Marriage Needs to Be Protected . . . From People Like Me

wedding ringsHey fellow Christians, where’s the outcry?  Yesterday a law took effect – in southern-state Virginia, of all places – that is a threat to the very idea of marriage.  And it’s not about same-sex marriage.  As of July 1, people of the opposite sex in Virginia don’t have to be married to live together legally!

That only leaves two states where you are a criminal if you shack up with your girlfriend or boyfriend.  (No, Texas is not one of them.  Yes, I was surprised, too.  They are Mississippi and Michigan.)

So where are the protests?  The online petitions?  The prayer vigils?  After all, if we’re serious about defending “God’s plan for marriage” where sex only is permissible between two married (opposite sex) folks, then POSSLQs (People of Opposite Sex Sharing Living Quarters) are a much bigger abomination than same-sex marriage.

At the time of the 2010 census, there were about 646,000 households with same-sex couples in the United States.

According to the same census, there were 7.5 MILLION opposite sex couples living together.  And that’s before Virginia went and gave its legislative approval to the arrangement.

So why isn’t there ten or eleven times the outrage from Christians about POSSLQs compared to the sturm und drang over same sex marriage?

For any satirically challenged folks – I am NOT making an argument that anyone should protest Virginia’s new law.  I’m just wondering why our (Christian) disapproving rebuke for those considered sexual sinners is reserved mostly, at least most vocally, for same-sex couples.

Lots of loud Christians publicly decry same-sex coupling in part because of Bible verses that say sex is only permissible in marriage, and yet they wink at their young people who choose to shack up.  Could it be that the difference is not theological at all; perhaps it is what George Takei calls the “ick factor.”  Why else would Christians be so upset about gay Tom and Jerry, but not about unmarried Tom and Geri living together?

Here’s a test.  If you are a Christian who believes same-sex sex is a sin, and if you’re “not afraid to stand up for God” on your Facebook page and to sign internet petitions, when is the last time you “stood up for God” by signing a petition to make cohabitation illegal, or by posting something about those young folks in your church who are shacking up?  Or better yet, the last time you’ve said anything to them or suggested to the pastor that it might be better to deny them communion? 

Never?  That’s kind of what I thought.  And I agree that you shouldn’t.  But why is it different when it comes to same-sex marriage?  

Might that be because those unmarried men and women who are living together are more like . . . us?  In fact, they ARE us.  More than half of women aged 19-44 have lived with an unmarried partner.  I bet a lot of those women are in the pews on Sundays.  A lot more of them than LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) folks; it’s always easier to preach against people who aren’t there.

Back in the day, I lived with two women to whom I wasn’t married.  Not at the same time.  (Well once I did live with two other women at the same time for a few months but that was more of a “Three’s Company” platonic arrangement.)  When I tell people I was half a POSSLQ twice, I always defensively qualify it by saying, “Before I was a Christian . . .”  But that really doesn’t matter, does it?

I went on to marry one of those women . . . and after a few years we divorced.   So you see why I say I am more of a threat to marriage than those LGBT folks who want to get married that we shout at and about?

Marriage needs to be protected from divorce much more than it does from same-sex nuptials.  Again, just look at the numbers.  Although the “half of all marriages end in divorce” canard is an exaggerated misreading of statistics, the actual divorce rate is still high – between 30 and 40%.  With more than 2 MILLION marriages in the US each year, that is LOTS of divorces.  And while theologians disagree about the handful of Biblical references to homosexuality, it’s hard to read “God hates divorce” as anything other than a condemnation of ending marriage before “death do us part.”  Oh yeah, and Jesus did say something about “Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

And certainly, the legal option of divorce contributes to a climate where marriage is not taken seriously.  I admit, when I got married the first time, in the back of my mind was an escape-clause: “If this doesn’t work out, there’s always divorce.”  I’ve often said that my sin wasn’t so much the divorce as it was not taking marriage itself seriously enough.  Which of course was precipitated by the easy availability of divorce.

So why aren’t we Christians beating down our legislators’ doors, demanding a repeal of no-fault divorce laws?

Is it maybe because those divorced folks are us . . . and people like us?

People like us are also getting remarried (to other people) after they divorce.  In 2004, almost one in three marriages involved at least one previously divorced person.  Jesus was pretty clear about remarriage after divorce.  Listen: “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”  Which brings me to the final reason I am a threat to marriage –  I married again after I was divorced.  And that – the marriage, not the divorce – took place after I became a Christian.

So why was I allowed to do that, something so clearly anti-Biblical, so anti-God’s-plan –for marriage? 

Because of grace.  Because being a follower of Jesus means I can be and have been forgiven of my POSSLQ past, my divorce . . . and my remarriage.  With the approval of the majority of Christian denominations (and even the Catholic church with an annulment), a subsequent marriage can be blessed by the very church that claims to be obedient to the Bible and to Jesus.

Because of grace.  God’s undeserved gift of forgiveness and salvation.

Don’t get me wrong, I take marriage very seriously.  This time I made a promise to God as well as to my wife that I intend to keep by God’s grace.   As a pastor, the couples I marry know what God’s expectation is for marriage – “til death do us part.” Some won’t make it there, but for that there is grace.

Christian marriage is the church’s role and responsibility, not the government’s.  In the same way I don’t believe the government needs to “protect marriage” by re-instituting cohabitation laws or making divorce more difficult, I have no problem with the benefits of marriage being made available to all couples, whether hetero- or same-sex.  If our strongest argument against same-sex marriage is that we need to “defend marriage,” then I believe that is the church’s job, not the government’s. 

I’m sorry, but I just don’t feel my marriage is any more vulnerable because the Supreme Court overturned “The Defense of Marriage Act” last week.  That decision will have absolutely no impact on my marriage whatsoever.

If we Christians continue to vocally oppose only same-sex marriage and remain silent about cohabitation and divorce, then our hypocrisy – our pick and choose which sins to be outraged about mentality – will only damage our witness.  Because when we single out same-sex marriage and ignore the real threats to the God-ordained institution, what other conclusion can our LGBT brothers and sisters (and those who love them) come to than that we’re not as concerned about marriage as much as we hate them.  I know that’s not where most Christians who oppose same-sex marriage are coming from, but we need to walk in the shoes of those on the “other side,” those whose lives are personally affected, and see how we are perceived.

And not just by LGBT folks.  I’ve read that young people outside the church have two main impressions of Christians – first that they are judgmental, and second that they hate gay people.  I don’t think that’s what Jesus meant when he said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Our obsession with same-sex marriage is getting in the way of our proclamation of the Gospel.

In Monday’s (July 1) Washington Post, there was a feature about a wedding in Alabama.  Folks who attended that wedding of a man and woman were vocal in their opposition to same-sex marriage.  Listen to what the groom had to say: “People think that I don’t want people to be together because they’re homosexuals, and that’s not it . . . People have a right to be together – that’s fine.  I just believe marriage is religious, and I want to keep my religious things sacred.  I don’t know if that’s mean or not, but I don’t want my religious beliefs to be diluted – not by heterosexuals or homosexuals.  I don’t know, is that controversial?”

I would answer that young man by saying “Yes and yes.”  Yes what he says is controversial, and yes it is mean to deny what you are celebrating to others; at least I would think it must be perceived as mean by those who yearn to get married as you are but cannot (and who yearn for the 1138 Federal government benefits married couples receive that you now get). 

Then I would ask him, “How would the legalization of same-sex marriage change anything about your wedding day, or your marriage?  How would your marriage, God-ordained and God-blessed, be ‘diluted?’”

What dilutes our marriages is our not taking them seriously.

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”   What a witness it would be if we did a better job of living that love not just generally in congregations but alive in our marriages; and by using our resources, both spiritual and material, to support and strengthen marriages, whatever they look like in our particular communities of faith.  Maybe then when folks outside the church think of Christians – and Jesus – they’ll think  of acceptance rather than judgment, of love rather than laws.

Yes, God loves LGBT folks.  God loved LGBT folks all the way to the cross.

And, yes, God loves even POSSLQ and divorced folks.  And thank God, God loves even threats to marriage like me. 

About pastordavesimpson

I'm an unexpected pastor. Why unexpected? Because no one is more surprised than me that I'm a pastor. See the "About" page on my blog for more info.
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5 Responses to Marriage Needs to Be Protected . . . From People Like Me

  1. David says:

    You could have saved yourself a *lot* of words and merely had the text of your blog be “Matthew 19:9-11” and spent the rest of the time it took you to write this golfing, you know. 🙂


    • Yes David, it would have saved me a lot of time. But it would not have afforded the opportunity talk about grace . . . and that Scripture has used as a “proof text” by folks with all kinds of ideas about marriage and divorce and same-sex marriage. One thing Lutherans don’t do, or try not to do, is to throw out bits of Scripture out of context to prove a point. One of the things I was taught early on when I came back to church was to interpret the Bible “as a whole,” not as verses in isolation. As always, thanks for reading and commenting!


  2. Peggy P. says:

    One of the things I am missing about you this summer is how you bring sense into what some people consider complicated issues! It all makes sense to me! I would add that other threats to marriage are addictions, selfishness, our welfare system, abuse and economic strife. Thank you for sharing these thoughts! They always give me reason to see things more clearly!


    • Great list of marriage threats, Peggy. Maybe there’s a Bible Study or sermon series in there someday . . . or just food for thought in marriage preparation.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment and for the encouraging words!


  3. Linda RW says:

    Your insight and words, in context of personal experience, helped to lift the lingering knot in my heart, having been married for a brief time myself. My former husband was not a man of faith at the time of our marriage, but he experienced a shift in faith from skeptic to servant after we parted ways. The news of this transition (post divorce) brought me great joy and I felt deeply grateful to God that my former husband’s new wife and her family supported him in his journey to becoming a Christian. Although my marriage was short, I am certain the time was a divine prerequisite of a greater plan God had in store for both of us. Most importantly, God’s forgiveness helped me to forgive myself and to forgive my former husband. I remain thankful for our time and the lessons God taught us as a couple.


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