15 July 2007 at 20:56  
Blogger Cranmer said...

Too hard for many humans?


Refraining from copious amounts of alcohol or gorging a gluttonous appetite may also be considered 'too hard for many humans'. His Grace happens to believe in something called self-discipline.

And fidelity, also, since you ask, whatever the state of the womb.

15 July 2007 at 21:17  
Blogger Snuffleupagus said...

Your Grace, I live and work amongst people where cohabitation is the norm. And while I admire your acceptance of cohabitation, I think it is important to consider what it means to some.

To some, it is like marriage, as you say. And for them, there is no issue. To others, marriage has become an entirely foreign concept. In some communities, people do not expect to marry someone before they have children with them. They have any number of children with any number of different people, and then if they find someone they truly value, they marry them.

I believe that this sort of behaviour has become acceptable precisely because of the acceptance of cohabitation.

Cameron is going against this grain. I can understand trying to give people a financial incentive to change this mentality. I am just not sure it will have much of an effect.

15 July 2007 at 22:07  
Anonymous Dr Mabuse said...

a financial incentive to change this mentality. I am just not sure it will have much of an effect.

How about a financial disincentive ? No financial support for those with children born out of wedlock and sterilisation ?

Welfarism is reaching the endgame - high oil and food prices in the coming years and economic decline will mean society will become harsher

16 July 2007 at 07:15  
Blogger Greg said...

Observer said...

But is it really the government's job to undertake social engineering?

No, but it is its job to provide the correct sort of framework - encouragement, guidance, unless you want the totally lopsided, God rejecting, self destructing society that Observer has commented upon. Or maybe that is what most people want. Greg

16 July 2007 at 11:39  
Anonymous Miss Jelly bean said...

"His Grace happens to believe in something called self-discipline."

Finally, something we both 'believe' in.

16 July 2007 at 11:51  
Blogger Greg said...

Observer said...

But is it really the government's job to undertake social engineering?

No, but it is its job to provide the correct sort of framework - encouragement, guidance, unless you want the totally lopsided, God rejecting, self destructing society that Observer has commented upon. Or maybe that is what most people want. Greg

16 July 2007 at 11:53  
Anonymous Observer said...

Greg said...

Observer said...

But is it really the government's job to undertake social engineering?

NOw Greg that is patently untrue. Observer takes care to quote Ed's comment at 3.21 in italics to indicate it is a quotation from someone else.

You then flounce in and attribute Ed's comment to me....very poor practice and you should read more carefully

16 July 2007 at 12:33  
Blogger Snuffleupagus said...

Dr Mabuse
While what you say appears to be rather facist, I find myself supporting your ideas. It is scandalous how young women get themselves pregnant because it will help them with benefits, or help them gain accommodation.

And it isn't just the Labour government which is at fault. The ways of modernity have corrupted us all. And that perhaps is why I feel slightly uneasy about His Grace supporting cohabitation.

16 July 2007 at 19:46  
Anonymous Dr Mabuse said...

facist, if you add an "s" you would get a political doctrine, but I think you have been at Face Book

His Grace was a married celibate priest who probably felt it was concubinage since he had to keep stumm abot his secret German wife

17 July 2007 at 06:07  
Blogger Snuffleupagus said...

Dr Mabuse - Well spotted.

His Grace does not hold Cranmer's views. He is entirely unpredictable.

17 July 2007 at 22:30  

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