The Common Good

Seventy-two Days Does Not a Marriage Make

It lasted 72 days. And now, Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries are calling it quits. The two were first spotted together one year before when Kim attended one of Kris' basketball games. After a 2 million dollar engagement ring, a 10 million dollar wedding, and a 4-hour TV special about the wedding, the two were married.

Kim has assured her fans that it was not an "easy decision." It is unclear as to what she means by "easy," considering that many people spend more time considering their next purchase at Ikea than Kim and Kris spent married. The very public and very short wedding is more unfortunate evidence of the state of marriage in our society.

Some Christians blame the high rate of failed heterosexual marriages on the segment of our population who fight on behalf of more couples having the right to get married. Equal access to the rights and responsibilities of marriage are faulted for the failure of marriages for so many others. Increasingly, those messages are falling flat. After 10 of millions of dollars and countless volunteer hours spent in the passage of Proposition 8, it failed to save another California marriage.

Marriage is worth defending. But who and what are we defending marriage from?

First, we need to defend marriage from the wrong set of values. Our society confuses "market values" with moral values. The things we value that make our market work, aren't necessarily the same things that make relationships work.

Getting in on a deal when it's cheap and getting out before the price rises too high can make you a lot of money but isn't how we should view lifelong marriage vows. Efficiency gives us increased productivity (and is the reason why we no longer live in a society where everybody farms), but it isn't a central value to building a healthy relationship with your life partner.

We are inundated with messages that reduce our identities to the things that we consume. Our happiness in "consuming things" lies in our ability and opportunity to consume the newest, the best, the latest, or whatever happens to interest us at the moment. When so much of our life and self-understanding comes from a sector of society that tells us true fulfillment comes out with a new model every season, it is little wonder that love and marriage only last that long as well.

Second, we need to defend marriage from the bride and groom. Marriage isn't just about the two people getting hitched. It should also be about the family and community that is built because of it. Unfortunately, there is a multi-billion-dollar industry committed to making couples everywhere feel otherwise, and a generation that is pioneering new frontiers of self-obsession.

While un-married myself, I've sat through enough good wedding homilies to know that couples need the support of those around them to grow and to thrive. When the life of a relationship is solely dependent on the two people in the relationship, you have a cord of two strands that is easily broken.

Recently, I attended a friend's wedding in Chicago. One of the couple's shared passions is environmental issues. Wedding favors were small jars of honey harvested from my friend's urban bee hives and the bulletin for the wedding service included information about the family farm where the main entrée for dinner had been raised.

The pastor reminded the couple, and all of us gathered, that any good marriage is "locally sourced."

"Local" was a reminder that a marriage is based in a specific context, of place and set of relationships. There, the relationship has a framework for growth.

"Source" was a reminder that a marriage has life and energy beyond itself. Neither partner should expect the other to be the sole fulfillment of all their wants and needs. Rather together they should seek nourishment and life.

It was the first wedding I had ever been to where the couple picked Isaiah 56 as one of their Bible passages. The passage served as a reminder that the couple is on a mission together that exists above and beyond their own relationship.

The passage begins:

Thus says the Lord: Maintain justice, and do what is right, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed. Happy is the mortal who does this, the one who holds it fast, who keeps the sabbath, not profaning it, and refrains from doing any evil.

These things are undoubtedly hard. Churches, by and large, have failed to help produce healthy marriages. The two issues I identified are not the only ones, nor are they even the most important ones. But, Christians should be ready to live out a counter-cultural ethic of relationships that tells a different story about commitment than what we hear from our prevailing culture.

My disappointment isn't with Kim and Kris. I didn't find out they were married until they were getting divorced. Rather it's that too many Christians have shirked their responsibility to defend marriage by just deciding to blame a group of "others."

T.KingTim King is Director of Communications for Sojourners. Follow Tim on Twitter @TMKing.

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