Is Marriage Obsolete?

In 1967, I was with the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary at our Provincialate in Tarrytown, New York. Jerry Murphy, a priest from Brooklyn, was beginning a sabbatical as our part-time chaplain. A parishioner drove him to Tarrytown. On their arrival, I gleaned this gem from their conversation: "The church in its teachings on divorce and remarriage is imposing a New Testament morality on pre-Christian people!" Jerry's words have been building blocks in the formation of my conscience on marriage and divorce, sexuality and nonviolence. I understand him to say that if we could assume the parties were two committed Christians (or two people committed to the practice of nonviolence), they could surmount any obstacle with forgiveness, justice, truth, and love. The broken marriages and relationships howl to heaven—an indictment of our entropy, our willingness to remain infants in both nonviolence and the way of Christ.

Like whole generations, I was raised in the school of "Thou shalt nots!" To surmount that formation was no easy task. My exchange with Jerry Murphy occurred in the heat of the sexual revolution—a frenzied, fiery sea change that continues to impress itself on all aspects of our society. Friends engulfed by and burned in that cultural conflagration compelled me to seek the wisdom behind the church's precepts—a wisdom deeply rooted in an understanding of the human psyche and spirit. One of those insights was the need for sexual intimacy to be protected by a long-term commitment that we often call marriage.

But nonviolence and marriage (or nonviolence and sexuality) are virtually never talked about. The subject is too fraught with anguish. My own spirit becomes leaden when confronted with yet another divorce, separation, failed relationship among people I love. But I propose that we spur one another to reflection and dialogue, and risk examining the values of the culture in the light of basic truths about human relationships.

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Sojourners Magazine March-April 1996
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