Learn more about who we are by following our blog, written by our pastor, preacher, and chief evangelist. Engage in the everyday sacred as Abby writes about the deep and ordinary all at once.
God calls all of us to life-long committed love in romantic and non-romantic relationships. And for that reason alone, I cannot call marriage sacred. Instead, I believe love is sacred.
With Valentine’s Day approaching, I’m aware that I’ve been virtually silent on romantic commitment. The religious right should not own the marriage monopoly, yet they will unless progressive Christians such as I don’t speak up (or in this case write) about the relationship our western culture calls marriage.
Let me begin with my very long list of reservations that have kept me until now from voicing an alternative opinion on marriage:
1. I have been married for only 14 years and I am convinced the reason my marriage works is due to my husband’s exceptionally even keeled nature. Hence, I may be the wrong person to write this blog. But I am equally convinced that my husband wouldn’t write a blog post, but a theological treatise on the doctrine of “progressive Christian marriage.” If you would like to read an example of his work, check out his book: Ramanuja and Schleiermacher: Toward a Constructive Comparative Theology. It can be purchased on amazon. No thanks needed.
2. I don’t think marriage is for everyone and I don’t think it has to be. I don’t like rules or boxes. For this reason I cannot insist that marriage is for everyone.
3. Too many people define marriage as a legal contract between a man and a woman. I consider lots of couples, who don’t possess a marriage certificate, married. In the same way, I am positive marriage is not limited to a man and a woman, but that marriage includes all sorts of gender and sexual combinations, period.
4. I hate the word wife.
5. I’m not sure the very institution of marriage is sacred.
6. My decision to get married rested solely on the desire to spend the rest of my life with my husband. It had nothing to do with my reverence for the institution of marriage. To be brutally honest, I think I sought the legal and religious seal so that everyone else would take my commitment to my beloved as seriously as I did.
So why get married? I have not one good reason for you. But I have a litany of great reasons why being a life-long partner with another is one of the paramount journeys a human can venture.
#1 God calls us to bare our souls to one another. It is only in being completely and totally vulnerable to another person that we can come to understand what it is like to be loved completely and in turn how to love another completely. (Note to those who are not familiar with Jesus and the Gospels: it’s all about radically LOVING others). This sort of utterly vulnerable love can, and does, happen outside of romantic life-long relationships. Yet the very nature of life-long partnership seems to be the most fertile ground for such love to take root.
I could not hide from my husband as he shot me in the ass (yes the ass!) with hormones in hopes we would get pregnant. And I could not hide from him months before, even if I tried, the overwhelming grief I felt after we miscarried. The mud and muck of this terribly beautiful world which life calls us to walk through will also bring us to our knees. When we are knocked down the only way to survive is allowing another to love us as we sit in the mud. Most often the person who loves fully, who also knows why we are sitting in the mud, is the same person to whom we have committed spending our lives. And it is in those very muddy moments that we come to know what it means to be loved, to love, and ultimately what is means to be loved by God. We discover Grace in the vulnerability of the mud.
#2 God call us to community. We are not made to be alone. We are made for one another. Marriage is too often thought of as a coupling. Marriage is truly a community that begins with two individuals, but hopefully invites the divine into the dance, and then others like friends, and children, and the lonely, broken hearted, defenseless, and blind. (Luke 4). When we live securely and freely in the love of another we can more easily build our community from inside out. Healthy life-long partnerships are an essential building block in healthy communities.
#3 God call us to stick it out. (What a drag!) The very life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth attests to this reality. The disciples followed Jesus across the country side with no promise of shelter, food, or a pension plan. Jesus stuck it out on the cross in order to reach the empty tomb. God calls us to stick it out.
Very few things in our culture these days require unconditional commitment. We change jobs often, move to new communities with ease (I know packing is no fun, but we’re not talking covered wagons!), lose weight, quit the gym, join the gym, friend and unfriend with the click of a mouse, and change hair color with a trip to CVS. Yes, there are some who change their spouse as easily as their hair color, but the vast majority believes they will spend their life with “that” individual.
Life-long partnership is the place where we discover what it means to stick it out. When we do stick it out, we often discover a more full and rich life. In case my words are misunderstood, let me be clear: I believe divorce is a blessed choice in many relationships and I believe very few enter divorce lightly (unless perhaps you’re a celebrity). Yet I also believe there are many relationships in which both partners who are determined to stick it out discover deeper truths then they would throwing in the towel.
#4 God calls us to love. Is there anything else to say? Because of #1, 2, & 3 I love my beloved more deeply, vulnerably, and authentically than any other human being in the world. You may wonder if that is really true: does she love her husband more than her children? Yes, in a way. I never had to work hard at loving my children; they are mine to protect and care for. And I am not vulnerable to my children; it is not their job to care for me.
If you are married, divorced, single, determined not to legally marry your beloved, or if you are one of the many unjustly banned from the legal institution of marriage, the above list still matters. God calls all of us, not just straight women who are lucky enough to marry even-keeled (very good looking, he would have me add) men. God calls all of us to life-long committed love in romantic and non-romantic relationships. And for that reason alone, I cannot call marriage sacred. Instead, I believe love is sacred. After all, God is love.
*For those of you wondering, yes that is me 14+ years ago at my wedding. Don't I look insanely and romantically young?! As for the good looking young guy; that's my beloved.
Rev. Abigail A Henrich (ehm!) is an ordained minister who earned her stripes at Princeton Theological Seminary and Colgate University. That said, Abby is really a mother-pastor-spouse who lives in a kinetic state of chaos as she moves from her many vocations: folding laundry, preaching, returning phone calls, sorting lunch boxes, answering e-mails, and occasionally thinking deep thoughts in the shower. Unabashedly she is a progressive Christian who believes some shaking up has got to happen in the church.