I am terribly sorry that I have to miss the exchange of marriage vows taking place under the care of my monthly meeting in Grand Rapids. I look forward to the public affirmation of covenant relationships, and find that such occasions bring forth feelings about my own marriage. And today, Jenn reminded me, is our 11th anniversary. I can't think of anything that reflects my own relationship with the Creator more than my covenant commitment to my partner. I forgot today was our anniversary, just like I forgot to pray this morning. We don't celebrate, but it appears I am as full of myself as others suggest, for I thought nothing of it.
However, my forgetfulness is but a reminder of the priorities that covenant relationships demand. Just one of those priorities, as suggested by my reading of the Bible, is submission to the greater good of the relationship. This is not a "wives submit to your husbands" thing. It is not a suggestion that relationships that are marred by domination and violence take a priority over the stability of an abused (or abusive) partner. It is a suggestion, however, that the health of covenant relationships are one of the most important aspects of faith and community. And, the very idea that we publicly affirm such relationships, under the care of the community, suggests to me that marriage, or any other covenant union, is not only expressive of the love between two people, but an expression of the importance of intimate relationships to the health of the community.
Relationships are very much the business of the church. Indeed, if we are to see a reversal of the failure of so many covenant relationships in our generation, it might be said that the faith community need to take a more active role in nurturing, guiding, and eldering those couples who are falling in love. Relationships are the business of the church, because it is the church that some couples turn to as a legitimizing factor in their covenant with one another. Yet, if we are not caring for our peers while they are exploring the realm of covenant, it suggests that isolation is the norm for partnerships, and not active reflection of God's love to the world around us.
Relationships need to be public, or they are doomed to dysfunction. I remember when a woman at seminary asked me why my name alone was on the carton of eggs my partner sells, and not hers, though she does most of the work. While the reasons Jenn did this is not important. What is important is that a woman in the community expressed an interest in the health of our covenant because it appeared for an instant to be lacking in a commitment to the egalitarian values of Friends. How many of us would have simply felt sorry for Jenn that she was so dominated and has to wear that head covering.
I don't mean to be facetious by using this example. It is healthy for a community, when it feels uneasy about the power differences in relationships, or the ability of both partners to thrive, to bring concerns to the forefront, not only as a matter of love, but as a matter of integrity for the health of every relationship within the community.
And, I am not suggesting that we use proof texts from the Greek Testament to define appropriate marriage practices. Matthew 18 offers the proper narrative approach. Whatever a community lovingly approves of on earth (binds) will be met with the approval of the Creator. It also suggests that what is rejected as inappropriate or coercive (loosing) is rejected as a possible reflection of God's will for covenant relationships. Where two or three will be gathered, Jesus will be there in support of decisions reached in love. By this measure we offer guidance to newlyweds and 50 year veterans alike.
So, when committed partners approach our meetings with a request that they receive a public affirmation of their relationship, we are not providing a civil service. We are instead committing ourselves as a people to lift up such relationships as integral to the community's ability to love and care for one another, and celebrate through our commitments to our partners our own commitment to God.