No, not on the current cultural revisions to marriage. Not exactly.
On social media yesterday, I noticed someone critiquing a move by several ministers to refuse to sign government marriage licenses. This is not something that I have heard about until now—once again we find “leading people” are leading fewer than they think they are, and even fewer than their critics think they are—and I assumed it was a fringe, crackpot idea. Well, it’s less fringe than I expected given that a few of the names connected to it have been somewhat reasonable on other issues.
Overall, here’s the summary: Christian ministers should refuse to sign government marriage licenses. Marriage is a religious affair, after all, and needs no government permission. Besides, government marriage has become something far different from Bible-based marriage.
The truth of the latter two statements does not, though, require the first premise as an action. I have supported, and still consider worth pondering, a dual-structure where there is religious marriage and civil marriage, for lack of better terms. I don’t count that as ideal, but there are two spheres at play. Some people want both of them in their relationships. Some just want to share a tax return. Why co-mingle the two?
But the idea that, in our current society, Christians should eschew societal/governmental recognition of our marriages is nonsense. First of all, this is a silly capitulation to cultural redefinition of marriage. Rather than living out the distinction between Christian marriage and American marriage, this cuts and runs for the bunker. I like the bunker, but we cannot live there. Abandoning filing your marriage as official with the government is surrendering and saying that we have no interaction. I find that, on its own, reason to reject such an idea.
That is not the only reason. It is the best theoretical reason, but not the best practical reason. The best practical reason is this:
We live in a sin-soaked world. Because of this, marriages do not always last, nor do they reflect the relationship of Christ and the Church as they ought to. Failing to be married “on paper at the courthouse” will cause problems, will strip protections, from spouses who need help. Ideally, yes, the church should meet that need. We all know that ideal isn’t reality. After all, ideally we’d all only get married out of obedience to God and there would never be: abuse, adultery, abandonment or anything else!
Having those protections is no different than me acknowledging my church members are trustworthy, but still keeping my office locked. Sometimes you just need a hand.
Third, there are the exact same reasons that the cultural community wants to claim marriage as a right for any group of people that want it: access and decision-making. Who gets to go to “family” waiting room during your emergency surgery? The ones the hospital recognizes as married. Will UAMS recognize a ‘church-only’ marriage? Maybe, maybe not.
Given that there is no sin inherent in filing a marriage license with the state, there is no reason to refuse to sign them. Nor should we encourage Christian couples to eschew that process.
I say all this, but here’s the caveat: the time may come where a minister is required to violate God’s law to sign Caesar’s marriage license. The times of Valentine may return, where Caesar bars obedience to God in marriage for people. Should those days come, then these ideas have merit.
Until then, though, it is unnecessary to push young couples into the risks inherent of having a “not-marriage marriage.” Separate religious marriage from civil marriage, perhaps, but do not refuse the civil union.
Previously, I think I have suggested “marriage” as the religious term and “civil union” for the government one. I think that’s got some possibility: marriage has historically been a religious observance recognized by the government. Let the government define, regulate the unions they will recognize. Let the religions define the worship act called “marriage” and go from there. But that in no way reduces this: in current, 2014 America, if you are going to live as a “married” Christian then you should file the paper.