Re: Shapes of a Wedge

From: George Murphy <>
Date: Sun May 23 2004 - 14:47:37 EDT

----- Original Message -----
From: "William Hamilton" <>
To: "jack syme" <>
Cc: <>; "John W Burgeson" <>;
Sent: Sunday, May 23, 2004 2:10 PM
Subject: Re: Shapes of a Wedge

> On Saturday, May 22, 2004, at 12:36 PM, jack syme wrote:
> > I think it is clear that the state has an interest in domestic
> > relationships, of the long-term-committed-to-one-other-person type.
> > And the
> > interests are widespread and involve things such as financial and
> > economic
> > concerns, child rearing and adoption, to proxy decision making. So,
> > the
> > state needs to have a definition of marriage, and a means to make
> > marriages
> > happen, that is free of any religious reasoning, and without involving
> > religious institutions, if we are serious about keeping church and
> > state
> > separate. Something that is debatable of course, but I suspect,
> > thinking as
> > a Christian believer, that we probably do want.
> I'm still thinking about this, but I wonder if the problem is not that
> the state calls the licenses it issues "marriage licenses" and that a
> ceremony performed by a government official is called a "marriage
> ceremony". The state of course has a legitimate interest in
> registering marriages and, perhaps, other long-term unions where there
> are children, either by artificial insemination or adoption. But
> calling a union not performed by clergy under the rules of a religion
> marriage may be intrusion by the state into the domain of religion.

        I don't think so. While the Bible shows an obvious interest in
marriage, there is nothing there to indicate that a marriage is something
that has to be performed or approved in a distinctively religious way.
Marriage is essentially a civil arrangement, an aspect of "the kingdom of
God's left hand" in Luther's terminology - which does not mean that the
church has no interest in it.

        The idea that the state marries people is also problematic: It is a
man and woman who marry one another, not a judge or a pastor. (In the
marriage service of the Lutheran Book of Worship the presiding minister does
not say "I now pronounce you husband and wife" but "A and B, by their
promises before God and in the presence of this congregation, have bound
themselves to one another as husband and wife.") The Genesis creation
accounts suggest that marriage has a priority over the state. Questions
are sometimes raised today about older couples who would like to get married
but who would run into problems with their Social Security benefits if they
did. I would have no problem telling such a couple that if they indeed make
a lifelong commit of faithfulness to one another, there would be nothing
sinful about their living together as husband and wife even though they are
not "legally married" - but I would also be sure that they understood that
the government and some Christians might not look at it that way.

        The church got enmeshed in the marriage business partly because of
its hankering to police sex and partly as an aspect of its Constantinian
bargain with the state whereby clergy serve as officials of the state.
(Clergy do that whenever they sign the document that says that they
"performed a marriage" and send it back to the court.) In many ways it
would be good if we could get out of that business, bless marriages when
appropriate, and leave all the legalities to the state. The downside of
that would be that couples would be even less likely to get any serious
pre-marital counselling and preparation than they do now.

Received on Sun May 23 14:48:18 2004

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Sun May 23 2004 - 14:48:19 EDT