A Closer Look At American Marriage
Morals: “of relating to principles of right and wrong in behavior”
America is an interesting place when it comes to morals. In 2007, 74% of Americans said they believed that moral values were weaker than they were only 20 years earlier. (The National Cultural Values Survey – pdf) But when pressed, the average American would say that they are a moral person. There seems to be a disconnect. On the one hand, we acknowledge that society is decaying, but on the other hand, we deny our personal standards being a contributing factor.
Take, for example, the way we as a culture view sex, marriage, and divorce. A yearly Gallup poll shows that from 2001 to 2008 our acceptance of divorce grew from 59% to 70%. Our culture’s view of divorce is changing. And when you put the first poll together with the second we get this: an average American who believes that divorce is OK in most situations but acknowledges that, culturally speaking, our standards have slipped from what they used to be.
But it begs the question, should our ideas of marriage and divorce change? Do we need come to terms with our humanity and do away with traditional views of marriage? Should marriage still be, “till death do us part?”
In order to better answer these questions, we need to look at what Americans think about sexual morals and match them to the Bible.
Morals: What Americans Think of Marriage:
The he National Cultural Values Survey (pdf) asked a series of questions based on sexuality and marriage. It asked simple “yes” or “no” questions to clarify where Americans stood on the issues.
The first question:
Is adultery always wrong?
~yes or no
The second question:
Is sex between unmarried adults always wrong?
~yes or no
The third question:
Should couples remain faithful to each other?
~yes or no
The fourth question:
Is divorce wrong?
~yes or no
Only 13% of Americans responded that divorce is always wrong. This is a major shift in thinking. This shows a major break from the tradition views of marriage. I do, however, think this question is vague. Since most Christians would allow for divorce in the case of infidelity, many Christians could answer “no” to this question even though they disapprove in most circumstances. But since the Gallup poll indicates that 70% of Americans to not find divorce morally objectionable, I think it is clear that a major shift has occurred.
A Current View on Sexual Morals and the Biblical View
So with what the majority of Americans think about sex, marriage, and divorce on the table, it is time for a quick side-by-side comparison:
Current Views on Sexual Morals
- The average American believes that couples should remain faithful to each other so long as they remain married.
- But since marriages are voluntary, each partner should be be able to voluntarily dissolve the marriage if they are are unsatisfied.
- And while men and women still hold to the traditional view of marriage in that adultery is wrong, both agree that sexual relations while unmarried helps you determine who you would like to cohabitate with and even marry.
Biblical Views on Sexual Morals
- A man and a women should carefully choose each other as a life long mate. Once married, each partner must not engage in extramarital affairs.
- Divorce is not allowed except in the case of adultery or an unbelieving spouse leaving you.
- Sex should not be used to evaluate the worthiness of cohabitation. Sex among unmarried adults is strictly prohibited.
The funny thing is, it seems that we have come full circle with marriage and morals. When Jesus talked about the issue of marriage and divorce, he recognized our propensity to divorce:
Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. (Matthew 19:8)
Jesus tells us that Moses permitted divorce not because it was the ideal, but because the alternative was worse. If they, in their hardness of heart, had remained married, the bitterness, heartache, and turmoil would have been unending. Moses gave divorce as a concession, not as an ideal.
Interestingly, Psychology Today did an article in which those that reported a happy marriage were actually happy before they got married. Those that were unhappy in marriage were unhappy before marriage. While this is painted with a broad brush, the study indicates that marriages are the product of the baggage (or lack thereof) that we bring into it. While that is no shocker, it speaks to why Jesus would command us to remain faithful to our vows. Marriage is a place for us to work on our dysfunctions, not the cure for it.
But since most of us are looking for marriage to bring us to an idealic state in which love conquers all, we are soon crushed by the weight of reality. And the reality of our fallen nature brings us to an all-to-familiar conclusion – divorce is just a fact of life.
The only way for us to restore the traditional morals
of marriage is to come to understand that marriage is not a cure, it is a mirror. A mirror of our dysfunction and our virtue. A mirror of our past pain and our future nobility. It can be an operating table in which Jesus can battle the cancer of selfishness, greed, and need for control. But it must start with an acknowledging of our lack of morals, not the need to defend them.