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Volume 17, Issue 2: Husbandry

Marriage and Community

Douglas Wilson

When a man and woman marry, they settle into a community. Or, at least they used to settle into a community. Today, the average American couple moves around the country regularly, chasing from one job to the next. The only difference between Christians and non-Christians in this is that some of the Christians seem vaguely uneasy about this state of affairs. But for many it is the only thing they know.

I have talked to many Christian grandparents, and a routine difficulty they experience is the problem of their kids and grandkids being scattered all over the country. Modern conveniences like air travel, cell phones, and email can ameliorate the problem somewhat, but these are still no substitute for life together. The unusual situation is one where three and four generations of the same family live together in the same community. Our society is atomistic, and the Church has apparently adapted to that.
But God has created us to live together over the course of generations, and it is worth asking what might happen when we attempt to do this. What temptations will we face, with regard to marriage and family, if we overcome the present hurdles presented by transient America? It may seem strange to try to anticipate these temptations before we are faced with them, but this is most necessary. If we don't think about where we are wanting to go, we will simply lurch away from where we already are. And fleeing from the problems caused by atomistic families does not constitute a biblical worldview concerning marriage and family. To react without thinking is the way to create clannish communities that reject "the world," but it is not the way to create true scriptural community. True community will get accused of being clannish, which is fine, so long as the accusation is false.
So as we are approaching the development of true community, we want to look ahead of us for pitfalls. That said, I am going to use these terms loosely, but I hope that they will still communicate. We really have only two choices—life in a community or life in a machine. As Christians are beginning to revolt against life in the machine, they have to take care. We are far more prone to the errors we are headed toward than the errors we are fleeing. Just because we are developing life with true familial connectedness does not mean that we are doing it in a way that is right. The fact that life in the machine is wrong does not make life in the town or village right. There have been plenty of pagan villages. And life in the city is not to be equated with life in the machine. History has seen many genuine communities in urban settings. But if we are to see the blessing of God in true community, we have to recover the backbone of true community, which is three and four generations of the same family in the same place.
When uprooting every three years to move across the country becomes the norm, it becomes easier and easier to uproot from other things. God does tell us to love our neighbor, and part of this, it seems to me, means that I ought not to glibly trade my neighbor in for a new one every two or three years—because once the habit of uprooting is deep in the bones, it is hard to limit it to geography and hometowns. This transience starts to transfer, and it eventually gets to marriage.
If marriage is for life, and it is, then we ought to think about a permanent place for that life to occur. And part of this is children and grandchildren living in the same place. This is not to say that it is a sin to move from one place to another. But when we look at the frenetic restlessness that characterizes so much of our national life generally, who cannot but wonder if this is not a larger, society-wide sin? Why are we so rootless?
But when we start to address this, and start to think about building a life that our children and grandchildren can enjoy together with us, one of the first temptations (as the tribe forms) will be the temptation to tribalism. In the Reformed world, there is a great deal of joking about "Dutch evangelism" (which, for those who haven't heard the joke, means having babies) and the joking is simultaneously affectionate and exasperated. It is affectionate because I think we see that the Dutch have done something we are all supposed to do—they really have built genuine communities. It is exasperating because sometimes those communities have become in-grown to the point of a provincialism that collides with the universal scope of Christ's love.
We cannot just wave a wand and make all the modern threats to modernity disappear. But we can and should begin asking the hard questions. When a man and a woman marry, they should think of it (normally) as settling down. And they should hope and pray and labor to settle down in a place where their children can also marry—and settle down. But as we do, we have to guard against the temptation that comes with it. Think of the temptation as a temptation to super-denominationalism. Party spirit is bad enough in many denominations that you just "join," but when the denomination is tied to blood and soil, the sectarian temptation can become fierce. And yet, the promises of God tie generations together.

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