Monday, May 7, 2012

Same-Sex Marriage and the Lost Love Between Church and State

The topic of same-sex marriage is still causing a stir in the US, from the White House to every state in the Union to just about every church in every city. It’s a subject that cannot be dodged.

According to this morning’s CNN article, almost of half of US citizens are open to the idea of gay marriage, and even more are fine with the idea of civil unions. When you break down the polls by religious affiliations, the numbers are mixed, with Roman Catholics being considerably more open to gay marriage than are Evangelical Protestants.

I think there might be something important going on here, and I believe it may transcend the arguments about the sanctity of marriage (being evidenced by how the government defines and affirms marriage). Here’s a text of Scripture to consider on the matter:

“. . . if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well.” (Matthew 5:40)

These are the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. The context is about how his followers are to respond when confronted by an “evil doer” (v. 39). Many today would say that those advocating for gay marriage are well within the ranks of the evil doers. Whether or not that is the case, there is, I think, something to consider here.

We have been sued for our coat—the defining of marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

Perhaps we will have to also give up our cloak—our partnership with the state in defining, affirming, and establishing marriage. Think about it:

•Some churches would be uncomfortable (at the least) with a co-habiting, unmarried couple in their midst, but would not typically raise a concern if the couple had obtained a legal marriage license (at City Hall, in Las Vegas, or wherever) prior to applying for membership.

•There is a distinct partnership between church and state in a marriage ceremony. I have officiated at a number of weddings, and when I pronounce the couple “husband and wife,” they are married, and the government takes my word for it. However, if the county recorder’s office doesn’t receive the signed marriage license in due time, there will be no recognizable marriage for that couple, either by the state or by the church.

Let’s face it: The church in the US has been holding hands with the government when it comes to marriage for a very long time. It has been an unquestioned and comfortable partnership because we have operated under the perception that we share a common interest when it comes to marriage. The problem is that we don’t have matching agendas when it comes to marriage. The government affirms marriage because it offers the possibility of safety and stability for the raising up of families (and future citizens), and creates legal boundaries for property rights, child custody, and so on. But the church typically affirms marriage for different reasons. For the church, marriage has something to do with reflecting the image of God and creating nurturing environments for human beings.

The push toward same-sex marriage is clearly deconstructing the concept of marriage as it has traditionally been known. So perhaps the government needs to drop the word entirely and simply grant “civil unions” to any two human beings who qualify for such unions (marriage—even traditional ones—are not rights as people currently claim. Not everyone has the right to get married. You can’t get married to someone if you are already married to another; you can’t get married if you are not of a certain age; etc.). If the government decides that such unions serve the self-interests of the nation, and if sufficient popular (read: voting) support leans that direction, then it will happen, regardless of the label put upon them.

So where does that leave Christian communities? What would happen to us if we separated the sanctity of marriage from the legality of the state? Would marriage really die, or would it be reborn? We might have to consider giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s. And very likely, we will have no choice.


SMetro77 said...
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SMetro77 said...

Thanks for sharing these thoughts Mike. They are certainly worth thinking about. It seems that some religious communities have been doing this (to a certain extent) for quite a while--Roman Catholics, and Mormons come to mind here. While their marriages are considered valid by the state, not all marriages the state validates are fully recognized within their ranks. For example: while on the one hand, Mormons respect my marriage, on the other, they would not have performed it in their Temple in Salt Lake (or let me attend one there for that matter)