Lesson 4: Legal Friendship

Marriage is Legalized FriendshipMarriage is fast becoming another new form of friendship. It is quite common to hear someone speak of their spouse as their best friend, something that would have sounded quite strange when I was growing up. But today, our society regards marriage as little more than legal friendship.

In the first lesson, I mentioned sociologists report the private lives of Americans are shrinking. People have far fewer personal relationships than in the past, and these are much more volatile. They refer to them as “pure relationships,” meaning they are negotiated arrangements between just two people. Because the terms are primarily emotional, they are very fragile. Everything depends on whether you feel the other is satisfying you or not. John offers some important insights on this when he comments on last week’s lesson.

It does not take long to realize modern marriage simply makes the negotiations of any personal relationship into a legal contract. We have moved in recent times from marriage being defined as becoming part of a large extended family to the nuclear family with a man and woman and their 2 ½ children to 2 people entering into a legal pact of faithful love. Derek reflected on what this means for a young father in his comments last week.

What is obviously missing is having children. In the past marriage had at least two functions, having children and expressing faithful love. The Pill has enabled a “plastic sexuality” that separates the two. All are free to find their own unique identity along a sexual spectrum without any established male or female roles.

Almost everyone that pastors marry today has been living together, and I presume having a sexual relationship, for quite some time. More and more of those who do marry elect not to have children. Marriage has become a form of friendship in which two people, even of the same gender, promise to be faithful to one another. Having children is an option, more and more an entirely separate function. This separation of marriage into friendship and reproduction leads one of my academic friends to suggest we should be issuing licenses for having children rather than for marriage.

This has thrown the Church into a great debate about how she should respond to this new situation. That debate should at least begin with an acknowledgment about the reality of our society. Bob Nordvall, whom some of you remember from his amusing comments on previous lessons, would laugh and laugh at institutional church statements that pretended having sex outside of marriage or having sex without any intention of producing children was a teenage or young adult problem. With his charming twinkle, he wondered if there was some reason the church was turning a blind eye on what widows and widowers are doing. You could argue more seriously that official statements also are ignoring married couples who elect not to have children. Rita sent an article worth reading that considers how the recent Synod on the Family is doing in this regard.

Next week, I’ll begin looking at the issues I think the Church should be discussing in this debate. I start by examining the characteristics of traditional friendship, most of them from Christian writings, that are worth sustaining or reviving in our technological society.

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2 Enlightened Replies

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  1. John Myers says:

    I agree with the problems being described, but think they are symptomatic of deeper issues. As you consider societal changes over the past 50 years as it relates to the effects of the Pill and erosion of institutional marriage, I think it would be necessary to also consider the effect of a much greater portion of our female population in the daily workforce. This changed the dynamic responsibilities of mom and dad, and the Pill makes it possible to plan for children with great precision – leading to a much different family unit. Now we are free to pursue careers, the ‘getting’ of material things, and generally devolve into self-centered pathetic people.

    Children are planned, must conform to performance goals of the parents, and so on – it’s all about us and not them – no giving, only getting. Marriage also needs to be about giving and not getting. A benefit not discussed is that of the bonded pair helping each other in life, recognizing each others faults and helping to build them up and not tear them down in some pathetic self-centered frenzy of disgust that usually ends in divorce in today’s world.

    The Church cannot resolve the larger societal changes in our materialistic world, but it can promote better support for young marrieds in teaching the love and respect for each other necessary to make the institution work. The Church can also refrain from being apologetic for 1 Corinthians, and promote the married life and principles being taught as being the path to a better life based on giving.

  2. Fritz Foltz says:


    Sister Rita sent me this link to a Washington Post article that gives another insight into our marriage situation.


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