Marriage, part 1: Why difference matters

This is the first in a five-part series on marriage, wherein I discuss charity in marriage, why the gay community should favor marriage between a man and a woman, and why Latter-day Saints are not positioned well to defend against gay marriage.

In all three scriptural accounts of the physical creation, Adam is created of the dust of the earth, while Eve was created of Adam (Genesis 2:7, 21-22; Moses 3:7, 21-22; Abraham 5:7, 15-16). Adam, upon seeing woman for the first time, notes the significance of this division when he calls woman bone of his bone, and flesh of his flesh. What is striking to me is what Adam says next: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (v. 24 in Genesis and Moses, emphasis mine). Were they not already one flesh before God removed the rib from Adam’s side?

I’m intrigued by the literary symbolism here: Adam is created as the first flesh; woman is created next, of man, as though man and woman are two parts of a single whole; recognizing this, Adam feels compelled to “leave his father and mother” and cleave unto Eve and – be one flesh (again?). This statement by Adam is often used to introduce the topic of unity in marriage. But the narrative leading up to this statement seems to suggest that, before Adam and Eve could be “one flesh,” they need first to be divided, or different.

Paul has something to say about the relationship between difference and unity. In 1 Corinthians 12, he talks about members of the church as members of the Body of Christ. In being united, or being one body, difference is essential. He asks, if we were all the same, what kind of body would we be? His answer: not much of one. “If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?” (v. 17).  Being one, then, has more to do with working as a whole, contributing our various – unique – talents to the building up of the kingdom, with Christ at our head.

When wards are truly united, they do this well: each member has a particular role to play – perhaps a role that can’t be played as well by any other member. When each member in his or her role is functioning well, the ward thrives and a spirit of love and charity seems to reign.

Yet, popular wisdom sometimes suggests that couples should avoid conflict. When it arises, conflict should be “resolved,” which usually means that some sort of agreement ought to be reached. If that is impossible, disagreement ought to just be ignored (tolerance). But spouses will always have differences and if we take Paul seriously, the key is not to eliminate or ignore the differences, but instead to embrace those differences.

Our creation narratives seem to offer us this wisdom: being one flesh is not about being the same, but about being different – and being united through those differences. Valuing  differences is part and parcel of unity, whether in congregations or in marriage, and necessary in order for love and charity to thrive in our relationships.

What might this mean? For starters, we are all different. Being married ought to mean loving someone different than us. And by loving, I don’t mean tolerating; I mean truly valuing that person – differences and all – and what they uniquely contribute to whole of the marriage.  That is, after all, God-like love. And perhaps it is best practiced in marriage.

In the next post, I will explore where God-like love is best learned.

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15 Responses

  1. Corinthians 1:12 explicitly talks about the difference between males. As such, I fail to see what it has to do with this specific conversation. Your parsing of the Adam and Eve story has Eve in a clearly subservient role during her creation. Is that your real point? Wouldn’t it be more doctrinal for you to argue that females not only should be subservient to their husbands but also shouldn’t be allowed painkillers during childbirth?

    Genesis 3:16 Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.

    None of these seems to have anything to do with the civil (not religious) definition of marriage.

  2. You missed a “scriptural account of the physical creation,” Genesis 1:26-27 where the creation of man and woman is much more egalitarian. Oversight or deliberate?

  3. djinn, maybe you should hold fire until you see the whites of their eyes rather than jumping from your foxhole spewing bullets in random directions. The man hasn’t gotten anywhere yet, other than to claim that differences have value.

  4. djinn:

    I fail to see the relevance of your comments. If it really is the case that I have put women in a subservient role, you’ll need to argue much better than you have.

    This might help you (and other readers): I do not claim that Adam was born first and Eve second. If I claim anything (which I don’t do in any literal sense), it is that the first flesh, Adam (which means “many”), was androgynous – both male and female. Then, from this first flesh, Adam and Eve were pulled apart, if you will, and made into man and woman.

  5. I think I like the way you’re setting this up, Joe.

    I think one of the problems about the marriage debate is that people reduce sexuality to matters of mere preference of pleasure. Here I see you calling for a non-reductionist look at the meaning of marriage and sexuality that is not reducible to these things–and indeed, one reason that it is not is because of sexual difference!

    I don’t have anything else to add at this point, other than to say that if you haven’t already, you should read some of Robert George’s work on this. I disagree with much of what he says (and I don’t buy into his natural law framework), but I do think he has some important things to say about sexual difference.

  6. Given that gender is an eternal attribute, why would Adam be androgynous prior to the physical creation of Eve?

  7. I’m not sure I would argue that Adam was androgynous in any literal sense. In a literary sense, it seems quite plausible that Adam (which does NOT mean “many” – sorry about that earlier) was the “one” from which male and female sprung.

    But again, I’m only talking about literary symbolism – it’s not meant to be my argument, but to be used to build my argument that being different is an important part of being one flesh.

  8. […] Posts Marriage, part 2: Teaching our children charityMarriage, part 1: Why difference mattersWhy Mormons Should Be the Most Environmentally Friendly People on EarthMormon Creation Narratives […]

  9. He called THEIR name “Adam” sounds andro(male)gynous(female) to me…

  10. Gen 5:2 or Moses 6:9; thanks Brent

  11. Hello. My name is Shellie. I know some of you like Dennis… and Joe… and maybe someone else that writes here too…

    I’m kind of nervous leaving a comment although I shouldn’t be because we both use wordpress. So that should level the playing fields pretty much.

    I agree that we have to love the differences in a marital relationship… and that the some differences don’t ever have to be resolved to have a strong marriage…

    My question is this
    what differences do you accept and embrace and what
    differences do you try to resolve…

    or do you just accept every difference?

  12. I don’t think I’m quite clear about this: by embrace, I don’t mean accept. So what do I mean?

    Well, I don’t mean to say that we should make the differences into similarities. I also don’t mean that the differences have to remain differences.

    Perhaps part of what I mean is that we need to seek to understand those differences. Rather than just run from them or force them to change, allow them to come. When they come, explore them and experiment with them. And above all, love that part of your spouse; after all, if you can’t love what is different about your spouse, then you can’t love your spouse – because that’s who they are.

    But I should clarify that to love does not mean to accept. For example, if your husband is a drug addict, then loving him means loving a drug addict. Loving a drug addict is very different from loving someone who isn’t addicted to drugs. How is it different? I don’t know; it might depend on the circumstances. Forgiving him might be a start. And you might have to forgive him every day, but you must forgive him. You might also want him sent to jail or to rehab, because it will do him good. Bottom line is any behavior you engage in toward him must be out of love for him, not to protect yourself or make yourself happy.

    That’s a start, anyway.

  13. joe o, you say “I do not claim that Adam was born first and Eve second. If I claim anything (which I don’t do in any literal sense), it is that the first flesh, Adam (which means “many”), was androgynous – both male and female. Then, from this first flesh, Adam and Eve were pulled apart, if you will, and made into man and woman.”

    With this comment, you completely undercut the other four parts of your argument. High fives all around!

  14. I can’t agree or disagree with anything that isn’t an argument.

  15. […] was going over a five-part series on marriage written by the poster Joe O over there…and I found this a reasonable […]

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