A Not So Modest Proposal: Faithfully Redefining Methodist Marriage

Dr. Teri R. Merrick, PhD

This paper is part of an EPS web project, “Philosophical Discussions on Marriage and Family.”

In The Empirical Stance, philosopher of science Bas Van Fraassen argues that religious traditions, like scientific traditions, can undergo Kuhnian epistemic crises and paradigm shifts. Resolving these crises often involves modifying the meaning of concepts considered core to the tradition’s identity. This then poses an epistemic challenge for would-be faithful practitioners, namely, how can a proposed modification of a core concept be prospectively judged as a reasonable and legitimate extension of the tradition, rather than the heterodox departure it appears to be?

This paper argues that many Protestant traditions face an epistemic crisis concerning the classical definition of Christian marriage. The paper goes on to show how Protestants, e.g., specifically Methodists, might go about modifying the concept of Christian marriage in a manner remaining sufficiently loyal to all that is best in our Christian past.

The full-text of this paper is available for FREE by clicking here.

In a recent lecture at Azuza Pacific Univerity, Merrick lectured on an extension of this paper with relevance for the critique by Adam Omelianchuk. Watch “St. Augustine and Justice Kennedy on The Good of Marriage.”

In light of Merrick’s EPS paper, the lecture addresses how Merrick views

  • the relationship between sexual ethics and marital ethics
  • whether the goods of marriage and the spousal virtues necessary for attaining those goods should extend beyond a two person union and between divorced couples; and
  • a nuanced account of the patriarchy implicit in Augustine’s discussion of monogamous and polygamous unions.

The presentation is also more explicit in terms of explaining Merrick’s motivations for reconsidering the traditional definition of Christian marriage, particularly in relation to the biomedical treatment of intersex people. In short, pace Omelianchuk’s reply, “I am not advocating that we simply read off our theology of marriage from what ‘social sciences’ are saying about sex and gender. I am, however, advocating that our theological reflections should be informed by bioethical considerations that parents of intersex children and presumably their pastors are facing.”