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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