Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Ministries are not cookie cutters. Neither are marriages.

I wrote in my last post about the importance of the metaphor and theological lens of kinship to my experience of faith. I came across a passage from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his "Wedding Sermon from a Prison Cell," that expresses well the idea that romantic love is beautiful and justifiably celebrated, but it is more of a means than an end in and of itself:

The course that you are taking at the outset is one that you have chosen for yourselves; what you have done and are doing is not in the first place, something religious, but something quite secular...In your love you see only the heaven of your own happiness, but in marriage you are placed at a post of responsibility towards the world and mankind. Your love is your own private possession, but marriage is more that something personal – it is a status, an office.

Marriage is a ministry. It's not the only ministry, or a ministry more important than others, but it is a ministry, if one chooses to embrace it as such.

What happens if we take that idea seriously?

We don't expect pastoral ministry to take only one form. There are solo pastors, senior pastors, associate pastors, hospice chaplains, military chaplains, university chaplains, pastoral counselors, and many other examples of pastoral ministry .

We don't expect Christians to heal the sick with only one kind of medicine, feed the hungry with only one kind of food, give water to the thirsty from only one kind of bottle, offer only one kind of hospitality to the stranger, clothe the naked with only one kind of clothing, or visit prisoners with only one kind of comfort and conversation to share.

Why, then, should we expect all marriages to look alike?

Bonhoeffer's wedding sermon itself provides the only common answer I am familiar with: because God ordains complementary roles for a man and a woman as they bring forth children to continue the human race. The great majority of American Protestants have abandoned one or more parts of that answer, though. Complementarian thought has given way to egalitarian thought, even among a sizeable number of evangelicals. Attempting to have children is no longer a moral obligation. And marriage needing both a man and a woman? Well, we are watching that assumption change much faster than most people ever thought possible.

If marriage is a ministry, we should allow those who are called to it to follow that call faithfully, whatever it ends up looking like. Even if it ends up looking like my family.

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