My good friend Rev’d Jordan Cooper wrote a short piece over on his blog entitled, “Pastors, Don’t Stop Performing Weddings.” What follows here are my own thoughts on the matter. I felt it was important for me to write my own short piece, if for no other reason than to prove that Rev’d Cooper and I are not theological clones who agree on everything. We are obviously not clones— I am much better looking…
UPDATE: I was pleased to hear this episode of the Christ & Culture podcast by the Rev’d Scott Stiegemeyer, in which he interviews the Rev’d Dr. John Bombaro. The two discuss the differences between “Marriage” and “Holy Matrimony.” What Dr. Bombaro suggests as a way forward is roughly similar to what I suggest below. Very interesting show! Give it a listen, and read my response to the episode here. (HT: Sem. Kyle Richardson)
In all seriousness, as far as I can read it, my view is the exact formal opposite of Rev’d Cooper’s, but it is teleologically quite similar. Here goes:
Pastors, stop performing weddings outside of your own parish. Bless the marriages of your members.
If two appropriately-gendered people come to you and ask you to marry them, ask them if they are members of your church communion. If they are, ask why they are not having their pastor perform the ceremony. If they don’t have an answer (“Uh…we think he’s kinda weird?”), kindly inform them that you only solemnize/bless the marriages of your members; sorry.
If they are not members of your church communion, ask if they would like to become members. If they would not, kindly inform them that you only solemnize/bless the marriages of your members; sorry. This will probably end the conversation.
If they would like to become members of your communion and of your church, tell them what this will entail. (Note: if you’re pastor of a Christian church, membership will at the very least entail publicly confessing belief in God’s Word, which alone defines marriage.) In the meantime, tell them that it’s good that they desire to be married and that you will personally help them arrange to be married down at the courthouse— that afternoon, if they’d like. You might even volunteer to serve as their witness. Tell them that after they have been received as members of your congregation, you will be happy to preside over a festive Rite of Blessing of a Civil Marriage at the church with flowers, rice, doves, gratuitous kitsch, and whatever else they might want— de gustibus. Well, maybe not doves.
Marriage is a rite, not a right. At its essence it is a civil rite, instituted by God before the fall into sin, but it finds its fullest and most meaningful expression in the Church, where it is recognized as the very icon of the union of Christ and His bride and blessed as such. It is a joyous thing, yes, but it is not a Hallmark event or a Kodak moment. You don’t need flowers, rice, doves, gratuitous kitsch, and a $50,000 reception for it to take, and it might actually be better if you don’t have those things. When marriage is blessed in the Church, it is a joyous thing, yes, but it is also a solemn thing. Especially now, when confessing the truth of God’s Word endangers one’s reputation, livelihood, and perhaps one’s life, we should remember that marriage is a holy covenant between a man, a woman, and God Most High. “‘Til death do us part” means “I would rather die than break this oath to be your husband, which I am making before God and these witnesses.” Remember oaths and covenants? They’re bloody, fiery, mysterious Old Testament things, not trite, saccharine, frivolous First World things. Refresh your memory and read Genesis 15.
If it’s going to take a really long time to arrange all of the
wastefulness festivity for your special day, and you’re burning with lust for your beloved, don’t be stupid: go get married, and have the hoopla later. Have your marriage blessed in the Church at a later date. It’s a great custom, and it makes a lot of sense. I don’t want to sound like a me-monster, but this happens to be what my wife and I did… two months ago: we had our actual wedding down in Arkansas with her family and some of our mutual friends on May 16, and then we flew out to Oregon for a Rite of Blessing of a Civil Marriage in the Church (with Vespers, mind you) with my family and friends on May 30— just FYI, Lutherans: it’s in the LSB agenda, p. 80.
Our ceremony down in Arkansas did, in fact, take place at a church, but we used Martin Luther’s 1529 marriage rite, in which the wedding itself takes place outside the front doors— and takes about two minutes— after which the bride and groom process to the altar with the pastor for a blessing with the Word of God and prayer. (Here it is if you’d like to see it.) In Luther’s day, the pastor served as justice-of-the-peace/civil magistrate, as well as a shepherd of souls, which two vocations are attested by the transit from outside the front doors to inside the church and to the altar— both civil and sacred, right? It’s nice symbolism. In fact, it’s not even symbolism, but rather the manifestation of a fact.
In Luther’s day, however, civil magistrates were not being forced to violate God’s Law and their consciences by solemnizing extraordinary arrangements such as “gay ‘marriage'”. Had our wedding taken place after the recent SCOTUS decision, I would probably, as a matter of conscience, not even have asked the pastor to participate in our bit of Lutheran antiquarian whimsy. We would have simply gone to the courthouse and then had a reception afterwards, then headed to Oregon for the Rite of Blessing.
Anyway, that’s my anecdote, and as far as I can tell, that’s the end of my little piece. Pastors, get it written into your bylaws that your church will not solemnize or bless the marriages of non-members, or take the safest course and do not solemnize any marriages at all; only bless the marriages of your members. Even if you do this, the long, godless arm of the State will still pursue you (it’s an eventuality, not just a possibility) and try to force you to bless extraordinary arrangements at some point down the road, but this course of action will at least give you some protection for awhile. This is not cowardice, but prudence: your flock is not well-served by you angling for martyrdom and bogging the congregation down in expensive litigation. If that is to be, let it come by someone else’s efforts, not yours. It is better for you to take a course which will allow you to serve and strengthen them in these difficult days while still obeying God rather than men.
Or so it seems to me.