Marriage changes the world, new book says

NASHVILLE (BP) -- Evangelical Christians don't even need to leave home to change the world. They can just begin to understand the importance of their marriages and act accordingly.

That is the message Andrew Walker and Eric Teetsel communicate in a new e-book, "Marriage Is: How Marriage Transforms Society and Cultivates Human Flourishing." Walker, director of policy studies for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, and Teetsel, executive director of the Manhattan Declaration, explain why same-sex marriage is not truly marriage, but they focus on how marital unions have "huge public consequences."

One brief sentence -- "Where marriage thrives, people flourish" -- is at the heart of the book's message.

"We're convinced that in our well-intentioned efforts to change the world, Christians have overlooked marriage as the first and most basic way to bring about the types of societies that glorify God and see that people live in harmony," Walker and Teetsel write. Their book, they say, "is about harnessing all the evangelical enthusiasm for social justice and changing the world and marrying it to a robust vision for how marriage accomplishes social justice and works to change the world."

Marriage Is -- released in June by B&H Publishing Group -- acknowledges the prevailing blindness to God's design for marriage and family that is marked by divorce, pornography, cohabitation, infidelity, premarital sexuality and the popular support for redefining the man-woman institution.

The authors remain hopeful, however, a new marriage culture can rise.

"The deterioration of a marriage- and family-oriented culture has resulted in pain and suffering on a massive scale because it is a deterioration of God's plan for justice and social harmony," Walker and Teetsel note in the book. "It is not too late to rebuild a culture that understands and appreciates the meaning, purpose, and importance of marriage. And, by doing so, reversing the tide of human suffering."

Statistics show the social harms for children that accompany out-of-wedlock births and the breakdown of marriage, including increases in poverty, crime, dropping out of school and imprisonment, according to the book.

"The church has to be the one to remedy the problem," Walker and Teetsel write.

This calls for a change in the way the church normally teaches its members about marriage, Walker said.

"When churches teach on marriage, they typically do so in the context of personal-relational fulfillment, sexual intimacy and conflict resolution," Walker told Baptist Press in an email interview. "While that is of course good, we've overlooked how society relies on marriage overall.

"Children need moms and dads," he said. "That's God's design. When that breaks down, it has negative consequences. Churches needed to widen their lens when talking about marriage and cast a vision for marriage that ties God's design for marriage to God's plan for marriage in culture."

Walker told BP, "So often, Christians have thought of their marriage only in 'Happily Ever After' terms. When Christians understand the importance of marriage on the social level, they'll begin to see that their marriage matters to the overall health of society."

The church, Walker and Teetsel warn, should not: 1) Privatize marriage or 2) give in to the temptation to "get out of the marriage business."

"Often with good intentions, some Christians wish to privatize marriage into a strictly ecclesial practice, treating it like we would the Lord's Supper or baptism," they write. "While marriage may be ultimately Christian, it's not exclusively Christian.

"When we speak of marriage as only a theological construct, we do a disservice to the institution's public significance."

"As Christians," they say in the book, "we understand that marriage reflects the deepest truths of the gospel" -- a connection they make in the first chapter. "As Christians in America, we also understand that government has an interest in promoting marriage as a social good regardless of theological origin."

Two mistakes will occur if the church abandons the "marriage business," Walker and Teetsel write.

"First, the church will allow a false understanding of marriage to dominate the public square," they say.

"Second, the church will become a secularized version of itself. Christians long ago insisted that a culture of no-fault divorce would not affect Christian marriages. The reality of divorce within the church bears out this truth: if the church is not holding fast to the truth of marriage, it will bend and accommodate itself to the dominant marriage ideology of the public square."

Walker and Teetsel close their book with this admonition to Christians: "Now go forth. Get married. Stay married. Raise children. Change the world."

Walker and Teetsel's e-book is available online at Lifeway Christian Stores, Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.
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