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Almost six years ago, I watched my bride walk down an aisle prepared to join me in an exchange of vows and a life of covenant love.  It was a beautiful moment and the joy of marriage to my wife has been reverberating out in ever increasing bands of love since then!  You couldn’t pick two more interestingly configured individuals.  I was born on a US military base in Europe to a Jamaican mom and an African American dad.  I was raised in the south east region of the United States.  My wife was born in a small town in the north west region to second and third generation Irish parents.  Our upbringings differed in many ways, but in significant parts of our lives we were more alike than different.

Together, we have 3 wonderful kids.  When out and about, the kids regularly get compliments like, “They are the perfect blend of the two of you- not too light, not too dark.”, or something like that.   We usually say “thank you” with a gracious smile, but it just shows us how much we may stand out in some places.  We have other experiences when out as a family.  We’ve had cases of black women glaring at my wife (for reasons that I may not know), white men who may have a forced “look the other way” approach, and all sorts of responses in between, usually positive and sometimes negative or indifferent.  This is why my interest was piqued when my wife told me the other week about a recent Cheerios commercial that has sparked a discussion on race in America.  Jamar wrote an excellent article reflecting on the situation in light of the Gospel here so I won’t attempt to write another reflection on it from that angle.  However, I did want to think about our modern understanding of marriage.

Are we celebrating the same thing?

Lots of people cheered on that commercial. I did. There were also others who cheered on, but on different grounds than I did.  There are people who love “different” not for what it may be, but simply for what it isn’t- “traditional”.  Some are striving to break free from what they see as normative social order and standards.  There are some who are glad that a family has found a way to be happy even though there are racists haters out there (and that’s a good thing to be happy about).  However, mixed into the celebration over racism is a celebration over the idea of breaking the mold of “traditional” marriage which, if not anchored in solid truth, can do great damage to what God intends marriage to be.  Here’s an example from a comment in response to the Cheerios video.  It reads:

I just saw your commercial representing a beautiful mixed family, and I am appalled that hateful people are in such a frenzy over what is a modern family structure. I applaud you and your efforts to acknowledge families with an untraditional structure, and there needs to be more mixed race, minority, adoptive & non-heteronormative families represented in media.

Notice how seamless the leap was from “beautiful mixed family” to “non-heteronormative families” was?  Now, I’m not saying that Cheerios is moving in this direction necessarily, but what I am saying is that in many minds, “non-heteronormative” marriage is in the same category of multiracial families on the grounds of it breaking away from tradition.  That’s a common denominator in the modern argument for gay marriage.  But we don’t have to pick between a “racist and traditional” or  “integrated and modern” view of marriage.  There is another way.

Pros and cons with “Traditional”

A traditional family structure has evidences of God’s grace in it.  It supports the idea of marriage over cohabitation.  That’s healthy for families and society as a whole.  Another place where traditional family structures exude with God’s grace is that it can only see heterosexual marriage as proper.  That’s a wonderful grace of God.  Another way that traditional is good is that it values the role of husbands and fathers as the head of the home.  Families with strong men who lead well strengthen a family unit.  However “traditional” has it’s own problems because it’s not necessarily grounded in the Gospel, but in traditions of common good.  Male leadership can easily become chauvinism and domination.  Marriage over cohabitation can easily be simply the next step to an already sexually active life of recreational dating.  Traditional family structure isn’t a deep enough root to correct it’s people from tragic error.

Pros and cons with “Modern”

A modern family structure has at least a few evidences of God’s grace in it, too.  It has much more embrace of diversity than “traditional” historically has had.  It recognizes the issue of male chauvinism and proponents to the modern structure draw more attention to the ills of abuse in the home.  While it has these to it’s advantage, in an attempt to shun “tradition for the sake of tradition”, it embraces “modern for the sake of modern”.  It overreacts to “traditional” and elevates progressiveness as the key to modern sensibility, even if it wrecks good things in the process.  It lacks any depth or solid grounds for pushing against “traditional” and only produces a superficial rush of change that can start with embracing multiracial families and end with embracing homosexual “marriage”.  It can start with speaking against chauvinism and end up with egalitarianism.

A Third Way

Both of these views of family structure are forced to look inwardly for answers or outwardly only as far as tradition.  They both lack unchangeable grounds that keep us accountable to God.  Instead, they only keep us accountable to our parents or ourselves.  The reality is that in 200 years, what we call “modern” now will be considered “traditional” by the future’s standard.  It’s an endless cycle of always changing and always redefining movement.  We need relief from our own devices!  We have that relief in the Scriptures as we see God’s design for marriage.  It’s His idea.  The goal for marriage, while not less than one man and one woman, is more than that.  The goal for marriage, while not less than accepting multi ethnic couples, is nonetheless more.  It’s not just about a man who works hard for the well being of his family.  It’s not just about a woman who works hard for the support of her husband and nourishment of her children.  Not less, but more.  Marriage according to God’s design is a miniature stage in the center of humanity so as to display the eternal covenant love and fellowship that Christ has for and with His blood-bought Church (Ephesians 5:32).  May the Lord grant in our day more families who see, delight, and display the glory of the Gospel as a testimony to the riches of God’s grace in Christ Jesus.

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