Friday 5th May, 2023
Unless you’ve lived under a rock the last decade you are no doubt aware that the church is becoming increasingly divided over the issue of equal marriage in the church. I don’t exactly shy away from sharing my thoughts on the issue but that’s not what this post is about.
My concern today is the way those on one side of the argument present their view as “defending biblical marriage” and the harm this does to women in abusive marriages. I made a video a month or two back along the same lines, but I know many of you prefer to read, so here I am, repeating that message in a blog post. A good message is worth repeating anyway.
A marriage is not made “biblical” or “unbiblical” “Christian” or “unChristian” “good” or “bad” by the genitals of the people in the marriage. A marriage is “biblical” or “unbiblical” because of the behaviour of the people within the marriage. Sex should not be how we define or judge our marriages, love should.
Jesus made clear that in all our relationships we are to “love” one another, and, as I’ve been pointing out in my “Love is” series, we have a clear and thorough definition of love provided for us in the bible. It’s in 1 Corinthians 13. You know that passage right? The one they read out at weddings? Why? Because that’s what marriage is about: love, not sex.
A biblical marriage then, is one where the spouses are patient and kind with one another, where they trust and respect one another as equals, where they are gentle in their speech to one another and honest with each other. A biblical spouse is tolerant when their partner screws up, is their biggest supporter and fan and has a genuine hope and desire to build a future and a life with their partner. That’s what 1 Corinthians 13 tells us.
In an unbiblical, or abusive marriage there will be envy and jealousy, there will be entitlement, where one spouse is selfish and thinks they are better than the other. Unbiblical marriages are those where one or both partners are rude and critical of the other, where irritability and resentment feature and where past mistakes are rubbed in the other’s face over and over. Infidelity is also of course unbiblical. Unbiblical marriages create false hope that things will change, when there is no evidence they ever will
Those of us who have experienced abuse will recognise those behaviours that 1 Corinthians 13 frames as “love is not”, yet when we tell our churches about them how often are they minimised and made light of? How often are we told to forgive? To stay?
Are we taught in our churches that these behaviours are not acceptable in a marriage? Do we use this model of what love looks like in marriage preparation classes? Or are we too busy assuming that because the couple in front of us are of the opposite sex and have waited until marriage to have sex that everything is hunky dory? Are we focusing on building healthy marriages or are we too busy opposing gay marriage?
Those churches who expend so much energy opposing gay marriage as “unbiblical” who spend so much time preaching about what a biblical marriage looks like based only on sex, imagine if they spent that energy and used their voice to condemn abusive behaviours as unbiblical, imagine if they defined marriage in terms of love? What difference would that make to young men and women making their marriage vows? What difference would that make to women’s ability to recognise abusive behaviour in their spouse? Surely then they could really claim to be “defending biblical marriage”
A reminder: Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.1 Corinthians 13:4-6