A regular article written by Phillip Jensen in his role as Dean of Sydney at St Andrew's Cathedral.
25th February 2008
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It was the Family Law Act of the 1970's that made getting married meaningless.
The words at the wedding, whatever service you use, do not mean what they say. The promises are meaningless. They do not have to be kept, and have nothing to do with the reality of the marriage. For under the Family Law Act marriage means “not remarrying anybody until 12 months of separation”.
The promises at most weddings are to stay together in a monogamous relationship for richer for poorer, for better for worse, in sickness and health until death parts us. But in reality the words mean that you are not allowed to make similar promises to anybody else until you have failed to keep this set of promises for 12 months.
The Government insist on screening, authorising and controlling the celebrant who oversees the wedding and registers the contract. But the Government gives the contact no force in law. Nobody can be forced to keep their word or penalised for not keeping it.
It is like no other public/legal contract—where else are the details of what is promised irrelevant to the contract and held to be of no consequence? Indeed the contract is so meaningless that those who dispense with it entirely and enter into a de facto relationship have the same standing before the law as those who make these solemn promises.
Our culture, government and legal system are built upon the idea of covenant, contract, promises, undertakings, and faithfulness. Secure relationships require confidence in the trustworthiness of the partners. Yet this legislation fails to understand the importance of the words of a vow and the value of faithfully fulfilling our promises.
Another nail was aimed at this cultural coffin this week when a leading “reputable” paper published an opinion piece entitled: “In Praise of Desire and Infidelity”.
The article was incredibly unbalanced and misleading.
It was only about one aspect of what “for worse” may mean for middle-aged women—namely the arid marriage that has lost all intimacy. It did not address the same problem for men. It did not address other problems in marriage that may or may not impact upon this one issue.
It discussed only one solution to the problem—namely “having an affair”. It did not call it adultery. Spin cannot cope with morality or truth!
It did not discuss the possibility that both husband and wife needed help. It did not remind us that we are committed to help our spouse with their lack of intimacy. It did not mention the possibility of regenerating and reviving the marriage. It did not mention the possibility of even deeper intimacy with your spouse after facing the problems and dealing with them lovingly—a deeper level of intimacy that would never be possible through adultery. It made no mention of all the many relationship and sexual counsellors available to help such arid marriages.
There was only one solution—have an affair (aka adultery). The consumerist solution—trade in the old model, treat the other person as a disposable object and change partner. The very complaint against the man is now to be the practice of the woman.
The article said it was “not a clarion call to infidelity”, but recognition of “the sensuality of older women”. While it admitted that its solution did sometimes involve “war stories” and “disaster“, it majored on the wonderful reviving and regenerating effects of adultery. The consequences of having an affair were described in terms like “glorious”, “radiant”, “lush”, “more beautiful now at 49, than she was at 29”.
It did not even mention the disadvantages of this solution. For example, only two days later the same newspaper reported government-funded research that demonstrates the economic disaster that falls upon most women who divorce. But that was nowhere to be seen in the “Praise of Desire and Infidelity”.
Not surprisingly religion was blamed for all the woes of unhappy women. “layers of routine, obligation, fear, guilt and the dogma of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic religious tradition whose one common purpose has always been to constrain the sexuality and sexual freedom of women”.
It is ridiculous to lump monogamous Christianity into the same marriage pattern as polygamous Islam. It is also completely untrue to say Christianity's purpose is to “constrain the sexuality and sexual freedom of women”. You only have to look at the mutuality of sexual need and expression in 1 Corinthians 7:2-5 to see the exact opposite teaching.
More seriously it fails to understand 'infidelity'. Infidelity is not having an affair or even committing adultery. Infidelity is being unfaithful. Unfaithful to your promises. Unfaithful to the person that you made them to.
Intimate sensuality is such a powerful and wonderful part of our relationships that we will experience it most deeply and satisfyingly in the security of long-term relationship of faithful commitment. The unloving husband—sitting on his couch controlling his remote—is unfaithful to his promises. That is the problem that needs addressing. Encouraging wives to be sexually unfaithful as well is no solution for them, their husbands, their family or the wider society. Two wrongs don't make …!