Government marriage, church marriage

Here is an interesting post about the differences between government-sanctioned civil marriage and church blessed marriages.

Denying LGBTQ couples the right to a civil-contract marriage would facially violate the “due process” clause of the 5th Amendment and the “equal protection” clause of the 14th, just as much as denying LGBTQ people the right to mortgage and cellphone contracts on the basis of sexual orientation. There is no constitutional justification for either prohibition.

By the same token, religious communities have a corresponding and co-equal right to deny LGBTQ couples sacramental validation of their relationships. Such a denial by a religious community of sacramental recognition of such marriages has no effect whatsoever on the legal standing of those relationships. Furthermore, because of the “free exercise” clause, the government is constitutionally powerless to coerce any religious community into recognizing the religious validity of an LGBTQ marriage, if that community’s theological doctrine mandates otherwise. Just as “no man can put asunder what God has joined together”, so also no government can force together that which the community’s teachings dictate must be separate. Marriage-as-legal-contract is over here, marriage-as-religious-sacrament is over there, and “never the twain shall meet”.

The post highlights something that is easy to forget. Our conversations about marriage are hopelessly muddled by the fact that we use the word “marriage” to refer to the legal status recognized by the government, which bestows social and legal benefits on a couple bearing that status, and to the result of two people be made one flesh by a union ordained and blessed by God.

We often talk in the church about the need rehabilitate or refurbish old words. I wonder if we might gain some clarity by coming up with a different word to describe what we are talking about when we talk about Christian marriage. Perhaps just making sure to always use the adjective “Christian” is enough.

9 thoughts on “Government marriage, church marriage

  1. The word “marriage” has a long and precise usage referring exclusively to heterosexual relationships alone. Let those who seek to normalize aberrance find some other term to use.

  2. …and as Roman Catholic natural law advocates have patiently and steadfastly argued: marriage between heterosexuals IS an INTEREST of the state (the whole community) because it effectively secures biological parents and home for the raising of children. The expropriation of “marriage” to indicate any combination of loving adults evacuates its essence on behalf of the state. Losing this benefit would be a stupendous societal blunder.

    1. And I have no problem with that argument, but as the culture and civil law changes, the church needs to be able to articulate clearly what it teaches. When the words themselves become muddled — and we are not likely to get the culture to use the word the way we do — it might be time to be clear what we mean.

      1. Cultural sensibilities are as unstable as a drunk man on roller skates. To seek to accommodate such a culture is at the minimum pointless and ultimately threatens the integrity marriage. Simply call marriage what it has always been called… marriage. Let those in the culture who object practice the tolerance they so prize as they accommodate themselves to this reality.

      2. I’m baffled that United Methodist scholars have been slow or reticent to make the argument for marriage (except in the oozy popular sense). The blogs are saturated with discussion of marriage as an entitlement of affection, but where’s the argument for marriage as “ordained by God who made us male and female for each other” (as we cite each time we officiate)?

        1. I don’t know why other folks do or do not make arguments they make. I like the way our Book of Worship speaks of Christian marriage.

  3. I will be very excited for the day that civil marriage and church marriage are separated. I am increasingly uncomfortable that as a pastor I sign marriage licenses. My DS encouraged me not to celebrate the wedding of a close friend because as a provisional elder the legal standing of the wedding could be called into question if it did not happen at my appointment. I don’t want the pressure to get these legal issues correct; worrying about ecclesial concerns is plenty.

  4. I would be happier if we could clearly distinguish between a Christian marriage, and a civil union. Most United Methodist pastors are thrilled to be asked to marry anyone who might walk into the church office from the street. We marry couples who are “shacking up”, who are not involved in the church, and who have no intention of becoming involved in the community of faith. Frankly I think it might be better if we began recommending that some of these couples should pursue a civil union rather than a “Christian marriage”. One of my former district superintendents told me that before he would officiate at the wedding of a divorced person, he would investigate whether the new couple had been engaged in adultery during the first marriage. Some years later, I wished I had heeded his warning when I went to sign a wedding license and to my shock and dismay discovered that the divorce had been legalized the previous day. It would be very helpful if our denomination could establish better guidelines about who is entitled to be married by a United Methodist pastor.

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