Archive for the ‘Marriage Matters’ Category

Marriage Needs Legs

January 14, 2013 Comments Off on Marriage Needs Legs
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Marriage Needs Legs

Kent Olney, Ph.D.

Co-Director of Marriage, Inc.


Marriage is teetering on one leg. That leg is personal happiness.

Next year the U.S. Supreme Court will determine whether marriage continues to teeter or gets reinforced. The nation’s highest court has agreed to hear challenges to laws that define marriage as the union of a man and a woman. Why does this matter?

Marriage has long stood on three pillars, or legs: spiritual significance, social benefits, and personal needs. However, over the past half century these foundations have been crumbling to the point where only a single leg remains strong. Marriage has largely been reduced to a private relationship that meets my personal needs and contributes to my personal happiness.

We should not be surprised. This is not a new trend. As early as 1969, no-fault divorce laws began changing the marriage landscape one state at a time. Soon people were elevating their own happiness above all other relationship concerns. It’s as if marriage was transformed into a “happy meal,” intended to entertain us and make us smile while we eat – or in this case, while we attend to the duties of daily life. We made marriage adapt to our needs, rather than adapting to it. We entered and exited at will, we made it optional for starting a family, and we declared the right to marry whomever (or whatever) we wish.

Such thinking is based on the singular idea that personal happiness trumps all else.  The tragedy, of course, is that the two other legs that have historically supported marriage have been knocked off the marriage stool. Social benefits and spiritual significance have been marginalized.

For example, the social benefits of male-female marriage are rarely emphasized in national discussions on marriage. Let’s consider one such benefit of this leg. Mountains of research indicate that children do best with their married biological parents. Though it is currently popular to argue that any two loving adults will do, that is simply not supported by reliable social research. Children are most likely to thrive when they are raised by their married biological parents. On average, these children do better academically, behaviorally, economically, and in terms of physical safety (i.e., they are less likely to suffer abuse). Married biological parents provide the optimal environment for a child’s healthy development. Marriage is a public good in that it builds and nurtures the next generation.

The spiritual significance of marriage is also eroding. Though the overwhelming majority of weddings are led by the clergy, though the Catholic Church considers marriage a sacrament, and though Judeo-Christian teaching has long held that God created the male-female-union to reflect His image, the spiritual leg of marriage is at risk. This is particularly odd considering a 2012 Pew Research Center poll indicates that over 90% of Americans believe in God, over 70% claim to be Christians, and nearly 60% note that religion is very important in their lives.  Clearly, most Americans still value religious faith. If U.S. marriage laws are overturned, basic religious liberties will be in jeopardy. The right to practice and teach one’s faith as it pertains to the holy institution of marriage could present a serious legal conflict.

When all is said and done, the issue before the Supreme Court in 2013 is far bigger than whether same-sex couples will be granted the right to marry. The issue is whether we will fundamentally change the definition and purpose of marriage. Will children’s needs and religious liberties be ignored to the exclusion of personal happiness?  For the sake of society, both present and future, one can only hope not.  Marriage needs all its legs.


Originally printed as a “Guest Viewpoint” in The Daily Journal, Kankakee, IL, December 22, 2012, page E2.

Who Cares How We Define Marriage?

October 22, 2012 Comments Off on Who Cares How We Define Marriage?
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Does it really matter how one defines marriage?  As long as we eliminate the extreme cases like marrying a pet or a favorite building, and as long as two people love each other, should we not simply support individual preference?  Many people propose allowing individuals to choose their own definition of marriage.  Why can’t we just live and let live when it comes to the marriage debate?

These are important questions, deserving a thoughtful reply.  The fact is that since 1998 over 40 million U.S. citizens across 31 states have cast their votes to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.  Citizens from four additional states – Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, and Washington – will vote on marriage in November.  What is it about marriage that has created such angst, debate, and fierce political battles?

Marriage stirs our deepest emotions.  After all, decisions about this sacred union involve personal relationships that extend far beyond just the married couple and accentuate values that we hold dear.  Two areas – one theological and one sociological – illustrate why the definition of marriage has become such a hotly contested topic today.

God’s Authority or Ours?

The way we choose to define marriage says a great deal about how we view God’s authority.  If God created marriage, then He retains the right to define it and describe how it ought to function.  Of course, numerous people have concluded that God does not exist or, if He does, He is only interested in our present happiness and supports any relationship choice that contributes to that happiness.  Such thinking conveniently allows people to become gods themselves and assume authority over the design and nature of their attachments.  What this means is that we are then free to define marriage however we wish.  Ultimately, this position reveals more than just how one views marriage; it reveals how one views God.  Current attempts to redefine marriage bring His authority into serious question.

Children’s Needs or Ours?

One’s definition of marriage also has a profound influence on children.  A substantial body of research indicates that children, on average, do best in a home with their married biological parents.  Children are more likely to flourish academically, behaviorally, economically, and in terms of health and safety when mom and dad are both present and married to each other.  Redefining marriage ignores the extensive social science research that ties marriage to children’s well-being.  It makes a statement that an adult’s personal desires and interests trump those of children and future generations.  Stated another way, childhood needs get subordinated to adult desires.

Who Cares?

So who cares how we define marriage?  Theology says God cares.  Sociology says our children care.  Marriage is healthiest not when it is what we want it to be, but when it follows God’s plan and provides stability for our children and all future generations.  Behind today’s marriage debate is the bigger issue of whose design and desire will prevail.



by: Kent R. Olney, Ph.D., Sociology

How does God Define Marriage?

October 15, 2012 Comments Off on How does God Define Marriage?
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Marriage has never witnessed such bizarre behavior.  Recent reports tell of a Korean man marrying his pillow, an Australian man marrying his dog, a British woman marrying a dolphin, a Chinese man and a Taiwanese woman both marrying themselves (each with numerous friends in attendance), and a California woman traveling to France to marry the Eiffel Tower.  These oddities make a Utah man’s claim of having five wives and those seeking to marry someone of their own sex seem rather mundane – after all, at least the latter arrangements involve other human beings.  Let’s face it, when it comes to marriage we are no longer surprised by the peculiar.

The Gold Standard

So just what is marriage?  Is it whatever people want it to be?  Or is there a standard to follow?   In a day when the outlandish gets the spotlight it is good to remind ourselves of God’s pattern.  Judeo-Christian teaching traces its understanding of marriage back to Genesis 2:24 where we read: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.”  Not only did Moses and the Prophets understand this to describe God’s timeless design for marriage, but it was confirmed as the gold standard centuries later by both Jesus (Matthew 19:5) and Paul (Ephesians 5:31).

Building Blocks

Four components combine to form the foundation of marriage in scripture: commitment, monogamy, heterosexuality, and permanence.  These are the central building blocks in God’s definition of marriage.  Removing or minimizing any of them weakens the institution.  Let’s consider each element.

Commitment.  “A man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife.”  The older King James Version translates “be united” as cleave.  A married couple is glued together with mutual obligations and devotion that guarantees giving one’s best for the other.

Monogamy.  One man and one woman form this unique and exclusive relationship.  Clear boundaries are to be established between the marital union and all other relationships, even those involving other caring family members such as a father and mother.

Heterosexuality.  A male and a female are required to form a marriage.  God’s first words ever spoken to His human creation were these: “Be fruitful and increase in number” (Gen. 1:28).  Marriage was designed to be the institution through which humans – the best of God’s creative acts – reproduce themselves.

Permanence.  “They will become one flesh.”  The union formed in marriage is never to be broken; it is to be durable through all the ups and downs of life.  Unfortunately, the widespread corrosion of this building block, by way of divorce becoming so common, has led to a growing indifference regarding the corrosion of the other marriage elements.

Real or Counterfeit?

Here is a suggestion: The next time you hear about a strange union alleging to be a marriage, compare it to God’s definition.  The gold standard has not changed.  Commitment, monogamy, heterosexuality, and permanence are still God’s ingredients for marriage.  Anything less is a counterfeit.



by: Kent R. Olney, Ph.D., Sociology

Marriage Matters: Does Marriage Matter to God? (Part 2)

September 24, 2012 Comments Off on Marriage Matters: Does Marriage Matter to God? (Part 2)
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How do you know what a person values?  What’s the best way to discover someone else’s priorities and passions?  Listen to the person talk.  That’s right: give attention to words, topics of conversation, and the enthusiasm one expresses for a subject.  Without fail, if you listen carefully, you will learn what matters most to the speaker.  The reality is that people emphasize, repeat, and give consistent attention to what is near and dear to them.  It has always been that way.

Marriage emphasized

God’s interest in marriage might well be evaluated in the same way, by how He speaks about it.  Does He address the topic with conviction, repetition, and consistency?  A close look at His Word reveals He does.  Let me explain:

First, there are many Biblical references that highlight marriage; the union is often described as a social good to be pursued.  However, few places are more explicitly pro-marriage than the New Testament book of Hebrews, wherein we read: “Marriage should be honored by all” (13:4).  God’s Word leaves little doubt regarding its priority.  Marriage is presented as a social pattern that everyone, without exception, can and should support because of its unparalleled value to humanity.

Marriage repeated

Second, marriage words are repeated throughout the pages of scripture.  Words like marriage, wedding, wife, husband, bride, bridegroom, betroth, and espousal are found over 750 times, scattered across 47 books of the Bible.  God must think marriage is significant to speak so frequently about it, and to keep coming back to the same theme in book after book.  What other conclusion could one reach?

Marriage unchanged

Third, scripture is remarkably consistent about the topic of marriage.  Moses (Genesis 2:24), Jesus (Matthew 19:5) and Paul (Ephesians 5:31) – stretching over a span of some 1,500 years – all referred to marriage in the same way when they said: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”  Today we critique, tweak, and edit others’ thoughts as a sign of intellectual progress, always feeling like ideas can be improved upon with our fresh experiences and insights.  That’s what makes the consistency of these three major Biblical spokesmen over a period of 15 centuries so extraordinary.  The marriage message and model remains unchanged from the beginning to the end of Holy Scripture.

Does marriage matter to God?  Biblical evidence says it does.  All one has to do is listen carefully to discover the emphasis, repetition, and consistency with which He speaks on the subject.

If the institution of marriage is so important to God, a question worth considering is this: How much does marriage matter to us?




 by Dr. Kent Olney

Marriage Matters: Does Marriage Matter to God? (Part 1)

September 10, 2012 Comments Off on Marriage Matters: Does Marriage Matter to God? (Part 1)
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          Does God really care about marriage?  Or is all the religious rhetoric and hand wringing much ado about nothing?  How important is the structure of an intimate relationship?  Isn’t God just concerned that we be kind, loving, and respectful – regardless of the relationship arrangement?  That’s certainly the message many people would have us believe today.  But what does God’s Holy Word have to say on the topic?  If we want to know God’s views on the subject, the Bible is the logical place to begin. God’s original institution Several pieces of evidence are worth noting in an attempt to discover God’s thoughts on marriage.  Let’s consider some of the evidence found in scripture.

     Marriage stands as God’s original (i.e., first) institution.  That alone signifies it is a priority to the Creator.  The pages of scripture focus on God’s design for marriage long before other social institutions were formed or needed.  So before government, business, education, or even religion established fine institutions, God invented marriage.  The union of Adam and Eve marked the only social institution created prior to sin.  Marriage was part of God’s design, intended for the good of his creation.

          God’s favor toward marriage: when it came time for God to send His only Son into the world – the central event upon which Christianity rests – He came into a family that would be headed by a married couple, Mary and Joseph.  God could have sent Jesus as a mature, already-fully-developed adult without need of married earthly parents.  But God chose not to bypass the institution with which he began human history.  A married family was His design at creation; it would also be His design when He sent His Son to die so that we might experience a new creation.  God continued to show favor toward marriage.

          God loves weddings  a wedding celebration is the customary way that God begins all His major movements.  As noted above, creation itself began with the garden wedding of Adam and Eve (Gen. 2:24).  Then the earthly ministry of Jesus began at a village wedding in Cana (John 2:1).  Finally, the culmination of history will begin at a heavenly wedding described as “the wedding supper of the Lamb” (Rev. 19:9).  Creation, Jesus’ ministry, and eternity are all launched at a wedding, once again indicating the value God places on marriage. Let’s be clear about this: marriage is neither incidental nor marginal in God’s design.  Evidence reveals that the institution of marriage has divine significance and, therefore, deserves our attention and respect.  Next time we will consider further indications that marriage does indeed matter to God.


By: Dr. Kent Olney