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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 year.

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 And how can Christians keep from falling prey to notions that the sacredness of marriage is an outdated concept?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.”

“Marriage is 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.”


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 content.

“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 four sons.

The ordeal may have been a watershed in terms of shifting attitudes.

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 the adultery.


“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 Spurlock.

“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 Allen.

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,” Mintle says.


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 says.

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 writes.

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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