Marriage

Pope Francis blesses new spouses with holy water. Photo by Paul Haring, courtesy of Catholic News Service/RNS.

Pope Francis made headlines this week when he officiated at the weddings of 20 couples, including  some who had been living together and a woman who has a daughter from a previous relationship.

It was the first time that the Argentine pontiff had presided over a marriage ceremony since his election and it may have also signaled a dramatic shift in Catholic Church doctrine.

Now five conservative cardinals appear to be hitting back.

In a new book to be released days before the world’s Catholic bishops gather at the Vatican for their October Synod, the hard-liners are challenging moves to moderate church doctrine on marriage and offer Communion to divorced Catholics who remarry.

The book, Remaining in the Truth of Christ: Marriage and Communion in the Catholic Church, will be published in five languages, including English and Italian, on Oct. 1.

Bret Mavrich 9-09-2014
Photo: Mincemeat / Shutterstock.com

A recent court ruling has thrust polygamy into the spotlight. Photo: Mincemeat / Shutterstock.com

There’s something romantic about a pair of lovebirds on the lamb, fleeing the authorities to keep their love alive. But add a few more wives, and not so much. When the first episode of “Sister Wives” aired on TLC featuring the poly-union of Kody Brown and his four co-star wives, Utah police announced the very next day that they would investigate the illegal union. Brown promptly relocated his brood to Nevada, leaving one intolerant state for another where polygamists are allowed to run free, and from there filed a complaint in a U.S. district court challenging the law that spurned their love.

After years of struggle, last month a Utah judge struck down the state’s polygamy law , decriminalizing poly-unions in the state that has endured a relentless barrage of polygamy punch lines, even during the decades where it was expressly verboten. The case will now advance to an appeals court, but conservative harbingers are already offering “I told you sos,” largely bemoaning the slide down the slippery slope of morality opened by same-sex unions.

But is morality the only way to talk about marriage and sex? Certainly the American judiciary thinks otherwise as it hammers out the constitutionality of every union under the sun. The polygamy question could broaden the discussion among evangelicals to include nuances beyond morality.

Sharon Jayson 8-13-2014

A mother and father holding their baby’s feet. Photo courtesy of Hannamariah via Shuttestock.

Nearly three in five births to unmarried women across the United States were to women living with their partner — marking the first time a majority of these births were to women in cohabiting relationships, according to a new analysis of federal data released Wednesday.

The increase was sharp; the percentage of nonmarital births within cohabiting relationships rose to 58 percent from 41 percent in just a few years, says the report, based on various data sources from the National Center for Health Statistics, collected between 2002 and 2013, the most recent available.

“What’s happened is the percent of nonmarital births within cohabiting unions has been increasing, but now it’s increased to the point where the majority of nonmarital births are to women that are cohabiting,” said Sally Curtin, the report’s co-author.

While the births in cohabiting relationships increased, the number, rate, and percentage of births to unmarried women overall declined during the same period.

In 2013, the total of 1,605,643 births to unmarried women was the lowest since 2005. The birthrate for unmarried women has steadily declined. 

Rev. Leslie Callahan, pastor of Philadelphia’s St. Paul’s Baptist Church, holds her daughter Bella. Courtesy Leslie Callahan.

When Philadelphia’s St. Paul Baptist Church hired the Rev. Leslie Callahan as its first female pastor, in 2009, she was nearing her 40th birthday and the tick-tock of her biological clock was getting hard to ignore.

She delighted in her ministry but also wanted a husband and children in her life. The husband she couldn’t do much about — he just hadn’t stepped into her life.

“But it was clear to me that I was going to do everything in my power to realize my dream of becoming a parent,” she said.

Now Callahan is mother to 22–month-old Bella, who was welcomed joyously by what the pastor describes as “a pretty traditional Baptist church.” She describes Bella’s arrival as “a divine regrouping,” a different answer to her prayers than the traditional mommy-daddy-baby model she had envisioned.

Ever since unmarried sitcom anchorwoman Murphy Brown shocked much of the country in 1991 by deciding to raise her baby on her own, the culture has changed. Once unthinkable and later unacceptable, single mothers by choice today are met with less judgment.

In fact, according to federal statistics, more than 40 percent of births are to unmarried mothers. But what if, like Callahan, the single mom by choice is a minister, or a rabbi?

Michael Winter 7-10-2014
Creative Commons image by Lbrcomm

Sean Reyes is the 21st Attorney General of Utah. Creative Commons image by Lbrcomm

The Utah attorney general announced Wednesday that he will go straight to the U.S. Supreme Court to challenge an appellate ruling that declared the state’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.

Attorney General Sean Reyes decided to leapfrog the full 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver after a three-judge panel last month upheld a lower-court ruling and declared that the U.S. Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection and due process extend to gay men and lesbians who want to marry. It was the first time a federal appeals court had ruled on the issue.

Besides Utah, the June 25 decision applies to Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Wyoming, but the circuit court put its ruling on hold, pending appeals.

Julie Polter 7-10-2014

The Disposable Project by Raul Guerrero / Jesus Was a Migrant by Deirdre Cornell / The New Black by Yoruba Richen / How to Be a Christian Without Going to Church by Kelly Bean

Ed Samuel/Shutterstock.com

Ed Samuel/Shutterstock.com

Nine days after my Dad’s memorial service on June 7, I am still in Detroit.

I am still in Detroit to volunteer as a member of the More Light Presbyterians communications team at the 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

I am still in Detroit because, for the better part of three decades, my father was an active member of the progressive movements within PCUSA for affirmation and inclusion, for peace with justice.

I am still in Detroit because my dear friends who got married on my former land in rural Tennessee could not have their vows acknowledged by church or state because they are both men.

Dale McGowan’s most recent book, “In Faith and In Doubt.” Religion News Service photo courtesy of Dale McGowan.

If interfaith marriages are supposedly doomed, Dale McGowan’s should have been toe-tagged from the start.

He’s a committed atheist; his wife comes from a line of Southern Baptist preachers. Yet 23 years and three kids later, they are still happily married.

What’s their secret? McGowan, 51, has just written “In Faith and In Doubt: How Religious Believers and Nonbelievers Can Create Strong Marriages and Loving Families,” to help other couples considering what he calls a “religious/nonreligious mixed marriage” succeed.

“The key is to talk about your values,” McGowan said from his home in Atlanta. “A lot of time we mix up the words ‘values’ and ‘beliefs.’ Beliefs are what you think is true about the universe. Is there a God? Where do we go when we die? But values are what you believe are important and good. When you get couples talking about values they find out they share a tremendous amount, even if they don’t share beliefs.”

That’s what McGowan and his wife, Becca, did. While she believed in one God, she did not believe salvation could be had only through belief in Jesus. And he agreed that he could go to church with her — and did, for many years, with their children.

Heather McIlvaine 5-06-2014

Khatoon Shaikh founded the all-female Shariah court in Mumbai. Religion News Service photo by Heather McIlvain.

Khatoon Shaikh had no formal education, never worked outside the home, and lived in the kind of neighborhood that many people might call a slum.

But when Shaikh witnessed her sister-in-law victimized, first at the hands of a violent husband, and again by a patriarchal justice system, she took charge.

Shaikh started her own Shariah adalat, a court based on Islamic law, just for women.

“We needed a place where women’s voices could be heard,” the mother of seven said.

That was 20 years ago. Since then, the court has moved from Shaikh’s home to a two-room office in the north Mumbai neighborhood of Bandra. And it now operates within a broader organization called BMMA, or Indian Muslim Women’s Movement, which Shaikh helped form in 2007.

Sarah Thebarge 2-14-2014
Women walking, rickyd / Shutterstock.com

Women walking, rickyd / Shutterstock.com

Most of the women I know mourn the loneliness, the lack of physical touch, the empty half of the bed, and the “table for one, please” that come with being single. I know from experience how easy it is to live as a lady in waiting — waiting for a man to come along and rescue you from the boredom and loneliness of life, waiting for a man to validate you as an adult, waiting for a relationship to unlock the door to opportunities like church leadership, full-time ministry, entrepreneurship, foster care, financial stability, or international travel.

I know many women whose prayers mainly consist of praying for God to bring them a spouse, and whose waking thoughts often wander into the injustice and unfairness of singleness. They wonder if God really knows how much they long for a husband and a family. They keep telling God that if He’ll only grant them a mate, then they’ll be content and more able to obey.

But the Bible — and most of church history — affirms the benefits of being single. Paul says it’s preferable because you can travel lightly and give yourself more fully to ministry. Valentine’s Day itself was named after a saint who was single, and was martyred for his faith on Feb. 14, 270 A.D.

A 1924 wedding ceremony. Photo courtesy of the Harris & Ewing Collection via Library of Congress. Via RNS

On Valentine’s Day, American husbands and wives of every age, faith, and region will shower their beloveds with symbols of undying affection — flowers, chocolates, moonlit dinners, kisses.

The annual Feb. 14 lovefest is also a popular time for elaborate engagements, with picturesque proposals and pricey jewelry.

But any link between love and matrimony is relatively recent, said Stephanie Coontz, who teaches history and family studies at the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash.

And a radical one at that.

Adam Ericksen 1-28-2014
cattias.photos/Flickr

The Grammy awards televised 33 same-sex marriages on Sunday. cattias.photos/Flickr

Call me old fashioned, but our culture hit a new low at the Grammys when 33 couples were married. Some of them were gay and lesbian couples.

Indeed, it was a bad day for marriage.

First, Macklemore sang "Same Love," then Queen Latifah officiated a wedding for 33 couples, and then Madonna sang her 1986 single "Open Your Heart."

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love Macklemore’s Same Love. I love its pro-same-sex marriage message because of my Christian faith, not in spite of it. I’ve written about why Christians should embrace same-sex marriage herehere, and here, but Macklemore’s theological argument in the song is as good as any.

Map of regional divorce rate. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Glass, University of Texas at Austin

Conservative Protestants in red states aren’t the only ones seeing high divorce rates — so are their neighbors, according to a new study.

Researchers found that simply living in an area with a large concentration of conservative Protestants increases the chances of divorce, even for those who are not themselves conservative Protestants.

According to researchers who took into account race, income, and other factors, marriage and fertility trends that are common among conservative Protestants — younger marriage, more kids, less higher education — affect all people in areas most populated by conservative Protestants, no matter their personal religious affiliation.

Jim Wallis 1-09-2014

Created by Brandon Hook/Sojourners. Photos: Nolte Lourens/Shutterstock and bikeriderlondon/Shutterstock

The only way to win the “war on poverty” is for liberals and conservatives to make peace — for the sake of the poor. That would be the best way to mark the 50th anniversary of the war on poverty, declared by President Lyndon Johnson in his January 1964 State of the Union address. Making peace means replacing ideologies with solutions that actually solve the problems of poverty. With both Republicans and Democrats speaking out on poverty this week, and the recession slowly receding this should be an opportunity to find the focus, commitment, and strategies that could effectively reduce and ultimately eliminate the shameful facts of poverty in the world’s richest nation.

For any proposal, the basic question must be whether it helps more people and families rise out of poverty and realize their dreams. This means setting aside political self-interest and thinking beyond our too often inflexible ideologies.

Rebecca Kraybill 1-05-2014

Talking Taboo: American Christian Women Get Frank About Faith. White Cloud Press

Roman Krznaric 12-05-2013

Today’s coffee culture has an incredibly sophisticated vocabulary. Do you want a cappuccino, an espresso, a skinny latte or maybe an iced caramel macchiato? The ancient Greeks were just as sophisticated in the way they talked about love, recognizing six different varieties. They would have been shocked by our crudeness in using a single word both to whisper “l love you” over a candlelit meal and to casually sign an email “lots of love.”

So what were the six loves known to the Greeks? And how can they inspire us to move beyond our current addiction to romantic love, which has 94 percent of young people hoping — but often failing — to find a unique soul mate who can satisfy all their loving needs?

Debbie McLeod 11-05-2013

Moonlight Sonata at the Mayo Clinic. Knopf.

Michelle D. Bernard 11-05-2013
Zwiebackesser / Shutterstock

Zwiebackesser / Shutterstock

Are churches helping to stop domestic violence—or enabling it?

RNS Photo by by Dennis Drenner

Deacon Joe Krysiak, left, is shown here during Holy Communion in Baltimore. RNS Photo by by Dennis Drenner

While the first months of Pope Francis’ pontificate have been marked by his attention to the poor and his “Who am I to judge” attitude on homosexuality, his pledge to tackle the ban on Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics could have the biggest impact for Catholics in the pews, especially in the U.S.

The current policy has caused what some call a “silent schism,” and bishops around the world concede that the ban has alienated untold numbers of Catholics and their families.

“I think this is the moment for mercy,” Francis told reporters when asked about remarried Catholics during a wide-ranging news conference on the plane back to Rome from Brazil in July.

Like the gay issue, Francis seems to favor a more pastoral approach to the equally perplexing question of “invalid” marriages — couples who remarry outside the church without getting an annulment, or those who do not get married in church in the first place.

AshleyMadison.com homepage

AshleyMadison.com homepage

AshleyMadison.com is an online dating site that boasts millions of users worldwide. While online dating has become commonplace in today’s wired society, AshleyMadison has added a shocking twist to what has become mundane. Rather than promising to join together singles of similar faiths and interests, AshleyMadison.com is an online site for married people seeking extramarital relations. Its tagline is simple: “Life is Short. Have an Affair.”

The majority of Americans view adultery as wrong, which, by extrapolation, means that most Americans can see the glaring immorality in AshleyMadison’s business model. There are, however, many more reasons beside adultery to be concerned with AshleyMadison’s creation and far-reaching success.

The founder and CEO of AshleyMadison.com, Noel Biderman, has been “happily married” for ten years to his wife, Amanda, and they have two children. Both he and his wife confess they would be “devastated” if the other used the website’s services. When asked how she felt when Biderman first presented his idea for the website to her, Amanda recalled feeling concerned, thinking the idea implied something unhealthy about Biderman. However, once Amanda realized that it was a “sound business, that there was an [underserved] market,” she was “totally behind” the website’s creation.

The Bidermans actually see the website as altruistic: they believe that an affair can save a marriage.

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