Reviews > Culture

New census consensus? Marriage doesn't matter

"New census consensus? Marriage doesn't matter" Continued...

Issue: "The first straw," Aug. 28, 1999

Medieval Catholics thought marriage to be a sacrament, but they tended to minimize its spiritual value, insisting that priests, nuns, and others pursuing a completely dedicated Christian life be celibate, leaving marriage as a necessary concession to the worldly. The Reformers, while denying that marriage is a sacrament, encouraged Christians, the clergy along with the laity, to marry, have families, and see their ordinary lives as the arena for their God-given vocations for Christian service.

In fact, it is in the family that the biblical virtues of love, service, submission, community, morality, and forgiveness stand in highest relief. Today, it is also when Christians have children that most become more concerned about the evils in the world, motivated largely by the desire to protect their children.

Many countries of the Reformation insisted that marriages be conducted in a "civil service" outside the church. A separate church service would also be held, consisting largely of the couple exchanging vows, promising to God and the church that they will be faithful to each other. (Divorce thus became among other things a kind of lying, the violation of a solemn promise equivalent to perjury.) Today in the United States,

marriages are not merely church rites, much less romantic flings; rather, they require an actual, official license from the state. Even the presiding minister acts "by the authority vested in me by the state." Property rights, inheritance, various legal obligations, official recognition as a family, and a host of other prosaic civic functions are all entailed when the marriage license is signed. The civil government indeed has a stake in marriage.

"Family values" is thus a fitting rallying-cry for social conservatives. Experimental revisions in marriage, such as giving homosexual pairings the same benefits as married couples, need to be challenged. Obstacles to healthy child-raising need to be addressed, including the way our entertainment industry degrades and corrupts children, to the point that we have become in effect a culture that eats its young.

Already our country is experiencing the consequences of neglecting marriage. Children born outside marriage have become the biggest casualties of the sexual revolution. Single parents trying to raise their children alone make up the group most ensnared in poverty.

When the family is minimized, state power rushes in to fill the void by assuming responsibilities of child raising, education, and values training that are properly the calling of families. If the state were to recover a proper understanding of the family, it would recognize what it needs to leave alone and what it needs to support. The spheres of authority and responsibility would be clearer, and it would be evident that stronger, better families will make a stronger, better nation.

Today the government needs to know more about marriage, not less. And married people need to stand up and be counted.

Gene Edward Veith
Gene Edward Veith

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