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Tying the knot, theologically

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David Oughton, Ph.D., an associate professor of Theological Studies at SLU and founder of the St. Louis Dialogue Group of the World’s Religions and Philosophies, summed up the goals of the group at its 57th meeting on Wednesday, March, 18th.

“For many years now,” he said, “people from different religions here in the St. Louis area have been coming together for dialogue meetings, and our purpose, of course, is to understand each other, not to debate each other.”

Indeed, this mantra was behind Wednesday night’s dialogue meeting, where several members of various faith communities – including Hinduism, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, Chinese Buddhism, Reform Judaism and Humanism – were presented with the question of what their faiths, or philosophies, teach and practice about various aspects of marriage. The dialogue posed the question: “What does your religion teach about the purpose and permanency of marriage as well as the wedding ceremony, sexuality, artificial contraception, polygamy, divorce, same-gender marriages, arranged marriages, and interreligious marriage?”

The event began with a panel discussion led by each of the representatives of the five faiths and philosophies present at the dialogue, and attendees were then given the opportunity to ask the panelists questions after the initial discussion. During the panel discussion, the representatives of the five faiths each gave an individual presentation about how their respective faith viewed various aspects of marriage.

“Do you know what is called married life?” Swami Chetanananda of the Hindi Vedanta Society asked the crowd.  “Let me tell you. The first year, husband speaks, wife listens. The second year, wife speaks, husband listens. [The] third year, both speak and the neighbors listen.”

While this response and others’ – James Croft of the Humanist Ethical Society mentioned that a couple he once married requested that a quote from “Star Trek” be read at their ceremony – drew laughter from the audience, the panelists also got to the heart of what their faiths teach.

“The main goal of Hindu life, of Hindu marriage, is strong … married life,” Chetanananda said. He also added that Hindus stress the importance of giving up selfishness to find joy in marital unions. Sacrifice, peace, harmony, and mutual love and respect are vital to any marriage, he stressed.

Venerable Jue Hang, a Chinese Buddhist nun, expressed similar sentiments, and she outlined the Buddhist eightfold path and five precepts – one of which includes a restriction against sexual misconduct – as the tenets of Buddhist views on marriage. She also iterated that non-violence is a key aspect of the Buddhist faith and its views on marriage.

For Rabbi Susan Talve of Reform Judaism, marriage is about a union of souls – however confusing this may sometimes seems in our imperfect physical world.

“When you’re souls that want to connect with each other, somehow, sometimes, it doesn’t make sense in the garden that we’re in,” she said. “But it always makes sense on the soul level.”

The event brought together many views on marriage, and while not all may share the same beliefs (Rev. Sherrie Saunders of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, for example, pressed the case for the binding nature of Scripture while James Croft of the Ethical Society said that “the people are bigger than marriage”), they, as expressed by Talve, were grateful to be together and discussing a worthwhile topic.

Marriage is beautiful, Talve said, “Because this couple is getting married, this couple is going to make a … house of peace. We’re shouting…and having a great time because we know that the world will be a little less broken because they are family.”

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Tying the knot, theologically