My friend Tommy Kidd wrote a controversial blog post last May entitled, “Why Churches Should Stop Performing Marriages.” TK begins with this statement:
The institution of marriage has been in trouble for a long time, and the greatest threat it faces is not gay marriage. It is the careless attitude with which marriage is regarded by modern westerners. For many, marriage is merely a matter of personal convenience, susceptible to termination for just about any reason, including a simple waning of interest in your spouse. Making binding promises before God has nothing to do with it. No wonder that many in our culture imagine that a “marriage” could be between people of the same sex. If marriage is all about individual preference, why not define it however you want? It it’s just about two people making a temporary agreement, then why should consenting adults not be allowed to define the terms of their agreement however they please?
Side-stepping the gay-marriage issue, I want to zone in on what TK observes to be a hot button cultural issue: the careless attitude with which marriage is regarded by modern westerners. [disclaimer: this post will have LOTS of bullet points].
This issue has come into view in the past week as NBA Super-Duper Star LeBron James recently announced his engagement to his girlfriend Savannah Brinson.
Now, before I weigh into this story let me affirm the following:
- I am “for” men marrying the women they love.
- I am “for” the idea of a committed marriage relationship.
- I am “for” people, even high-earning athletes, finding fulfillment in marriage.
- I am more in favor of couples who getting married than couples who live together.
With those four statements made, I will now weigh into the LeBron story.
LeVannah are engaged to be married. (This is my combined name for LeBron and Savannah, like Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes are “TomKat” or like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are “Brangelina”). Here are some facts you should know about the relationship — raise your hand if you notice a yellow or red flag:
- LeVannah have been dating for 10 years.
- LeVannah describe each other as “soul mates.”
- LeVannah love each other very much.
- LeVannah communicate well.
These are things you would want any healthy couple to have, right? Continuing:
- LeVannah have had 2 children together, LeBron Jr. (5) and Bryce (2).
- LeVannah have lived together for some time, sharing lavish mansions in both Akron, Ohio and Miami, Florida.
Okay, wait a minute. Common sense social math indicates that Children + a home together = family. There are a number of questions that flood to mind:
- Why hasn’t marriage come into play until now? Why not prior to having kids? Or after LeBron’s rookie contract (When he had enough money to support a family)? Or between the birthing of your two kids (When “settling down” would have been relationally warranted)?
- Why engagement as opposed to eloping? After all, you guys live together and have kids together. What function does your engagement serve? What more do you need to be prepared for if you have developed a good communication pattern at this point?
- Is this engagement really on par with the engagement that my wife and I went through? Our engagement was a period of preparation for marriage? You guys have been common-law married for 10-ish years? Why not just elope and make the title fit the practiced lifestyle?
In reality, I can only think of a few reasons that LeBron and Savannah have moved to frame their relationship in this manner:
- Hypothetically Speaking: like many professional athletes, LeBron may like to sleep around (I cannot confirm this). Thus, it could be ethically easier to sleep around on a girlfriend than on a wife. Perhaps, this engagement is an indication that LeBron wants to stop sleeping around.
- Perhaps they have been secretly legally married for some time and this is some PR deal to appease sponsors or team management (I am hoping for this one).
- Perhaps LeVannah have been affected by this post-modern distaste for proper labels and have, instead, opted to “just go with the flow” in their relationship without ever needed to define intentions and set parameters and expectations.
- Maybe LeBron doesn’t want to stop sleeping around. Engagement moves the relationship towards a more socially acceptable label without bringing on the ethical dilemma of cheating on one’s wife. They could be engaged for another decade in this arrangement.
- Maybe it’s a “protecting your wealth” issue. If Savannah was LeBron’s wife, she would be entitled to up to half of his assets in a divorce. But LeBron’s girlfriend would not be entitled to any of it in the event of a breakup. Savvy accounting?
These hypothetical situations don’t mesh, however, with the aforementioned fact list about LeVannah.
- LeBron sleeping around doesn’t mesh with the idea of “soul mates” unless Savannah has a creepy Andrei Kirilenko agreement with LeBron.
- LeBron not wanting to share his wealth does not mesh with their ideal of being soul mates.
- The likely solutions must be numbers 2 or 3 (Let’s hope for 2).
In any case, LeVannah’s engagement brings Tommy’s point into focus. Modern Americans and Europeans tend to view the terms “marriage” and even “engagement” as malleable symbols onto which we can project any meaning. This explains LeVannah. It explains Russell Brand and Katie Perry’s recent news of divorce. It explains almost every celebrity marriage and seemingly every under-40 divorce that happens in the West. Marriage has lost all its meaning in popular usage.
In that sense, I agree completely with Tommy that the Church should reclaim and put a ridiculously expensive copyright on the term “marriage” and force everyone else to use a lesser term like “civil union” or “love commitment” or whatever. Marriage will only be allowed to be used by an ordained minister in a local Bible believing church where pastors can reclaim the meaning and significance of a commitment to love one another to the glory of God.