A couple of interesting articles on marriage appeared yesterday.
First of all, a piece in the Spectator revealed that those in the “higher managerial category” are 48% more likely to enter into marriage than those in the bottom tier of society.
Secondly, a blog from the Marriage Foundation shows that with the rise of cohabitation more and more children are growing up without a stable home environment and that this trend is increasing.
It’s interesting putting the two pieces of research together. It would be too easy as a result to castigate the bottom tier of society for living together and breaking up more frequently. But this ignores a very real issue: that debt is one of the most pressing reasons for relationships breaking down. When the cost of living is going up, and you’re being paid less than the living wage and/or you are on a zero hours contract, the economic challenge of raising a child can appear insuperable.
Of course there are people at every level of society who live together, and evidence suggests that no matter what your income level, cohabitation is ultimately less stable than marriage. Why is this? Well, to get theological for a moment, cohabitation is a private agreement between two individuals. Their relationship may be very loving, and may even be Christlike. But it is not in itself marriage, as defined by Scripture and upheld by our Lord Jesus Christ.
Marriage is in essence a covenantal relationship. Despite all the talk about celebrities and their “pre-nups”, it is not a contract in which each side performs obligations in order to receive the benefits of their relationship. It is a covenant, where each side freely gives of themselves without demanding anything from the other party. You love because you love, just as God loves us, just because He loves us. And the thing about any covenant, as defined by Scripture, is that it is publicly witnessed, there are people who can attest to what has happened, and it is sealed by some kind of ceremony, often involving a meal. The rationale for the first marriage in the Bible is that it is the public creation of a new social unit (Gen 2:24). Later on, in Ephesians, Paul gives an added reason for believers to enter into marriage: it is a reflection of the covenantal love Christ has for his church (Eph 5:25-33).
But back to hard economics. Because unfortunately when you talk about marriage, it is usually assumed that you are talking about a couple having a big day which costs upwards of £10,000. There is a huge wedding industry out there which insists that every detail has to be expensive and polished, and of course for many people £10,000 is either unaffordable or leads them into the very debt that destroys their relationship.
It hasn’t helped that in a sense the Church of England has colluded with the wedding industry. Back in 2004 the cost of a wedding service in church was £180. In 2009 it was £254. In 2014 it is £392. Such a rise may be justified when there are couples queuing to get married in a pretty country church, and will spend anything to achieve their goal. But even £392 can be a lot of money for those who would like to get married but can’t see how to afford it.
So here’s a radical suggestion. Why not offer weddings as part of the evangelism of the church? Get the whole body of Christ involved. There are usually people around who provide the music, do make-up, arrange flowers, bake a cake, lay on a nice car, take photos. Wouldn’t it be a great example of the whole body of Christ using their gifts to serve others? And, oh yes, we would see if we could cut the fee to £100.
We may not be able to solve the wider problems of debt and economic hardship. But with more couples able to enter into a covenant relationship and being able to look back on a day when they publicly affirmed their love before family and friends, couldn’t the local church do just a little bit to fight back against prevailing trends?
To quote something the Pope said yesterday (and I am not usually given to quoting him) “permanent commitment to solidarity, fidelity and fruitful love responds to the deepest longings of the human heart”. So the question is – what can we do to encourage this permanent commitment?
I’d love to hear from you.