Marriage, Church and the State
Sometime next month the US Supreme Court will issue its decision on homosexual marriage. Many of us fear it will be another disaster, like Roe v Wade – a handful of unelected and unrepresentative judges will strike down the nation’s and/or states’ laws and seek to force sodomite marriage on everyone, whether they like it or not.
Everyone concerned about the fundamental institution of marriage, especially Christians, will need to have a major rethink as to how we respond, and what changes, if any, we embark upon. The whole issue of the state’s role in matters of marriage and family may well need to be reassessed.
Libertarians of course have long argued that the state should get out of the marriage business altogether, or at least just let individual states decide on which way to go. I have elsewhere argued against the libertarian position, believing there is a place for the state in this. See here for example:
A few simple truths need to be kept in mind here: marriage as an institution has preceded the state as an institution. The state has simply come along and recognised and affirmed the pre-existing and socially valuable institution of marriage.
Because marriage is the world’s best institution to ensure the well-being of children, of the next generation, states have always acknowledged the importance of marriage, and have treated it accordingly. Because heterosexual marriage confers such tremendous benefits to society, societies have in turn conferred benefits on marriage.
While other close and committed forms of relationships can be of value, the state has only seen fit to give heterosexual marriage special status and special recognition, and rightly so. But as we go down the road of the state giving equal recognition and status to other types of relations, including homosexual ones, which are not of course in themselves open to procreation, then marriage loses its special place, and in effect is rendered null and void.
So by pushing for sodomite “marriage” we are not broadening marriage – we are destroying it. As I said, we now may have to think again about these sorts of relationships, especially if SCOTUS does its worse as we fear.
One US state has already acted preventively here: Alabama. They have decided that it will stop issuing marriage licenses. One report on this begins this way:
The battle has been raging over redefining marriage in Alabama, as the state’s constitution declares marriage to be between a man and a woman. However, federal courts are attempting to force the state to issue marriage licenses to those practicing sodomy. In an attempt to stop probate judges from issuing licenses arbitrarily, the Alabama Senate passes bill by a vote of 22-3 without having to obtain permission from a government official.
Senate Bill 377, a bill which would end marriage licensing and replace it with a contract process, was approved by the Alabama Senate on May 19. According to the text of the bill, it would abolish the requirement to obtain a marriage license from the judge of probate.
“This bill would provide that marriage would be entered into by simple contract, would specify the information required to be included in the contract of marriage, would specify that each party entering into a contract of marriage would submit a properly executed contract to the judge of probate for recording, and would require the judge of probate to forward a copy of the contract of marriage to the Office of Vital Statistics,” reads the synopsis of the bill….
In other words, [Senator Greg Albritton (R-Bay Minette), who introduced the bill] wants the issue of marriage back in the hands of the Church. While the contract portion would be recognized legally, the requirements for marriage to be handled lawfully under the umbrella of the Church would remain intact.
This is one option, but whether it is the best option remains to be seen. As I mentioned above, there can indeed be a role for the state in marriage matters. And by seeking to argue for church-based marriage, while allowing for other forms, we may end up creating a two-tiered (or more) marriage system. This too would work against marriage and its purposes.
The issue of who conducts a marriage or who issues licenses is just a small portion of the debate. The bigger issue here is will we allow marriage to become whatever anyone wants it to become? By letting marriage simply be that which lies in the eye of the beholder, we again effectively destroy marriage.
When marriage can mean anything, then marriage means nothing. So we have to be careful as we seek to resist the harm of a possible SCOTUS ruling that we don’t also create harm elsewhere. One Christian writer has already weighed in on the Alabama decision. Bryan Fischer says it is “a mistake to get pastors out of signing marriage licenses”. He writes:
A rear-guard movement has recently emerged to get the state out of the marriage licensing business altogether, in what will prove to be a vain attempt to slow down the rampage to impose sodomy-based marriage on the entire country.
Alabama’s state senate has made the latest foray in this direction by passing a bill that makes marriage a mere matter of contract. Under this bill, the state would no longer issue marriage licenses but simply enter privately forged marriage contracts in some kind of registry. Civil government would not be approving of such marriages, it would only be recording them.
In practice, this means if the Supreme Court imposes sodomy-based marriage on the entire nation next month, Alabama would instantly become the easiest place in America for two homosexuals to get married. All they’d have to do is sign a piece of paper and turn it in. Easy-peasy. I don’t think this is what the well-intentioned legislators in Alabama have in mind. But that’s what they will get.
Other voices are urging pastors to get out of the role of signing wedding licenses on behalf of civil government, as if this represents some inappropriate mixing of church and state. They want a wedding to be a purely spiritual, religious affair with no involvement, participation or recognition by civil government whatsoever.
This, however, ignores the likelihood that gay activists would still go after pastors to press them to do purely religious ceremonies for them. Eventually, they will find a judge who will order pastors to perform such purely religious ceremonies, on the grounds that a (counterfeit) constitutional “right” to have a homosexual wedding ceremony trumps the actual constitutional right to decline to perform one.
He raises some valid points here (see his entire article). There is much to think about, and many issues need to be weighed up. The truth is, marriage is under attack, and if SCOTUS does not launch the final nail in the coffin in June, there will be other attempts to do the same.
One thing is for sure: it will no longer be business as usual. The church will be impacted by this – big time. How should it respond? Let me close with the words of Rick Scarborough, President of Vision America Action:
Because of the trends and cultural shifts that we have witnessed in culture over the past 40 years, we have all known that this day would likely come and Christians would be put at odds with the culture and the courts. I believe we are there. We are approaching a Bonhoeffer moment in America.
Outrageous penalties are now being assessed against people of faith and conviction who haven’t changed their position on marriage. Rather it’s the courts that have changed the definitions, the rules and laws that now govern us. They are ruling against Nature’s Law and Nature’s God. Christians are being declared the lawbreakers when we are simply living by what we have always believed, and by a set of laws that the culture historically has agreed to.
My desire as a pastor is to see another Great Awakening, and I pray that those caught up in any sin will find Jesus and God’s grace, but that can only come when there is a biblical standard lifted up and acknowledged as truth. Right now the courts are changing the playing field and declaring that what the natural eye can see and natural law reveals is not truth. Therefore, this is a Bonhoeffer moment. What will we do, and how will we respond?
Civil disobedience will likely have to be one of our responses. I speak to that here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2008/11/02/christians-and-civil-disobedience/
But we can and must in the meantime pray like never before and work like never before for this SCOTUS decision is released.
25 Replies to “Marriage, Church and the State”
I share your concern. It is not just an issue of a ‘right’ but it will be an enforced ‘right’ that will demand that Christians go quiet or conform.
The Presbyterian Church of NSW will (God Willing) be considering a motion from the Gospel, Society and Culture Committee at it’s General Assembly in June, namely, ‘Ask the General Assembly of Australia Church and Nation Committee to take the necessary steps to have the General Assembly of Australia determine that the Presbyterian Church of Australia withdraw as a recognised denomination under the Marriage Act if it is amended to include same sex couples. ‘
Some of us want nothing to do with a government definition of marriage that includes homosexuals.
I fear for our wonderful country that, despite the Preamble to the constitution, can no longer rely on the blessing of Almighty God.
Shalom, Bill, only in Jesus, in these difficult times.
Following on from what the Presbyterian church is proposing, perhaps a strategy would be for churches, as a whole denomination or individual pastors, to perform the religious rite and send couples to the registry office/civil celebrant for the legal side. That way churches could refuse same-sex marriage as they are not performing the legal marriage and therefore presumably not discrimating under the law. If it’s separation of church and state they want, then let them have it.
I’m glad you sorted this out for us, Bill. Every time I think I have a handle on the legalities I learn there’s something important I missed, i.e., the unintended negative consequences. As I read the AL bill, I thought it made sense but learned I was wrong. These change agents are very shrewd, always knowing how to thwart attempts to defeat their agenda.
Hate to sound anti-American but when America starts promoting sexual revolt worldwide it’s time to push back:
Thanks Bill – another clear warning. I pray it doesn’t fall on deaf ears.
I feel quite confused about the way Christians seem to be responding to this new affront.
It seems that the immediate response is to think of ways to duck and weave around things. I understand that we need to be shrewd but also we need to be unwavering and if that costs us, then so be it.
When I raised some of the things happening to Christians around the world in my bible study group I was quite surprised and quite disappointed to hear of the ways people would respond if confronted.
Almost everyone agreed that if they were a baker and were asked to bake for a gay wedding, they would. One person even went so far as to say that those who refuse to deserve to get persecuted, more fool them…
They also agreed about going to a gay friends wedding, or even have a gay couple stay in their own guestrooms if they were asked.
They basically decided that our responsibility is simply to show ‘love’.
These people all do not agree with gay marriage, they go to church regularly and would consider themselves bible believing followers of Christ.
The conclusion they all reached is that each of us have to work out our own response and for each one it is different and we shouldn’t judge each other.
There is so much more fear of man I think than fear of God.
(personally- I think immense persecution is coming and I am a bit stunned into realizing that I cannot count on most of my Christian friends to stand shoulder to shoulder when it does)
Once again- thanks Bill , you are a man amongst men and an example to us all. I’m sorry for all the persecution you cop and you are very much in my prayers.
Keep preaching brother!
Obama has appointed Randy Berry as the State Department’s Special Envoy for LGBT Rights.
This new position is designed to promote homosexuality through United States diplomacy, forcing the acceptance of homosexuality and transgenderism upon the developing world — particularly in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean.
You can sign a petition against this at: http://citizengo.org/en/24156-stop-cultural-imperialism-recall-americas-lgbt-envoy?tc=ty&tcid=12996831
I was just looking for some data on health statistics on homosexuals and found this interesting article from the US Family Research Council.
How come this tragic data is being ignored by the ABC, Labor, the Greens and the Fairfax Media?
If they want an open and honest debate.Let’s have it
Thanks Bill for clarifying what at first seems to be a complete mishmash of possibilities for marriage in our ‘(not so) brave new world’. I actually liked what David Williams suggested, but can sympathize with what Annette says concerning different responses to the new US decision re marriage procedure. Like much of New Testament teaching on marriage, we need to bring together what is essential: proclaiming God’s ways with love rather than harshness.
Legalities puzzle me enormously. If all churches withdrew from performing the legal aspects of marriage, then that wouldn’t actually stop gay marriages. Homosexuals would just go to the registry office and get “married” there. We’d actually be making Christian people perform a two-step marriage ceremony; one in the church in front of God and then one in a “legal” setting.
Gay “marriages” would still exist, as would the gay agenda, to force us all into accepting it in society. It’d still be taught in schools and I can’t really see much changing, as long as a government has wilfully redefined marriage to include anything and everything. Only a reversal of that definition would set the book straight, surely?
Maybe it is time for Christians to stop signing their marriages away to government laws that are a stopgap for hard hearts. Why should Christians need divorce rules and property settlements? If Christians had kept things in house there wouldn’t be this problem.
So what will we call Heterosexual marriage after they change the definition? Maybe Life Partners? Mates? Polygamy is starting to look legit about now. I think we should adopt the word HAPPY to mean Heterosexual. Then I can tell my mates I think I’ll just stay HAPPY; old fashioned as I am.
Maybe what David Williams proposed is the way to go? As in the past any adverse dialogue with the sodomites results in a shower of vitriolic comments about our lack of love & other failings. We are adverse to many things in our present society. Abortion, adultery, divorce, surrogates all lead to greater problems down the road but it’s the now & me generation??? Thank you Bill for giving us the opportunity to read of other views on these extremely significant matters.
It is true that churches withdrawing from government ‘marriage’ wouldn’t change the government’s definition. But we would be drawing a line in the sand, and saying that the government definition of ‘marriage’ is flawed, and contrary to God’s Word.
Actually, this is similar to the government definition of ‘life’ which is flawed (to say the least) by the state allowing abortion at now, virtually any stage before birth. It is the reality we have to live with, but Christians believe that life begins long before the state says.
Churches could conduct Christian Marriage services and declare a person married in God’s sight. The couple can go down the road and get a bit of paper from the government if they wish. But what more do they gain by this than a legal name change without a Deed Poll and the addition of their names to a list of people who are ‘married’ (by a flawed definition)? Christians can legally change their names by Deed Poll, and set up joint bank accounts. The government recognises such arrangements as ‘de facto’ (of the fact) marriages, with the all the complications of family law (property, custody, etc) should the couple separate. So a couple going down this track can say they are married.
Now, wishful thinking, if all the churches did this, Protestant, Roman Catholic and Orthodox and set up a registration system for Christian Marriage, then that would be an ongoing challenge to the government’s definition of marriage.
Shalom, not in this world, Australia included, but in Christ
Thanks Bill, a thoughtful article. It is interesting that both Matthew 24:38 and Luke 17:27 records Jesus saying that people will be marrying and giving in marriage right up to the day of Jesus’ return. This of course is suggesting people at the end of this age would have little idea of the times they are living in. But as a side and in a lighthearted way I wonder if there is a ‘coded’ message here suggesting marriage will be an obsession in that day? One thing is for certain. The Church of believers cannot participate in any way shape or form to the marrying a same sex couples in the sight of God come what may.
It is more than a “coded message”. It is a prophesy of what scoffers will be saying in the end times i.e marriage will be in people’s minds. You could imagine Bill Shorten saying almost exactly the same thing. While the “deaf” non-believers will not understand what is happening the prophecies are clear that believers will be able to see exactly the signs of the times and if the “this generation” interpretation is correct, then that may give us around a 25 to 40 year time-span. That may seem short to those of us who are used to God working in what seems to be a more geological time span but He did say the days would be shortened. We won’t know the exact time-frame because the Devil is essentially driving it. Our Lord knows exactly what will happen but will not reveal it, otherwise the Devil would simply change his plans (not that he has many options.) We need to be sure that we stand on the word and do not rely on “signs and wonders” and we should should remain in good cheer. God is in control and He cannot be moved.
In the mean time many smart atheists may be able to see the damage making marriage meaningless does to society – there is plenty of evidence, so this may be an opportunity to open their ears and eyes. “The gates of hell will not prevail…”
Where are our bishops? Where are the mass rallies? Doesn’t anybody care? Why should one parliament be so arrogant as to think it can casually overturn millennia of custom that marriage is the conjugal union of a man and a woman?
Why should we be following a degraded sclerotic Europe down the road to extinction? Their TFR’s are abysmal. I believe Spain’s population will be, or already is, halving every generation.
I know of one church in the United States that gets around these laws by only performing marriages for members of good standing. It’s still a legal minefield. SSM advocates are relentless.
You can fight gay marriage very very easily in public by putting gays on the backfoot.
The only thing at the end of the rainbow is a huge pot of taxpayers money to fund the sexual healthcare costs of the promicious and irresponsable. These people do nothing more than bludge a sexual lifetsyle off other taxpayers. If gays had to instead personaly pay for their sexual healthcare, their ‘lifestyles’ would then be unaffordable.
All gays use public funded sexual healthcare, they then use their OWN money on haircuts, manicures, hair removal, tans, gym membership, health spas and cloths ect, only to go out and again be sexually irresponsable. They then use the public health system again….and again…and again…
Publicly argue for user-pays sexual healthcare – like dentistry currently is – and you will bring the whole ‘sexual movement’ to a stand still as being sexualy irresponsable is unaffordable to the individual.
If you keep suggesting this publicly and to MP’s — then Abbott may give gay Australians a real choice – Marriage OR publicly funded sexual healthcare – but not both. The gays will have their knickers in a twist over that choice.
For disciples of Christ, His declared will regarding their marriages should be what is paramount: Should the state choose to admit intimate relationships of GLBTIQ or other as yet unspecified sexuality- or gender-diverse kinds to the legal definition of marriage, Christians must obey our God and His Christ before they submit to the laws of apostate men and women.
When Christian wedding celebrants can no longer accept the state’s dictates on marriage and the resultant diversity in legally recognised family structures, Christian celebrants’ consciences must see them withdraw from the service of the state’s marriage licensing/registration bureaucracy, leaving the legal formalities to licensed civil celebrants or town clerks. “Ephraim is joined to his idols. Let him alone..” (Hosea 4:17).
The contract bit is interesting. By definition, a contract can only be broken by mutual agreement of the parties or by fault of one or more parties. So where does that leave the concept of no-fault divorce?
A lawyer once told me that in Australian law, marriage is a contract, so the same reasoning applies!
Gays” deceitful propaganda and deliberate deception / obfuscation”
… And “gays” should also spare us this baloney about opponents ‘hating homosexuals’.
– HOW is it hatred to tell the truth about what ‘gay’ activists are (really) up to?
>> To warn of the dangers of, say, drug addiction does NOT mean you hate the addicts.
>> You CAN rightly HATE the drugs which are destroying people and sending them to an early grave, while LOVING the INDIVIDUAL trapped in this mess.
>> We all CAN hate the damage alcoholism does to a person – while STILL loving the person who is an alcoholic at the same time. And …
– HOW is it hateful about telling individual homosexuals that their lifestyle is dangerous, high risk, and possibly life-threatening, and that they need to flee from it?
– HOW is it is hateful about telling any sinner that their sin is something they must flee from if they want reconcile with God?
>> That is a primary task of the Christian. That is why Jesus appointed the first disciples: to preach the gospel to all nations.
>> Those pushing the fallacy of “hatred of ‘gays’ “ might as well say that opposing the criminal gangs wanting to hook kids on drugs is being “hateful”. They might as well say Wilberforce was “hating” the slave owners as he stood up for blacks (the slave owners being enslaved themselves by their own greed). >> >> On the contrary – to genuinely love people means resisting what enslaves them.
>> According to the illogical claims of “gays” – should Wilberforce have just kept quiet about abolition of slavery, and not make people feel guilty about their sinful activities?
No. Loving people always means telling them the truth. To love individuals who are homosexuals means telling them the truth – that they are NOT compelled to be homosexual (Science has NOT found a “homosexual gene” which negates Free Will).
>> It is the same in the spiritual arena. We are all sinners heading to a disastrous end — UNLESS in being faithful to the teachings of Christ and in choosing to be redeemed by His grace, we are also called to warn others… and
It WOULD be HATRED if we FAILED to draw public attention to the serious errors of the “gay” agenda.
IN tragic grotesque IRONY it is the fallout of the caving-in to “gay” bullying that TODAY we are witnessing PERSECUTION of CHRISTIANS even in the west. See:
“Same-sex “Marriage” and the Persecution of Christians in Canada” May 28, 2015 at http://www.crisismagazine.com/2015/same-sex-marriage-and-the-persecution-of-christians-in-canada
The battle against evil has just intensified.
It is time for the public in ALL nations, and especially ALL Christians, to take serious note of this (admitted) sinister agenda of the self-serving culture-destroyers which would terrify even George Orwell himself
The entire world MUST be warned before it’s too late of the danger of malicious destruction of all civilized cultures.
The world’s enemy is NOT ONLY the savagery of ISIS, but ALSO by the insidious undermining-tactics against (real) Marriage by enemies of civilisation within our midst.
“All gays use public funded sexual healthcare”
Correct. How many billions of dollars is the public willing to spend on these irresponsible individuals?
It is like medicare repeatedly paying for a person’s hospital costs despite his continuing irresponsibility when he insists on repeatedly breaking the road rules and riding a bike without a helmet.
Then comes the question: These irresponsible individuals – in THEIR OWN literature (see below) – express a preference for multiple partners. How long will it be before they demand a THREE-way-same-sex-‘marriage’? … as has already occurred between THREE Thai men (see recent on-line news about “THREE gay men from Thailand have tied the knot in what is thought to be the world’s first three-way same-sex marriage” ). This comes as no surprise when …
In “gays” OWN literature, they admit:
1. “Being queer means PUSHING THE PARAMETERS of sex, sexuality, and family, and in the process transforming the very fabric of society…” – Paula Ettelbrick, (ex-legal director of Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund)
2. “In the gay life, FIDELITY is almost IMpossible. Since part of the compulsion of homosexuality seems to be a craving on the part of the homophile to ‘absorb’ masculinity from his sexual partners, he must be constantly on the lookout for (new sex partners). Consequently the most successful homophile ‘marriages’ are those where there is an arrangement between the two and to have affairs on the side while maintaining the semblance of permanence’ in their living arrangement.” – Former Homosexual William Aaron (William Aaron, Straight (New York: Bantam Books, 1972)
3. “Typical gay city inhabitants spend most of their adult lives in ‘transactional’ relationships, or short-term commitments of less than six months.” – research by University of Chicago Sociologist Edward Laumann (Adrian Brune, “City Gays Skip Long-term Relationships: Study Says”, Washington Blade – February 27, 2004)
Question? Since “gays” are also pushing for adoption rights … How could such an atmosphere be of any possible benefit to adopted children?
4. “Few homosexual relationships last longer than two years, with many men reporting hundreds of lifetime partners.” – Researcher M. Pollak (M. Pollak, “Male Homosexuality in Western Sexuality:
Practice and Precept in Past and Present Times”, ed. P. Aries and A. Bejin, translated by Anthony Forster, New York, NY: B. Blackwell, 1985)
Question? Again, since “gays” are also pushing for adoption rights … how could such an atmosphere be of any possible benefit to adopted children?
5. It is even more alarming to note that “gays” themselves further expose their (REAL) agenda:
“…to get the public to affirm their lifestyle” … “to see government and society affirm our lives”
– (United States Congressional Record, June 29, 1989).
(again, to lift that inconvenient “cloud of guilt”)
So how much more selfish and disingenuous can they get? Especially when their demands effectively DESTROY CIVILISED CULTURE
The entire world MUST be warned BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE of the danger of malicious destruction of all civilized cultures by these irresponsible narcissistic self-centred individuals.
The world’s enemy is NOT ONLY the savagery of ISIS, but ALSO by the insidious undermining-tactics against (real) Marriage by enemies of civilization within our midst.
You are correct Mike.
“Gays” irresponsible llifestyles actually impose a MUCH heavier COST on the public purse – because many of their health problems are REPEATEDLY self-inflicted; many STD’s (alongside HIV) are now NOT curable even with REPEATED last-line-of-defence antibiotics; they spend much LONGER times in hospitals; they spend MANY MORE hours in hospital clinics for their medical problems – and so ARE a MUCH heavier BURDEN on the taxpayer.
It is like the tax-payer funding REPEATED accidents of a road-user who REPEATEDLY refuses to abide by the road rules. It’s simply NOT sustainable.
“When Christian wedding celebrants can no longer accept the state’s dictates on marriage…”
You are correct John.
… and the persecution against Christians has ALREADY begun in the west as well.
“Same-sex “Marriage” and the Persecution of Christians in Canada” May 28, 2015 at http://www.crisismagazine.com/2015/same-sex-marriage-and-the-persecution-of-christians-in-canada, and
see: A Constitutional Defense of Marriage by Professor Robert P. George http://www.crisismagazine.com/2015/a-constitutional-defense-of-marriage.
Also see: The New Homophiles: Muddying the Meaning of Family at http://www.crisismagazine.com/2015/the-new-homophiles-muddying-the-meaning-of-family
It is particularly worrying that – by their own admission – most “gays” describe themselves as “non-believers” and are “particularly hostile to any idea of God” … therefore it is “gays’ themselves who relegate “gay” “marriage” to a distillation of satirical caricature of very bad taste. For example:
“THREE gay men from Thailand have tied the knot in what is thought to be the world’s first THREE-way same-sex marriage” (see recent on-line news).
To think we at one time considered ISIS to be the great world-threat to civilisatioin!
Thank you for the article. My husband and I have just celebrated our sixtieth wedding anniversary. As a Catholic Christian if I had been married in a registry office I would not feel properly married because I would not have God’s blessing on my marriage which was of prime importance to both my husband and I.
Having a marriage certificate signed by a State registrar was secondary and important only because it legalises my status in the eyes of the State and brings some benefits with it..
I was once speaking to a woman who was emphatic that God blessed civil marriages as well and pooh – poohed me when I said that couldn’t be.She asked me why. I said ” Because God isn’t mentioned!.Surely if we want His blessing we have to ask Him for it and include Him in the marriage ceremony. She didn’t know what to say.
Something I just remembered.
When Bill Shorten introduced his legislation into parliament he basically changed “man and woman” to “two people”. What he left there was the restriction on marrying a close relative.
But why? Those restrictions are (apart from the yucky feeling) for genetic reasons, the children of close relatives can get two copies of a bad gene and have related problems.
But with homosexuals there can be no children so this is not an issue so why leave it as a restriction? Perhaps because people wouldn’t approve? Hypocrisy?