Stanley Hauerwas does not waste perfectly good emotion. He is not given to sentimentality, and so I was eager to read his sermon for the marriage of Jana Bennett and Joel Schickel. He didn't disappoint.
...Christians are required to love one another not because they are married, but because they are Christians.
Indeed I think it remarkable that Christians are permitted to marry. After all, marriage (particularly in our culture) threatens to destroy the love that constitutes the church. This is not simply because marriages often go bad, making those who were friends of the couple choose sides. Rather, just to the extent that marriage in modernity represents a desperate attempt to force and forge an intimacy that can rescue us from our lonliness, marriage for many becomes their church. We should not be surprised it does so because marriage becomes the only relationship left in our world that requires us to face the reality of our self-centredness and pride.
For Hauerwas, the most intimate context for love is not a marriage; it's the church. The vocation to love with all our hearts, souls and strength begins at baptism. Marriage can so easily become an escape into a world of private love; it can become an excuse for lacking deep, mutually edifying relationships with neighbours in church or in work or in college. We seem to have given marriage a place in our lives as Christians that is unwarranted by the New Testament, which might also explain many Christians' desire to defend marriage from recent attacks...as if the union between a man and a woman under the sovereignty and grace of God is something that exists outside of the context of church life. When we act as if it does then of course we're going to feel threatened by something like the Civil Partnership Bill, because we think that the most sacred context for love is being torn apart at the seams. But when we begin to understand that the covenant of marriage is subsumed by the covenant between Christ and his bride, marriage finds its true home and we are free to love each other as we have been loved. This is love without fear.
Just when you think Hauerwas couldn't dance on the grave of marriage any further, he introduces modern marriage -- which, he says, is "incapable of hospitality" -- to some "strangers". These strangers, according to America's premier theologian, often come in the form of children. If you're married and are wondering what the impact of a child might have on your relationship with your wife or husband, look away now:
...children cannot help but challenge marriage in which love is assumed to be constituted by shared selfishness.
Shared selfishness? Ouch. But of course he's not talking about you, obviously.
I wonder what Stanley Hauerwas has planned for Valentine's Day.