What are some of the religion's teachings in the area of
by Kendra Hotz
all Christians believe that marriage between one man and one woman
provides the only appropriate context for sexual intercourse. (There
is some dispute about whether same-sex couples might also participate
in marriage, but we shall save exploration of that question for
chapter nine.) Marriage is understood as part of the created order;
it is a good and natural state for human beings.
though there is some evidence of polygamy in the Old Testament,
Christians believe that God intends marriage to be between two people,
who commit themselves to live in an exclusive covenant for a lifetime.
Traditionally Christians have articulated three functions for marriage
as an exclusive, lifetime covenant, and have used three Latin words
to summarize these functions: fides, proles, and
means faithfulness, and it refers to the role that marital stability
plays in contributing to the well being of society at large.
Because marriage partners live in covenant faithfulness with one
another for a lifetime, marriage provides a stable context within
which marriage partners can thrive. It provides a safe, nurturing
environment for rearing children and caring for other family members.
Sexual fidelity is understood to provide an appropriate context
for sexual activity that discourages promiscuity and prostitution.
this sense, marriage is also understood as a remedy for sin. Because
marriage is one of the foundational institutions of civil society,
these goods achieved within the marital covenant contribute to the
stability and flourishing of the social order. A society in which
individuals live in safe, stable, nurturing relationships, avoid
prostitution, and are discouraged from abandoning family members
who rely on them, in other words, is a better society than one that
lacks these goods.
refers to the good of procreation. The union between husband and
wife, when it is within the will of God, includes the good of bearing
and rearing children. Marriage is a hospitable environment for receiving
children and for nurturing them, as one wedding liturgy explains,
“in the knowledge and love of the Lord.”1
The family is understood to provide the primary context
in which children are cared for and come to know the love of God.
procreative function of marriage has led to a controversy concerning
the morality of contraception. The Roman Catholic
Church has articulated the view that since God intends human sexuality
for procreation, anyone who uses artificial contraception intentionally
separates sexual activity from its procreative end and, therefore,
violates the will of God. Every instance of sexual intercourse should
therefore be open to the possibility of conception, unless it is
prevented by some natural means. Protestant theology has generally
been more open to artificial contraception.
this openness is rooted in the belief that a marriage must be open
to procreation, but not in every instance of sexual activity. At
other times Protestant openness to artificial contraception has
grown from concerns about population growth, social justice, or
a desire to prevent the transmission of genetic diseases to new
refers to the bond of permanent union between husband and wife and
to the abiding, sacrificial love that they share. This is the good
of marriage that includes the mutual joy and delight that marriage
partners take in one another, the deep communion that they share
with one another, and the care and affection that they have for
one another in both prosperity and adversity. Whereas fides
and proles refer to social and familial goods, sacramentum
is an interpersonal good.
hold a very high view of marriage as a permanent covenant between
two people, but it is not the only sexually faithful mode of life
endorsed by the tradition. Christians
also believe that some individuals are called to celibacy, an unmarried
life free from sexual activity. The freedom from
marital and familial obligations often allows celibate individuals
to undertake special ministries and to cultivate more intense devotional
the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions individuals who
are gifted for a celibate life may take vows and enter a monastic
community. These vows are not intended as a repudiation of the goodness
of sexuality or of marriage, but are an acknowledgement that human
beings can live full, meaningful lives apart from sexual activity,
a celebration of God’s call to some individuals to live outside
of marriage, and an affirmation of the diversity of ways of living
very high view of marriage held by Christians also leads to controversy
regarding the permissibility of divorce and remarriage after divorce.
In all cases Christians regard divorce as tragic;
it is never good, but is sometimes permissible. The Roman Catholic
Church does not permit remarriage after divorce, but does permit
a marriage to be annulled. This is essentially a declaration that
the marriage never existed, that the relationship in which the two
individuals lived—whatever it may have been—was not
a Christian marriage.
have accepted divorce and remarriage to varying degrees, generally
acknowledging that in cases of abuse or adultery a marriage covenant
can be broken. Increasingly, Protestants have accepted divorce and
remarriage for other reasons as well. Eastern Orthodox Christians
permit divorce reluctantly for the spiritual welfare of the couple.
The church must officially recognize the divorce, and then the divorced
person is free to remarry. Wedding services for those remarrying
include a rite of penitence and the expression of sorrow over the
previous, failed marriage.
1. The Book of Common Prayer (New York: Seabury Press,
1979), p. 423.
Copyright ©2006 Kendra Hotz
G. Hotz serves as Adjunct Professor of Theology at Memphis
Theological Seminary. She formerly taught at Calvin College. Hotz
is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and coauthor
(with Matthew T. Mathews) of Shaping
the Christian Life: Worship and the Religious Affections
(2006) and coauthor of Transforming
Care: A Christian Vision of Nursing Practice (2005).
from What Do Our Neighbors Believe?: Questions and Answers on
Judaism, Christianity and Islam by Howard Greenstein, Kendra
Hotz, and John Kaltner are used by permission from Westminster John
Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky. The book will be available for
purchase in December 2006.