Are we too wedding-centric, rather than marriage-centric?

The Impressive Clergyman from The Princess BrideI’m beginning to come to the conclusion that society in general and evangelical Christians in particular are focused much more on the event of a wedding than on the process of a marriage, and that’s to the detriment of everyone involved. Particularly regarding sexuality, we focus on waiting until marriage (that is, waiting until the wedding ceremony), rather than on the gift and blessing–and challenges–of married sexuality.

I’m going to make a startling claim: I think that God is more interested in the keeping of marriage vows than on the making of them.

For the nitpickers: yes, Jesus said not to make vows at all. That could be discussed elsewhere in context, but if you wish to call the marriage vows promises, commitments, or whatever else, the fact remains that God is more interested in the process of the marriage relationship than he is in the circumstances of how it began.

Think about it: the Bible has very little to say about weddings. Evidently the wine shouldn’t run out at them, but that’s another discussion. On the other hand, it has a lot to say about husbands and wives and how they should treat one another with mutual submission, love, and respect. It tells us that divorce and remarriage constitute adultery, because people can’t just separate what God has joined together. It tells us that singleness is a practical option for those who want to devote themselves completely to ministry, but that if you’re married, you should give yourself physically to your spouse. The Bible is focused on marriage, not the wedding ceremony.

Contrast this focus with evangelical purity culture. We tell young people that they should stay pure until they get married (implying that even married sex is somehow impure). We tell them that if they lose their virginity before marriage they can be forgiven but they can’t ever really be whole again. We tell them that if we’ve made mistakes in the past, we’re only able to give our spouse the broken leftovers. We tell them that the best and highest plan that God has for us is to withhold even our first kiss until after the minister pronounces, “Man and Wife.”

None of this is biblical. The truth is, we all lost our purity at the Fall, and the only way to regain it is through the restoration that God graciously gives us through Christ. If we make an idol out of our own purity–that is, out of the fact that we didn’t make a particular kind of mistake prior to the wedding ceremony–then what do we do once we’re married and the idol is no longer relevant? If we condemn ourselves because we already broke that idol, how do we get past it within married life? How do we make the psychological leap from “sex is sinful and off-limits” to “sex is a wonderful gift to enjoy with your spouse”?

I write this because the whole purity culture mentality does great damage within marriages, regardless of whether a particular couple, or particular individuals, waited for marriage or not. It makes promises of great sex for those who wait that don’t necessarily pan out in real life. It fills those who’ve made mistakes with shame that should be under the blood of Christ. It gives those who did wait an opportunity for pride and self-righteousness. It wrongly focuses on the status of virginity rather than the virtue of chastity. And it leaves married couples with no guidance regarding what to do about issues of married life and sexuality.

Let’s get our focus off of weddings and onto marriage. Let’s stop worrying about the status we held at the altar, and start dealing with the intricacies of a marriage relationship. Let’s prepare young people for a lifetime of married love, and not just a young adult experience of Just Saying No. Because too many people are still dealing with the effects of an internalized Just Say No mentality, years after the wedding ceremony is over.

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About Keith Schooley

Keith Edwin Schooley is a family man living in the Detroit area, and the author of Marriage, Family, and the Image of God. Keith studied New Testament exegesis and theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and has been a pastor, counselor, and teacher. He and his wife Cecile have a blended family of six children.