I was asked to write some commentary thoughts on the Proposition 8 judicial decision in California. Below is what I wrote. Let me know what you think? To see the other comments, go here.
This is an interesting question for a pastor in Crown Point, IN – a city known in years gone by as the place to go to get married at any hour of the night. There was a local judge downtown who would marry anyone anytime. Many came to do so, including Ronald Reagan and Muhammad Ali. Is marriage simply the signing of a government sanctioned certificate by a judge? Or is Christian marriage more than that?
Thinking about your question brings to mind the pressure that pastors feel in the midst of the chaos of a wedding. We have to get many things right; leading the wedding ceremony, remembering all the queues, hitting all the protocols, delivering a challenge to the couple, leading in the vows, etc. The pressure of it leads many pastors to prefer a funeral over a wedding (myself included). What makes a wedding “Christian” is a Christian man and a woman covenanting to follow God’s plan and fulfill God’s purpose for marriage.
At the same time, a pastor in the American culture acts as a steward for the state in the civil rite. We are required to make sure the couple signs their wedding certificate making them “officially” married in the eyes of the government. In my state, the certificates contain nasty warnings for religious leaders who fail to properly fill out, sign, and file the wedding certificate.
This leads to the interesting question: When is a couple actually married? In the eyes of the government marriage happens when a sanctioned official declares it and the signatures of the couple affirm it. In the eyes of God, I believe, it happens when the couple, in accordance with God’s created plan for marriage, vow to be husband and wife to one another. What if they forget to sign the certificate or it is lost in the mail? Are they married? In the eyes of God, yes. In the eyes of the government, no.
I suggest that in today’s culture, the reverse of this is steadily creeping toward us. We now have marriages where the couple is “married” in the eyes of the government but not married in the eyes of God. This is another example of a secular worldview redefining a created purpose of God. Currently, in the eyes of our government, a fetus is not a human. It is non-human or not-yet human. Yet in the eyes of God, the unborn child is fully human and worthy of all the dignity and preservation that this status requires. The eyes of God and the eyes of the government are seeing things differently. Is God threatened by the redefinition of marriage? Hardly. But what is threatened is the reflection of God Himself in marriage. It will be our challenge, as Christian and civil definitions of marriage grow further apart, to preserve Christian marriage (and the celebration of it in the wedding ceremony) as God defines it.
Perhaps what we will soon need is a new word that captures what God intends marriage to be. For a long time, “marriage” has been a good word to describe this most important relationship. But as marriage in our culture is less and less what God intends, perhaps a new word/phrase and definition might allow us to rightly describe this wonderful and theologically rich union; Trinitarian plurality in unity, Christ and the church, or agape love in family oneness.
© 2010 Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction.