What God Has Joined

Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is Professor of Theology at Chicago Theological Seminary and just published an essay on marriage at Sojourners, a national organization committed to faith in action for social justice. She writes, “This period of intense media focus on marriage—while more and more states legally affirm marriage equality and the Supreme Court ponders two related cases—offers the opportunity to examine the institution of marriage itself.”

From Sojourners:

One thing statistics show is that heterosexual marriage is on shaky ground. Current data indicate that nearly half of all (heterosexual) marriages end in divorce, though there are age, race, educational, and economic differences that are crucial. Overall, this is twice the divorce rate as in same-gender marriages or civil unions, as documented by the Williams Institute, a prestigious think tank located at UCLA, whose mission is to conduct research on sexual orientation and gender identity law and public policy. While this data is too new to be statistically significant, it is important to keep compiling it…

Long term, we may find that divorce rates for LGBT couples climb to rates similar to those for heterosexuals, and it is important not to romanticize LGBT marriages. But currently, mining this data, along with my personal experience and my theological insight into how values perform in the public square as interpretive lenses, I have formulated this thesis: LGBT people value the institution of marriage more than some heterosexuals because they have to struggle for legal marriage recognition. As Ada María Isasi-Díaz, noted mujerista theologian, used to say, “La vida es la lucha.” Life is struggle. We tend to value that for which we must struggle. LGBT people may value the institution of marriage more than some heterosexuals as they must struggle for legal and religious recognition of their marriages.

What will it take for heterosexuals to make stronger commitments to marriage as an institution, as well as to each other? It is not that different than LGBT marriages, in truth. From the individual to the societal level, trust and commitment are absolutely central for marriages to succeed over time. Trust and commitment take struggle; that is one thing I do know after 42 years of marriage…

“God is in the connections” is a point Beverly Harrison, the noted ethicist and theologian, makes so well in her book Making the Connections: Essays in Feminist Social Ethics. With the “power of relation to sustain us … we can learn what we need to know. Christian love—both God’s love for us and ours for God and each other—means this: that we discover and experience, in the power of praxis and solidarity, a new wellspring of caring that fuels our passion.”

This kind of passionate connection should be at the heart of the commitment of love in marriage. The “holiness” of holy matrimony comes from this kind of sacramental practice. It is not given to a couple, any couple, whatever their sexual orientation, by virtue of a pastor like me saying the words over them in a sanctuary, though the promises couples make to each other in marriage ceremonies are very important. But these are not “once for all” kinds of promises. I tell couples (and myself!) that they must choose to be married every day. Every day you have to get up and decide to perform this holiness, giving and receiving, confessing wrong and forgiving wrong, caring enough to stand by in sickness and in health, and talking it through…

I am often asked, especially by younger couples, “Why do we need marriage?” I believe the beginning of a faith answer lies within the idea that “God is in the connections.” When you stick with marriage as an institution, not just as a personal commitment to live together, you claim the power of social relationship and its capacity to help you become a better human being, partner, person of faith, and member of society. You have to dig in for the long haul; these blessings come slowly, over a lifetime.

Read the full essay at Sojourners.

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