Marriage and Family
A Christian Perspective
Marriage is a unique reflection of God’s love for all humankind. The relationship of husband and wife reflects both the image of God and the self-giving love between Christ and His Church (Ephesians 5:21-33). Marriage, therefore, is part of the will and work of God Himself. It is a universal standard whose legitimacy does not depend on culture and custom. Within this understanding marriage is by definition heterosexual in nature. Scripture speaks only of marriage between a man and a woman and allows no same-sex unions that involve sexual intercourse (Genesis 1:26-27, 2:24, Leviticus 18:22, Romans 1:18-27).
Marriage is far more than a social and legal formality. It is a foundational relationship that provides companionship and secures family life (Genesis 2:18). This relationship requires a choice that is both exclusive and inclusive. It is exclusive in that it is a life commitment to live together in exclusive marital fidelity with one’s chosen partner (1 Corinthians 6:9, 13b-20, Hebrews 13:4). It is inclusive in that it is a calling not only to give oneself to the spouse, but also out of the strength, health, and love of the relationship, to nurture others.
The covenant is central to a Christian understanding of marriage (Matthew 19:4-6). It is established by the sacred vow of two people who are in love with God and with one another and pledge their mutual faithfulness. It involves a profound trust in God to provide the grace, wisdom and discipline needed in order for the marriage to realize its purpose and potential. It also involves a profound trust in the marriage partner to stand true to the lifelong covenant for ‘so long as you both shall live’. The practice of cohabitation by unmarried couples where sexual intimacy is involved in inconsistent with the covenantal nature of marriage and the Christian understanding of the purpose of sexual intercourse. The covenant cannot be tentative, the commitment cannot be conditional. Nor can the intimacy be shallow, the sexual experience self-sufficient.
Marriage, however, is affected by human fallibility and sinfulness. It can fail. For this reason, marriage must be cared for and nurtured and pastoral support provided. But marriages may still fail. If a couple separate, skilled, supportive pastoral guidance may help them to come to an agreement to reunite and work on their issues more positively. In other situations, the relationship may be finished; there can be no further salvaging of it. Scripture does allow for divorce because of sinfulness (Matthew 19:7-9), and though God does not 'approve’ of it, He does permit it as a concession to human weakness. But He does not abandon His own at this time when they are most in need of healing and reaffirmination. Nor must the Church. Pastoral and community support are crucial for the recently divorced and for the children of divorced parents. When a divorced person wishes to remarry, the Army permits (but does not require) its officers to perform the ceremony.
As Christian marriage is a reflection of the love between Christ and His Church, so the family is a microcosm of the larger family of God and the basic form of Christian community. It is the primary social relationship for the development of spirituality, intimacy, compassion, commitment and values (Proverbs 22:6). However, significant changes have taken place in how families look and how they are constituted. While upholding Christian values and the sanctity of marriage, the Church must adjust to these new realities in providing positive family support and pastoral care. Because the family is so central to human development and holistic health, the Army places family nurturing and spirituality, and the cultivation of family health, in a position of great importance in its ministry.
One of the major concerns in some marriages is childlessness. Advice can be sought to facilitate the natural process of conception. This should not, however, include an artificial interference in, or even violation of, the exclusive marriage relationship and the sanctity of sexual union and its outcome within marriage. Where the physical or emotional condition of either husband or wife precludes conception and a successful pregnancy is not possible, adoption should be considered as a very desirable option.
We support the practice of family planning as a way to ensure the best possible family environment and parenting. Sometimes a married couple has an unplanned pregnancy. In such cases, we see abortion as an ethically unacceptable alternative to full delivery, unless the health of the mother is seriously at risk. The God who created the full potential for human life in the unborn child can help a couple find a way to provide for this new life.