marriage: State vs Church

Nearly 20 years ago I answered a General Ordination Exam question by saying priests should not prostitute themselves out for the state. If people want their marriages blessed by the Church, let them come; however the Church should get out of the marriage business. Here’s a very interesting variation on that theme. The original is here.

“But governments began relying on marriage licenses for a new purpose: as a way of distributing resources to dependents. The Social Security Act provided survivors’ benefits with proof of marriage. Employers used marital status to determine whether they would provide health insurance or pension benefits to employees’ dependents. Courts and hospitals required a marriage license before granting couples the privilege of inheriting from each other or receiving medical information.

In the 1950s, using the marriage license as a shorthand way to distribute benefits and legal privileges made some sense because almost all adults were married. Cohabitation and single parenthood by choice were very rare.

Today, however, possession of a marriage license tells us little about people’s interpersonal responsibilities. Half of all Americans aged 25 to 29 are unmarried, and many of them already have incurred obligations as partners, parents or both. Almost 40 percent of America’s children are born to unmarried parents. Meanwhile, many legally married people are in remarriages where their obligations are spread among several households.

Using the existence of a marriage license to determine when the state should protect interpersonal relationships is increasingly impractical. Society has already recognized this when it comes to children, who can no longer be denied inheritance rights, parental support or legal standing because their parents are not married.”


28 Responses to “marriage: State vs Church”

  1. Robert Easter Says:

    Another view of this comes in the trend toward State control of the Church and the Gospel preached. Two most visible tools being used are laws against “hate-speech” (Funny, they’re actually using 1984 bureaucracy language!) laws which threaten to punish clergy for speaking out for real truth which excludes other “truths” or for morality which excludes immorality. Canadian law has already gone so far as to threaten to deny churches the “privilege” of performing weddings if they do not offer the same service to homosexual “unions.”

    What you have said is more true than what you have said. Marriage belongs to God. It was God’s idea from the first: No government can claim to own, regulate, or re-define it without challenging the Living God so doing. What if all churches made a difference between a Christian marriage and a civil registration? The marriage is witnessed and established before God and His Church, even so, amen. Should the couple also choose to stop by the government building to sign a form, splendid! But how is it even necessary?

  2. dpc+ Says:

    What you have said is more true than what you have said. I wish I’d said that! ;–)

    What you suggest has been my approach to marriage and other church/state matters all along. If society thinks it needs marriage regulated, then with the proper votes in place they can make that happen. However that has nothing to do with what the Church will–and won’t (I’m thinking of so-called “gay marriage” which is a contradiction in terms)–bless.

    Re the necessity of “stopping by the gov’t building to sign a form” there are legal reasons for us wanting proof or regulation: off the top of my head I think of cohabitation, consanguinity relationships, inheritance issues and insurance questions.

  3. Robert Easter Says:

    True enough, Father-

    Except whatever the population decides can only be their voice in how they choose to hear a word, not what that word means, At least in the case of a divine concept as this. In other words, all the vote would accomplish would be to codify their ignorance and/or rebellion. (“Why do the ..peoples imagine a vain thing?”)

    The government part of the (in)equation, in my previous, was largely based on having lived where the State is seen as having already de-constructed marriage to the point that saying “she’s my wife” would have the same weight as all “benefit of clergy.” Of course, we need to properly register marriages. On the other hand, ID cards (drivers’ licenses, passports, etc.) can be got with either a State birth record or a Church baptismal certificate, so why must the State (insurance, etc,) suddenly disannul a Church marriage record?

  4. dpc+ Says:

    Interesting. I grew up in NV and (after living in five others) now live in a state where you only have to live together 6 wks to be legally married (so I was told by a local lawyer)… I agree about the fickle and ignorant voting population… I’m actually agreeing that the state shouldn’t have anything to do with what the Church calls marriage.

  5. Robert Easter Says:

    (Of course, we can’t agree! How would that attract more responses?)

    Seriously, it seems not too different from an African custom of having a “tribal” marriage and then later a “Christian” marriage. The tribal marriage takes place when the young man is accepted by her community, and she by his, and he agrees with her father before the elders on a suitable dowry with which to honor his household for the fine job they have done in raising his intended. A series of feasts is involved, the groom delivers the first installment on the dowry (usually that he will provide the meat for future family get-togethers) and the couple begins a life together. When they can arrange with the priest, they then have a church wedding.

    The only difference between that kind of arrangement and the way things are often done in the West is that the Western groom would be considered highly disrespectful.

  6. dpc+ Says:

    Well, this is the most traffic I’ve ever seen here–so I’ll agree to keep disagreeing! ;–>

    How is your African Tribal analogy/example different than what couples do when seeking out a JP to be “legally hitched” and then, at some time in the future when the discussion about “which religion and denomination we’ll raise the kids in” surfaces? Or even in the UK when the couple steps out of the church and signs legal documents which in effect marries them, and then steps back in to the church for the Eucharist? That’s clearly a separation of church from society/state isn’t it?

  7. Robert Easter Says:

    The only difference I can see is one of degrees, at least, of honesty. The African groom must answer to his bride’s father, extended family, and village to defend his intentions of marrying his beloved. While he has put off “benefit of clergy” he has done much better by his dear one than what we see in the “civilised” West.

    We could see it all in terms of the “religion” that is actually being followed. The Church in that part of Africa has this tribal/church dichotomy to overcome in seeing the Gospel really transform lives, and society. In the West we don’t have so much a tribe/Church contrast as a self/Church. The State, here, being a projection of Self.

    This could extend into politics, but I’ll keep it clean! 😉

  8. dpc+ Says:

    Wow. I enjoy this disagreement on how much we agree.

    The “honesty” you reference is huge; we don’t–as a rule–hold one another accountable in our marriages as you say the African church does (btw: can we refer to “an” African Church?). I’m reminded of the (apocryphal?) quote by Ghandi, who, when asked what he thought of Western Civilisation, answered, “I think that’s a great idea.”

    And the State being a projection of Self is spot-on. But a discussion of politics would take us off topic.

    Another question: If the Church and the State cease to regulate each other with respect to marriage, what should the Church’s response be to the State legalizing man-man, woman-woman relations? We would cease to have a voice in that debate were we to withdraw from the Church/State marriage contract. Wouldn’t we?

  9. Robert Easter Says:

    Indeed, if we keep disagreeing like this you might decide to hire me as your next curate!

    Seriously- that “great idea” made my day- Thanks!

    I’m not really sure what you mean by the Church and State regulating each other. It seems the relationship, from the State’s view,. characterises the Church as little more than a nagging ex-wife, while the State seems to be working overtime to add more distance, and control, to that “relationship.” What am I missing?

  10. dpc+ Says:

    ok, the church doesn’t get to regulate the state per se. But the state’s perspective on the church being like a nagging ex-wife? That’s golden. I had to think about it for a minute… but She who was once married to the state (I’m thinking Byzantium and Rome and (not sure here) Geneva) has been cast off and now must merely endure Her criticism and scorn. He, now that he’s lost the moral center She afforded him, just works harder and is less productive and has less and less time for Her and is trying harder to control Her. Yup. That pretty much sums up the relationship between Her and the state these days.

    And my other question (what should the Church’s response be to the State…)?

    Oh, and if you’ll work for tamales and mole I can use someone!

  11. Robert Easter Says:

    I really think the Church’s one role is one of Incarnation. It is the Incarnational life that Jesus spent His time teaching the disciples, and the “Great Commission” according to Luke (which I take to be the “how to” part of the plan, is to be witnesses. Is this not what the Church did before Nicaea, and the whole world was turned upside down by slaves and vendors?

    Oh, and check my resume on my blog. Toss in some barbecodo, and I’m in! 😉

  12. dpc+ Says:

    Cool resume. You’re definitely Hireable. The barbacoa that we serve down here is cabrito, does that set well contigo?

  13. dpc+ Says:

    The Church’s role… I’m still on the marriage thing. If the Church is the Bride and He is the Groom, then aren’t we responsible for making the world the children of the marriage between Christ and the Church? Yes, the Great Commission is the “how to,” and the marriage Covenant is the Great Commandment.

    And the martydom (witness) of two fifty year olds (one an “eco’palian” priest, the other a semitarian) in this world could assist in turning it around as well.

  14. Robert Easter Says:

    (I still haven’t figured out where the “pisco” went!)

    Now, I don’t speak no Espanol, but the cabrito is definitely bueno conmigo. I’m presently at a Kenyan church, and Fr. Toro can put the charcoal to them cabritos.

    I’m right at final crams & registrations, and getting off this lap for a while to dig into some Fletcher and Gonzales. Otherwise there are some people looking at putting me in to lead a men’s “recovery” house here in town, though that seems to be on a rather indefinite hold while they get some stuff organised at their end. (With the traffic this site gets, I’m amazed there’s no other input on this discussion!) But, hey, if you want to, give me a call!

  15. dpc+ Says:

    (sorry: it was an affectionate description of how, while I still belonged to the apostate Episcopal Church, General Convention 2003 scared the “pis” out of me)

    Re your schooling: If it is Joe Fletcher: he’s a heretic. And Justo doesn’t do justice to Christian history… I pray that you’re able to give the profs what they want while still retaining the Faith.

    I don’t know what you mean about traffic: haven’t had many visitors and could (before today) count on one hand the number of comments. So thank you for a fantastic day!

    I meant it when I offered you tamales: that’s about all I could afford.

  16. Robert Easter Says:

    That’s a fair description!

    Never heard of Joe- this is John Fletcher I’m reading- along with Nyssa, Mararius, Augustine, Calvin, Clement, Greg the Great,…

    So tell me your details on Gonzalez- Sure, two volumes of his History of Christianity is no exhaustive work, but it seems to make a good background for a 3-hr survey class.

    I looked at your sitemeter and it was showing some fair numbers through October. Overlooked the blank spot after that, though!

    Tamales? Muy bueno! The fact is that I’m one solo friar, and the opportunity to minister easily outweighs details like salary packages. I guess I’m kind of like that old Ford wrench in the bottom of the tool box- Not all that pretty, but if it’s about getting a job done, I’ll do what I can. If the Lord makes it happen, then cool. If not, I’m fine where I’m at.

  17. Robert Easter Says:

    Sorry, I overlooked a detail- While you still belonged..? Are you now lined up with CCP, All Nations, AOC…? Congratulations on the jump, anyway!

    But, seriously, I’ll be praying, you too, maybe we can do some kind of “internship” arrangement. You never know! (You do have my number off the resume site, and my address on this one..!)

    Blessings on ya!


  18. dpc+ Says:

    didn’t mean to mislead: congrats are premature… alas??!!
    what year are you in semitary?

  19. Robert Easter Says:

    Still a Junior. Hey, give me a call! 🙂

  20. Robert Easter Says:

    Guess it was getting too late for you!

    To better answer- the school has a good online option. I did my first semester that way before coming on-campus. The discussions are great- especially out-of-class, and some first-rate professors. One of the two seminaries in the country not built on the Deutches-Evangelisches model. Strong on Trinitarian theology with Kinlaw, Oden, Zizioulas, Coppedge, Collins, and the Torrances for the foundational theology texts. My choices coming in were narrowed down to this one, Wycliffe College/Toronto School of Theology, and Wycliffe Hall, Oxford. I couldn’t see the prices for Oxford, it took too long getting in to see the bishop about Wycliffe appointment, so I wound up where I had not heard of before with the best program I could have asked for. Ironically, this school has matched right in with the route the Lord had been already leading me in terms of re-discovering the “core” of the Faith, as distinct from the Zwinglian nose-dive that Evangelical Protestantism has been following for the past 512 years, jettisoning every bit that every successive generation didn’t learn about from the one previous. There is much more essential to the Faith than, “Pray this little prayer and everything will be peachy!” It’s past time for the Church to plug in to that fact.

    I have an article coming out in the next issue of the Anglican Church of Kenya’s newsletter about returning our evangelistic message to the “basics” taught by such a lot as Francis, Bernard, Macarius, and Macarius’ Anglican disciple, John Wesley. Wednesday morning I am set to deliver a short homily on the same theme for Theology class. If you like, I can send you a copy. If nothing else, it will give you an idea of the kind of character you’re dealing with here! 🙂

  21. Robert Easter Says:

    Looking over your profile- Disappointed not to find an email link, but in the part whether Anglicanism is a valid expression of the Orthodox Faith: In wrestling through the particulars of the Reformed movement in Europe, and thus taking a harder look at some of the questions the Roman Church had forgotten, and in following their Queen’s lead in marking out a via media with tolerance for varied interpretations (within reason), the English Church was moving closer to the Apostolic model early-on. The earthly hope of sanctification/deification was well in-place at least from the Desert Fathers, with a strong ongoing tradition. The one doctrine that still had some resistance was that of justification by faith, which caused the Wesleys some grief in their day, but seems to have found its place since.

    From where I sit, the Anglican tradition does have the core of God’s Counsel to and through the Church, and has gone to great lengths proclaiming that fact in the arts and architecture. In the daily details, we must not lose track of the fact that we are the building, and Christ is the Builder. When Jesus calls time, what will He see?

    God has revealed Himself to us, as He is, in terms of holiness and love. The one, alone, brings a scorching, deadly legalism, the second, alone, a suicidal promiscuity. Seen together, as two sides of a spinning coin (Ezekiel’s wheels?), gives us a picture of the nature of God which He labors to form in us.

  22. dpc+ Says:

    I concur about how we were moving closer to the Apostolic model early-on. And the many overtures from the Oxford movement folks helped loads. The St.Alban/St. Sergius Society helped too. JM Neale and many priests had only the best in mind. But what of Bp Ken’s query (Where will I ever be able to say ‘I die in the Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Faith, professed by the whole Church, before the disunion of East and West’?)? And has “the Anglican Experiment” run its course? It isn’t just ecusa that is fractured and coming apart: the African and South American and Asian provinces are all interested in doing their own thing as well. The conversation about whether the Communion is a “federation” or not is indicative of where, in a best case scenario, this will lead. At worst we’ll all just scramble for the marbles and go our separate ways. These are things I struggle mightily with. Once upon a time we could say “On paper the Anglican Communion is the most faithful to the Early Church and is the most realistic expression of western orthodoxy. But now its every man may believe whatever he wants… others have discussed “private judgment” far better than I can. But your comment about the Anglican Tradition (is there merely one?) having the “core of God’s Counsel” speaks a little to my concern: what is of the “esse” and what is truly adiaphora to what is the Church? Bp Kallistos wrote that the reformers took the Faith and subtracted from it (e.g., the sacraments, apostolic succession, etc) and the Catholics have added to it (immaculate conception, purgatory, papal infallibility, etc). So where is there “The Church”?

    I believe too much in Christ’s Body to be Protestant. The Continuing Anglicans aren’t moving (can’t move) toward the Reconciliation of the Body. And I just can’t square the history and theological innovations to be Roman Catholic. Thus my interest in ecusa’s repentance and the EOC and so forth.

  23. Robert Easter Says:

    We can’t just scramble for “our” marbles- It is our responsibility to deliver all the marbles in our teaching. I have to agree with Bp. Ware, and whatever is done at the seminaries or in the synods, our call is to deliver the whole Package. Romans 1:16 is not talking about three lines on the back page of a gospel tract when it says the “gospel of Christ the power of God unto salvation.” I’d venture that the average Western “Christian” does not really know what “salvation” means, with no disrespect intended. The message has just been reduced so far that the meaning is lost on those who would be saved! Overstated? Well, maybe.

  24. dpc+ Says:

    Yes, they’re not “our” marbles… When you mention the reductionism that has happened to the kerygma, as well as the misunderstanding of the people, I don’t think you’re overstating.

    But back to marriage: the lack of sound premarital counseling; the consumer driven shows that brides and brides’ mothers demand; the shallow theological thinking; these all contribute to the disgusting statistics re divorce. So all the way back up to your initial response: rather than stop by the gov’t building, should we insist that they attend worship and ongoing classes instead?

  25. Robert Easter Says:

    (Thought I’d lost ya!)

    Fr. David, I think that’s one way to go, to insist they attend worship, etc., I do hate the notion, of course, of the clergy being seen as “service providers” like Vegas wedding chapels, etc. just “providing” one essential step toward the most painful disaster known to man.

    Premarital counseling, though, needs to be in the continual teaching of the Church: The “counseling sessions” can be (and I think usually are) seen as one more hurdle to cross, along with color selection and reception programs. Just give the priest the “right” answers and get this over with.

    Marriage is a sacred trust. It is both a holy gift and an embodied message essential to our survival spiritually, socially, and, as we are seeing, psychologically. The particular desires that draw the couple together are about like the spices in chile: They make it a lot more desirable (dare I say, palatable?), but it’s the meat we’re needing. The serranos or the cilantro are necessary also, to enhance the flavor, keep the food from spoiling, and protect the eater from heat stress, but the Trinitarian, and Incarnational, aspects of marriage are what make it sacred and essential on a level that transcends and permeates it all. Not in a merely symbolic sense, but it is the opportunity to incorporate every aspect of that common life with the life of God within us as Christians.

    So, we approach this pastorally either as using marriage as the ultimate “visual aid” for teaching the Life , or we deal with it all in (sorry!) prophylactic terms merely to assure ourselves the arrangement may at least last the first five years. One ministry I was part of had a rule that for a couple to marry, one had to live in a distant city for a year, and after a year of reflection, then they could go ahead with the wedding plans.

    We need to teach all about the life of God in every way possible. The Image of God within mankind is not a dusty scrap of dogma to be trotted out on the appropriate Sunday but a piece of understanding basic to our identity and survival as human beings.

  26. Robert Easter Says:

    Well, looks like i did lose ya! Been a good chat. Let’s do it again, eh?

  27. dpc+ Says:

    Urrr. Sorry. Life and family and work enter in every so often. A funeral, son and daughter things, and budgets (yes, plural) have just about overwhelmed me.
    I concur: let’s do it again. Got a subject?

  28. Robert Easter Says:

    Not a problem. Hope the funeral wasn’t a difficult one. I’m guessing this
    might be an option- needs re-writing but it might have something to get a nail into. Not to worry for time- I’ve got a couple of papers to do this (long) weekend anyway. Blessings on ya!

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