Fundamental Belief Number 23 (Marriage and the Family)

Marriage was divinely established in Eden and affirmed by Jesus to be a lifelong union between a man and a woman in loving companionship. For the Christian a marriage commitment is to God as well as to the spouse, and should be entered into only between a man and a woman partners who share a common faith. Mutual love, honor, respect, and responsibility are the fabric of this relationship, which is to reflect the love, sanctity, closeness, and permanence of the relationship between Christ and His church. Regarding divorce, Jesus taught that the person who divorces a spouse, except for fornication, and marries another, commits adultery. Although some family relationships may fall short of the ideal, a man and a woman marriage partners who fully commit themselves to each other in Christ through marriage may achieve loving unity through the guidance of the Spirit and the nurture of the church. God blesses the family and intends that its members shall assist each other toward complete maturity. Increasing family closeness is one of the earmarks of the final gospel message. Parents are to bring up their chil­dren to love and obey the Lord. By their example and their words they are to teach them that Christ is a loving, tender, and caring guide loving disciplinarian, ever tender and caring who wants them to become members of His body, the family of God which embraces both single and married persons. (Increasing family closeness is one of the earmarks of the final gospel message.) (Gen. 2:18-25; Exod 20:12; Deut 6:5-9; Prov. 22:6; Mal. 4:5, 6; Matt. 5:31, 32; 19:3-9; Mark 10:11, 12; John 2:1-11; 1 Cor 7:7, 10, 11; 2 Cor 6:14; Eph 5:21-33; 6:1-4.) (Gen. 2:18-25; Exod. 20:12; Deut. 6:5-9; Prov. 22:6; Mal. 4:5, 6; Matt. 5:31, 32; 19:3-9, 12; Mark 10:11, 12; John 2:1-11; 1 Cor. 7:7, 10, 11; 2 Cor. 6:14; Eph. 5:21-33; 6:1-4.)

There were multiple changes made in this FB at San Antonio last year. The phrase “a man and a woman” replaces “partners,” and then “marriage partners.” It was felt that the word “partners” is commonly associated with same-sex marriages today, to it was necessary to replace them in order to remove any ambiguity. The phrase “through marriage” reintroduced the word “marriage” which had been removed in the previous line. “Increasing family closeness is one of the earmarks of the final gospel message” was moved from the last sentence of the fundamental to the next to the last sentence. The phrase “loving, tender, and caring guide” replaced “loving disciplinarian, ever tender and caring” because the English word “disciplinarian” has taken on a negative tone in recent years. The final change comes at the end where the words “which embraces both single and married persons” was inserted to make the point that single members are as valuable to the family of God as married persons are.

It is not clear exactly what the writers intended by “short of the ideal.” But if they were implying that every marriage is salvageable, that is not correct. For complex reasons, not every marriage can be fixed. One may pray for the restoration of a leg that was lost in battle or a car accident, but one should not expect the leg to magically re-appear in most instances. To imply that all marriages can be fixed is not only false, but on many occasions it can be cruel.

For most church members, the lines between doctrine, standards and policy are not clearly defined. They are often treated in practice as if they were the same. When it comes to divorce and remarriage, the reality is that the church does not always follow policy and this statement may be an attempt to address that.

It is probably not a good idea to rhapsodize regarding the joys of heterosexual marriage in a congregation that is half single people. There may be a fine line between encouraging healthy marriages and discouraging singles and divorcees. It may be helpful to keep in mind that according to Jesus, marriage may be a temporary institution (Matt 22:23-33). In the future things will be different, so singles in this life won’t necessarily miss out on something in the next. One could argue from Jesus and Paul that singleness is an ideal for the follower of Jesus. Having said this, it is commendable that in the latest version of this statement, there is a positive statement with regard to singles.

The implication that divorce is simply not an option can be a dangerous idea, in some circumstances urging or even compelling people to stay in a relationship with an abuser or even at times a murderer. The issue of marriage and divorce was debated in Jesus’ day. You had among the Pharisees the schools of Hillel and Shammai. Hillel believed that divorce, for men at least, should be fairly easy to obtain. Shammai had a much stricter view, which Jesus seems to adopt in the gospels (Matt 19:1-9; Mark 10:2-13; Luke 16:18). The intent of the teaching was to protect women in a society where they had no standing. Jesus was arguing for protection, not endangerment! To insist that women stay in a dangerous relationship may seem pious in a “plain reading” sort of way, but actually undermines the original intent of the rule. Taking an extreme position on this issue can encourage violence in some circumstances and adultery in others (trapping the partner into adultery so you can free yourself from the relationship).

It is the terrorist mindset that tries to carry out every detail of Scripture without deviation or accommodation. The reality is that Scripture often presents an ideal, then recognizes that in the real world the ideal often doesn’t work out. In 1 Corinthians 7, for example, Paul six times lays out an ideal for believers to live up to, then follows that statement with “but if” (the real). Moses lays out God’s goal for marriage in Genesis 2 (the ideal), then lays out rules to regulate divorce in Deuteronomy 24 (the real). Jesus makes strict divorce statements (the ideal) but tells the woman taken in adultery that He doesn’t condemn her but instead invites a change (the real). Ellen White makes strict statements (the ideal), but in actual situations was surprisingly lenient (the real). This fundamental lays out a strong ideal, and that is needed. It could, perhaps, have said a bit more about the real.

At Loma Linda University we are forced by reality to deal with issues not fully addressed by this FB or any other. Should same-sex marriage be treated the way the state does now or should it be treated as a form of promiscuity? Is there some mediating position between those extremes? When required by the state, should an institution like Loma Linda give health and retirement benefits to the partners in a legal, state-recognized same-sex marriage? How do you handle the issue of test-tube babies? What about requests for trans-gender surgeries? What about surgeries to correct intersex anomalies? And these are only the tip of the iceberg. When you are seeking to continue the healing ministry of Jesus Christ in today’s world, how far do you go? There are lots of intelligent people at Loma Linda, yet we struggle with many issues that the church has not clearly defined for us. This is why the work of expressing Adventist belief in human language will never be over. Circumstances alter cases and we are continually confronted with new questions that are not directly addressed by revelation, reason, common sense, or tradition. Pray for us as we seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance in matters that are too great for us to handle on our own.