A prime example is a “hate literature” lawsuit against Zondervans being recast on the net and making its way around the churches. One version of the story casts faults the Obama administration for creating the grounds of the lawsuit. The story is false yet is flies around the church community as if it is fact. First, the lawsuit was filed during the Bush administration in 2007. Second, anyone can file a lawsuit put forth any argument they wish, but that doesn’t mean the suit has any merit, which this one didn’t. Shortly after the suit was filed the court summarily dismissed it as frivolous and having no basis in law on five different counts.
Another is the reported occurrences of “clergy” being sued for not conducting gay marriages when approached. A version of this story is that there will soon be hundreds of such lawsuits being filed across the country. Like the Zondervan story, the reports are not only false but they are disturbing examples of reactionaries telling falsehoods in the name of Christ, pushing a political agenda, and demonstrating how many in the church are easily misled, and retell falsehoods and rumors. Such activity does not lift up the name of Christ and the credibility of the Church.
It is understandable that conservative Christians are angry. They see the court widening the definition of marriage. They feel this widening is an attack on their beliefs, and the historic Christian understanding of marriage as being between one man and one woman. They greatly fear the gay marriage ruling by an “unelected activist court” will lead to their government forcing them to conduct gay marriages. It is unfortunate that this strong fear is creating talk about their churches not being involved in conducting any marriages. Suck folks need to take several deep breaths, engage their heads, and not allow their emotions to carry them away…in other words, practice the same principles that they encourage those visiting them in the pastoral counseling office.
Let’s not forget that marriage is a civil contract, one that is taken so seriously and is viewed above other types of contract that the dissolving of the contract cannot take place outside a court setting and judicial oversight. The same is said applies to each nation across the globe, with each nation determining the conditions and qualifications for marriage. No church or religious official can issue a license to marry. The license is the state’s permission to enter into a marriage contract and entering into the contract can only be done by licensed officials. Clergy who have been duly authorized by their religious body and the state, may officiate at these ceremonies. The marriage contract is to be assented to verbally (exceptions granted for those who are mute) before witnesses. While marriage contracts can be entered into before an official and two or three others, most marriage contracts are encompassed around specially designed and elaborate ceremonies before a large gathering of family and friends.
For various reasons the majority of marriage ceremonies are done in a religious context. No doubt some have a religious service out of some type of family obligation. Others do so for deeply held spiritual reasons as a means to incorporate their beliefs in their marital vows. Some couples accept their church’s standard religious vows with little or no modification. For others, like Evie and I, they pour through various vows as part of a process of drafting their own vows that reflect their passion, spirituality and convictions. While the vows may differ greatly from couple to couple, at the end of day they all have one thing in common as required by law…that each party freely responds affirmatively to the “do you take” question. If one of the parties does not affirm their willingness, the marriage contract is nullified.
For Evie and I, no matter how elaborate or brief, no matter the context or setting in which the vows are uttered, one couple’s marital vows, neither adds to nor diminishes our marital relationship. While our 1979 marriage contract is based upon civil law, it was also for us a deeply spiritual moment of committing each to the other for our lifetime. Another person being married that day in a 5 minute ceremony before the justice of the peace with no religious statements had then, nor now, no affect upon our marital vows or relationship.
Too often the church spends an inordinate amount of its energy fighting battles outside its walls, in the community and in other churches. Each individual church needs to give as much focused attention as possible to the lives and well-being of its congregates, including its marital relationships. We need churches who are preparing people for marriage, helping newly married couples to strengthen their relationships and move positively from the honeymoon stage to the settling down stage, helping the mid-life marriages remain dynamic and vibrant and helping the more senior marriages to weather the storms they encounter that if not successfully navigated leads to two people instead of growing in love and old together, just grow old in the presence of each other.
Part 2 to follow...cleric protections already exist