Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Stanley Hauerwas and I on marriage and divorce

Her.meneutics had an article with thoughts on the Kardashians today. I'm less interested in the Kardashians and more interested in a quote in the article by Stanley Hauerwas on marriage that was quoted in the article.

“The church rightly understands that we no more know the person we marry than we know ourselves. However, that we lack such knowledge in no way renders marriage problematic, at least not marriage between Christians; for to be married as Christians is possible because we understand that we are members of a community more determinative than marriage.

That the church is a more determinative community than a marriage is evidenced by the fact that it requires Christian marriage vows to be made with the church as witness. This is a reminder that we as a church rightfully will hold you to promises you made when you did not and could not fully comprehend what you were promising. How could anyone know what it means to promise life-long monogamous fidelity? From the church’s perspective the question is not whether you know what you are promising; rather, the question is whether you are the kind of person who can be held to a promise you made when you did not know what you were promising. We believe, of course, that baptism creates the condition that makes possible the presumption that we might just be such a people.”

I love this and it resonates right now, when this year for the first time our lives we've experienced close friends going through a divorce. One thing I've learned is that it deeply affects not only the couple themselves but those around them who are friends of the marriage. Though I have grieved and wrestled my way through this process, it's not directly my story to tell so I haven't blogged about it. It has all brought home the reality reflected in the quote above - that no amount of care, wisdom, and advice guarantees the actions of the person you marry. Just as much as you yourself can change, your spouse can change. What you get when you promise "life-long monogamous fidelity" is as unpredictable as the future itself, which is exactly why we have marriage vows that reference for better or worse, richer or poorer, sickness and health. The promise is made to the person in front of you, but it encompasses whoever they might become, which is an immense risk.

VowsI think we do not even begin to take seriously enough the need to recognize that marriage, like communion and baptism, is meant to be done in front of and with the church, our community. In light of this Isaac and I have become intentional in a lot of the way we approach marriage now. It's less of an attitude of "keep your problems private and resolve them behind closed doors" and more honesty with our community about what we're going through and conflicts we're having so that they can encourage us and hold us accountable. I've also taken much more seriously being invited to and being in peoples' weddings. This past summer I was a witness as Rachel's wedding, this upcoming summer I'll be in my sister Jana's wedding. In those roles I am a witness to the promise AND a tool to help make possible that life-long fidelity.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I gather that your citation of Hauerwas comes from his article titled "Sex and Politics: Bertrand Russell and 'Human Sexuality" published by Christian Century in 1978. I too enjoy this article and agree with your perspective and thanks for sharing your thoughts.