Full Text for Pastoral Theology and Practice- Volume 44 - Dealing with Cohabitation (Video)

"PASTORAL THEOLOGY & PRACTICE" PROF. HAROLD SENKBEIL & DR. RICHARD WARNECK CAPTIONING PROVIDED BY: CAPTION FIRST, INC. P.O. BOX 1924 Lombard, IL 60148 1-800-825-7234 * * * * * This is being provided in a rough-draft format. Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in Order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings * * * * >> Have we come to a point that the church may view favorably cohabitation as a relationship akin to marriage? I have a member of my church who I believe to be living with someone with whom he is not married but to whom he seems very committed. I would like your advice about how I should approach such an individual with pastoral care. >> David, how very common is the situation that you describe, the person who comes to you�-- or the person that you suspect in your fellowship who may be living together with another partner outside of marriage. And as Christian pastors, we want to help these persons maybe make some adjustments and corrections in their life because in this whole area of sexual life and marriage and the like, a pastor's primary concern is that he helps his people do the right thing. I'm a firm believer in that, that if a pastor can be useful in guiding and shepherding a person into corrected and right behaviors, we are serving our people very well. I was reminded of that by a lady who came following worship services and the theme of the service or the theme of the sermon had been along the lines of speaking about our salvation and about how a Christian who dies in the Lord can anticipate going to Heaven. It was that kind of a Sunday and that kind of a message. And the lady said to me as she came by, "Well, Pastor, it isn't dying that I'm concerned about. Pastor, it's living that is my chief concern." And she was telling us that Christian people are having a struggle living the Christian life according to the way in which God would have us live. And I believe that's coming through in your question today, David. I'd like to make a reference on the trends�-- to the trends that we see happening along the very lines that your question takes. The 2000 U.S. census report cited a 71 percent increase of live-in, nonmarrieds over the previous decade and that 48 percent of heterosexual couples are in live-in relationships or arrangements, which we otherwise know and name cohabitation. A decade ago, David Easton, a vicar in the Anglican church, reported that 56 percent of couples in Great Britain were living together before their wedding. This was a concern to Easton�because he was troubled over what circumstances he should make available the rite�of marriage to persons who have already taken liberties long before they come for marriage. He is speaking about live-in couples. So the live-in arrangement outside of marriage is growing and it is growing to a point that society is becoming quite insensitive to the whole matter and even Christian parents and grandparents view this life of the young as�-- well, they point to it rather casually and they say well there's worse sins. So this whole matter is proliferating and even in the church we seem to become less sensitive to it. And it certainly is a topic that we need to address here in our discussions. Now, on the surface, the church probably has to say about live-in arrangements outside of marriage that this looks like fornication, what the Bible calls important nay an, immorality, illicit sexual relations. And if it be that, then we are facing the rather severe judgment of Yahweh in the Old Testament where it is clear in passages like Deuteronomy chapter 22, verses 20 to 21, that there was no tolerance, zero tolerance, for a man and a woman living the intimate life together outside of marriage. It was a lifestyle not to be compared with marriage at all. And, yet, that's the trend in our current society. The suggestion is made frequently that "well, what's the difference? Cohabitation is just as honorable, just as noble as marriage." When people come with those kinds of notions, how do we address them? How is cohabitation and marriage, how do they stand alongside of each other? Is there any favorable comparison? Are there likenesses or are there distinctive contrasts which pastors need to take note of with their people? Let's pursue that just a moment. Let us put some hard questions to cohabitation. Let's begin there. Here are a couple of things that pastors can bring up and invite cohabiting couples to think about. Number one: Is the live-in relationship going anywhere? Does it build on a well-thought plan? Can it sustain dreams for a beautiful long life together? We are surprised at how tentative many of these relationships are and how they fall short on this first question. But a second question: Is there tangible support for the relationship? Finances, money, house, food, clothing, healthcare, insurance? Are these things in place? Many times we'll discover that these factors are not addressed at least very clearly by persons who are simply living together. Number three: Can the relationship survive hard knocks? Can a fragile, and in some cases, as we said, a very tentative union "take it," so to speak. Is there�enduring built on commitment for the relationship to make it through difficult times? Or is there a tacit understanding that in the event the relationship falls under pressures of one kind or another, either or both parties can walk away and simply call it quits? Well, one additional question. A fourth question. Is God in this relationship? Does the live-in relationship have any likeness to his plan? If it really is no different than marriage, as many are claiming, are God's purposes for marriage evident in cohabitation? Can it be said, as we say of marriage, that this is a "gift from God"? Is this thing honorable in the eyes of God? Particularly in the light of Hebrews chapter 13 verse 4. So, I am suggesting, David, that pastors come to grips with the issue when it's presented to them and put some really hard questions to any couple who is overly comfortable in their live-in relationship and seeking the approval or tacit approval and blessing of the church upon this irregular life they are pursuing. Herbert Friedman, Lutheran Church of Australia theologian, perhaps makes the most objective assessment of cohabitation in any of the literature that I have had opportunity to peruse. Friedman addresses the suggestion that cohabitation is just as viable in God's eyes as marriage and he does this as fairly as any I have seen. In an article titled "what is marriage today? Problems and perspectives" Friedman ventures to say that cohabiting relationships may be tantamount to what we know as Biblical marriage; that is, the marks of partnership and commitment, forgiveness, even fidelity, constancy and permanency may be inherent in cohabitation. Boy, it sounds like we have an enemy within the camp, so to speak. Here I've been suggesting that the church and its teachings and its position is hard set against this alternate lifestyle, and here we find a theologian within our own midst who seems to be very welcoming of the notion that there are such similarities, why make great to do about the whole issue? Well, stopping short of endorsement of cohabitation, this Australian Lutheran theologian takes a very abrupt turn in his discussion. And we should note some of his points. He notes, first of all, that his greatest fear about the cohabitation relationship is that it does not provide sufficient protection for the weaker partner, protection that is there in God's order of creation. The next point Friedman makes is related. He asks, "how does cohabiting provide a context for children? And should the cohabiting partners conveniently ignore procreation, their relationship really would be a distortion of the one of the major divine intentions for marriage as we learn from the Word of God. He means that on this count alone, cohabitation really distances itself from any likeness to marriage. Friedman also notes that the open-ended nature of the cohabiting relationship allows for problems and conflicts to simply be side stepped. Also, there is less than an adequate basis for crisis management. And, finally, Friedman puts cohabitation to a litmus test. He says "if the cohabiting relationship be regarded as another "form" of marriage, as many are want to do, then the prohibitions attached to marriage in the area of adultery and divorce must apply also. The question is: Are cohabiting partners willing to submit to those very prohibitions?" And the answer, in many cases, David is that when it comes to this comparison with the requirements in marriage relative to fidelity and faithfulness, come what may, the cohabiting, live-in relationship frequently falters. That will probably be your experience as it has been the experience of myself and men like Dr.�Senkbeil, as well, in the years of our pastoral ministry. Now, it is a fair and quite impartial comparison and assessment that the Australian Lutheran theologian has made. I suggest that we need to do more than to make that kind of a comparison. What needs to happen in our ministry is to carefully and rather comprehensively describe for cohabiting partners what marriage is really all about. We sometimes want to define marriage. When we turn to the Scriptures, it's very difficult to find chapter and verse and define precisely the marital relationship as it was designed and intended by God. But there is ample material in both Old and New Testament for us to describe marriage in such a way that it becomes pretty clear that there are numerous distinctions between marriage and the perception of live-in relationships. Marriage, according to the Scriptures, is God's creation. He made this life. He made the man and the woman and he brought them together and placed them in this life, close, intimate oneness. And it's his design. Marriage, furthermore, is accompanied by commitment. Love, honor, care and support. Physically, emotionally, spiritually. These are all parameters of Christian marriage, as you know. One may focus on the Biblical teaching in Genesis 2:24. We'll cite the passage. Therefore a man leaves father and mother and cleaves to his wife and they become one flesh. They become one in that commitment, one in that love, one in that honor, one in that respect, and one in that determination that they will live together come what may until death does them part. That marvelous and very deep and rich oneness about which the Scriptures speak. Now, Vicar David Easton, in the article that I referenced earlier in our discussion, sees this mutual consent and commitment in a rather instructive way. He writes, "marriage"�-- now he's speaking about the passage in Genesis 1, verse 24, the passage we just cited and emphasized, he writes "marriage is first exclusive: A man, his wife. Secondly, publicly recognized. A man will leave his father and mother. Thirdly, permanent. United to his wife. And, fourthly, consummated by�sexual intercourse. They will become one flesh." The question is: How does cohabitation, of all things, fit into this scheme? David, it really doesn't. It just doesn't add up. David Easton stresses furthermore that consummation in sexual relations does not in itself make the marriage, rather, it is the proper consequence of that consent without with there can be no true marriage. Here is how he defines it. He makes this statement. "it is the private gratification of a commitment publicly made." quote, end of quote. A private ratification of a commitment publicly made. It is the commitment which a man and a woman make before witnesses to remain faithful to one another, both as sexual partners and in mutual support until death does them part, which makes a marriage. We want to stress that frequently people who advocate cohabitation are really pretty self-contained. They are stressing a private relationship. In fact, they can come on very strong. And they will express sentiments like this. "look, Pastor and church, this is our life. And we have every right to determine and design our life the way we wish." that kind of an approach and those sentiments are a red flag. We want to underscore what was latent or tacit in David Easton's very fine remarks a few moments ago. Whereas cohabitation is a private arrangement, admittedly with no legal standing, marriage is a public declaration which has the backing of the law. And then we want to underscore that marriage is very much a relationship within the community and within the society. Those are some of the things that a marriage license signifies. And we can be very flippant about marriage licenses and so on as some of these couples are. But the license simply signifies that here is a relationship between a man and a woman recognized by community and by society. David Easton has a citation from the 20th Century German dogmatician Emil Brunner on this point. And Brunner has some interesting things to say. And I quote him here. "The purely individualistic view of marriage involves a complete misunderstanding of the public and legal aspect of marriage. The severance of marriage from the system of law and custom is wholly wrong. Marriage, sex relations in general, is a matter which concerns not merely two interested parties themselves but the community as a whole." And that is the way it was historically, David. For instance, when we leaf back to the Old Testament, Abraham, as early as the patriarch Abraham, he is seeking and finding a wife for his son Isaac within larger family and larger community. And when the two agree to come together, Isaac and Rebecca, there is great celebration and affirmation and support and acknowledgment from the community. Leafing ahead a bit in the book of Ruth, you remember the story of how Boaz�took Ruth to be his wife and how the elders of the village gave their approval and the people at large, both witnessing and approving of this couple coming together and living, then, as marrieds. The community was very much involved. And so, once again, however people want to spoof a marriage license, that license is a legal document and it attests to the communal witness and recognition that a man and a woman have made a commitment to be and remain husband and wife, a commitment that is both private and social or public and certainly a building block of society. But you are interested, David, in the issue of how a pastor ministers to persons who present themselves as cohabiting in a live-in relationship. How do these persons come to you? Come to the pastor? They may come to the pastor very defensive of their relationship and intend to continue in it just as it is and have no intentions of marrying. Well, in that instance, the pastor might be well advised in his counsel to suggest that in the eyes of the Lord, according to his word, they may just be living in sin. They may be living in fornication. Maybe that has to be suggested to such a couple. And if one or both of them are Christians, they have to be sensitive to that. If they are entirely insensitive, perhaps the pastor needs to remind them that their live-in life together is something that can be very offensive among other Christians in the congregation, particularly the young. The preteenagers, the young boys and girls who are just arriving on puberty and entering the teen years when they know that a person in their congregation a few years older, albeit, is living with another party outside of marriage, what does this say to the young? It's a terrible scandalon. It certainly doesn't model for the young the life that the young should aspire to. Not at all. So perhaps a couple needs to be counselled along these lines. Now, frequently persons who are living in together in a sharing bed and board will come to the pastor and they want to be married. Pastors advisedly want to help these couples instead of hindering them. I don't know whether you have heard, David, but I hear occasionally of a pastoral practice that I think is rather severe on these persons who want to correct things in their life. And sometimes we place all kinds of hurdles that they have to jump over first before we're going to agree to marry them in the church and so on. I wonder about that. Any Christian person who wants to get his or her life straightened out and corrected, the pastor should be wanting to assist them with every resource at his disposal. Certainly if they're living in sin, we want to encounter that with them. We want them to confess that sin and we want to be able, at least in the counselling situation, to speak the absolution and the forgiveness of sin in Jesus Christ. But then we want them to move on. And we want to make those arrangements with them. We will be asking that if they want to be married at a much later date, say six months down the calendar, we will ask them to separate residences to let it be known that they comprehend the beautiful life of marriage towards which they are heading and they're not going to erode that beautiful life by continuing in fornication. We'll ask them to separate residences and frequently they will agree to that. If not and they don't want to agree to that arrangement, maybe the pastor has to just move the wedding date up and say all right, you're living together, you want to marry, let's set a date next Saturday. Let's do it. Or at longest, two weeks from now. And get the couple married. I'm aware that such a procedure may be questioned by pastors who say, "well, just because a couple wants to get married doesn't mean they are good marriage partners and they need to explore that first through very much indepth counselling." well, I don't know, David. Don't you think if people have been living together for six months or a year or whatever that maybe it's time for them to get married without much ado? I kind of think so. At least that's the opinion of one pastor standing here. But these are things that you can weigh and consider. The important thing is that we want to help couples to really partake of the lovely and beautiful thing that marriage is and do everything in the power of our resources to move them in that direction. * * * * * This is being provided in a rough-draft format. Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in Order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings * * * *