Getting Marriage Back
It might be time for something dramatically different.
I don’t think we will lose God’s ideals of marriage when the nation eventually accepts same-sex unions. In many ways we’ve already lost those. With no fault divorce, marriage became disposable. With sexual permissiveness, the marriage bed has lost its sanctity. With the new norm of single-parenting, marriage is just another option for parenting. In short, culturally, marriage has lost its uniqueness as a covenant before God.
And now, we do see another onslaught. Marriage is being redefined further. It is basically a contract between two people. For now, in most states, it is between one man and one woman. But, is there any doubt that this will not last? Some of our leaders, Christian and non-Christian, are trying hard to weave their way through this minefield. They look for solutions by talking about Civil Unions, Gay-Parent Adoptions, and emphasize that this is an issue to be handled state by state. The truth is, this is a national issue and will be more so. States will have different laws, people will move across state lines and eventually, for the sake of the courts, there is going to have to be one standard. And I am confident that Christians won’t like that standard.
We have another issue. It is the issue of ministry. How do we keep from being labeled as hate-mongers and bigots? We try to say that we love the sinner and hate the sin. But when it comes to homosexuality, unlike other sins, they equate their identity with their sexual preferences. So anytime we speak against it, they don’t hear it as a criticism of what they do, but of who they are. This is a real communication challenge for the church who wants to offer a message of hope and freedom. How do we communicate this when we are “up in arms” trying to fight society through the ballot box and the courts instead of trying to sway the human heart?
It might be time for a different approach.
It may be time for Christians to push for a clear distinction between a civil marriage and a Christian marriage. Under this kind of scenario, couples would have to be joined “civilly” by the court. At that point they would be civilly married. And then if this is a religious couple, they would seek a religious ceremony in their house of worship, by an officiant of their choosing. This is what would communicate the kind of marriage this couple would like to live in.
Why would we consider this kind of approach? How could it aid the church in doing its mission?
1. It allows us to stand solidly for the distinct nature of Christian marriage. The church’s definition of marriage won’t be muddied by the cultural definitions of marriage. We will truly be able to say, “The contract you enter into for the state is not the covenant you enter into before God.” Marriage in a Christian context is different.
2. This will remove cultural pressure from churches to do any marriages which aren’t God-honoring. Right now because clergy have the authority, given by the state, people expect pastors and churches to do weddings. And most of us pastors are worried about the day when the state may try to require us to do weddings that violate our doctrine or conscience. This would eliminate that pressure. Christian weddings would have no “legal” implications. People, all people would be joined civilly. Only those who desire a distinctly Christian celebration would have reason to ask the church to be involved.
3. It helps the church teach the distinctive nature of Christian marriage. When young people grow up in the church, we would have a compelling reason to teach them clearly the nature of Christian marriage. When people come to the church to get married it isn’t to “get married.” It will be to enter into covenant love, which is Christian in nature. And this will be a time for the church to explain, demonstrate and celebrate the uniqueness of covenant love.
4. It also provides a path for those who become Christians to be joined in a covenant commitment after their conversion. Right now, if people become believers, it takes time for them to address the nature of their marriage. This would give us opportunity to say, “now that you are both changed by Christ, why shouldn’t your marriage be different?” And we can use this to call them to a decidedly Christian marriage.
5. This may also aid our influence in our culture. Right now we are in a “rights” vs. “what’s right” argument. And people are pointing out that marriage is a failed institution no matter who gets married, straight or gay. This would keep us out of the “rights” argument while providing us the opportunity for personal example and influence. By clearly living out our convictions as something distinct from culture, we present an even clearer picture of God’s love for the church, which is one of the great roles of Christian marriage.
Let me say clearly, I am not for same-sex marriage. And if given the opportunity I would turn back the clocks of time in this area. But it is my view that it is coming. And we need to find options which present a different message.
It is my argument that in our fight for a biblical understanding of marriage, we are fighting for something we may have already lost. Instead of fighting to maintain the last vestiges of cultural Christianity, I propose we turn our attention to living out our convictions about marriage and provide a witness that invites others to join in on what God is doing. How do we make Christian marriage different again? It can happen if we separate it from the civil debate.