Discussing
Is it time for the church to leave the marriage business?

Andy Rau

Ryan Parish
August 27, 2008

I recently married a couple who had been together for twelve years and already had two children together. They didn't join the church and the long-term ministry I hoped for didn't happen. I don't regret doing it, though, because as a people, we should support the decision those two made to be married rather than live in a way that is contrary to God's intention. <br> I was able to share the good news of Jesus and his love with them. I was able to show them that love as we worked together. Was it a loss? No. It was ministry to those who wouldn't have heard the good news from me and experienced my love in any other way.

lscott5
August 27, 2008

I believe the church should not only stay involed but become more involed. My daughter and her new husband were married by a Judge in our community. Our church would not marry them because of my son-in-law's beliefs ( or lack of ), his church would marry them if they became members and agreed to attend for 1 year prior to marriage. <br>I prayed about it for some time and then realized that our Pastor was right and was following the word of the Bible when he refused to marry them.<br>More Pastors and church leaders should stand firm on their moral beliefs and not let money or society dictate to God's Word

YT
August 28, 2008

Ditto for your statements<br>Our church and pastor will not marry them if one of them is not born again Christian. The pastor own conviction is the most important in this issue

Steven Koster
August 28, 2008

Wow, this is a stunningly bad idea on several fronts. <br><br>First, weddings are one of the few times people actually ask a church for help. It's a major opportunity to pastorally counsel people in one of the great decisions of life. It's also a major opportunity to preach the gospel in a senstive way, showing how marriage and life is all connected to God and his plan of redemption. <br><br>Second, it only fosters the sense of God being private, optional, and useless. We already have too strong a sense in the western world that religion is optional rather than central to the way we think about and live out our lives. If God created all things, sustains all things, invented people and sex and marriage and families and society, then he's probably got something to do with how those things play out in real life. <br><br>So I have great difficulty with suggestions that pastors should just "bless" marriages as if God were the figurine on top of the cake rather than the chef. Likewise, I'm not a fan of legal vs. moral distinctions. They are quite connected, if not degrees of the same thing.<br><br>

Mark
August 28, 2008

Marriage is a covenant with and established by God.<br>The Body of Christ cannot therefore disavow itself.<br>That "churches" are considering this only indicates man's willfull disobedience.

HisalltheWay
August 28, 2008

I work for the Lord at a fairly large church and handle quite a few calls from people wanting to get married. Far and away, the most popular inquiry of non-members wanting to be married at “our” church is, "How much will it cost to use the building?" For those who will be married by a pastor, counseling is required. <br><br>There are some who won’t be married, not because they miss our standards, but because there is something Scripturally amiss that first needs to be addressed. First are unbelievers who want to use our building simply because it looks nice and who don't give a care about the things of God. Next are couples living in sexual immorality wanting to make “it” official. (One of our pastors was actually asked to marry a cohabitating couple who insisted they were Christians but refused to separate until their marriage could take place; he refused because the being "a good witness in the process" was in standing firm on the Bible's teachings on what sin is &amp; isn’t). I would like to pause here and note that while many couples wanting to be married may have already engaged in sex, there is a vast difference between flagrantly disobeying the Bible’s teachings by living a life of sexual immorality and flaunting that rebellious disobedience before others, versus falling into temptation, which many have done. Our pastors will only marry a man &amp; a woman. Finally, there are believers who may desire to marry unbelievers. Pastoral responsibility for not only the parishioner, but the action about to be performed for which God will hold the minister accountable, keeps our pastors from sanctioning these ceremonies. <br><br>KOSTS, I agree wholeheartedly that the legal vs. moral distinction as untenable. These two are intrinsically related and you have a keen eye for detail to spot this false dichotomy which is really the heart of the matter.

Andyrau
August 28, 2008

Kosts, you make some good points! Your second point in particular is an excellent one.<br><br>However, let me play devil's advocate on a few of your other points. Your first argument seems basically that the current system (in which most people, Christian or not, equate "marriage ceremony" with "a ceremony in a church") provides an opportunity for the church to minister and reach out to people, and to teach them about the sanctity of the marriage relationship and how it reflects our relationship with God. But the question I must ask is, is there evidence that this is an *effective* ministry? The divorce rates in this country (again, among both Christians and non-Christians) is absolutely through the roof. The idea proposed in the article above may not be a good one, but I wonder how it could really be worse than the current situation, in which our culture overwhelmingly considers marriage to be an arrangement of convenience rather than a covenant before God. In fact, the prevalence of divorce and related troubles in this country makes me wonder if the church's current way of overseeing marriage might actually be part of the problem in some way. Does that make sense? In that light, wouldn't separating separating the civic aspect of marriage (getting a document signed by a judge) from the spiritual aspect (entering into a sacred covenant) be a way of calling attention to the extreme seriousness with which we are called to consider marriage? If we're worried that people will stop taking the spiritual aspects of marriage seriously... I'm afraid the train has already left the station on that one.<br><br>And secondly, you note that you don't like legal vs. moral distinctions. Can you elaborate on what you mean by that? Under the current system, pastors are effectively agents of the state when it comes to marriage--a status that clergy don't have when it comes to pretty much any other social function. Why?<br><br>I know I'm overdramatizing some of these questions. But marriage is one way in which the church is somewhat entangled with the government in an odd way, and I wonder if that's a connection that could end up hurting the church in the long run.

Steven Koster
August 29, 2008

I wouldn't be quick to measure gospel-proclamation, even at weddings, in terms of 'effectiveness,' but rather in terms of faithfullness. This is what we're called to do as a church. <br><br>It's kinda like infant baptism (in my tradition, anyway). We don't baptize to magically 'save' babies, nor do we insist that people can't be part of the church until they know better. Rather, we baptize to acknowledge that God has already made promises to this child, promises that point to the cross, whether or not the child lives into the fullness of those promises. And some children don't. Does that mean the baptism was ineffective? God's Word is still at work to all involved. <br><br>So with weddings, they are gospel-proclaiming events, focused on marriage, that minister to all involved. They're opportunities to counsel not only the bride and groom, but also everyone present. It's a chance to remind a room full of people of what the Kingdom of God is supposed to look like in their families. <br><br>So, if your complaint is that our culture has a sick view of marriage, why would we give up a significant opportunity to bring a medicinal perspective? We can't make choices for young couples, but we can honor them and the gospel at the same time. One hopes that the gospel-perspective weaves into the DNA of their marriage at this crucial time.<br><br>So while I don't think easy metrics of effectiveness make for the best ministry, part of being faithful is doing our best to make a difference. That's why most pastors I know now require weeks of pre-marital counseling. A wedding is too short a time to build a relationship and help shape their relationship. It's an acknlowedgement that a wedding sermon doesn't 'divorce-proof' marriages, and we have more medicine to bring. <br><br>I think the real challenge is for pastors to find the balance between hard-core gospel proclamation and speaking in ways that let the couple feel like they could belong to the Body of Christ. We can't fall into the 'civic duty' trap, offering vague pleasantries about God and love, but neither should we confront them in such a way that they feel God and the church rejects them as people.<br><br>[By the way, researchers like the Barna Group have shown that divorce rates are about the same for those who are 'born-again' and those who are not. However, divorce rates drop significantly for couples with shared spiritual practices. Praying together and going to church together is literally a way to better divorce-proof your marriage. All the more reason to encourage good spiritual hygiene. But I digress...]<br><br>As to the legal vs. moral, I'm no philosopher of law. Yet it seem to me the legal is simply the codified moral, though mostly within the horizontal sphere. In a pluralistic society. We've simply tried to codify and enforce the morality of how we treat each other with the power of the state. <br><br>As to clergy acting as agents of the state in marriage, it is an odd thing, laregly due to the historical and uneasy seperation of church and state in post-Reformation Europe. Clergy are agents of the state, but I wouldn't necessarily say their authority comes from the state as much as it is recognized by the state. <br><br>In short, I wouldn't abandon such a significant opportunity to preach the gospel, leaving the state to become a mere relationship-registration service, just because it doesn't have immediate effects. The gospel is like a little yeast, which can transform a whole lump of dough...<br>

SiarlysJenkins
August 31, 2008

There already is a distinction between church marriages and civil marriages. It can be found, among other places, in the Supreme Court of Massachusetts decision which required the state to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The court was very explicit that it had jurisdiction only over civil marriages. Churches, protected by the First Amendment, remain free to marry or not marry whomever they please, whomever church faith and doctrine directs shall or shall not be married in the church. The distinction is important. Churches should not abandon the field of marriage, nor rely on the issuance of a state marriage license. The two should be almost irrelevant to each other. There are, for example, cases where an elderly couple, both widowed from previous marriages, wish to marry in the eyes of God, without disturbing financial arrangements each established with their deceased spouse for their respective children. That the state has joined two together may count for something in the eyes of God, but it is not binding on the church. That the church has joined two together in the eyes of God, need not depend on nor bind the actions of the state. Let each serve its proper purpose.

Christiane Li
September 1, 2008

The distinction of civil vs. church unions held by some Christians today will be wrestled away in the legal wrangling of tomorrow as those who practice homosexuality, insist on their "rights" to non-discrimination by churches, those employed by parachurch ministries, churches, etc. (Anybody remember the Salvation Army, a Christian organization, being legally challenged by homosexuals on its hiring policy?) The unfairness of a homosexual couple having all the benefits and blessings of marriage in some states (including federal income tax breaks) but not in others, will lead to a federal mandate legalizing homosexuality in all states eventually. How I shudder to think what will happen when the federal government mandates what marriage is, because when this happens, every aspect of married life, including what parents teach their children (if, of course, they are permitted to bear) will be subject to that government. Shades of GATTACA. <br><br>I think we as Christians are most unwise to leave the Biblical high ground in this matter and justify sexually immorality at any level. Governmental law does one of two things: it either protects the innocent and promotes the general welfare, or it promotes evil and protects those who practice it. Make no mistake, once homosexual unions are the norm, those who stand on the Bible's teachings of homosexuality as sin will be imprisoned, sued, silenced, dealt with as hate crime mongerers. <br><br>

Sheyonna
September 1, 2008

I really don't have any interesting comment to add on the primary discussion of the churches involvement in marriage ceremonies since I am still trying to figure out what exactly my stance is on whether or not churches should be involved in the marriage process of unbelievers. However I would like to add to the side discussion of legal recognition of marriage and the church's moral recognition of marriage.<br><br>There is a difference and I'm glad that the author made note of that. There wouldn't be a difference if the United States of America were a theocracy but we are a representative democracy and the laws that are in place are a representation of our pluralists society. And many of our laws are an extension of morality (such as laws against murder, theft, pedophilia, etc) yet most of our laws are a representation of our multifaceted society. And sometimes our morality is in conflict with the laws that are in place (see any discussion on abortion). <br><br>Any state can legally recognize marriage any way they want to (man and woman, same sex, man and animal...) . Whether that be through the Supreme court or via the vote of the people but that recognition can be in direct conflict with the church. And as we see in California, Massachusetts, ect... it is in conflict with the word of God.

Siarlys Jenkins
September 9, 2008

Of course I am aware that some individuals who practice homosexuality, and some advocacy organizations, have indulged in rhetoric about requiring non-discrimination by churches. I believe I read a quote following the Massachusetts Supreme Court decision extending marriage to same-sex couples, from a man who said once the decision was confirmed, he was going to ask a Baptist church to host his wedding, then sue them for substantial damages if they refused. Neither those who threaten nor fear such actions understand constitutional law. Both federal and state courts have long adhered to a rule called <i>church autonomy in matters of faith and doctrine</i>. Because Congress has no power to pass any law establishing a religion, or forbidding the free exercise thereof, courts simply will not get involved in making any decision binding on churches in these areas. A good example can be found in <a>Bryce v. St. Aidan's Episcopal Church</a>. A dismissed youth pastor and her lesbian partner, a congregational minister, filed a sexual harassment claim against St. Aidan's, over materials circulated for discussion within the church, and comments expressed at church meetings. The federal Tenth Circuit appeals court flatly refused to get involved in a matter of internal church governance. It really is of no legal consideration that the two women involved were offended. They have the right to stay away from the church, not to respect within the church for their personal choices. The Salvation Army, and many other churches, let themselves in for challenges to their hiring practices when they accept federal funds for programs that must, by law, be available to the general population. They cannot, e.g., require attendance at their services as a condition for receiving aid from a federally funded program. Discrimination in hiring for a federally funded program can also become an issue. Programs funded entirely by private donations, or church functions kept separate from federally-funded programs, are none of the government's business. So, no need to waste valuable energy shuddering. There are also many good Supreme Court decisions affirming that parents have a constitutional liberty interest in directing the upbringing of their children, most adopted by rather liberal panels of justices. As to whether parents are permitted to bear children, there is a decision called <i>Roe v. Wade</i> which, among other things, would positively forbid any level of government from interfering in the decision of married couples to conceive and bear a child, and certainly would forbid any government policy making abortion in any trimester compulsory.

Christiane Li
September 9, 2008

Siarlys, could we be operating on the winds of differing philosophies?<br><br>Apparently you think that freedoms, when loosened from Judeo-Christian mooring, will remain on stable, reasonable even. <br><br>Many secularists, taking for granted the hand of Providence on our nation, have certainly thought this way too.<br><br>But I am convinced our laws will instead be "knocked flat" (Man for All Seasons) and we will suffer for it, for "...when all the laws are knocked flat, where will [we] stand" when evil comes along? There will be no way to tell the difference, you see. And, in every culture, at every time, a Bible which fearlessly calls immorality evil while men call it good is reviled, its lovers martyred.<br><br>Yes, I shudder with good reason.

SiarlysJenkins
September 9, 2008

I don't believe this nation has ANY claim to any special hand of providence. But, I do know there are constitutional protections, which get overlooked in the white hot heat of passionate debate, which need to be understood and used. In Canada, a latecomer to the notion of bills of rights, there HAVE been "hate crime" prosecutions of people who merely said that, e.g. homosexuality is a sin. But that would be thrown out of court under OUR constitution. Thomas More lectured his daughter's suitor NOT to knock flat the laws, in pursuit of virtue, because "when you have knocked down every law chasing the devil around this kingdom, and the devil then turns on you, what law will shelter you then?" I sometimes think people looking for ways to flaunt their faith are SEEKING persecution, and don't feel right if they can't conjure some up. "I'm feeling holy in my shuddering, don't calm me with the facts." Constitutional law is precisely what we must not knock flat in our eagerness to by holy, because it IS a valuable protection. Don't knock it, study it.

ViSalus
October 14, 2008

The distinction is important. Churches should not abandon the field of marriage, nor rely on the issuance of a state marriage license. The two should be almost irrelevant to each other.

MJ
June 26, 2013

Would be interesting to hear on a separate but relevant issue today in 2013 that deals with separating the church from the government in relation to DOMA:

Political commentators, Christian and non-Christian, have stated that few can doubt where the Court and the country is headed on gay marriage if we continue in the current trajectory. A deeper issue Christian commentators across the board are looking at are DOMA's implications for religious liberty.

The reasoning implicit in today's decision by SCOTUS could be used to make it difficult or illegal for people to put their beliefs about marriage into practice whether they be Christian, Muslim, or any another religion. I.e. By law, a Catholic adoption agency would have to provide services to any couple that comes to them, gay or straight, despite its religious views, etc., etc. In short, social and legal issues here could be more connected than we'd like them to be. In view of such complications, is it really possible for the American church to leave all legal matters to the government?

Here are a few thoughts on the religious freedom at stake I've come across from various sources (no quick answers here--will take some time and thought):

Acton Institute - http://blog.acton.org/archives/56613-commentary-can-america-remain-the-land-of-religious-liberty.html

Ross Douthat at New York Times - Religious Liberty and the Gay Marriage Endgame (site won't let me post the url for some reason)

Eric Metaxas (p.46) - http://issuu.com/thecity/docs/the_city_summer_2013

Russell Moore at TGC - http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2013/06/26/russell-moore-on-the-supreme-courts-decision-on-doma/

Marta L.
June 26, 2013

I think that all people, whether they're religious or not, have a perfectly rational interest in having a state institution of marriage. They need a legal system that treats them like a unit, lets them plan for a future together and take care of each others' responsibilities (like children and financial debts) if necessary. I think this is the kind of thing all people want, at least all people what want to get married, and it's not tied to any one religion. In fact, if I was in a country that wasn't majority-Christian, I'm fairly certain I'd want access to a marriage that <i>wasn't</i> a sacrament of some other religion. I wouldn't want, for instance, to live in Saudi Arabia and the only marriage available be the religious Muslim one.

With that in mind, Mt 7:12 commands me to treat others in the way I'd want to be treated, in their shoes. I'd want to have marriage rights that didn't depend on someone else's religion, or any religion at all if I was an atheist. Should I really deny anyone else this same consideration? That's what secular, civil, government marriage is - it's an institution where we give certain rights, privileges and responsibilities to pairs of adults. It doesn't supplant sacramental marriage, as this article suggests; the two are simply two very different things going by the same name. Interestingly, as James Boswell notes in <i>Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality</i>, there's a very good case that marriage was a civil matter <i>first</i> and that the church didn't get involved until a thousand years after Christ. Marriage has always had a secular function before the church started blessing couples.

So yes, I think there's a very good reason to separate civil and sacramental marriage. But we shouldn't think of this as the church giving up something. Rather, it's a way to honor the Golden Rule which is at the heart of Christ's ethical teaching, and at the same time refocus on the purpose sacramental marriage should play in church life and Christian theology. I believe this is what they call win/win. :-)

James Gilmore
June 28, 2013

--"The reasoning implicit in today's decision by SCOTUS could be used to make it difficult or illegal for people to put their beliefs about marriage into practice whether they be Christian, Muslim, or any another religion."--

It strikes me that whenever people talk about religious sects' "beliefs about marriage" in this context, the "beliefs" being discussed are restricted to those sects' beliefs about gender in marriage.

It's curious particularly in the case of the Roman church, because they believe that marriage between divorcées is not a valid marriage in God's eyes. Such marriages have been legal for quite a long time, and the Roman Catholics have somehow figured out a way to navigate that without too much difficulty.

Why is it that Roman Catholic charities can put their differences aside when it comes to the relationship between their social service organizations and their views on marriage between divorcées, but not on same-sex marriage?

Why is it that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops isn't advocating for laws banning marriage between divorcées or for laws banning all divorce?

Cristiano007
June 30, 2013

Hi, greetings from Venezuela. Downhere we have that separation from many years ago, the only valid marriage before law is the civil or state certificated one. We do have "church marriage" in both the mainstream catholic church and in the Evangelical one. It's a religious ceremony, a blessing, very important for all the parts involved, but you can do it only if you have the legal certificate of marriage. A growing percentage of people is choosing not to have a church marriage ceremony because of the bigger costs involved (dressing, decoration, etc) and some others because they are not really into religion (baby-baptized catholics, i.e.). Knowing that, let's see my anwers to your questions: 1. We don't have that problem, only members of the local church get married in the local church, but our church doesn't have any legal obligation to "provide" marriage to anyone, ultimately it's just a choice. 2. In my local church is not mandatory, we recommend engaged couples to attend the married couples service (again, they already attend regularly the church and want to be married there. Some catholic churches require to attend short courses. 3. In my opinion, it's better to turn away them with love. I think is meaningless to marry in a church just because the building is nice or big and not because you share the beliefs they share inside that "church". 4. Totally agree with that distinction. We have to make that distinction all the time, there's many other things that are legal but not moral, and we are here to tell people the difference, based in the Bible.

Cristiano007
June 30, 2013

Do you know why they decided to marry in your specific church? A comment aside, it seems they're a very stablished family (twelve years, two children)so it would be very hard to reject them. And finally, marriage evangelism doesn't sound like a good idea.

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