Perhaps the U.S. Supreme Court will help us out on this issue that the “church”–lower case “c” to mean the “universal church”–has completely and unequivocally turned into an unholy mess. Let me explain the way I see it:
The early Christian church–the one we today now refer to as the Roman Catholic Church from which all brands and denominations, including none denominational churches trace their roots back to, once claimed marriage as a sacrament. It was one of seven. Theologians/priests/pundits/politicians and various others, I’m certain, decided that scripture mentions only two sacraments–acts that Jesus did and asked us, his followers, to remember and repeat–baptism and Holy Communion/the Lord’s Supper/Mass/the Eucharist just to cover the ground well for names for Communion. Long ago the church gave over marriage to “the state” or government leaders to control and legislate, and so they have.
Marriage is a legal contract that requires a license and payment to the state/government with the signature of authorized clergy or a notary public, judge, or various other people that the state/government has the power to authorize as able to officiate a marriage. As a United Methodist ordained full-elder, clergy, I cannot marry anyone without a marriage license to sign at the ceremony. Without signing this license I am breaking the law, and I can lose my clergy credentials.
Covenant is the word used for marriage in the church–the universal church. In the church we officiate over a marriage covenant for Christians who are entering that covenant among them and God, Christ and the Holy Spirit. Here’s the confession and examine time:
How many clergy and congregations have held weddings inside or outside the church facility simply because the bride (usually) or the groom or their parents, grandparents or other influential or “loud” relatives insisted on a wedding in the church. This insistence is not fueled by the daily practices of the bride and the groom being practicing Christians. No, most often the wedding is held inside a church or on church simply because in name only, the bride and groom along with the influential or “loud” relatives consider themselves Christians and “spiritual but not religious” so they do not regularly if ever participate in a church/faith community. Or, because the church building or grounds are a beautiful or nice atmosphere or setting for their wedding. Please see Lillian Daniel’s latest book, Spiritual But Not Religious, for some of the best and snarkiest stories about this sad and sorry category or SBNR.
Clergy have gone along with this charade, including required pre-marital counseling, knowing full well that this couple along with most of their family will most likely never be seen again in the church once the “I do’s” have been said, the reception is over and the honeymoon has commenced. Yet, some clergy and faith traditions/churches are so quick to quote scripture about marriage being set aside for a man and a woman. I have participated in this charade so I’m calling myself out on this one, too.
Seriously? We, the church, have not held up our end of marrying committed, practicing Christians–notice I am not saying perfect and holy Christians as I am fully acknowledging that we are all sinful people on our way and moving on to perfection with the help and power of the Holy Spirit within us–who have a thorough understanding of what a Godly, Christian marriage covenant includes. No one learns this in a matter of a few pre-marital counseling sessions. People learn this from participating actively in Bible study, mission and outreach, worship, prayer and living as a breathing part of a faith community–church.
Could we please beg forgiveness for the ways we have “mucked” this up, and then could we examine ourselves through asking God who knows us to search us with the holy light of divine wisdom to help us to have kind, loving and truthful conversations that address this issue realistically and from an informed viewpoint?
Creator and loving God, forgive us. Christ have mercy on us for all the ways that we are so quick to quote scripture on so many serious life issues and refuse to have a thorough understanding of the scripture we quote and the holy life we are to live. Help us, with the power of the Holy Spirt, to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.