Generous Orthodoxy  

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Marriage: too "religious"?

Granted, the French are crazy (mind you, I am an ardent Francophile), but this news about civil unions among the French is surely a sign of things to come. From the front-page article in The New York Times:

French couples are increasingly shunning traditional marriages and opting instead for civil unions, to the point that there are now two civil unions for every three marriages...Expressing a view that researchers say is becoming commonplace among same-sex couples and heterosexuals alike, [a young Frenchwoman said], “The notion of eternal marriage has grown obsolete.”

Here is the challenge to still-religious-but-becoming-less-so American Christian thinkers:

Sophie Lazzaro, 48, an event planner in Paris, signed a civil union in 2006 with her longtime companion, Thierry Galissant, who is 50.... she said [that] civil unions are ideologically suited to her generation, which came of age after the social rebellions of the 1960s. “We were very free,” she said. “AIDS didn’t exist, we had the pill, we didn’t have to fight. We were the first generation to enjoy all of this.” She added, “Marriage has a side that’s very institutional and very square and religious, which didn’t fit for us.”

Though French marriages are officially concluded in civil ceremonies held in town halls, not in churches, marriage is still viewed here as a “heavy and invasive” institution with deep ties to Christianity, said Wilfried Rault, a sociologist at the National Institute for Demographic Studies.

“Marriage bears the traces of a religious imprint,” he said, often anathema in a country where secularism has long been treated as a sacred principle. “It’s really an ideological slant, saying, ‘No one is going to tell me what I have to do.’ ”

What this suggests to me is that American Christians need to do a lot more work on understanding and explaining why the covenant (best word) of marriage is so important in the context of biblical faith, because what happens in Europe is going to happen here sooner or later.

A startling piece of news in the article is this:

Even the Roman Catholic Church, which initially condemned the partnerships as a threat to the institution of marriage, has relented; the National Confederation of Catholic Family Associations now says civil unions do not pose “a real threat.”

Maybe the point here is that the civil unions offer the church an opportunity to explain why the covenant of marriage differs from a civil union, and how choosing that difference bears witness to our faithful God. Dietrich Bonhoeffer's teachings on marriage (in the Letters and Papers from Prison as well as elsewhere) remain among the best that we have.