Marriage: Patriarchal, Sacramental, Or Covenantal? -- By: Cristina Richie

Journal: Priscilla Papers
Volume: PP 31:3 (Summer 2017)
Article: Marriage: Patriarchal, Sacramental, Or Covenantal?
Author: Cristina Richie


Marriage: Patriarchal, Sacramental, Or Covenantal?

Cristina Richie

Cristina Richie is on the faculty of the Bioethics and Interdisciplinary Studies Department at the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina. She has also taught at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, Tufts University, and Gordon- Conwell Theological Seminary. She has published extensively on ethical and theological topics such as in-vitro fertilization, war and combat, environmental stewardship, marriage, and global health care justice. Cristina holds a PhD in theological ethics from Boston College.

Many modern Western marriage rituals—from engagement, to the wedding ceremony, to post-union practices such as female surname change—are clearly patriarchal. Various customs, including engagement rings that act as modern dowries, separate wedding vows where the woman “loves, honors, and obeys” and the man “loves, honors, and cherishes,” and unequal childrearing, create a system that oppresses women and subordinates them both within and outside of the home. The Christian ritual of marriage, however, redeems patriarchal marriage through emphasis on sacrament in the Roman Catholic Church1 and on covenant in Protestant denominations.2

In Catholicism, a union is a grace that symbolizes the mystery of Christ’s love for the church. In Protestantism, a couple is united in a formative union that aids one on the path to sanctification. In recent years, the covenant marriage has become a legally binding, recognized form of Christian marriage.3 Since both the sacramental and the covenantal marriage are predicated on God instead of the human couple, cultural—and hence non-theistic—patriarchal mores need not determine pre- and post-marriage rituals.

This article will first overview six categories of marriages in America and then focus on patriarchal, sacramental, and covenantal marriage.4 I will highlight aspects of patriarchal marriage present in most American unions, explain the Catholic view on the sacrament of matrimony, and then proceed to an egalitarian presentation of the covenant of marriage for evangelicals.5 Based on covenantal theology and scriptures such as Eph 5:25-28, 31-32 and Mal 2:11-16, I will emphasize God as the progenitor, sustainer, and redeemer of Christian marriage and...

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