Setting marriage up on a Christian pedestal

Julia Battishill

Dissecting relationship ideals in churches 

The issue of Christianity and marriage stretches as far back as the church does; Protestantism itself began in England due to royal marital issues, and the discussion regarding the way the church handles marriage has continued since.

Depending upon denomination or even individual church and family values, there are various views on Christianity and marriage.

Christianity is thought to value marriage very highly, perhaps even ‘too highly,’ as is believed by some of those involved in the Christian church. The ideal of a beautiful Christian marriage is, some say, pushed too heavily and too often.

Others believe the Christian church handles marriage perfectly.

SPU students see this in their time at school, from the “ring-by-spring” joke to discussion of marriage with friends and in classes. While marriage has become idealized in the church in many respects, there are those at SPU who feel that marriage should focus around the idea of finding the right person and investing in the relationship rather than the act of coupling for the sake of coupling.

Sophomore theology major Shannon Hamilton feels that the involvement of Christianity in marriage is simply the added love and grace of God in the relationship.

“To me, marriage represents commitment to loving another person through it all. Based on my own beliefs, I feel that relationships rooted in God’s love and goodness are foundations for lasting marriages,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton, however, is not the only one who believes that commitment is an integral part of the relationship between marriage and Christianity. Dr. Daniel Castelo, SPU professor of dogmatic and constructive theology, also feels that Christianity and marriage together create a strong emphasis on commitment and the covenant.

“For Christians, marriage is a bond between two people that has both contractual and covenantal dimensions. Many want to stress the covenantal dimensions for good reason,” Castelo said.
He continued to explain that, in the Bible, marriage and weddings are often referenced in metaphorical contexts to discuss important covenants.

“After all,” Castelo said, “marriage imagery is often put to use in the Bible and in Christian tradition to talk of the relationship between YHWH and Israel as well as Christ and his church.”

As far as the national and religious emphasis on marriage goes, Castelo believes that marriage should be addressed in a way that makes room for single Christians alongside married ones.

“The USA often highlights marriage as an ideal state, a sign of a successful relational life, but that is problematic on a number of scores. First, this is unfair to single people, and within Christian tradition there is a place for singlehood, including singlehood taken up intentionally as a spiritual practice,” Castelo continued.

This idealism of marriage by Christians is influenced by different factors, as churches and denominations all have distinct cultures that affect their views on marriage.

Sophomore Grace Bryant believes that one of these factors is often the desire for, and pressure surrounding, building the traditional family.

“I guess, to me, it seems that the whole intersection between Christianity and the push to get married early has a lot to do with the pressure to have kids, and fulfill the traditional roles handed down through generations,” she explained.

Castelo knows that marriage is a serious undertaking and can be a challenging one, saying that “the idealism surrounding marriage often overlooks the degree to which it is a demanding moral process.

“What I mean by a ‘demanding moral process’ is that it involves more than simply satisfying ‘me and my needs.’”

As many have said, successful marriage is a give-and-take process, and like any close relationship, it requires a certain level of selflessness and understanding to function well.

SPU student Dominick Winter sees this, believing that marriage should be an equal relationship. He feels that the church may assign too binding a role to gender in marriage. In his opinion and his relationships, stereotypical gendered roles should take less of a precedence in the marriage.

“I think I view marriage similarly to the church, but it may be less important to me who is “in charge” in the relationship,” Winter said. “ I believe it is best to have a back-and-forth, based on experience rather than gender stereotype.”

All sources agree that the hope for — and often idealization of — a loving marriage is well integrated into Christian culture. This, according to some, is inescapable in the culture at a Christian university such as SPU.

“I sense that [a] kind of idealism with the ‘ring-by-spring’ language,” Castelo said, “and I would hope that we could foster a more honest account of marriage, both in terms of its benefits and demands/challenges.”

Many SPU students know the campus joke “ring-by-spring.” It is a well-circulated, widely known saying on this campus, referring to the way that Christian college students tend to get engaged in a hurry.

Not all students are laughing, though. Winter worries that the joke might be doing more harm than good, particularly towards those who are not in a relationship by spring quarter.

“Ring-by-spring is unnecessary,” Winter said. “[It] may be ‘fun,’ but [it] shouldn’t be seen as a requirement. I believe I’ve heard people say that it feels as if it affects self-worth if they ‘fail’ to get someone by spring.”

Hamilton, whose concentration in Theology is educational ministry, has given a lot of thought to the trend and the ideals behind it. She recognizes that all relationships are different, and that engagements should occur when it is natural for both parties.

“When it comes to ring-by-spring, I feel that all relationships are different. It’s not for me to be critical of when others feel the timing is right to tie the knot,” explained Hamilton

Bryant added that the supposed quickness of SPU engagements may be affected by the likelihood of meeting someone whose religious beliefs align with one’s own.

“It’s also important to think about the pressure to marry someone of the same faith as you, and that’s easier to accomplish at a Christian university,” Bryant said.

However, should someone choose to get married around springtime, Hamilon jokingly added, “it’s the best time of the year anyways.”