Looking Honestly At the Marriage Question and the Culture

David Oatney Catechism, Vocations

matrimonyA recent blog post that I happened to read by the evangelical Protestant writer and speaker David Murrow at the weblog that he co-writes called A Few Grown Men wondered if so-called “gay marriage” would eventually accelerate the trend in the secular culture toward what some people call “open marriage,” in other words, marriages of convenience where the husband and wife do not feel an obligation to permanent fidelity toward one another. Murrow writes:

No matter how you feel about the recent court decisions regarding marriage, the institution will never be the same. Gone is the idea that the primary purpose of matrimony is procreation and child rearing. Marriage is now squarely focused on the fulfillment and love of the individuals involved.

But if spouses enter into marriage with no expectation of fidelity in the first place, is it cheating? What if Dan Savage’s “monogamish” becomes the new normal in all marriages? Society’s view of marriage has “evolved” greatly in the past decade. Who’s to say it won’t evolve again?

So what about the church? Are we prepared to defend fidelity as foundational to marriage? Or will we give ground on this issue just as we have divorce, cohabitation and same-sex marriage, in the name of being more inclusive and loving?

Up until now the liberal mainline churches have supported gay unions as long as they were “committed, lifelong and monogamous.” To my knowledge no major denomination has endorsed open marriage, but it’s probably just a matter of time. The Episcopalians are currently studying marriage and one can only imagine what they’ll find. Don’t be surprised if the church founded by Henry VIII becomes the first to bless open marriages, in Jesus’ name.


I’ve only included a small portion of David Murrow’s thoughts here, so in both fairness to him and to get the context of all that he is saying (he believes that “gay marriage” has the potential to bring about such a cultural shift in the social view of marriage that it could eventually lead to a more widespread acceptance of infidelity within marriage, even among homosexuals) I would urge our readers to click on the in-text link to his entire post before I cited his quote above.

henryVIIIDavid Murrow is concerned that “the church” should defend fidelity in marriage in the wake of the cultural trends which seem to be seeking to undermine it. He fears that “the church” will “give ground” on the nature of marriage just as “the church” has given ground on issues like divorce, cohabitation, or same-sex marriage, and Murrow rightly points out that the Anglican Communion is “studying” marriage and that when it comes to redefining marriage, the Anglicans have a long history of doing so. The entire ecclesial community known as the Anglican Communion came into being because the King of England wanted to ditch his lawful wife in the sight of God, Catherine of Aragon, in order to marry his mistress Anne Boleyn. When Pope Clement VII denied Henry an annulment, he declared himself Head of the Church of England. Hence, it does make some sense that an ecclesial body which literally came into being as the result of adultery would busy itself nearly 500 years on with redefining the nature of marriage. That which is founded upon sin will reap the wages it sows.

Most of our Protestant brothers and sisters who say anything about the issue, especially those we encounter either in our own part of the country, or others who are often those from an evangelical background, are extremely sincere in their concerns about the cultural redefinition of marriage. However, as has been pointed out in a post in this very space, even some of their own leaders are finally recognizing that a great deal of the reason why our society now finds itself pushed well down the slide of the slippery slope of family and marital disintegration can be traced to the reality that so many Christian ecclesial communities have turned a blind eye to divorce and remarriage, which Christ said in ordinary circumstances is adultery (Mk 10:1-12). If adultery can be openly tolerated, even accepted, in so many ecclesial communities, what is the difference between that and “open marriage” or even “gay marriage?” Any of these things is the acceptance of open sin. Adultery is not less of a mortal sin than the homosexual act, so if one kind of deviation from the divine definition of Matrimony is acceptable, what is the real difference between that and and any other perversion of Matrimony?

As has been pointed out in these pages, Monsignor Charles Pope of the Archdiocese of Washington made the suggestion back in June that rather than refer to the union of a man and a woman as “marriage” any longer, the Church ought to consider exclusively referring to the Sacrament as the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony and to consider refusing to sign the civil license. In the post here at Life At 25 on June 29th, I made clear that I believe there is merit in Monsignor Pope’s learned opinion, but that my knee bows in obedience to our bishop’s word on the matter, which seems to be that the clergy of the Diocese of Knoxville should sign the civil licence for now. Nevertheless, whether civil licences are signed by clergy or not, I would humbly submit to our Protestant brothers and sisters that they and their ecclesial communities cannot begin to do their part to turn the declining culture around, especially in the area of marriage, without demonstrating some real consistency in defining marriage themselves. Matrimony is not a mere contract between one man and one woman, irrespective of previous vows they have taken. Jesus Christ gave us our definition of Matrimony-a solemn covenant between one man, one woman and Almighty God joined together in a covenental bond for the rest of their earthly life.

matrimonyDavid Murrow is also correct that the idea that marriage exists primarily for the purposes of procreation and the rearing of children is now, as far as our present secular culture is concerned, a thing of the past. We would be deluding ourselves, however, if we simply blamed the secular culture for this. Protestant ecclesial communities have accepted, and some have even tolerated and promoted artificial contraception. Promoting a contraceptive mentality has been the first shot across the bow in the destruction of traditional marriage, but we cannot simply blame the Protestant world for the rise of the contraceptive mentality among nominal Christians, which in turn does nothing to harness it in the rest of the world. In Catholic circles, many clergy and lay catechists spent years not teaching or preaching against artificial contraception and why it is wrong, either out of fear or perhaps purposefully. We see the culture disintegrating around us from a moral standpoint, but we have failed to live the faith we have claimed to hold and profess before that world. The world has seen our fruit, and has not always been impressed.

If Catholics are going to work together with other people of faith of goodwill to begin to turn the culture around for the better, we cannot begin that process until all sides in our respective faith communities look honestly at history and ask ourselves: “What have we done, or what did we not do, to bring this cultural decline about in the first place, and have we repented of our own sins and failings first?”