Marriage Under Attack
Ministry leaders warn of an onslaught of cultural forces
threatening biblical unions
By John W. Kennedy
Five states have legalized same-sex marriage in the past
In June, a U.S. senator and a governor both admitted to
adulterous affairs, yet kept their jobs.
The percentage of American marriages ending in divorce
within five years is twice as high as in any other nation.
The United States has 13.6 million unmarried heterosexual
couples living together.
In some quarters, activists are pushing for recognition of
“polyamory,” in which a person has more than one legal partner.
Throughout American society, traditional marriage —
God’s design as outlined in Genesis 2:24 — is under assault.
How can the church reverse a prevalent cultural pattern in
which marriage no longer is a special relationship between a man and a woman?
And how can Christians keep from falling prey to notions that the sacredness of
marriage is an outdated concept?
“God intended His relationship with His created human beings
to be a loving, committed relationship, and marriage is modeled after that,”
says Gary R. Allen, national director of Assemblies of God Ministerial
Enrichment. “When a man leaves his parents and cleaves to his wife, it connotes
more than just a companion or partner. It’s the infusion of two people into one
relationship that God expects to stay together.”
the very fabric of a society that’s healthy,” says Linda Mintle, a licensed
marriage and family therapist who attended Evangel University in Springfield,
Mo. “It’s a sacred institution of God.”
MORE THAN HAPPINESS
Experts say the biblical model and societal expectations for
marriage are vastly different. Scripture presents marriage as a covenant vow,
not a social or business contract. Yet the standard thinking among many today
is that a spouse is disposable if he or she no longer keeps the partner
“Marriage won’t always be consistent in its level of
fulfillment and personal happiness,” says Allen, who has been married 44 years.
“Marriage should be a committed union with another person rather than something
to make us happy.”
“There will be conflict in marriage,” says Mintle, who has
been married 35 years. “But if the emotional bond between partners is strong
and intimate, damage can be repaired quickly.”
In July, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford attempted to
justify an eight-year secret relationship he had with an Argentine woman.
Frequently, politicians caught in adultery make a brief statement of contrition
to the media with their wife stoically at their side. In contrast, Sanford
stood alone and showed no remorse. He called his affair partner his “soul mate”
and admitted that he no longer loved his wife of 20 years, with whom he has
The ordeal may have been a watershed in terms of shifting
Josh Spurlock, a professional counselor with Tri-Lakes
Relational Center in Springfield, Mo., who has been married four years, agrees
that the Sanford affair signaled a new boldness by public figures in displaying
behavior long considered unacceptable.
Likewise, the sad demise of former NFL quarterback Steve
McNair shows how infidelity can spin out of control. McNair, married and the
father of four sons, had bought a luxury vehicle for and vacationed with a
20-year-old girlfriend. Police say the adulterous girlfriend murdered McNair
because she suspected he was cheating on her in a second affair.
Another sign of growing tolerance of infidelity is the
burgeoning number of Web sites facilitating extramarital affairs. One site,
whose membership has doubled to 4 million in a year, recently added mobile
iPhone and BlackBerry applications to keep suspecting spouses from discovering
“A critical root of the problem is that it’s all about what
feels good at the moment,” Mintle says. “This new relativism of ‘whatever’s
right for me’ pushes away absolute values.”
Such thinking is evident in the reality show Jon & Kate
Plus 8, which follows the Gosselin parents and their sextuplets and twins.
Early episodes in 2007 talked about the faith of the mother, Kate. By June this
year, Kate had filed for divorce after the series divulged Jon’s dating of a
22-year-old woman. On air, Jon complained that he needed to flee the marriage
because of his overbearing wife.
“I was too passive. I let her rule the roost and went along
with everything. And now I stood up on my own two feet and I’m proud of
myself,” Gosselin said.
“No spiritual solutions were offered,” Mintle notes. “There
was no talking to their pastor, no praying together, no push for an intimate
walk with God. No other couples coming around to help them. It was strictly the
secular answer: I’m not happy; I’m getting out.”
The Gosselins are symbolic of the American pattern of the
highest divorce rate in the Western hemisphere. Divorce and cohabitation
— which begins and ends quicker in the United States compared to other
countries — challenge the foundational premise of marriage, according to
“It’s a false premise that a relationship is about my pleasure
as long as it lasts with a certain other person, and then I can leave,”
Spurlock says. “It’s antithetical to God’s design of marriage, which is about
commitment, growth, mutual sharing and benefit of the other person.”
When people don’t have a commitment to the biblical model of
marriage, they are vulnerable to other kinds of relationships, according to
Growing acceptance of adultery has been accompanied by
astronomical cohabitation and the highest divorce rates. Many people see broken
relationships as an expected part of life.
Mintle, whose books include Divorce-Proofing Your Marriage
and I Married You, Not Your Family, says the divorce rate for Christians
mirrors that of non-Christians because they have adapted to the mindset that
marriage is about personal happiness, rather than honoring a covenant.
“Anything that breaks up the institution and marginalizes
the important role of a man and a woman in creating a family is destructive,”
FALLOUT FOR CHILDREN
Mintle says Satan has effectively assaulted marriage on a
variety of fronts involving parenting, including: common portrayals of fathers
on television as dolts; unmarried Hollywood couples having babies without moral
qualms; and homosexual-rights groups trying to redefine the family to include
two same-sex parents.
“All of this at its root destroys what God developed: The
best place for kids to be raised is within the institution of marriage,” Mintle
A generation ago, most viewed procreation as a vital reason
to marry, but that’s no longer the case. The Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention reports that a record four out of 10 births are to unwed women.
Spurlock believes the widespread acceptance of divorce
towers above other threats to marriage. The median age for a first divorce in
this country is 30.5 for men and 29 for women.
“The devastation that happens with kids in the course of a
divorce often seems to repeat itself in the next generation,” Spurlock says.
“Divorce wrecks the home life of kids. Emotionally, it leaves scars that are
carried into other relationships. The wounds of infidelity or pornography are
damaging, but they can be healed. Divorce is more like an amputation.”
Andrew J. Cherlin, author of The Marriage-Go-Round: The
State of Marriage and the Family in America Today, concurs that the carousel of
relationships of parents is particularly damaging to children’s emotional
development and undermines a sense of security and trust. About 60 percent of
children born to cohabitating parents see them split up by the time they reach
10 years old, he reports.
“Some children seem to have difficulty adjusting to a series
of parents and parents’ partners moving in and out of their home,” Cherlin
Spurlock urges couples contemplating giving up on marriage
to not be afraid to seek mentoring help from solid older couples in their
church or professional counselors. Such guidance may help put the marriage in
perspective, Spurlock says.
“In marriage, sometimes the spotlight of the heart shifts
onto what disappoints us about our spouse,” Spurlock says. “As discontentment
grows, attraction fades and eventually fades to coldness. The reality of what
characteristics attract us to other people is that they are also the qualities
that attracted us to our spouse.”
Thus, innocent attraction can grow improperly into affection
that becomes obsession.
“Even through the bad times in a marriage, God is able to
use difficulties to mold us in His image,” Spurlock says.
JOHN W. KENNEDY is news editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.
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