Elder D. Todd Christofferson’s 2015 General Conference talk, “Why Marriage, Why Family,” recently came up in a dinner conversation as an intriguing example of helping LDS people to think more deeply about marriage. A new friend, a professor, observed that it was interesting that Elder Christofferson chose to draw upon a Protestant theologian for a lucid explanation of marriage, and wondered if perhaps LDS writings on this topic have not been sufficiently thoughtful and eloquent to provide an abundance of equally valuable insights. In any case, Dietrich Bonhoeffer offers a valuable perspective on marriage that takes it beyond the romantic love we tend to emphasize. Here is the relevant excerpt from Elder Christofferson:
Above the Great West Door of the
renowned Westminster Abbey in London, England, stand the statues of 10
Christian martyrs of the 20th century. Included among them is Dietrich
Bonhoeffer, a brilliant German theologian born in 1906. Bonhoeffer
became a vocal critic of the Nazi dictatorship and its
treatment of Jews and others. He was imprisoned for his active
opposition and finally executed in a concentration camp. Bonhoeffer was a
prolific writer, and some of his best-known pieces are letters that
sympathetic guards helped him smuggle out of prison, later published as Letters and Papers from Prison.
One of those letters was to his niece before her wedding. It included these
significant insights: “Marriage is more than your love for each other….
In your love you see only your two selves in the world, but in marriage
you are a link in the chain of the generations, which God causes to
come and to pass away to his glory, and calls into his kingdom. In your
love you see only the heaven of your own happiness, but in marriage you
are placed at a post of responsibility towards the world and mankind.
Your love is your own private possession, but marriage is more than
something personal—it is a status, an office. Just as it is the crown,
and not merely the will to rule, that makes the king, so it is marriage,
and not merely your love for each other, that joins you together in the
sight of God and man. … So love comes from you, but marriage from
above, from God.” [Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, ed. Eberhard Bethge (1953), 42–43.]
Bonhoeffer gives a clear reminder of what marriage is meant to be, in my opinion. Terribly unpopular words today, but worthy of consideration. This won’t win arguments with critics, but for those wondering how to approach the topic of marriage from the perspective of faith, Bonhoeffer’s words and Elder Christofferson’s further comments might be helpful.
Of course, we live in an era of complexity where we often need to work closely with and respect those with many different perspectives, tendencies, lifestyle choices, and beliefs, perhaps even in our own families. But somewhere in there, understanding our own beliefs and being able to explain them when someone wishes to understand is a positive step.