I Can't Defend Marriage

And I'm not sure why I should.

Defend Marriage?

I'm still trying to figure out what it means to be married.

Amy and I have been married since 2006. We exchanged vows and rings. We signed papers. We weren't sure exactly what we were doing, what we were getting ourselves into, what it truly meant to be married.

I'm a selfish man. I sent my newly-married bride alone to Wal-Mart in the middle of the night to get a new air mattress when ours popped. I spent lots of our money on books. I rolled over in the middle of the night in hopes that she would get up to take care of the crying baby. (I still do that sometimes)

We are married. Connected. Married together. Married to each other. One. But I'm still selfish. I still act as if I can look after my own interests first. I still find myself behaving as if I'm on my own.

How can I defend the institution of marriage? I can't even defend my own marriage.

I'm grateful to be married to Amy. I love her.

And I would defend her. I would argue and fight for her. Don't call her names and don't push her around. I will come to her defense. Because I love her.

I love Amy. I don't love Marriage. Marriage is just an institution.

I know with perfect clarity that I've been called by God to love Amy. And loving Amy is one of many loves that God is drawing out of me. He calls out to me in a strong, loud voice:
"Love your neighbor"
"Love your enemies"
"Love your wife"
"Love God"
And sometimes love entails defense. 
Sometimes I'm called to defend my neighbor. 
Sometimes I'm called to defend my enemies. 
Sometimes I'm called to defend my wife. 
Sometimes I'm called to defend God ... 
... though usually He's defending me from my foolishness.

We Christians defend people.

We're at our best when we're defending people. Or, at least, we're at our best when we're loving people. People, not institutions.

Why do we feel the need to defend institutions? Am I missing something?


  1. I think we could argue that sometimes we are called to defend faceless people -- faceless not necessarily because they are oppressed or cannot speak, but because they are yet unknown. We defend institutions *if* we believe that these institutions are critical for the lives of those *people* who benefit from its existence.

    If a person was sick, and the hospital they were staying at came under threat, surely any defender of that person would also defend the hospital. (Or, perhaps: what if the person wasn't at the hospital, but might be in the future?)

    1. That's a really interesting perspective. Thanks for sharing.

      I think I'm wrestling with how our love for people shapes our political engagement. I don't think it's an easy thing to tease out.

      To work with your example a little, what would happen if someone were trying to defend the hospital without any grounding in love for the patients? Well, this actually happens in our real world. Life-saving treatments are withheld. Patients are shipped to public hospitals or turned away. Medical bills burden and break families. But hospitals are protected, protected from liability and protected financially. For many who work in the medical field, the pressure to defend the hospital rather than the patients is a huge source of frustration.

      Mapping this back onto politics is tough. I don't have it figured out. Much of my exposure to political speech has been to arguments and defenses of ideas and ideals. People are brought in as props.

      I wonder if there's a better way.

  2. Sara Mangan12:21 AM

    That was beautiful.

  3. Good article ... there is a difference between defending abstract concepts and loving and defending someone with a face

    1. Thanks, Joe.

      Why do you think it is that we're so often drawn into defending abstract concepts? (I say we, but maybe this is just my tendency. It feels like a lot of people get drawn into these conversations, but I could be projecting my bias and temptation onto others)

    2. Brad Mullinax12:46 PM

      Are we saying Marriage is an abstract concept?

    3. What do you think, Brad?

      I would probably shift back and forth. Marriage is an abstract concept but particular marriages are real things. My marriage to Amy, yours to Bethany ... these are not abstract concepts. But the global, traditional, spiritual institution is a little harder for me to pin down.

  4. i agree with joe; there's 18 different ways to get around it, but what (or who, hopefully) we defend, argue about, and invest our energy into reveals enough about our priorities to serve as a good litmus test for the maturity of our faith.

    1. That "who" is where I tend to get tripped up. I'm like the guy asking Jesus "Who is my neighbor?" ... "Who do I have to love?"

      Michael, how do we shift from loving What's to loving Who's? Is that a shift we need to make? (Our conversation from a few month's back got me thinking about this)

  5. Some observations:

    1 - Contemporary marriage conflates sacred covenant and secular covenant whereby (often not always) a minister acts both as agent of the church and of the state. Separating the two will increasingly be necessary for religious freedom of traditionalist churches.

    2 - Defending the institution of marriage requires a comprehensive moral vocabulary that no longer exists in our culture and, especially, in our jurisprudence which in a post Oliver Wendell Holmes tends toward instrumentalism.

    3 - Institutions are the infrastructure by which culture is created and conveyed across generations. As a result they have to be attended to. It seems to me that a part of our current confusion around marriage comes as a result of culture, and particularly the church, failing to attend to the institution of marriage. The institution (as traditionally conceived) becomes untenable when left unattended it falls into disrepair--certainly the state of contemporary heterosexual marriage. In other words, "Marriage equals one man and one woman after another, after another,...."

    My two cents

    1. Jeff, your two cents are worth a lot.

      I wonder what it would look like to deconflate (is that a word?) the sacred and the secular. I love Hauerwas' idea that the primary task of the church is not to make the world more just but to make the world the world. I just don't know what it would look like. Where do you look to see this separation in action?

      Regarding a comprehensive moral vocabulary, is it possible to cultivate that vocabulary in a church or a missional community, even if the surrounding culture lacks the language? In an attempt to influence and control the surrounding culture, churches and missional communities constantly translate our moral vocabulary into a secular language, draining our speech in an attempt to cross the chasm between the sacred and secular.

      Depersonalization is just one example of this trend, but it shows up throughout the public, national conversation being had in the political sphere. But robust, Christian speech on this matter breaks the polarization that characterizes political speech and so creates confusion. "Love" sounds like "support gay marriage" and "love your enemies" sounds like ... well ... "love your enemies" sound crazy. How do we cultivate a comprehensive moral vocabulary in our community, in InterVarsity? How can we shape the way we talk?

      As to your last idea, I would be really interested to read something on the church in America's interaction with divorce over the years. Were Christians having these same conversations 50 years ago? Or was it a matter of failed attention?

      Are there any resources you would recommend?

  6. Great article. Found it through a post by one of my friends. I love how you move it off the abstract and into the realm of persons and relationships. That line of reasoning works both ways though.

    If marriage ultimately exists to reflect the glory and image of God and Christ and the Church (Eph 5:31-32, Gen 2:18) then the blurring of marriage is not an attack on an institution but at it's core a defacement of His image, character, and nature. Should a defacement of God not be resisted and defended in the same way you rightly say we should defend our wives?

    I don't know how that looks in the political landscape but if the redefining of marriage is really a form of blasphemy we cannot condone it.

    1. Thanks for sharing, Charlie.

      I think you touched on something important: defending "marriage" is not the same thing as defending God. A desire to speak with clarity about God as he reveals himself through marriage should shape our conversations about marriage.

      But more than that, we Christians believe that God has more fully revealed himself to us in Jesus Christ. Now, I know that not everyone believes this, but we Christians do. And we must be careful that we don't defend God in a way that God would not defend himself. Some defenses of Marriage fall into this category: grasping power, speaking falsely, leveraging majority, violence.

      How does the revelation of God in Christ shape the way we seek to preserve the revelation of God in marriage?

  7. All I can say is that I completely respect you and the compassionate, logical, and rational manner in which you address controversial issues such as this. Personally, I fully agree with your blog posting and appreciate the fact that you have taken a stance that is motivated by the knowledge of our own inadequacy as we attempt to love others and that we should remember that loving others should influence our political beliefs.

    1. Lord, save us from love-less politics.

  8. Love your post Steve, as always. This is very much a live issue for me right now, as I suspect it is for most of us in the U.S.

    If I can nitpick for just a second: In the third line of your fourth-from-last paragraph, I think you said "neighbor" when you meant to say "enemies." Just a heads-up.

    Miss you and your family!

    1. Thanks, Kev. (and good catch)

  9. Hey Steve, good points throughout -- I agree that often it is too easy to just attack rather than love. I am struggling with this too and how it looks to love as God loves (which usually is not the way we originally wanted anyway and never the initial reaction I have...sigh).

    I do see Charlie's point as well -- marriage is supposed to be lived out in such a way to honor God. I see in heterosexual couples, when not lived under the guidance and authority of God, that marriage is not honoring Him. I don't think that just because you're married to a person of the opposite sex and do not follow God that this pleases Him any more than if it was with someone of the same sex. However, the "well people already do that" isn't an excuse to condone those heart attitudes -- we need to PRAY that the Holy Spirit moves in our hearts and the hearts of our fellow countrymen to see that marriage was His idea first and foremost and was made to His honor and His glory.

    At its root, whether heterosexual or not, people are living out in rebellion of God -- a heart issue only God can work through. I do think that dialog (not debate) needs to happen on a person-to-person level, in relationships God appoints to us. This is hard...and scary...but God is the one doing the difficult, delicate work in the heart -- we can only give testimony to His truth, His love, His grace, His power, His patience, and His faithfulness. We are commanded to do so in the relationships He has given us.

    1. I totally agree. We never abandon relationship in order to give testimony.

      And thank God that Jesus didn't either. He remained in relationship with us as he testified of the truth, love, grace, power, patience and faithfulness of God. He didn't shout down to us from heaven. He dwelled with us, suffered with us and for us.

      I think that one of the toughest things to do in this conversation is to keep it a conversation. It's so easy to shout opinions and put up facades.

      My mentor, Bill Hunter, calls this sea gulling ... to swoop in, drop a load, and fly away. It's harder to listen, harder to share vulnerably, harder to admit where you're wrong or uninformed or ill-formed. But it is worth doing.

      I really want my boys to see me loving, not shouting. But will they get to see that? There are so many important causes that might be advanced so, so effectively if love takes a sideline. The world may be a better place for my boys if those causes are advanced. But a world without love, a dad without love ... no ... I want my boys to inherit love. Even if institutions and civilization crumbles and fades, if I can pass on love to my boys, love of God and neighbor, I will have done something great.

      Maybe we need to be thinking about this more along the lines of legacy?

  10. Because it is easy, I think. Fixing our own problems is difficult, often frustrating. Helping our friends with their problems has its own set of challenges. Fretting about the sins of our culture allows us to feel good about taking a stand without having to change or stand up to a friend.

    1. Removing the plank in our own eye is painful. Very true.