June 26, 2013
An Editorial: A Pastor’s response to DOMA & Prop 8 Rulings
The Supreme Court recently ruled that married same-sex couples were entitled to federal benefits. And by declining to decide a case from California, effectively will allow same-sex marriages in that state. Like any controversial decision, there were those who celebrated and those who mourned. As a pastor of a local congregation in Sutter Creek, here is my response to these rulings.
The union of two people, in heart, body, and mind is intended by God for their mutual joy; for the help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity; and for the procreation of children and their nurture. Therefore, marriage is not to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly, but reverently and deliberately. Some people desire that their union be blessed by the Church, placing God at the center of their relationship. Others prefer a secular union, leaving God out of the equation. Some couples plan to have children while others do not. All of these different situations have been recognized by the state as being “legal marriages.”
No minister of the Church is required to witness the marriage of anyone or sign the marriage certificate. If a minister does sign the certificate, s/he is acting as a civil servant and must follow the laws of the state. Some people question whether the church should be in the civil service business or should focus solely on the blessing of the couple. The separation between church and state is the issue here.
However, when it comes to conducting a wedding in my own church, the criteria I have always used to judge the readiness and character of a couple is as follows: “Fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, careful & honest communications, and the holy love which enable those in such relationships to see in each other the love of God.” Most of the time, I also require that a couple be in relationship for at least one year and are willing to engage in pre-marital counseling. I will continue to use these same criteria for all couples coming to the church for God’s blessing in marriage once the Church and the State officially approve of same-sex marriage.
Modern day concepts of marriage are so different from Biblical times that it is a challenge to use biblical principles when it comes to 21st century marriages. For instance, polygamy was widespread in ancient biblical times. The patriarchs had multiple wives (Abraham, Jacob, etc). They also took concubines, especially in cases in which the wife had difficulty with conceiving children. The legislation of the Torah takes for granted that a man may have two or more wives. The kings of Israel were known to have large harems and multiple wives and marry for political alliances. Jesus (as far as we know) was single and did not have a biological father. St. Paul was also single but discouraged marriage unless a person was tempted by lust. Marriages were arranged and determined by the patriarch of each family. Marriage was not based on “love” between the man and the woman but was viewed as a property exchange that might enhance wealth, status, and power among the two families.
In the Greco-Roman world of biblical times, this is what it meant to be married: “To have sons one can introduce to the family and the neighbors, and to have daughters of one’s own to give to husbands. For we have courtesans for pleasure, concubines to attend to our daily bodily needs, and wives to bear children legitimately and to be faithful wards of our homes.” Fortunately in the United States, we have witnessed the changing nature of marriage since biblical times. Equality and mutuality are now considered important.
So how can we best deal with the recent Supreme Court rulings? It is my opinion that religious institutions need to spend their time and energy on trying to help couples create healthy and life-long relationships that are able to withstand the difficult times. We need to focus on strengthening all marriages so that couples learn how to live in “fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, careful & honest communications, and the holy love which enable those in such relationships to see in each other the love of God.” Trying to prevent same-sex couples from marrying based on biblical principles seems dishonest and a misdirection of precious energy.
It seems to me that what we all seek (whether straight or gay) is to love and to be loved. Any movement, any ruling, any opening of the heart which moves in the direction of authentic love, has my support. For love is the greatest gift of all.