Can You Define the Relationship?

We are living in strange times — specifically, in the age of the abortion contracts, wedleases, and throuples.

In 2007, J.J. Redick launched his NBA career with the Orlando Magic. Much ballyhooed out of Duke University, Redick entered games for essentially one purpose: to hit three-point shots. This he did with enough panache — and game-winning success — to make opposing fans all over the country dislike him (it’s a Duke thing, too).

Though his on-court role was uncomplicated, it appears that Redick’s off-court life was anything but. In the course of “seeing” model Vanessa Lopez, Redick allegedly hired a legal team to draw up an “abortion contract.” Basically, the document required Redick to “maintain a social and/or dating relationship” with Lopez for at least one year as long as she agreed to abort a child she claimed had been conceived by the couple (Redick says no child was conceived). In addition, should Redick decide he couldn’t “maintain” his “relationship” with Lopez, he would pay her $25,000.

Behind the Abortion Contract

In a sinful world, we glimpse something particularly depraved in this abortion contract, and also something uniquely insightful about modern culture.

From what one can see online, Redick’s main care seems to be himself. Neither Lopez nor the life created, ostensibly, by his “relationship” with her is his ultimate concern. He had the contract drafted, apparently, to give himself an escape route from two outcomes that would threaten his stability. First, if a baby had been conceived, his life was to be terminated, with said termination proven by a medical examination. Redick thus freed himself from the duty of raising a child. Second, if Redick did not wish to “maintain” a “relationship” with Lopez, he would simply cut her a check and walk away. Redick thus freed himself from the duty of loving and caring for a woman.

The abortion contract yields a crucial cultural insight. It shows us the desire of worldly modern men reduced to its essence: to have sex with women without concern for either the well-being of said women or the children that intercourse might create. What has been torn down, then? Only this: marriage. What replaces marriage? Answer: the undefinable, could-be-almost-anything “relationship.”

A relationship, we see, is easily made, and easily broken.

The Wedlease

The abortion contract isn’t the only means devised today to facilitate a fluid exit from marriage and its trappings. In recent days, the “wedlease” popped onto the scene in Paul Rampell’s opinion piece for the Washington Post. The idea is that two people commit themselves to marriage for a set period of time, and at the end of that period, the couple can agree to renew the lease or go their separate ways.

In addition to this striking language — renew the lease, more associated with two-bedroom-condos than marital covenants — we again spot that strange modern word: “relationship.” Absent the rock-solid institution of marriage, we must substitute an amorphous blob of a term. The temporary marriage, the wedlease, stewards the “relationship.” This is hugely important for understanding the culture today. For a growing number of people disillusioned by divorce, it is not marriage that is the essence, the reality-making-sense-of-all-others. It is the relationship. Marriages exist only to steward relationships, which are suggested as the highest form of love.

The “Throuple”

We see this assumption in two recent discussions of “polyamorous” arrangements. The first, “My Two Husbands,” is from Angi Becker Stevens, who claims you can have multiple loving relationships at the same time. The second, from Washingtonian magazine, is titled “Married, But Not Exclusive” and is written by Brooke Lea Foster, who says polyamorous relationships — “throuples” — are for people who just want the freedom to fall in love with other people.

So, here again: “relationship.” The term is not inherently wrong, but like a runaway cargo train, it storms through both these pieces. If you want to understand where Western society is going, you must understand this: marriage does not define a “relationship” for an increasing number of post-Christian people — it is a “relationship” that defines marriage.

But all is not hunky-dory in relationship-ville. This new form of union doesn’t remove “relationships” of technicalities and difficulties; it actually increases them. In place of a simple, steadfast covenant, all sorts of legalese must be drafted, with provisions and exceptions and nuances. Forsaking the divine simplicity of biblical wisdom always creates pain — and complicated legal headaches besides.  

How Should Christians Respond?

First, it is right to feel moral outrage. The gospel creates, above all else, a love for God and his holiness. It is right to feel unsettled by sin and its fruits. It signifies that our conscience is alive. Our moral radar works. An infinitely holy God is offended to an infinite degree by unrighteousness. He, and no one else, is derided by these perversions.

Second, it is good to feel compassion for sinners caught in these traps. They may celebrate their sin. They may seem liberated. They might look happy, and think they are. But they are not. They are imprisoned by their lusts, and desperately lost, just as all of us are before Jesus snatches us from the pit. If the gospel creates a hatred of sin, it also creates the deepest possible compassion for the unrighteous.

Third, it is wise to understand and counter these trends. Christians are called to be “salt and light” and, in the second greatest commandment, to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 5:13–14; 22:39). It is not un-Christian to identify perversion and persuade sinners to leave it. Christians at all levels should engage in this difficult, easily hateable, but transformative work.

Fourth, it is joy-giving to exalt marriage by word and deed. Whether married or not, Christians can celebrate the institution of marriage. God creates marriage at the start of salvation history, and he teaches us that marriage is a central metaphor of his love for his redeemed people (Genesis 2:18–25; Ephesians 5:22–33). We don’t have to be wedded in this life to exalt marriage. We are all joined in holy love to Christ. So we will be for eternity.

If, though, we are married — and many Christians will be — then we have a precious and ever-rarer privilege: to demonstrate in living detail the beauty of a gospel marriage. You want a plan for cultural engagement on this front? Get married. You want to vindicate wedlock in the eyes of its detractors? Be happily married. You want to launch into hard-core activism to turn lost friends away from homosexuality, polyamory, and unbridled sexual selfishness? Stay married.

Marriage Grounded in the Gospel

Few things are more surprising, more remarkable, and more proclamatory than marriages grounded in Jesus Christ that persist through the trials and the long duration of life. Small annoyances, devastating cancer, personality differences, financial difficulties, spiritual battles, depression, terrible accidents, heartbreaking loss of children, sexual temptation, familial conflict, Satanic attack: all these are overcome in the gospel-driven marriage, led by a redeemed man who never leaves his wife or children.

It’s not the fancy kind of marriage, shiny and bleached-perfect, that speaks a better word to the world than abortion contracts, wedleases, and polyamory. It’s the humble, hard-won kind. It’s the kind with two imperfect people, lots of challenges, and a mighty rushing force of Spirit-given commitment.

As the society trades in marriage for devastating counterfeits, we’re reminded that only marriage will save us in the end. It’s what marriage pictures, after all, that is our real hope. It is the marriage of Jesus and his church. It is the Jesus who has done more than bring us into a “relationship” — but who, in amazing grace, has brought us into an eternal covenant with himself by his blood.

In strange times, this is the gospel answer we, and our unsaved friends, desperately need.