Marriage

Godless Funerals Thrive in ‘Post-Catholic’ Ireland

Photo by Paresh Dave
A Patrician cross, Ireland’s dominant religious symbols, marks a burial at Dublin’s Glasnevin Cemetery. Photo by Paresh Dave

DUBLIN — Patricia Wojnar left a 32-year career in interior design to pursue a degree that wasn’t in demand: a master’s in bereavement studies.

Having seen four family members die early, she wanted to understand how to adapt.

As it turned out, the degree perfectly prepared her to enter one of Ireland’s emerging professions.

Wojnar is now a registered civil celebrant, presiding over funerals and weddings for people who refuse to associate with Ireland’s scandal-tarred Roman Catholic Church. She’s not alone; many newly minted civil celebrants are starting their own businesses as part of Ireland’s “post-Catholic” economy.

Although many observers have noted the impact of secularization and child abuse scandals on church membership and finances, only now are the Irish seeing the cultural and socioeconomic reverberations. These include a class of people willing to observe life’s most significant milestones outside the church.

What If 'Sex Week' Came to First Baptist Church?

Sex education illustration, Rob Byron / Shutterstock.com
Sex education illustration, Rob Byron / Shutterstock.com

On April 5-12, the University of Tennessee hosted “Sex Week,” organized by the student organization Sexual Empowerment and Awareness in Tennessee. The week’s activities, ranging from discussions on virginity to workshops on oral sex and a search for a golden condom, sparked the concern of easily provoked and immensely quotable State Rep. Stacey Campfield (he of “Don’t Say Gay” bill fame).

With apologies to Campfield’s ever-vigilant protection of Christian sensibilities, the real problem here is not that mandatory student fees are being used to promote sexual education and awareness. The problem is that our tithes aren’t.

Imagine with me, if you will, what would happen if “Sex Week” came to First Baptist Church . . .

If local congregations joined together to dedicate a week to the promotion and exploration of Christian ethics expressed through sexuality, gender, and embodiment, what might the offerings look like? Perhaps these would be a good start.

Marital Wisdom

Photo by Roy Hsu

In “A Testimony of God’s Grace and Love,” from the June 2013 issue of Sojourners, Leroy Barber shares five principles for a lasting marriage.

What other advice would you add to this list? (Share your marital wisdom in the comments section below.)

  1. You can have a great marriage even if your parents did not. We often meet people who think because their parents’ marriage didn’t go well, that will be their experience. Both of our parents’ marriages ended, yet we committed to one another and have been able to stay together based on that commitment.
     
  2. In Christian marriage, mutual submission and care are needed. You are partners and friends; not “man” plus a woman to serve “man.”
     
  3. People change and so will your spouse. You have to commit to changes that will happen with your spouse. Spouses will change and grow, just as you will.
     
  4. Kids don’t make a marriage. Your children will leave, and marriages centered around children are soil for unhappiness. Do something to give your undivided love and attention to your spouse every week.
     
  5. Spend money on your marriage, the same way you save for the house, your kid’s college education, or a rainy day. Put money away to spend on or go away with your spouse.

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To Have and to Hold (and to Serve Six)

By Ken Davis

JUNE IS A special month, particularly for families celebrating ... uhm ... something. I forget. Fortunately, ever since I read a study suggesting that cholesterol-lowering statins can cause problems with ... with ... word retrieval, I realize now it has nothing to do with getting old, which many people my age are getting these days. It’s because I’m just another victim of an unscrupulous drug industry. (Drug company lawyer: “I understand that you think you took our drug, sir, but how can you be sure?”)

But now I remember why June is special: Our oldest daughter is getting married this month, and I can use our cover story as a reminder that I’m probably supposed to do something to help out. Although darned if I can remember what it is.

My daughter’s won’t be a gay marriage, which is trending this year, but it will be an alternative wedding, one of those nontraditional celebrations that doesn’t require me to dress up and “give away” the bride. (If I was going to give her away, I should have done it well before the wedding bills started coming in.) There’ll be no church to rent and no preacher to pay. The ceremony will be outside, probably in a tent, and we already have one of those. (It sleeps four. Nice size for an intimate gathering, if people don’t mind stooping during the service.)

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Tales of a Male 'Preacher's Wife'

MY WIFE IS a pastor. Specifically, she’s the senior pastor of a prominent church in downtown Portland, Ore. I’m on staff too, but only part-time, and she enjoys telling people she’s my boss. Technically, I answer to the church board, but people get a laugh about the reversal of “typical roles.”

I get my share of “preacher’s wife” jokes, to which I have a handful of rote responses. No, I don’t knit or make casseroles. No, I don’t play in the bell choir. Generally, the jokes are pretty gentle, but they all point to the reality that few of us will actually talk about: We see the traditional roles of women as less important than those of their male counterparts. And so, to see a man who works from home most of the time and takes the kids to school while his wife has the “high power” job brings everything from the man’s masculinity to his ambition into question.

But regardless of the teasing I get, Amy has it a lot worse. One time, when she was guest preaching at a church in Colorado, a tall man who appeared to be in his 60s came up to her after worship. “That was pretty good,” he said, smiling but not extending his hand, “for a girl.”

Amy and I planted a church in southern Colorado 10 years ago, and we actually kind of enjoyed watching people’s expectations get turned on end when they met us. A newcomer would walk in the doors of the church and almost always walk up to me and start asking questions about our congregation.

“Oh, you’re looking for the person in charge,” I’d say. “She’s over there.” Then would come the dropped jaws and the wordless stammers as they reconfigure everything they assumed walking through the door. Amy’s even had people stand up and walk out in the middle of worship when they realize she’s about to preach.

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A Testimony of God's Grace and Love

MARRIAGE IS A wonderful thing. Yet it seems to be taking a hit in our society, and I must say it is taking a hit in my community at rates I am very uncomfortable with as an African American.

My wife, Donna, and I have been working in ministry and missions for a long time, and we see our marriage as a key to our work. We live and work in the city in a mostly black neighborhood, and the percentage of married black couples is extremely low. Modeling a great marriage is something we take seriously and make very public. If we didn’t make our marriage and relationship public, some of the young people we know and work with would not know personally any happily married African-American couples.

It is our intent to live out our lives as a couple and family so others can see its beauty and challenge. Our community has upwards of 90 percent single-parent homes, with few dads present and even fewer marriages. Marriage is one of our greatest “testimonies” of God’s grace and love in our lives. How we love each other and our children is a important part of our work, so we are very intentional about the health of our marriage. This has given us the opportunity to love each other well.

A public manifestation of our marriage means we celebrate one another with friends as much as possible. We announce our date nights and trips we take together, and we publicize special days and anniversaries. We let people know how much we enjoy it being just the two of us, and we even disagree publicly so people know we are individuals and have our own opinions. It is our opinion that black children need to see and interact with healthy black couples.

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What God Has Joined

WITH TROUBLING DIVORCE RATES, the trend among younger couples to postpone marriage or abstain from it altogether, and other factors, some feel we are in danger of losing marriage in this society. The institution is arguably in serious trouble.

This period of intense media focus on marriage—while more and more states legally affirm marriage equality and the Supreme Court ponders two related cases—offers the opportunity to examine the institution of marriage itself. How can we strengthen and support marriage, a critical foundation of a healthy society? How can we, as church and society, encourage the values of monogamy, fidelity, mutuality, loyalty, and commitment between couples?

A study by the Barna Research Group a few years ago found that “born again Christians are more likely than others to experience a divorce,” a fact that pollster George Barna said “raises questions regarding the effectiveness of how churches minister to families.” Our authors in this issue wrestle with what it takes to build long-lasting marriages, rooted in and offering a witness to God’s covenantal love. —The Editors

MY HUSBAND AND I have been married to each other for 42 years. Does this make me an expert on heterosexual marriage? Not really.

My experience over 40 years as a pastor, teacher, and theologian helps some in thinking about marriage, as I have counseled couples and performed countless weddings, in addition to my personal experience. But as a contextual theologian of liberation, I know that to extrapolate from your own experience, or even from that of a small group, means you end up colonizing other people’s experiences through ideological privilege. In short, what that means is you think you know more than you really do. Hence, using social, political, and economic analysis is crucial if we are to think theologically in context about marriage.

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Cohabitation Before Marriage Becoming Ubiquitous

Photo courtesy Religion News Service/shutterstock.com

Unmarried couples who live together are staying together longer than in the past — and more of them are having children, according to new federal data that details just how cohabitation is transforming families across the U.S.

For almost half of women ages 15-44, their “first union” was cohabitation rather than marriage, says the report from the National Center for Health Statistics. For less than one-quarter, the first union was marriage. The report was based on in-person interviews conducted between 2006 and 2010 with 12,279 women ages 15-44.

“Instead of marriage, people are moving into cohabitation as a first union,” said demographer Casey Copen, the report’s lead author. “It’s kind of a ubiquitous phenomenon now.”

Report: Delayed Marriage, More Unwed Births

Women with baby carriage, vonzolomon / Shutterstock.com
Women with baby carriage, vonzolomon / Shutterstock.com

First comes baby, then comes marriage? That is the new norm for many middle-class young Americans — and they and their children are paying a price, says a new report.

With 48 percent of first births now outside of marriage, “today’s unmarried twentysomething moms are the new teen mothers,” says the report, released today by the National Marriage Project, the Relate Institute and the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.

The report says reviving cultural support for earlier marriage may be part of the solution, but some experts question that approach.

When Spouses Lose Faith, Sticking Together is Hard

Tying the knot, albund / Shutterstock.com
Tying the knot, albund / Shutterstock.com

SALT LAKE CITY — For years, Matt Duff was an uber-Mormon.

At 17, he ran away from home and moved in with the only black Latter-day Saints family in his New England town.

Two weeks shy of his 18th birthday, he joined the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

By 19, he was on a Mormon mission in Denver, and two years later he enrolled at Brigham Young University-Idaho, where he met his future wife, Kylee, a multigenerational Mormon with a winning smile and a guileless faith. The two married in the Salt Lake LDS Temple.

Eight years and three children later, Matt Duff stopped believing.

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