Apparently my reflections on Lauren Winner and her latest book have generated interest if not controversy about the nature of marriage as a storybook conclusion to the hopes and dreams of single people. In light of this, a few thoughts, queries and resources to further the discussion.
First, while I single out evangelical Christianity for its gilded, fairy tale approach to marriage, I want to acknowledge something that is obvious: that this theology is steeped in a larger culture that sends the same message. (In other words, we evangelicals are not singlehandedly guilty of fostering this myth.) While we can look just about anywhere to see this, the following Beliefnet article, which describes the stories of brides-in-waiting who enter “The Magic Room” of a wedding dress shop, is a good place to start: http://www.beliefnet.com/Love-Family/Galleries/11-Lessons-About-the-Love-Within-Families.aspx. (It leaves me waiting for that scene in the movie, “Bridesmaids,” when a giddy bride and her bridesmaids upchuck while trying on dresses in a fancy boutique store.)
There is also historical precedent within evangelicalism itself for healthier theological approaches to marriage, as Karen Swallow Prior notes in her article, “Marriage: Creating a Partnership, Not Reeling in a Catch,” complements of friend Jake Dell. In the framework of marriage as a vocation, then, which I might add is the primary way in which my own denomination, the PC(USA), construes marriage, marriage is the joining together of two people based on a common calling to serve God.
The question I would lift up now is how to read Scripture when it comes to a Bible replete with imagery of brides preparing to meet their bridegrooms. Take, for example, the parable of the ten “virgins” awaiting the arrival of their bridegroom (Matthew 25:1-13). Or, the imagery of Jerusalem “coming down from heaven like a bride prepared to meet her husband” (Revelation 21:2). Then there is, of course, that whole, Old Testament book, Song of Songs, about the sexual union between a man and a woman (presumably united in marriage, albeit marriage in a different form than the kind we are talking about in the 21st century). When I read these passages, I tend to understand them as describing marriage as a telos or end in itself, rather than as a crucible for mutual relationship and the living out of vocation. Marriage in these passages seems more like a consummation than a process of transformation. So, in other words, we are left to wrestle with Scripture itself in sorting out a healthier, contemporary approach to how women and men are to approach a life-long commitment to one another. What do you do with this question?
Incidentally, I would also make a plug for FB friend Rachel Held-Evans’ forthcoming book with Thomas Nelson featuring “Biblical Womahood.” Rachel spent a year following all of the Bible’s instructions for women as literally as possible. I suspect her insights will at least indirectly provide a window onto marriage as a biblical trope.