On Marriage

Civil marriage is not sacramental marriage.

Civil marriage is not natural marriage (upon which sacramental marriage builds as grace builds on nature).

Civil marriage is a particular legal instrument by which the state confers a particular package of legal and economic advantages and disadvantages upon persons who marry according to the laws of the state.

I see no threat to religious liberty in the broadening of the category of persons who may marry according to the laws of the state.

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20 Responses to On Marriage

  1. Chris says:

    Agreed that the two marriages are not the same. But, in reality, the eyes of the vast majority probably see them the same way. No one has ever asked me whether my marriage was civil or sacramental, or even whether I was ever married in the church.

    The separation of church and state is of great value because it gives us religious freedom. But it would be nice to live in a place where the laws of God are more closely imitated by the laws of men. It seems Maryland is not that place. Does anyone of faith really think that God has not been clear about his hopes/plans for us on this topic?

    • Actually, there are many people of faith, both Christian and Jewish (I don’t know enough about this issue in other faiths to comment) who do not find this an open and shut question; and many who have in good conscience concluded that faithfulness to the gospel demands full inclusion of gays and lesbians in all forms of church life, including marriage and ordained ministry.

      The Episcopal Church is likely the most publicized case, since this issue is threatening to split the Anglican communion, but another well known example is the Open and Affirming program of the United Church of Christ. My personal favorite is the statement passed by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of American in their 2009 Assembly (full statement, summary – PDFs) because it respects that Christians can, in good faith, differ on this question, and affirms the importance and possibility of staying church together even in the presence of such differences.

      I don’t know as much about the Jewish positions as I do about the Christian positions, but I believe that Reform Judaism as a whole affirms the blessing of same-sex unions, and the Conservative and Reconstructionist movements leave it up to the individual congregation or rabbi.

      • Chris says:

        Let’s crystallize the discussion – let’s admit that it doesn’t so much matter what “the world” thinks about this issue (including the Episcopal Church, the ELCA, and others), as it does what the LORD thinks about this issue. Anything else is hand-waving.

        Are you really saying that you think same sex marriage is God’s will?

        Christ taught us to love one another and not to judge, but he also admonished “go, and sin no more”.

        • Well, I would consider the members of these churches to be “people of faith”, not “the world”.

          I really think that it is not obvious whether or not same sex marriage is God’s will. Several of the links in my earlier comment include the theological reasoning on which these churches base their positions, and they are worth reading.

    • “Does anyone of faith really think that God has not been clear about his hopes/plans for us on this topic?”

      Most certainly. The Bible is in fact remarkably opaque on the subject – unless you want to follow the OT example of the Hebrew patriarchs, when marriage was an arrangement between two men (a groom and a bride’s father), and a household could consist of a man, multiple wives, concubines and slaves – all of whom were available for sexual use.

      As for the Christian NT, the Gospels are totally silent on homosexuality (unless you read the incident of healing the Roman centurion’s slave, and probable sexual partner, as condoning it). There is certainly nothing in them to support the modern endorsement of the nuclear family. Christ’s own lifestyle, those of his disciples, and his very explicit words, in fact are directly contrary to the conservative understanding of “family values”, encouraging his disciples to leave their wives and families to follow.

      Instead of repeating the cliches about traditional marriage, try reading the Bible – you’ll find that “Biblical marriage” is not remotely what popular culture assumes it to be,.

      • Thanks for joining the discussion. Your closing remark is needlessly inflammatory, though: I’d like to keep the conversation here respectful and constructive. So let me rephrase that as

        Despite the cliches about traditional marriage, reading the Bible indicates that “Biblical marriage” is not remotely what popular culture assumes it to be.

        • Chris says:

          To both “Queering the Church” and “gaudetetheology” my reply is simple – the Bible is much more clear on this than you suggest. Paul, who saw the risen Lord (something which, as far as I know, has occurred to none of us here) and was called his “chosen instrument”, wrote to the Romans about same-sex relationships and was abundantly clear on the topic (Romans 1:26-27, but read the whole chapter).

          If that is not enough, Christ himself describes traditional marriage as between a man and a woman, when discussing the issue of divorce (Matthew 19:4-6).

          With love, I’ll say that I feel for you both – this is a difficult issue. How can we be loving while at the same time condemning same-sex marriage? In human terms, it seems harmless. But we are not judged in human terms, and God’s way is not our way. And it is His way that matters.

      • I agree that the Bible is not clear about marriage, especially if all biblical texts are given equal weight rather than privileging some canon within the canon, which most church traditions do — we just don’t privilege the same canon within the canon.

        However I do think it is indisputable that the Bible is heteronormative. The Shared Scriptures do contain injunctions against some homosexual behaviors. The epistles do contain lists of sinful behaviors that include terms that may refer to homosexual behavior (there are translation difficulties, so we’re not entirely sure what some of those Greek words mean), or may refer to other behaviors that have something to do with either sex or gender.

        The question regarding the scriptural texts is whether those norms and injunctions are a part of the divinely inspired revelation, as the traditional view would have it; or whether those norms and injunctions are due to the historically/culturally conditioned nature of the text, and derive from the imperfect ability of the biblical authors/editors to receive and transmit the fullness of God’s revelation without imposing their own, purely human, cultural norms in the process.

        • Chris says:

          Please see my reply above. I doubt that part of the first Chapter of Romans suffers from translation difficulties, though you may say differently.

          • Chris says:

            Let me amend this – as I read it again now, it is too blunt. I’m not saying that all of Paul’s wording is divinely dictated – I understand that his wording is his wording. He himself even points out, for example, that some direction he gives is from him, not from God.

            I’m just saying that Paul seemed very clear on what he thought about same-sex relationships (loving and committed though they may be), without translation concerns, and this seems in keeping with Christ’s vision of married life (Matthew 19:4-6).

            • Hi Chris, thanks for your clarification.

              Now that Mark has brought us back on topic, I’d like to let this sub-thread end with a pointer to an excellent post by John W. Martens that comprehensively discusses biblical exegesis on the question of homosexuality, and includes several short bibliographies specific to several relevant topics that arise in the process, for anyone who would like further reading on the issue.

    • B says:

      The problem with a group deciding that their “laws of men” should be the same as the “laws of God” is that there are many different “laws of God,” depending on which religion a particular individual within that group follows. The traditional way of dealing with this, of course, is for the subgroup in power to kill those who follow other laws of God, thereby ensuring that the two correspond. This is great for the subgroup in power, but pretty much sucks for everyone else. We’ve mostly come to recognize that that’s immoral and grown beyond it. The other solution is to try to establish systems of laws of men that allow for multiple laws of God to coexist. There are two parts of this solution. The first is for government to get out of religion’s hair. The other is for religion to get out of government’s hair.

      • Chris says:

        I had a whole reply (fascinating sounding, to me at least) typed up about human government, but then realized it would more to the point to ask – on this topic alone – where the many different sets of the “laws of God” stand. Does anyone know?

        My limited understanding is that the core tenets of Judaism and Islam also oppose same-sex relationships. The president of Iran recently stated “We don’t have that problem” (sadly, I think the are brutal to the gay people they find). I’m not supporting this approach, but I quote him because I think it is telling about the case of a current day Islamic state.

        I’m just curious about where the main world religions stand – anyone know?

  2. Mark says:

    Chris, you may be missing an important point: I’m an atheist; I don’t care what your god intends. That’s why this post is about the difference between civil and sacramental marriage.

    You chose to be a Christian and join a church. I can allow you to live your life the way you want. Can you offer the same courtesy to me?

    If you answer yes, then you should accept the distinction between civil marriage (that applies to everybody) and sacramental marriage (which only applies to your church and its members). As far as you and God are concerned, those people who do not have a sacramental marriage are NOT married — nothing changes for you. The state recognizes your sacramental marriage as valid for state purposes, and it doesn’t care that you do not accept civil marriage as valid for church purposes. This is all that gaudetetheology is suggesting in this post.

    I think that sounds like a win for everybody — you get everything you want, except to use the power of the state to impose your religion on others.

    But if you answer “no, I expect atheists to live by my rules”, then how are we supposed to live in the same society? Surely you would fight if atheists like me insisted that the state refuse to recognizes marriages between Christians. Is what you are suggesting any different?

    • Chris says:

      Hi Mark,
      Your post (good point) illustrates that two separate topics are blooming within this one blog page. One topic is whether same-sex civil marriage is “OK” (what you seem to address) according to the STATE. Another topic is whether same-sex marriage is “OK” according to the “CHURCH” (i.e. the vast/varied collection of believers). Please know that 99% of my post is really addressing the latter – so it should not offend an atheist.

      Concerning the former, whether it should be “OK” according to the state, I will say that I am not a fan, but I am perfectly willing to let democracy run it’s course. Have a referendum. If the majority feel that same-sex civil marriage should be legal, then make it so. I’ll have to live with that. If the majority don’t, then it should not be recognized. Can you live with that?

      • Mark says:

        I view the original post as being about the state. The point, which is lost on many other opponents of same sex marriage, is that the entire discussion of same sex marriage is about the state. None of it is about the church, except to the extent that some opponents want to pretend it is in order to confuse the issue.

        I have no stake in what is ok according to the church, and I take no offense over that part. I think you have some consistency problems if you disallow homosexual activity while eating crabs and wearing a poly/cotton t-shirt, but that’s not really my problem. :)

        I’m happy enough with your second paragraph, though it seems a little at-odds with your statement about wishing the laws of man more closely matched the laws of god.

        I would give you one other idea to think about: If you truly want religious freedom, then YOU should vote in favor of allowing same sex marriage (by the state) in the coming referendum. Evidently you don’t approve of it for religious reasons, but when you vote, you are deciding for everybody, not just yourself or your co-religionists. If you vote against it because God doesn’t approve, you will be using the power of the state to impose the rules of your religion on others — that amounts to infringing on their religious freedom.

        Religious freedom depends on us all allowing it to everybody else. The price of me not imposing my religion on you is that you also will not impose your religion on me. I think that is a fair bargain, because the alternative is civil war.

        So, I suggest that it is not just a matter of “I’ll have to live with that” if the majority votes to allow gay marriage. Instead, you should celebrate the voters choosing to allow others a freedom they would never even consider exercising for themselves.

        • Chris says:

          It was not my intent to confuse issues for anyone, certainly not with the premeditation you suggest that some opponents have. I simply think the “church” side of this discussion (sub-thread above) is more interesting than the “state” side of it, and since this appears to be a religious-topics blog, I figured it was appropriate. Mistake? If the number of replies to “On Marriage” is any metric, this has at least been a hot topic on the gaudetetheology blog. But our host suggests that the sub-thread end, so I will try to comply.

          One note first however. I have more than once heard critics of Christianity attempt a “pot shot” similar to your statement above (smilie noted) starting with “I think you have some consistency problems if…”. This sort of line seems to occur after a Christian refers to anything in the OT. As it happens, the topic of same-sex relationships can be discussed with clarity using only the NT if you prefer. Also, if you are actually interested in why there are not consistency problems, I can elaborate (perhaps in person, at the very least off-blog). I am thankful that “He made all foods clean”.

          Mark, I have spoken with other atheists who made the choice to reject Jesus at least in part due to what they have seen others do in the name of their faith. This is of course sad but the bad behavior of Christians should not surprise any of us. People (of faith or not) are bound to screw up. I am no exception. So, with love I say: I hope your decision is based more on a contemplation of God than on a reaction to the disappointing works of men.

  3. Just to clarify an issue that Chris raised,

    I simply think the “church” side of this discussion (sub-thread above) is more interesting than the “state” side of it, and since this appears to be a religious-topics blog, I figured it was appropriate. Mistake?

    The relationship of the church, both as an institution and as the community of Christians, and the world, as the larger society in which the church presently lives, is itself a theological question. The specific issue of how the church should respond when the world proposes to extend civil marriage to samesex couples is a particular case of this general question.

    What the church thinks of extending sacramental marriage (or marriage as a church ordinance) to samesex couples is a separate question. I think it’s clearer to consider one question at a time, and simply posit, for discussion of the question at hand, either that the church opposes it, or that the church is divided on it.

    • Chris says:

      I think most would agree that the community of Christians is partly divided on this, and, in some cases, not even along denominational lines. And on both sides of the topic, people tend to have a strong opinion (just see above). A strange thing indeed.

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