A mere liaison

How abortion cost marriage its special character

-Phil Burcham-

“It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future” is widely attributed to either the US baseball star Yogi Berra or the Danish physicist Neils Bohr. The witty quotation reminds us of a truth that is very relevant to the Christian life: since even the best human minds are subject to great limitations and profound ignorance, we should stop trying to predict the future and leave our destinies in the hands of the Lord.

That said, Scripture does sometimes commend the making of certain kinds  for example, often spoke against a naïve and obtuse state of mind that refuses to predict the undeniable consequences accompanying transgression of God’s law.

In one evocative encounter with the Pharisees and Sadducees, Christ chided them for being so preoccupied with meteorological phenomena that they failed to see the evidence of Divine activity within their own society: “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times” (Matt 16:3, ESV).

While we must always be on guard against a legalistic mentality, there are times when Christians must follow Scripture and simply affirm that “the way of the transgressor is hard” (Prov 13:15). The Church’s abiding mission includes reminding the world that  transgressing God’s righteous standards needlessly magnifies the collective unhappiness of humanity.

Along with other Australians of my vintage or older, I have witnessed a spectacular erosion of the status of marriage in my lifetime. The 1960s Perth of my childhood was a pretty conservative place and I am just old enough to remember people using such terms as “living in sin” rather than “co-habitation”, or speaking of “adultery” rather than “extramarital relationships,” of “smutty books” instead of “adult literature.”

“Marriage has become such a loose and unbinding thing that it can be entered into by any two parties – and exited from – as a matter of whim and personal convenience.”

The causes of this profound moral revolution are worth pondering. What social factors caused respect for marriage to dissipate so rapidly that support for same-sex marriage is now entrenched across the political spectrum?

Although we rarely attribute the modern marriage crisis to the recent acceptance of abortion, a remarkable passage in one of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s greatest books, Ethics, suggests he foresaw this sad possibility. Much of this unfinished work was written while the great  Lutheran pastor was on the run during the terminal phase of the Third Reich. This fearful context likely supplied a moral clarity and insight which is often lacking in our more comfortable times.

As Bonhoeffer noted, “Marriage involves acknowledgment of the right of life that is to come into being, a right which is not subject to the disposal of the married couple. Unless this right is acknowledged as a matter of principle, marriage ceases to be marriage and becomes a mere liaison.”

“A mere liaison” – Bonhoeffer’s turn of phrase nicely predicts the attitudes toward marriage that came to prevail within Western societies. Marriage has become such a loose and unbinding thing that it can be entered into by any two parties – and exited from – in the manner of a temporary liaison or as a matter of whim and personal convenience.

The fact that this nihilistic view ascended within societies that only recently abolished legal restraints upon abortion seems confirmatory of Bonhoeffer’s prophecy. Abortion is so destructive of the logic of marriage – a primary purpose of which is to create a safe and stable environment for the next generation of humans – that it leaves the entire institution lacking any moral footing whatsoever.

We should follow Bonhoeffer’s lead and spend more time thinking and speaking boldly about the profound social changes that have accompanied the Abortion Revolution.

Phil Burcham is an academic and elder in the PCWA.

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