Brokenhearted Theology, Contemp Culture, Future, Meaning, Ministry, Ramblings, Relational, social

Why Marital Obsolescence Is a Good Thing

Most people do not use cassette-driven answering machines anymore.  Most people do not continue to use their first generation iPods, because they do not have the cool scroll wheel, enough storage, video capabilities, etc.  iPods, along with iPads, computers, cars, and a lot of other technology are designed with intentional and planned obsolescence.  Technology will change and people will need to buy a new gadget to keep up – it is often a matter of months before a newer, cooler, sleeker (and often cheaper) model comes out.  We live in a changing world where things can quickly become obsolete.

Institutions can become obsolete, as well – not only businesses or organization, but also social institutions like marriage.  Time recently published Who Needs Marriage? How an American Institution Is Changing.  The article states that:

The Pew survey reveals that nearly 40% of us think marriage is obsolete. This doesn’t mean, though, that we’re pessimistic about the future of the American family; we have more faith in the family than we do in the nation’s education system or its economy. We’re just more flexible about how family gets defined.
A CNN article, picking up on the Pew study that published the “40% number,” argues that people (specifically people cohabiting) get married for two reasons:
The couple might see marriage as a jump-off-the-cliff type declaration that “we’re all in” this relationship. Or the “I do’s” are said because the person who has been reluctant to walk down the aisle finally decides that step would be less painful than losing their partner.
So, fewer people believe in marriage and those who do end up getting married do so in response to an emotional high (“we’re all in”) or as a concession to prevent losing the relationship.  In a society with a 50%+ divorce rate, none of this seems all that surprising.  But could it actually be a good thing?
Gerhard Lohfink, in Jesus and Community, talks about the church as a contrast-society; the church will (or at least should) look different from surrounding culture.  The American church does not currently clash or contrast a great deal with society’s understanding of marriage and, instead, largely buys into marriage as a self-interested notion of fairy-tale romance that always fails to be as fun, easy, exciting, and sexy as expected.  An increasing sense of marital obsolescence in our culture may provide the church an incredible opportunity to set itself apart from a civil institution that should, perhaps, be allowed to die.
Should this trend of marital obsolescence continue (and even if it does not!), the church should take a radical stance towards marriage, calling two individuals to enter into a practice of a marital covenant marked by death-to-self kind of love, sacrifice, generosity, grace, forgiveness, and an others-focused telos. in contrast to a common practice of marriage (whether “Christian” or otherwise) marked by shallow romance, selfishness, and/or a privatized- and nuclear family-focused telos.

I am ready to see the Church care less about the civil institution of marriage and more about embracing the theological and missiological potential in a deep, rich, and radical understanding of marriage.

What do you think?

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