Ehud and the deadly serious Marriage Manifesto

Humour me a little, if you wouldn’t mind!I’ve been standing up for marriage, in a world that increasingly says marriage is no longer essential to family life, for nearly twenty years now.

The beginnings of my vocation are absurd. A marriage in tatters and I didn’t even know it.

But ever since our recovery to something resembling normal happy married life – with its fair share of ups and downs – I have been drawn unavoidably to do what I can for all those Harrys and Kates who needn’t get into the mess we did.

I spent a dozen years in Bristol teaching thousands of couples how we can all learn great relationship skills, before moving on to focus on the importance of marriage with Marriage Foundation. By far the most important factor in building and protecting relationships that can last for life is to get married. The evidence is clear and the reasoning is sound.

And yet the opposition to marriage is peculiarly persistent and entrenched. Myths hold sway over reality. I hear the same nonsense again and again.

  • Marriage doesn’t matter any more
  • It’s just a piece of paper
  • We can’t be expected to stay together for life nowadays because we live so much longer
  • It’ll be OK if we split up because we have a ‘common law marriage’
  • It’ll be OK if we split because we’ll have an ‘amicable divorce’
  • Divorce rates are really high
  • It’s better to live together first to check each other out
  • Telling people to marry is just harking back to the 1950s or an ‘Edwardian era’

Wrong. All of the above.

So you won’t be surprised to hear that I sympathise a great deal with the old testament prophets who stood out on their own, saying things that the crowd knew to be true but didn’t want to hear.

All of which leads to a old testament character I heard about this weekend called Ehud. Ehud, rather appropriately given the role of Sir Paul Coleridge, was one the “judges” raised up by God to knock some sense into his own people and the stuffing out of everyone else. Read his story in Judges 3. It’s not the kind of stuff you expect to find in the bible.

Here’s a summary. Ehud was told by God to go and see wicked king Eglon, who was being thoroughly nasty to the Israelites. (King Eglon is described as a very fat man, so I’m thinking Jabba the Hutt here). Ehud then told Eglon/Jabba that he had a secret message from God. Eglon ushered all his minders outside. Whereupon Ehud said, “this is my message”, and pulled out the sword that he had concealed from security, as a left hander, on his right thigh. He then buried his sword so far into Eglon’s rolls of fat that even the handle disappeared. Yuck. Then he walked out, locked the dead king in his chamber and escaped.

What this story made me think about was that these myths about marriage are my Eglon, my Jabba. I want to do to these myths about marriage what Ehud did to Eglon. I want to bury my sword so far into them that they never see the light of day again.

These myths are not some kind of a harmless joke. They make me angry because of the needless havoc and destruction they wreak on adults and children alike. We need to treat them seriously and deal with them firmly.

  • They are the reason so many young couples move in too soon, thinking it to be risk-free, find themselves stuck, drift on into parenthood, and eventually separate.
  • They are the reason couples don’t commit before they have children, so that the relationship never really breaks free from uncertainty and ambiguity – until it breaks up.
  • They are the reason we have a trend away from marriage, which increases the risks couples face, and for which 45% of all teenagers now pay the price by not being brought up by both parents
  • They are the reason the taxpayer spends more on family breakdown than on defence. And yet no government to date has faced up to the merest possibility that some – not all – family breakdown might be avoidable if only we did things a bit differently.

This is the reason we have launched a Marriage Manifesto. It’s deadly serious.

We really ought to:

  1. have a Minister for Families and Family Breakdown. The consequences of family life at home – good and bad – spill out into every other aspect of life
  2. stop paying couples £7,000 plus to live apart. We’ve done that since tax credits began in 2003 and still no politician does anything about it
  3. teach adults and children about healthy relationships. It’s not so hard. Commit. Be nice. Its not rocket science.
  4. have an overhaul of family law. Those who know say divorce law hasn’t been modernised for fifty years. Family breakdown was only just taking off then.
  5. champion marriage and demolish some of the destructive myths that lead all too many away from what works and into what doesn’t

The first four of these depend on politicians and so are outside my control. I very much hope politicians are listening to this. They really can make a difference.

But number five I can do on my own – and so can you – regardless of what others do.

So you can think of me in the coming days/weeks/months/years, as a modern day Ehud, championing marriage and burying my sword into the lardy myths of wicked Eglon. All the way. And leaving it there.

All I need now is to learn how to fight left handed.

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4 thoughts on “Ehud and the deadly serious Marriage Manifesto

  1. Harry ,
    One of the greatest myths in relationships in our society is the “presupposing” that goes on among couples, especially those who despise marriage.
    The vast majority of those advocates of cohabiting, or just being in an intimate relationship,rejecting the need to get married, still expect to have their relationship validated, but many do so assuming relationships have some sort of “mutually acceptable socially moral basis”.
    Nearly every couple expect their partner to be faithful. Why? Unless your married, there is no basis for such an assumption! Why should a “partner” be faithful?
    Next time you hear a couple openly reject marriage, simply ask them on what basis they expect faithfulness from their partner? There isn’t one!
    Couples in our society “assume” unfaithfulness is wrong. How can it be wrong, when no promise has been made to be faithful? If it is wrong, then there has to be an objective basis!
    How many couples are infuriated at the thought they may be “cheated” upon. How can a partner cheat, when no rules have been established to break, or cheat?
    Ask them to state why their partner should be faithful. ” Because its wrong to cheat.” It is only wrong to cheat, if there are rules established. But unless you are married, in which you and your spouse have promised to abide by said rules, only the married can objectively claim adultery and unfaithfulness as cheating!

    If marriage does not matter, couples who have not married should not be upset if their partner is unfaithful, because they have made no promises to be faithful! Faithfulness cannot be presumed! On what basis can such an assumption be made? Why are couples who are unmarried, so paranoid about the behaviour of their partner? Why are they worried that they are “cheating”, when they have not made a promise to “forsake all others”? You can only hold a married spouse to account, because it is only the married spouse who made such a promise, “till death us do part”. For too long the unmarried are presupposing the virtues only the married have established.

    The fact they are upset, because they have been emotionally damaged, is because marriage is important to human relationships, and fulfils natural expectation and need for faithfulness.
    However, these false presumptions of faithfulness in relationships outside marriage must be challenged. Because there is no basis for such an assumption, unless marriage is validated! You cannot despise marriage, but presuppose the values a marriage brings. Society only rejects unfaithfulness, because it validates the promises of marriage. Unfaithfulness in a relationship is only valid because of marriage promises. But for too long, society is now rejecting marriage, whilst trying to hold on to the virtues marriage brings as being valid in ALL relationships, but this is simply a false premise.

    • Thanks Dave. Your point is that you can’t hold somebody to a promise they haven’t made. I suspect that argument may be too strictly logical for most. There are unwritten rules in relationships as well. You don’t go bad mouthing your best friend, for example. Infidelity among unmarried couples may fall into this category. It’s not OK to sleep with A when you’re already sleeping with B. Most would agree with that even in the absence of a promise, probably because we’re hardwired for monogamy.

      • Thanks for your reply Harry. Those who reject the notion of marriage being an institution appointed by God, who created man and woman, thereby hardwiring us for marriage, cannot reject such a notion, but then claim we are hard wired for marriage . That is my point. They can’t have it both ways. The “cheater” would deny he has any moral obligation to be faithful to someone they have made no commitment to be faithful to. That is the fallacy of unmarried couples expecting faithfulness. They must provide an objective basis for such a premise, otherwise it’s just subjective, their personal opinion. It also highlights just why couples when they marry have to make objective promises, in the presence of witnesses, under the law. Because it’s only then it is considered valid, and those who break such promises can be held to account. Otherwise, why not just “marry” in private? Make your own promises between yourselves! Because marriage requires those promises to be made actually! Objectively. Otherwise they are just how people feel at the time. All the evidence shows such feelings do not establish a strong relationships. Making public promises, and sticking to them, do. We call it marriage. If we are to presuppose unwritten rules, those who rely on them must provide a basis. A marriage is not established on such a weak position. Marriage is established on very clear, understandable, objective rules. The promises you make when you marry. That’s why its not a piece of paper, rather the rules of an effective relationship! The unmarried are wanting their cake and eating it! You don’t get the benefits of marriage (promise of faithfulness and love, better or worse etc) without making the promise. They are not simply “natural” or inevitable. Life experience proves it.

  2. Pingback: Strong tides | The Simple Pastor

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