Monday, July 27, 2009

Wedding Liturgy and Christian Marriage

I sent the following to the Civil Union and Christian Marriage Committee

As I prepared to do a wedding a few weeks ago I was struck by the theology in the Statement of the Gift of Marriage and thought of your work as a committee. The Statement reads:

We gather in the presence of God to give thanks for the gift of marriage, to witness the joining together of N. and N., to surround them with our prayers, and to ask God's blessing upon them, so that they may be strengthened for their life together and nurtured in their love for God.

God created us male and female, and gave us marriage so that husband and wife may help and comfort each other, living faithfully together in plenty and in want, in joy and in sorrow, in sickness and in health, throughout all their days.

God gave us marriage for the full expression of the love between a man and a woman. In marriage a woman and a man belong to each other, and with affection and tenderness freely give themselves to each other.

God gave us marriage for the well-being of human society, for the ordering of family life, and for the birth and nurture of children.

God gave us marriage as a holy mystery in which a man and a woman are joined together, and become one, just as Christ is one with the church.

In marriage, husband and wife are called to a new way of life, created, ordered, and blessed by God. This way of life must not be entered into carelessly, or from selfish motives, but responsibly, and prayerfully.

We rejoice that marriage is given by God, blessed by our Lord Jesus Christ, and sustained by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, let marriage be held in honor by all.

Please notice the theological statements about man and woman and marriage. The Statement says that God created us male and female and relates marriage to that act of creation. The statement reflects the second creation story in Genesis. The Statement says, indirectly, that sexual expression is a gift from God to be celebrated with marriage between a man and a woman. The giving of the self to the other, the man to the woman and the woman to the man of course includes more than sexual expression.

Marriage, the statement says, is given for the ordering of human society. This includes the birth and nurture of children but also, again indirectly, speaks against the sexual disorder of society in which people live together without being married. While not a direct reference one can hear in this a passage from C-67:

The relationship between man and woman exemplifies in a basic way God’s ordering of the interpersonal life for which he created mankind. Anarchy in sexual relationships is a symptom of man’s alienation from God, his neighbor, and himself. Man’s perennial confusion about the meaning of sex has been aggravated in our day by the availability of new means for birth control and the treatment of infection, by the pressures of urbanization, by the exploitation of sexual symbols in mass communication, and by world overpopulation. The church, as the household of God, is called to lead men out of this alienation into the responsible freedom of the new life in Christ. Reconciled to God, each person has joy in and respect for his own humanity and that of other persons; a man and woman are enabled to marry, to commit themselves to a mutually shared life, and to respond to each other in sensitive and lifelong concern; parents receive the grace to care for children in love and to nurture their individuality. The church comes under the judgment of God and invites rejection by man when it fails to lead men and women into the full meaning of life together, or withholds the compassion of Christ from those caught in the moral confusion of our time.

Since 1967 this anarchy has gotten significantly worse with teenagers and young adults (and many in middle age and older) treating sexuality as only a means for pleasure and not as a commitment. Marriage, as the statement says, is intended for the ordering of family life, and I would suggest that this means with or without children.

The Statement says that marriage joins the man and the woman and they become one and points to the marriage of Christ and the Church.

Nowhere in the statement is there any suggestion that marriage can be between two people of the same sex. Nowhere does it suggest that living together, whether in a heterosexual relationship or a homosexual relationship, carries the same deep unity that God intends for a man and a woman brought together in marriage.

Of course neither the Statement on the Gift of Marriage nor the quote from C-67 is scripture. But they do pick up and point to Biblical themes. God creates humans male and female. Sexual behavior is to be expressed only within marriage. Marriage between a man and a woman points to the coming revelation of Christ’s marriage to the Church. Nowhere in Scripture or the Confessions is there any suggestion that sexual expression outside of marriage or a civil union or marriage between two persons of the same sex is acceptable to God. Instead such sexual behavior, whether long term or short, is condemned in Scripture and Confessions.

Liturgy reflects theology. The marriage liturgy says what the Church believes about marriage.

You have a very difficult task. The denomination has wrestled with the questions you study for decades. I urge you to retain the present definition of marriage as reflected in Scripture, Confessions and liturgy so that the Church may continue to stand against the sexual anarchy of our times.