Day 19: On the Church Which Helps Us Hold Our Commitment

Why Should the Church Care About Marriage? When I went to the position of Pastor at West Creighton Ave. Christian Church, Fort Wayne, IN, in 1975, a former pastor had refused to marry persons (one man and one woman of course, then as now in Indiana!) if either of them had been divorced. That was a change I could make, with easy approval by the church board! After all, I had come from a home where my father left us when I was in 9th Grade, and took off with another woman. In our home state of Kansas, divorce was possible only with cause, which my father could not supply. My mother had to file, on grounds of adultery; eventually found happiness with a teaching colleague whose wife had died some years earlier.

Marriage, I felt, was an important part of ministry and pastoral care. I believe, with one of my theological “mentors,” mentoring me through his works, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, that it is the covenant of marriage which holds love together and not the other way around! He writes, I believe, in his “Letters and Papers from Prison,” where he was awaiting eventual execution for his role in the failed conspiracy to assassinate Hitler, in hopes of bringing the War to an earlier conclusion. Powerful witness and powerful writing for me! Bonhoeffer knew what “covenant” meant, and commitment, to the end of life!

For me the issue of covenant and marriage also carry over into the Gay and Lesbian community. My same-sex couple friends ought to have, I feel, the same opportunity and the same privileges as my woman-man couple friends. They ought to be able to celebrate their covenant before the Creator and the Community as a growing number of states are moving to permit. They ought to have the same possibility of living well together, and agreeing and disagreeing, making a go of it, or possibly failing and falling apart. And the Church ought to be there for support and encouragement, for calling into question and accountability, with all couples, same sex or opposite.

My wife and I live in a “mixed marriage!” She comes from a farming community; I come from a university town, and the rival to the university her family champions! It would be like a Purdue/Indiana University Marriage!!! Her family never had a credit card, never bought anything on installments. My family sometimes had steak on the weekends, and made it through till next payday on navy beans and cornbread, or Spanish rice.

Our covenant, that of my wife and me, at least, depends very heavily on the community of faith to which we belong. I think there is no way we could have made it through some of the rocky times without the firm and steadying hold of others who would not let us go.

I think it was Robert McAfee Brown, another of my “mentors,” also one of the “saints” in my Council and Cloud of Witnesses, who said, likening the church to the Ark of Salvation, that great Ship, something to the effect that “there is no way we would put up with the crap in this ship, if it weren’t for the raging storm around us!” I guess that’s it, the church helps us hold to the commitment and the covenant, to God, to neighbor, and to our mates! May it be so for all of our community, straight or gay!

Why do YOU think the church should care about marriage?