The church can no longer take lightly the state of marriage in America. I have come to believe that on this issue we face nothing less than a mission-field situation.While we have never been a "Christian" country, our culture once generally accepted a Christian consensus on sexual morality, marriage, and divorce. That has changed completely.Immoral lifestyles, lax divorce laws, and our amoral media have combined to create a society that sees marriage as provisional rather than permanent. We now have a pattern that sociologists call "serial monogamy": an individual is married to one person at a time, but over a lifetime will have several consecutive marriage partners. This leads to situations almost as complex and difficult to resolve as those that faced missionaries to Asia or Africa when they encountered polygamy. Sometimes the destructive effects on the family—and children, in particular—are even worse.Because the church upholds standards vastly different from those of society, because conservative Christians are increasingly countercultural in convictions about marriage and divorce, it is time to think strategically. We need the mindset of the missionary. And we must be transcultural as well as countercultural, lest we lose an opportunity to shape and transform the standards of our culture.

Lessons from the field

When I was a missionary in India, the most complex problem was polygamy—what to do with a man who sought baptism but had more than one wife. I shall never forget the first time I baptized a man and his two wives. Even though Silas was the first convert from Hinduism and the one most responsible for winning almost the entire village to Christ, it was still a spiritual trauma to my biblically trained, evangelical, ...

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