Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Covenant Marriage

I've been doing some reading about Covenant Marriages.

Apparently, three states have a covenant marriage option for couples in their state.  Other states have tried and failed to pass legislation that would allow for covenant marriage licenses to be issued in their state.  The gist of a covenant marriage is that the parties agree to premarital counseling and to limit the grounds on which they may divorce, usually to adultery, abuse, or a felony crime being committed by one partner.  The agreement also specifies that the couple will undergo marriage counseling and a longer-than-normally-required period of separation before a divorce is granted.  Additionally, in these states, "normal" marriages can be upgraded to a covenant marriage at any point after the wedding.

I was surprised to learn that although such marriages are purely voluntary, there is some strong opposition to it.  The reasons it is opposed are mostly based on anecdotal accounts of one partner being pressured into it, or on judges not wanting to grant a divorce to a couple with a covenant marriage even when conditions have been met if one party doesn't want the divorce, thus endangering the other party.

This raises some questions in my mind.  First, if one partner is committed enough to the marriage to desire covenant marriage, but the other is not, shouldn't that raise some red flags for both of them?   Perhaps the premarital counseling required for a covenant marriage would be a good idea, since they obviously have differing ideas about what a marriage commitment really means.

Second, this whole idea has a religious foundation.  The idea of unbreakable covenants as opposed to contracts which can be broken is found in the Hebrew and Christian Bibles, as well as in the Q'ran, and I wouldn't be surprised to learn that the idea exists in other religions as well.  So why would those who might enter into this religious commitment be offended at the idea that they must wait a long time and receive counsel before they can break the covenant? Shouldn't they want to give their marriages every chance to succeed, since these same religions usually condemn divorce as well?

After giving it some thought, I think that any two Christians should be able to enter a covenant marriage and  make it work.  If they can't, they are not relying on the God who blesses that covenant, and it should be a wake-up call for them to go back to the beginning and examine their foundation.  Chances are good that one or both partners have drifted from their relationship with God, and that in turn, has led to a drifting away from their relationship to one another.

That said, I hereby declare that if/when I remarry, I want a covenant marriage!  My state doesn't offer that as a legal option, but I want the man I marry to have the degree of commitment to the marriage that would allow him to make a covenant with me, in the presence of God and our families and friends.  Just a contract isn't good enough for me.  Allowing divorce as an out in case the feelings fade or one of us meets someone else or we grow apart isn't something I want to be party to. 

For my readers who are married, is your marriage a covenant between you and your spouse, or is it a contract?  Could you and your spouse convert your marriage to a covenant marriage if you lived in a state that offers that option?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Throwing Stones

Last night a friend who is separated from her husband thanked me for not shunning her.  That stopped me in my tracks.  Why would someone who is part of the Body of Christ need to feel gratitude for not being shunned by another member of the Body?

Unfortunately, I know why. In fact, I used to be one who might have shunned my friend.  I've only recently learned the art of loving the sinner while hating the sin, and I still haven't perfected it.  But this is one of the most important lessons I have learned through my separation and divorce.

When my parents divorced, shunning the sinner was the norm.  In fact, even though my father left my mother for another woman, so she had biblical grounds for the divorce, and even though my father actually divorced her, my mother felt the repercussions of the divorce at church.  She was asked to stop teaching Sunday School to peschoolers because some of the parents were uncomfortable having their children taught by a divorced woman.

I encountered something similar many years ago.  I have to mention here that I have been married and divorced twice.  My first divorce was not on biblical grounds.  It was a case of two young people who didn't fulfill their God-given roles in their marriage and made a horrible mess of their marriage.  I could offer some excuses here, and I could also turn this into a discussion about the lack of support for young couples in the Church, but I think instead I will just leave it at that for now.

Two years after my first divorce, I remarried.  A year or so after that, I began leading a ladies' Bible study about women of the Bible.  Several weeks into the study, we were approaching the study of  David and Abigail, and the lesson touched on the issues of submissiveness and divorce.  I knew that with my background of a marriage that failed partly because of my lack of submissiveness, I shouldn't be the one to teach this lesson.  So I approached my pastor's wife and asked if she would be willing to teach this lesson.  I am not certain how things went behind the scenes, but the next thing I knew, I was called into a meeting with the pastor and two of the elders and told that I could no longer lead the Bible study, and that I would have to undergo 12 weeks of "disciplinary counseling" for my divorce and remarriage.

Wow.  Three and a half years after my divorce, two years after my remarriage, I was being disciplined. Somehow, it felt more like I was being shunned.

What a lesson this was for me!  God used this humiliating experience to begin softening my attitude toward other sinners.  He reminded me that we all have sinned and fallen short, and none of us has the right to cast stones at others.  No, we shouldn't condone their sins, but at the same time, we need to love them enough to come alongside and shoulder their burden so that we may gently restore them.

Those who have spoken gently into my life and who have shared my burden by praying for me, asking how I am, and offering to help are the ones who I will choose to listen to.  However, those who throw stones at me or shun me will no longer have my ear. 

For this reason, I am part of a very small minority in my friend's life right now, and we are being outshouted by those who would urge her to follow the world's ways instead of God's.  If her marriage ends, I believe that those who could have spoken gently but instead chose to shun her may bear some of the responsibility.  I don't want that responsibility, so I will continue to speak gently and share her burden in any way that I can.

Which approach will you take when a friend sins?