During the past few years I have noticed that whenever my fellow pastors and I get talking about our frustrations in the ministry, the discussion inevitably turns to the apparent death of marriage. In my last parish I “presided over” more divorces than marriages. Keeping track of the divorces, near divorces, trysts, breakups, and swaps sometimes seemed almost like a full-time job. I increasingly found myself ministering to people in all sorts of open or clandestine “arrangements” outside marriage. And it seemed as if a time of cohabitation had replaced (or supplemented) the traditional engagement period. My fellow pastors report the same kinds of experiences.

At a recent conference on worship in my denomination, a number of participants called upon the church to develop new rituals through which it could solemnize amicable divorce, “homosexual marriages,” and the public union of two heterosexuals who are “committed to each other but not for a lifetime arrangement.” There seems to be a war against the traditional institution of Christian marriage, and many in the church are ready to enlist.

Other Christians plead for a return to the “sanctity of marriage” stand. As it was in Israel’s culture, marriage is the cornerstone of Western civilization, they say, a foundation without which our culture cannot survive. In their eyes, the taboo against sex outside marriage is as valid as ever. The Church must hold the line against this subversion of marriage.

I wish to argue that, instead of being merely a vestige of the past, or a dreary relic from a sinking bourgeois culture that we must labor to keep afloat, Christian marriage has a future, one that cuts to the core of ...

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