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Theological Thursdays: Marriage?

Because it is pride week, and the question of marriage is currently before our government, it makes sense that we think theologically about same-sex marriage for a moment.

There are some who see clergy as “gatekeepers” of marriage.  That is, if a couple asks to wed, he/she evaluates the couple before deciding whether or not to perform the ceremony. 

But please notice my word choice, and the word choice that most other wedding officiants will make–“perform the ceremony,” “officiate” and “witness,” are the preferred verbs.  I have performed many weddings, but I have only married one person.  And when a couple stands in front of witnesses and make promises, they are the ones doing the marrying, and only them.  Neither I, nor any other officiant is marrying them; we pray, we witness, we bless, we officiate, but we do not marry. 

Now, for some, there is a particular religious significance.  I count myself among them–my wedding was a spiritual experience, and included scripture readings and prayer.  But is a blessing a necessary ingredient?  I cannot insist on this, simply because it does not hold up to logic.  Christianity can and does remember its origins, and we know that everyplace that Christians are now, once was populated with people of a different faith.  And as the faith spread, it did not invalidate existing families and existing marriages.  In fact, some Christians have had to recognize plural marriages because they were the norm in an un-evangelized culture, and it was better to let the practice continue, rather than send off a women and children with no other means of support (although that path was occasionally chosen, too).

My experience is that marriage has been traditionally defined by a culture, and is recognized and blessed (or not) by religious communities.

Is there a time for communities to not recognize/witness/bless a marriage? Of course! While I recognize abusive relationships that are already established, I would not act as a witness to one, and I certainly would not bless one.   

It also seems self-evident to me that people of faith can and should have a say in a democratic process, but that  we are not entitled to a privileged voice.  If (and this is another question worth considering) the government has a say as to what is and isn’t a marriage, then we should participate as our understanding and conscience guide us.   

Theologically speaking, I would say that government, like churches, only chooses what marriages it will recognize, but does not have a say in which people are married.  There is a higher reality than the government’s.

Before we ask the question of what is right or wrong (and the old answers that go with those questions) we would be wise to think about when (and if) we have the right to answer that question for others.  

To my GLBT brothers and sisters: My encouragement is this (and please forgive me–it’s hard for a preacher to not preach):  Don’t believe people when they say that your marriages aren’t marriages because the legislature doesn’t approve.  They may license marriage, but they cannot stop it, anymore than pulling the blinds will make the sun stop shining.  Ask for the privileges that come with marriage as married people, not as people who want to wed.

To my Christian brothers and sisters: Think carefully about how we are going to move into the future.  Unless demographics and public opinions swing dramatically, gay marriage will only grow in acceptance as time passes.  While we have our own rights about what we choose to participate in and bless, we should think carefully about how we will deal with those around us who, regardless of what we think, are and will be recognized as married (and who will have children, too).   As the culture changes, we will either have to expand our understanding of marriage, our practice of divorce, or simply close the faith to a large number of people.

Regardless of your opinion, my hope and prayer is that we Christians would observe Pride Month in a Christ-like way.  As the Apostle Paul put it in his letter to the Philippians, Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.  Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death– even death on a cross.”

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