It's a provocative question, and it's right there on the front page at Marriage Ministries International:

Is your marriage a covenant or a contract?

Follow up on this, and you'll read about something called the Covenant Marriage Movement, sponsored largely by conservative Christian groups, which seeks to reduce the divorce rate by redefining the terms of marriage and, in states where no-fault divorce already exists, making this redefined marriage exempt from the no-fault provisions.

In 1997, Louisiana enacted a law establishing this new form of marriage. In addition to pre-marital counseling, the couple seeking this bond must make the following statement or its essential equivalent:

"We do solemnly declare that marriage is a covenant between a man and a woman who agree to live together as husband and wife for so long as they both may live. We have chosen each other carefully and disclosed to one another everything which could adversely affect the decision to enter into this marriage. We have received premarital counseling on the nature, purposes, and responsibilities of marriage. We have read the Covenant Marriage Act, and we understand that a Covenant Marriage is for life. If we experience martial difficulties, we commit ourselves to take all reasonable efforts to preserve our marriage, including marital counseling. With full knowledge of what this commitment means, we do hereby declare that our marriage will be bound by Louisiana law on Covenant Marriages and we promise to love, honor, and care for one another as husband and wife for the rest of our lives."

Not too dreadful a set of sentiments, although you have to wonder how much disclosure it takes to reveal "everything", and, of course, gay couples need not apply. More troubling, at least for me, is the blithe assumption by the proponents of these laws that somehow this is the intention of God, a notion which flies in the face of the historical fact that Christianity was hostile to the very idea of marriage more or less from day one, and didn't take any steps to cut the Church in on the business until the sixteenth century. St Paul, who is generally considered to have had something to do with Christian belief, sniffed at marriage altogether, although he did concede it was an improvement over burning. And Paul was by no means the harshest critic of the practice, either; St Ambrose got his surplice knotted at the thought that married people inexplicably failed to remain virgins, as God required. ("Be fruitful and multiply" apparently carried no weight among Christian ascetics.) Given pronouncements like these, it's no wonder that the Roman church still insists on celibacy for its clergy; it took them until 1992 (!) to admit that Galileo had been right all along.

Fortunately, we can go to the source. Luke reports that Jesus himself was asked about how much attention (and, more specifically, tribute) ought to be paid to those pesky civil authorities with their laws and their taxes and all. "Show me a denarius," said Jesus. "Whose portrait and inscription are on it?" "Caesar's," they replied. He said to them, "Then give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's." I mention this just in case you thought Thomas Jefferson invented all that "separation of church and state" business.

Update: Since this page ranks unexpectedly high (higher than I expected, anyway) in Web searches related to Christian marriage — and since he asked, really nicely — here's a page from Marriage Crisis Ministries, part of Rev. Stephen Wilcox's Theological Foundations ministry, in the hopes that it may be helpful to you. Incidentally, Marriage Ministries International is now the University of the Family, though the link in the first paragraph still works.

The Vent

#188
6 March 2000

Updated 11 January 2003

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 Copyright © 2000, 2003 by Charles G. Hill