I’ve been thinking about marriage recently, more specifically what marriage entails, why we do marriage ceremonies and how marriage is connected to sexual intimacy. In some ways, those conversations come naturally to me. They are part of what I talk and think about day in and day out as a Youth Pastor.
More specifically what brought this to the surface, however, was listening the CMU’s Face2Face conversation on cohabitation and the reading a report about that evening later on. As I was getting ready to engage this topic I went to the best source there is: my youth. And one of the questions that came up was this: is the only problem with cohabitation the issue of sexual intimacy before marriage? This I have found is harder to answer than what I first thought. Because of course, the immediate pastoral answers tends to be yes. Sexual intimacy is important, and not in the ways that our world tells us.
Sexual intimacy is important because what we do with our bodies has profound implications on who we are and who we are becoming. Our bodies matter because they are intimately connected with our souls.
And yet, my youth have a point don’t they? Because we have largely started to speak of marriage, the ceremony and commitment made there, as a gateway to sexual activity. I remember the jokes about getting married to “legalize” sex. While these jokes were funny, they also reflected a profound disconnect with what marriage really is. After all, marriage is not just a safe space to have sex. Nor is sexual activity necessarily the main goal of being married isn’t it?
So with that in mind, I would suggest that in order to better address issues of cohabitation we must learn a better way to speak about marriage, both as a choice and specifically why ceremonies matter. As one commenter at the Face2Face conversation argued: “we need to broaden the definition of marriage.” So how do we do that?
When I hear the idea of “broadening” the definition of marriage I immediately think about opening it up, making it easier, less selective. It has become a buzzword in the fight to liberalize and free marriage from its old constraints.
But what if instead, this “broadening” becomes about adding substance, meaning and higher barriers to entry. What if Pastors, instead of being agents of the state and of the Church would relegate their governmental duties and recapture a more substantive theology of marriage?
What I am speaking of with this “broadening” is really a “narrowing.” Because in a world where everything is goes what is lost mostly is meaning. And perhaps now is the time to recover that meaning. Because the question about cohabitation, sex and marriage is legitimate. But as long as marriage is a gateway to sexual fulfilment it remains an empty ceremony and an even emptier institution.
The answer to my students question is “no.” The conversation – the “problem” – is larger then sexual activity. Because I truly believe that Bible provides us with a vision for married life that goes beyond the “legalizing” of sexual activity. Living life together – being married – is an invitation to participate in the reality of the Kingdom of God and thereby revealing the Kingdom of God to others. It is one way, and not the only way! But if we want to “broaden” the definition of marriage, it is my hope that we can start by recovering the meaning and narrowness of marriage as an expression of covenant love in Jesus Christ.