As a newbie Christian, this is something I’m pondering. With gay marriage topping the agenda (because, come on, if a country packed full of the devout like Ireland can do it, why can’t Australia?) could it be asked whether the church has devalued marriage by marrying non-Christians in church?
Putting aside Genesis, gender, Adam and Eve and all the offensive ‘It was Eve not Steve’ bumper stickers, it struck me that ‘marriage’ – the institution from the church’s perspective – has been under threat as soon as the non-faithful started getting married in them.
I have a bunch of aethist / agnostic mates who were married in a church because they wanted a nice architectural venue. I disappointed my Catholic in laws by refusing anything but a civil ceremony. Back then I really didn’t think Jesus wanted much to do with me (and me with him) so why pretend for a day? I suppose if you don’t believe at all, and it’s more about having the The Garrison Church at The Rocks in your wedding photos, then you can probably wing it.
It just seems a bit odd for clergy to offer Christian marriage ceremonies to non-believers. Or is it a grey area? Like, “Well, you do have a christening certificate from 30 odd years ago so we can’t say no, even if we think you’re bunging it on for the fancy photo opportunity.” Plus (the clergy will doubtless howl me down for this one) my cynical mind supposes the upkeep on all those sandstone edifices can be pricey. Taking in a few fees for BDMs (births, deaths, marriages) helps, no?
Catholics say marriage is a sacrament. Jesus doesn’t. He only gave two: baptism (my getting lipton’d) and the Lord’s Supper (Communion). But, much like reverse engineering a marketing campaign, have churches married non-believing people thinking that it was a good starting point? A way of increasing the numbers in the potential soul-saving funnel? That maybe, just maybe, it would help as a starting point for evangelism.
Yet most clergy don’t evangelise to couples asking to be married. Because the clergy are too nice. The whole watered-down, insipid Christianity thing that created my own Christian hangover. Faced with a pushy Bridezilla intent on the location, darling, the location, are there clergy with cojones saying:
“Now, this marriage covenant was ordained by God to provide believers with a picture of Christ’s love and relationship to His church. It represents your union with Jesus Christ. A successful marriage is built upon the biblical truth that God designed each of us with five purposes in mind: worship, fellowship, discipleship, ministry, and missions. So, please, tell me, how are you going to fulfil those five?”
Can you imagine the engaged couple’s faces? Probably the same colour as the numbers in the church’s building and repairs bank account…
Jesus, as I’ve typed before, is the lightning rod. The uber-blog post. If the clergy, through misplaced niceness (and misplaced cojones?) aren’t seriously talking him up whilst performing marriage ceremonies; knowing, deep down, it will be the first and last time they will see the couple in church, then what does it say about Christian marriage?
That the doors are wide open for business, I’d say..
10 thoughts on “Have the nice clergy opened the church doors to gay marriage?”
Well, since all clergy think being married is better than cohabiting without benefit of marriage, they have a strong incentive to make marriage available in any case they can. That “five purposes” stuff is strictly for evangelicals, and that flavor of Christian is generally opposed to monogamous same-sex relationships. Other churches use other models.
Thanks, Invisible Mikey (love the photo btw). I like your notion of evangelical-flavoured Christians. Wouldn’t all Christians be expected to be e-flavoured? If you go back to the ‘make disciples of every nation’ instruction from Jesus. What other models from other churches have you experienced?
My church is Episcopal, the American version of the Church of England. Our model is a coequal triangle – scripture, tradition and reason. All interpretations of scripture and dogma in general have to pass all three tests to be valid.
But there are many other models, like the Presbyterian view which the Lutherans share of “Sola scritura” (ONLY scripture), and those by the Quakers, Adventists, Mormons etc. There are dozens of variations! You’re welcome on the photo. I’m a 30s horror movie fan.
I have often had the same thought Phil, if non Christians are able to be married in the church does it really matter what type of non Christian relationship it is? God sees all sin as being equal, but does the church?
Thanks Karen, yes, and I’ve written before about the sin barometer thing that seems to skew ‘religion’ – takes it away from Jesus not to. Appreciate your taking the time to comment, I always get a few more great ideas to ponder when people are kind enough to share their thoughts.
I said something similar to my husband when talking about this recently, and he made what I thought was an interesting point: when a non-Christian heterosexual couple who have already been sleeping together get married, they are no longer sinning sexually and are actually now expressing their sexuality in the way that God designed and commanded (ie. between a man and a woman who are married to each other), which is a good thing even if they aren’t Christians; however, if/when a homosexual couple get married, they are continuing in ongoing sexual sin, against God’s design and command… so for clergy conducting the ceremony, in the former case they’re supporting a couple’s decision to stop sinning sexually, but in the latter, they’re supporting ongoing sexual sin… so the two cases are different, if that makes sense.
Don’t you love the twists and turns of this? For me, in the case of a ‘non-Christian heterosexual couple who have already been sleeping together get married, they are no longer sinning sexually’ I ask why would it matter? As non-Christians it wouldn’t matter to them, because faith, Jesus’ sacrifice etc. would not resonate. If He knows what’s in our hearts, why would waving a marriage certificate at the pearly gates make any difference if you’ve never identified as Christian?
If you’re not Christian, then do whatever you like, with whomever you like, same sex or opposite. I see your husband’s thinking, Lisa, but if marriage is a celebration not a sacrament (as a pastor pointed out to me in a Facebook thread about this post) then I’m not certain it suddenly becomes a ‘eternal life hall pass’. There are peeps with theology degrees who could tackle this far better than I (and I may invite them to comment, here)!
As for gay marriage in a church (as opposed to gay marriage via changed law) that’s a whole other blog. What I wanted to unravel in this post was there are lots of definitions and views on what marriage is. And by leaving Jesus out of a Christian marriage conversation, has something today been lost in translation?
Thank you for your taking the time to comment, really appreciate it.
Hi Lisa – good thoughts.
I’ve married plenty of people over the years who haven’t been Christians – and your husband is spot on – yes, it ends sinning sexually. But it is not about sexual sin – it was where they put God in the grand scheme of things.
What I mean by that is I don’t often talk about sex with non-Christians. Because really it is about them not knowing Jesus – how they are expressing their sexuality is an outworking of that – but that’s all. What’s stopping them knowing God is that they don’t know and love and worship and trust Jesus.
And you’re right also about the gay couple – soon enough gay marriage will be here in Australia. But that won’t actually make it a marriage from a Christian perspective. But again, the focus ought not be on sinning sexually, but that they don’t know or trust Jesus as Lord and Saviour.
Hope that helps –
Thanks for your responses, Phil & Steve.
I should clarify, I wasn’t meaning to imply that marriage was an ‘eternal life hall pass’ to be waved at the pearly gates as a means of being saved/being ‘let in’ to heaven… faith in Jesus, his death & resurrection is the only eternal life hall pass.
I think for any non-Christian – whatever their sexual orientation – their need to know Jesus (as you said, Steve) outweighs their need to be told who they should or shouldn’t marry or have sex with.
Phil, I get what you mean when you say: “If you’re not Christian, then do whatever you like, with whomever you like, same sex or opposite” – if someone isn’t a Christian, they haven’t committed to following Jesus or living how he says they should, so it’s kind of pointless and unreasonable trying to force Christian ‘rules’ on them.
However, on the flip side, I also think it’s a slippery slope to say that if you’re not a Christian you can just do whatever you like with whomever you like (but that’s another can of worms…). I believe God hates and is grieved by all sin, so even though ultimately the issue is knowing Jesus and not sexual sin (or any other single area of sin), I think if a man and a woman who aren’t Christians want to make a lifestyle choice that happens to be in line with God’s design (ie. by getting married) then clergy/Christians can and should support that choice (and yes – to get back on topic – the clergy performing the ceremony should tell them about Jesus! :)) On the other hand, clergy marrying gay couples and Christians supporting gay marriage are supporting a relationship that grieves God. My original comment was in response to Karen’s post earlier about whether there’s a difference between different types of non-Christian relationships when it comes to being married in the church, and I was just suggesting that I think there is a difference. Sorry my comments digressed from the topic! Thanks for your blog, Phil, and for letting me put in my two cents 🙂
Thank-you, Lisa! And the beauty of topic digression is it gives me further ideas for further blogs.