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Morality and Ethics in Marriage

Dr. Chris and Alisa Grace pose for the cover of The Art of Relationships Podcast.

Before a crisis occurs, it is vital to have a conversation about morals and ethics within a marriage. In today's podcast, Dr. Chris Grace and Dr. Tim Muehlhoff are joined by Dr. Scott Rae, Ph.D. to discuss how, why, and when to have a difficult conversation about morals and ethics within the context of marriage. 


Chris Grace:     Well, welcome to another podcast of the Art of Relationships. I'm Chris Grace.

Tim Muehlhoff:     And I'm Tim Muehlhoff.

Chris Grace:      We are just so excited to have you join us again for a conversation that we love to have, Tim. It's about all things about marriage and relationships ...

Tim Muehlhoff:    That's right.

Chris Grace:  Different things that come and impact us, and today is a really cool day because we have a special guest. We have a guest who's a Professor of Christian Ethics, here. He's the Dean of the faculty at Talbot School of Theology, Scott Rae. So, Scott.

Tim Muehlhoff:     Welcome.

Scott Rae: Thank you, guys. 

Chris Grace:    Thank you for being here.

Scott Rae:     Happy to be part of this. So, look forward to the conversation.

Chris Grace: Oh, it's awesome. Just real quickly, Scott, your background. I know you've studied at Dallas Theological and SMU, you've got a Ph.D out of USC, and then you just have been here now at Biola, I think as long as many of us have been.

Scott Rae:      Twenty-eight years.

Chris Grace:     Twenty-eight years?

Tim Muehlhoff: Twenty-eight years. 

Scott Rae:     Yeah.

Chris Grace:    Wow, that's great. 

Scott Rae:     There's something to be said for roots and stability.

Chris Grace:     There you go, that's awesome. Well we want to talk a little bit, because your background, with your degree and your background, which we'll get into in just a minute here. It has really led you down a path to talk about a number of things related to morality and ethics and it's impact on relationships. Tell us real quickly, how you got involved in things like social ethics and what that means.

Scott Rae:     Well, here's the thing, this stuff has followed me home. In ways that I never expected. I thought that these professional types of things would be great to teach students and the next generation of pastors, but I never envisioned that God in his sort of providential sense of humor would see fit to have these things follow me home.

Chris Grace:    Yeah. 

Scott Rae:       My wife and I, right when I first started getting interested in all of these wild new reproductive technologies, was a long time ago, my wife and I began a four to five year journey with infertility ourselves.

Chris Grace:    Oh sure. 

Scott Rae:    Had no idea how painful that was gonna be. And in fact I asked her, this was several years ago, she had had a bout with breast cancer and I asked her which was worse, the bout with breast cancer, which was a double mastectomy, chemo, a terrible year, or our bout with infertility? And she said it was the bout with infertility. Without hesitation.

Tim Muehlhoff:     I'm sure a lot of listeners are shaking their heads saying I can relate to that.

Scott Rae:    And I was caught completely off guard by how painful that was gonna be. We also dealt with end-of-life issues followed me home, a journey with our parents through terminal illnesses, three of our four parents we've walked that journey with. She also dealt with a lot of genetic testing because the first early tests for genetic testing, for adults, came for the genetic link that gave you this high risk of breast cancer.

Tim Muehlhoff:    Now could she articulate, again we're three men talking about this so we have to be careful, so that surprises me that she would say infertility was just so much more difficult. Could she articulate why?

Scott Rae:     Yeah, I think because for one, at least temporarily it marked the death of a dream. And the second thing is it undercut her sense of gender identity in ways that she didn't expect. There was a lot more wrapped up in her ability to successfully carry a child, to being female, and for mine being male. The ability to father a child. That was a big shock to both of our gender identity. I think the other thing that made it painful was the number of our friends who gave us well-meaning but otherwise pretty clueless advice on what to do.

Tim Muehlhoff:   Job's friends.

Scott Rae:     Something like that. It was, and that just made it worse. So we stopped going to church on Mother's Day and Father's Day, easily the two worst days of the year.

Tim Muehlhoff:    Yeah, yeah. 

Scott Rae:   She quit going to baby showers with all her friends. You know, our friends were, as you might expect, our friends were multiplying like rabbits at the time.

Tim Muehlhoff:    Gosh. 

Scott Rae:     And so, it was just really hard to rejoice with them. It was hard to be around them when all they were talking about was, diapers and babies. It was just little reminders all the time that we had fallen short.

Tim Muehlhoff:     We have a good friend of ours, who same thing, had a daughter with Leukemia. And went through five years of just horrible treatments. And he said the exact same thing. One of the hardest things about the whole process was what people said. Coming up and saying unbelievably insensitive things, and I like what you said. Let's believe the best, the heart was in the right place, but I think people just want to say something and don't quite think through the repercussions and how that would be hurtful and things like that, yikes.

Scott Rae:     We tell our students that before you give advice to couples wrestling with infertility, be prepared to duck. Thankfully I didn't, but I was tempted to smack some of our friends. Because they asked all kinds of kind questions that my first reaction was, what makes you think that this is any of your business?

Tim Muehlhoff:   Right. 

Scott Rae:       They asked some very personal questions. About things that they had no right to ask about. And essentially I think what hurt so badly was that what we heard through their comments was this statement of, thank God it's you and not us.

Tim Muehlhoff:    Right, right. 

Scott Rae:     Nobody every said that directly but that's what these pious platitudes generally are trying to communicate.

Tim Muehlhoff:     We have a principle in Comm called feed forward. As much as possible anticipate the effects of your communication. And when the Proverbs say "Life and death is in the power of the tongue," that as much as possible anticipate what will be this person's reaction to what I am about to say, but that's hard, that's a discipline too.

Scott Rae:      It is, and I think what we recognize, that so much of the pain of this caught us off guard too. We weren't prepared for that. Nobody told us this is what you ought to expect. And I suspect I probably said some of those things to other infertile couples, just because I ... when I tell people that my wife thought that infertility was worse than going through a year of breast cancer, they're shocked to hear that. Cause nobody gets that infertility is this painful.

Tim Muehlhoff:     Boy what a great introduction to some of the questions we're gonna talk about. So you have a book called "Introducing Christian Ethics," Zondervan Press, which is helpful because maybe these are conversations we should have long before you get the news.

Scott Rae:   Yeah, that's a great point.   

Tim Muehlhoff:     I think many of us just hope and wish and plan that this is just never gonna happen. We have another good friend of ours, now everybody's gonna think, don't be friends with Muehlhoff man. Bad things happen. They were on vacation and they were driving rental bikes and a drunk driver came around the corner and smacked Floyd. He did somersault, landed head down into the windshield. When the police came they actually took Diana away from the scene, thinking that he was dead. Nobody is recovering from this. So now she's in ICU for what, 10 days, and she said to me something that made me think of you, Scott, she said "Sitting in an ICU is not the time to be having some of these conversations." Right?

Scott Rae:    That's the understatement of the year.

Tim Muehlhoff:    Yeah, so I love the fact that part of your writing is to say, hey let's actually have, as much as possible, these conversations before you're in the ICU unit.

Scott Rae:   Well yeah and most people who are probably under 50, think they're still bulletproof.

Tim Muehlhoff:    Oh boy. 

Scott Rae:    But what people don't realize is, you might remember the name Terry Schiavo.

Tim Muehlhoff:    Yeah. 

Scott Rae:    She had, her case, has national attention on removing feeding tubes. Terry Schiavo, you know how old she was when she lapsed into a vegetative state?

Tim Muehlhoff:   She was in her 20s.

Scott Rae:    She was 27. 

Tim Muehlhoff:    No way, I didn't realize that. 

Scott Rae:      It was the last thing she expected. And we tell our seminary students all the time, these are conversations that you have to have with your parents. Those are hard, those are tough conversations. But it's not fair to your family members, for them to have to guess at what you would want done.

Tim Muehlhoff:    Yeah.

Scott Rae:    Should you reach the point where you can't make decisions for yourself anymore. That's a huge burden to put on a spouse, or on adult children.

Chris Grace:     Scott, what are some recommendations then? Let's say that listeners out there are saying, yeah, I've known about this, I've wanted to talk, I've wanted to spend some time, I just don't know how to approach the conversation. What's some advice you have? What are some quick ways that you could give to somebody to say, this is how you begin.

Scott Rae:     There's a really good document that's available, some smart people simplified this so you don't have to have training in ethics or in medicine to figure this out. But it's called The Five Wishes. And it's just

Tim Muehlhoff:    Really?

Scott Rae:    And it lays out all the questions that you need to talk about and answer. It's a really good document. It's the preface to signing an advanced directive for yourself. But it's really well done. It's not particularly Christian, but it's consistent with a Christian worldview.

Tim Muehlhoff:     The first time we thought about, we had to think about this, was my wife and I were going to China, it was part of a model shoot, I was shooting for Speedo at that time. Scott's laughing and that kind of discourages me in some ways, I'll be honest with you. No we were going to China and,

Scott Rae:     Well I can understand that your wife would be the model for it.

Tim Muehlhoff:     Thank you, it was both of us, it was a couples shoot. No, we are not cutting this out Chris Grace, to say we're cutting it, no we're keeping this. But for the first time we thought, you know what, what happens if something happens to both of us? Our kids were younger. So we came up with a will for the very first time, and who was gonna be the Godparents of our kids. And we had never even really thought that way. But how silly not to think that something could happen like. So that was the very first time we said, what's gonna happen with their education fund? Who are they gonna go live with? And those are uncomfortable questions. But imagine if we didn't do anything and something did, God forbid, happen to both of us.

Scott Rae:      Oh, it would be horrendous.

Tim Muehlhoff:    Its craziness.

Scott Rae:      Yeah, and the same thing applies, medically for yourself. God forbid, but if something happened to you, or to Noreen, and she was, either you or her was not able to made decisions for yourself, what would she want done? Do you have a good idea of what that would be? And, your friend was right. Having those discussions in an ICU is probably the worst place to have it.

Tim Muehlhoff:     Worse place, yeah. 

Scott Rae:    And that's where well over half of these take place for the first time. Because being the Psychologist Chris, you would know, there's more family dysfunction emerges in an ICU per square inch than probably any other place that you can imagine. Because all the gremlins come out, and all the resentments, and all the little petty ... all the baggage comes out at the end of life. Which is why I tell our seminary students, you have to get better at this and you can't say that I'm just not gonna go visit people in hospitals. Because it's a time ... when mortality is imminent, people are really paying attention to life's most important questions.

Tim Muehlhoff:    That's good. 

Chris Grace:     So Scott, when you, as you've been dealing with this with a lot of families, and couples and students in this process, what's the big fear? Why is the conversation so hard to have?

Scott Rae:     Now that's a great question. And I think the big fear is, do I really want to know all this stuff? Do I really want all this information? I was sitting across the coffee table from a couple, they were in their probably early 30s, they were just starting to talk about having a family. And he has a history of Huntington's Disease in his family.

Chris Grace:    Which is? I'm not familiar. 

Scott Rae:     Which is a terrible degenerative neurological disease, whose symptoms don't usually on-set until you're in your late 30s or 40s. So you have a completely normal life until you're about 35 or 40 and then you start progressively falling apart neurologically.

Chris Grace:     Oh.

Scott Rae:    It's an awful way to go. Well this guy, his Dad was in his 60s and had shown no symptoms. And so they thought, we're in the clear, because the gene had skipped a generation. So they were just talking about starting a family, when he gets a call from his Dad, who's 62 at the time, and says, "I just started showing symptoms."

Chris Grace:    Oh. 

Scott Rae:     And so now he's gotta face the question, do I get tested myself? Which he's highly ambivalent about knowing if he's got a genetic ticking time bomb, but he's also gotta think about his wife now. What do we do about starting a family? Where there's a fifty fifty chance of passing on this gene. And she made a very interesting statement. She said, "I don't want to wake up at age 50 and find out we had missed an opportunity to try naturally for a family."

Tim Muehlhoff:    So in your book, "Introducing Christian Ethics," what are, where do you start? I'm sure our listeners, myself included, are just kind of overwhelmed. Where do we start? And how do you bring up this topic? And what are even the topics that we should be thinking about?

Scott Rae:     I would actually suggest that we start doing this in our churches first.

Tim Muehlhoff:    Oh. 

Scott Rae:     Because if people are only hearing about this for the first time when crisis hits, you've already lost. And you've got, well that's not true, you've not already lost, but you've got a major uphill climb ahead of you. I think if we had some discussion about this in our churches, if the preaching and teaching we would do about, say, for example, whenever we talk about resurrection and eternity, we also make some application to how we approach the end of life.

Tim Muehlhoff:    Yeah. 

Scott Rae:    Cause that's a pretty relevant application it seems to me.

Tim Muehlhoff:    And it's cyclical. It's cyclical with the calendar.

Scott Rae:    Well I know we talk about resurrection and eternity at least one time a year.

Tim Muehlhoff:     Yeah, yeah. 

Scott Rae:   And hopefully more than that.

Tim Muehlhoff:   Yeah. 

Scott Rae:    But I think we families, I think we try to do this as proactively as we can. Now hospitals have a good regimen, every time you're admitted to the hospital, they have to give you information about an advanced directive.

Tim Muehlhoff:    Right. 

Scott Rae:    Which sometimes is not great timing. The last time my wife was in the hospital was the deliver our third child and they gave her that information. I said, this is really bad timing on this, I think we'll pass. But, before crisis hits, and in my view what it takes is creating a hypothetical scenario that a person could easily find himself or herself in. Like your friend.

Tim Muehlhoff:    Yeah. 

Scott Rae:     God forbid, but, what would happen if you had a stroke? Or you found out you had a terminal diagnosis of cancer. Then I think you're behind the eight-ball , when you have that discussion.

Tim Muehlhoff:   Right, right. 

Scott Rae:    What I've tried to do with my own wife is we've said, I've tried to have that conversation. If I lost the ability to make decisions for myself, here's what I want. And don't want. Here's what's important to me.

Tim Muehlhoff:     Yeah. 

Scott Rae:    And she's done the same thing.

Tim Muehlhoff:    Yeah. 

Chris Grace:    Scott, Tim and I both,

Scott Rae:    Next step is actually to write it down.

Chris Grace:    Yeah, that's good. 

Tim Muehlhoff:    That's right. 

Chris Grace:    Tim and I both do a lot of premarital counseling with young couples, they're in relationships, these are hard and heavy topics but of course it's very important to have them along with a number of other topics. Let me ask you this, when we're out there, we're talking with young couples, what do they need to keep in mind when it comes to even family issues, in-laws, the concerns that they might share that might be different about the way that they see the world, but are there any red flags? When someone hides from this, they're obviously dealing with things that they're scared about. This isn't a normal, every day kind of thing that you're gonna talk with somebody, but are there any red flags, or anything that should worry you, that you see in somebody when it comes to these issues?

Scott Rae:   Well I think if they're just not communicative about it, if they just refuse to talk about them.

Tim Muehlhoff:    Even go there, I'm not even gonna go there.

Scott Rae:    Yeah. And then give a variety of seemingly plausible reasons for it. But take for example, I suspect a lot of couples that you're dealing with are a little bit older when they're getting married for the first time.

Tim Muehlhoff:     It's all over the map, it really is.

Scott Rae:      But say you have couples who are in their late 20s, early 30s, when they're getting married for the first, or maybe not for the first time, but for anticipating having children for the first time. That discussion about what will you do if you have difficulty conceiving, is a really important question to raise. Because nobody ever talked to us about that. I think most couples assume that once you stop using birth control, within a month or two, you know, jackpot. The average time it takes a couple to conceive after stopping birth control is six months.

Tim Muehlhoff:   Hmm. 

Scott Rae:    And there's no infertility clinic that will even talk to you until you've been trying for a year.

Tim Muehlhoff:   Oh wow. 

Scott Rae:     So, most couples think after two or three months and nothing happens, they're starting to panic. And at least they need to know, just calm down, there's nothing to be alarmed about until you've been trying for a lot longer than this. But, and then I think couples need to know, you will probably end up being caretakers for one or more of your parents.

Chris Grace:   Yeah, that's true. 

Tim Muehlhoff:    And there's such a hubris with young couples, so I'm thinking of the young couples that we do premarital counseling with, they've got it all mapped out. We're not gonna have kids for the first three to five years, because we're on birth control and I'm gonna get my education out of the way, we're gonna do this, this, this, this. And then, once that's done, we start our family. And we always say to them. Okay, well hang on. One, there's a lot of people who are parents because they thought birth control was, that was a done-deal the first three to five years, and there are surprises and you need to be prepared for that. I mean, you get married, you need to be prepared for having kids.

Second, when you get off of birth control, your assumption is now we're off and running. And so on both ends, we have to say, you know what, life is full of twists and turns and surprises and heartbreaks, so don't just think that everything's nice, neat and mapped out.

Scott Rae:    Yeah, there's a little bit of playing God in that.

Tim Muehlhoff:   Yeah, absolutely.

Scott Rae:   And assuming control that, you know, having a bout with infertility makes you realize how little control you actually have over this.

Tim Muehlhoff:   And we've had that conversation, playing God, on the back end. So Noreen and I have had these conversations. About the tail-end. Cause you watch a movie, all this kind of, oh life's, are we gonna remove the tubes or whatever. Noreen and I are radically different. Radically different. I'm like, I do not want to artificially be hanging in there, I just don't. If there's no chance of me getting better, then I just don't want that. I don't want the kids to see me that way, I don't want you to have to go through that. I just don't want that.

Noreen's like, I want to, hey I want to be around. I don't want to, and then she says to me, honey, do not ask me to do that. That was an interesting conversation, we had this epiphany. Do not, I can't be the one who says, yeah, we're gonna stop this.

Scott Rae:   Yeah, it's actually not in your interest to have her do that.

Tim Muehlhoff:   Right. So part of that would be then, you can legally select somebody to be the decision maker?

Scott Rae:     Oh yeah, that's part of advanced directive.

Tim Muehlhoff:   Okay. 

Scott Ree:    If you don't select someone, they'll assume, there's a pecking order they assume, and your spouse is first. But you wouldn't be the first whose spouse doesn't have the stomach to do what you think you want.

Tim Muehlhoff:    Of course. 

Scott Rae:    And you definitely want to get that sorted out.

Tim Muehlhoff:   See that's just great to hear. That's good. Chris, will you be my,

Chris Grace:    Done. 

Scott Rae:    And that's not a slam on your spouse.

Tim Muehlhoff:    No! Oh no. They're too close to it.

Scott Rae:   Yeah. 

Tim Muehlhoff:   Absolutely. 

Christ Grace:   Scott in the book also coming out, another one called "Moral Choices" the impact of that book has been great. It's now in it's fourth edition, you're working on it. When it comes to things that impact relationships and marriages, tell me about why is that book so important for this generation, and for this time, and for these choices that we're making? What do you see as your key there for couples and for people who are in relationships?

Scott Rae:    Well, I think part of it is that the landscape for sexuality, both inside and outside of marriage, has changed so dramatically in the last couple years. That helping couples navigate where culture is headed on this. We used to say that the sexual revolution is over.

Tim Muehlhoff:    Gosh. 

Scott Rae:    But that is so out of date now. The sexual revolution now has become the hookup culture.

Tim Muehlhoff:   Yeah. 

Scott Rae:    And we have websites now that, Ashley Madison, advertises affairs. I remember landing in my plane from LA to Sydney, Australia was coming in, and the first billboard I saw on the streets of Sydney, Australia was this giant billboard for Ashley Madison. It says, "Life is short, have an affair."

Tim Muehlhoff:    My gosh. Yeah. 

Scott Rae:   And so, it's just not that uncommon. And when their site was hacked a year ago, there were tens of thousands of otherwise upstanding people who completely panicked about that information being made available on the dark web.

Tim Muehlhoff:    Boy, and that's your private integrity. And then those moments are, what Paul says, "You reap what you sow." And that is that morality moment of hey, my conscience is clear. And what are you hiding from people? That's what we try to get at premarital counseling, is let us try to bring up these issues. Let's try to bring up topics that you might not have thought to bring up. And I think the ethics of it is really important to know. What do you do when nobody is watching? What is your private life like? Do you live out these values you say in public but do I see that in private? Those are huge issues.

Chris Grace:    So Scott you have children of, that are of marrying age, you have a different generation. You are around college students all of the time, graduate students and others. They just deal with this ethic a little bit differently than the older generation does. And the things that they are exposed to in this culture have kind of shaped them. What do you see as some of the biggest differences between what they're facing today, in this area, the sexual ethic, versus let's say 20, 30 years ago and when it just didn't seem to be as in the face, or culturally so hard for them. But now, it is almost just an accepted part, to take a stand differently almost puts you against culture.

Scott Rae:    Well yeah. You're in exile, in your own culture.

Tim Muehlhoff:   Yeah. 

Scott Rae:    And I say that main thing that I've seen over the years has been how much more pronounced the divorce is between sex and a meaningful relationship. It used to be that, it was almost assumed, that you wouldn't just hook up with anybody. People who would hook up with anybody, we had very pejorative terms that we used to describe them.

Tim Muehlhoff:    Yeah.

Scott Rae:      Which those have completely disappeared from our vocabulary today. And I think the other thing is how the family is being redefined. And I'll be interested to see how we reap what we're sowing on that. I think the jury is still out on that.

Tim Muehlhoff:    I think you're right. There was a study my wife saw, that was fascinating, about what was the deal-breaker with the number of sexual liaisons that you had had in the past. And if I remember this correctly, seven was acceptable and after seven was no longer acceptable.

Scott Rae:    Interesting. 

Tim Muehlhoff:    By the way, on the bottom end of that continuum, if you had not had two there were concerns that you were inexperienced. But think about that Scott, seven was within the margin of acceptability. That blows my mind.

Scott Rae:    And I think the idea that somebody would actually wait until marriage.

Tim Muehlhoff:   Yeah, yeah. 

Scott Rae:   Is just, it culturally just sounds like this incredibly archaic concept. And so I think helping engage couples and college students, helping them make sense out of that. The Bible is pretty clear about that, it seems to me, but making sense out of that for a culture today is a huge challenge.

Tim Muehlhoff:    Gosh, Scott, thank you. Great stuff to think about.

Chris Grace:    Yeah, these are questions and issues that couples face all the time. Single people, and again, whether or not in a dating relationship but also with parents and family. Scott, we were looking forward to just seeing a number of your books that are coming out. Again "Moral Choices" coming out, fourth edition, and

Tim Muehlhoff:   "Introducing Christian Ethics" Zondervan.

Chris Grace:    Those are great ways that people can get involved. And of course is another very important thing we can point couples to. You know, there's other things that we have on our website as well,, and we'd love to highlight and get you a blog out there so we can continue this conversation. We're just so grateful you came and joined us today. It's good to hear your story and your background and your journey, but also just the way in which you have a heart and a passion for helping couples and people deal with very difficult issues that could have long-term impact on their relationships. So thanks for joining us here.

Scott Rae:   Great hanging out with you guys.

Chris Grace:    It's fun to have you all with us on our Art of Relationships podcast. Go to for more information and it's great to have you here. Talk soon.

Tim Muehlhoff:   Thanks Chris, by Scott. 

Scott Rae:   Okay thanks guys.