Some Facts and Thoughts about Marriage
The Very Rev. Michael W. Hopkins July 17, 2011 A Work in Progress
What is the Biblical Witness?
- Male/Female pairings in contract/covenant are certainly supported by both Testaments, although the norm is multiple wives, which is never clearly disallowed (except for bishops!).
- Prohibition of adultery one of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:14). Men could divorce a wife for any reason by the time of Jesus. Women could not initiate divorce. Jesus forbids divorce except in cases of adultery (Mark 10:2-9) and seems to support monogamy (as most Jews had done by his time).
- Wedding imagery has some importance in the New Testament: the Wedding at Cana as the setting for Jesus’ first miracle (John 2), Jesus identified as the bridegroom (Matthew 25), Jesus’ words about divorce (Matthew 19), the image of Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5) and the husband awaiting his bride in Revelation (19:7, 9).
- Instructions for husbands and wives in Ephesians 5 and Colossians
- Two people are marrying each other. The priest is primary witness of the marriage, but it is not correct to say that the priest is “marrying” the couple.
- The priest pronounces a blessing on the marriage, which in no way is required to make the marriage valid.
- All this is done in the context of a “normal” Liturgy of the Word and Eucharist (ideally).
- The priest also provides a service to the state and to the couple by signing their marriage license, thus making the marriage legal. In New York State, religious leaders may preside at weddings and sign marriage licenses. There is no mechanism for their certification.
- In the church’s language they are making a covenant with one another and with God. The terms of this covenant are contained in the vows. The Prayer Book also says that there are three purposes for this covenant: Mutual joy, Help & Comfort, Procreation (Generativity).
- The 1928 Book of Common Prayer gave no purpose for marriage in the rite, but the earliest Prayer Books cited (in order): Procreation of Children, a Remedy for sin and to avoid fornication, and mutual help and comfort.
- I tend to talk about fidelity, mutuality and service.
- In the language of the state, the couple is making a legal contract that accords them a series of benefits.
- In terms of the Bible and the Church’s tradition, one has to take the stance that revelation is continuing with the lead of the Holy Spirit.
- The Marriage rite in the Prayer Book uses male/female language and says “Christian Marriage is a solemn and public covenant between a man and a woman in the presence of God.” (p. 422).
- The Canons of the Church say “Holy Matrimony is a physical and spiritual union of a man and a woman” [I.18.2(b)].
- A resolution of the 2009 General Convention, however, says, “That bishops, particularly those in dioceses within civil jurisdictions where same-gender marriage, civil unions, or domestic partnerships are legal, may provide generous pastoral response to meet the needs of members of this Church.”
- The Prayer Book also says “For special days of fasting or thanksgiving, appointed by civil or Church authority, and for other special occasions for which no service or prayer has been provided in this Book, the bishop may set forth such forms as are fitting to the occasion” (p. 13).
- A rite for the Blessing of Same-sex Unions will be considered by the 2012 General Convention. This is being prepared by the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music. Their work will have no bearing, however, on the definition of marriage.
- The Episcopal Church has been on a forty year long journey with lesbian and gay people, who most people recognize, have always been members of the Church. In particular, we have been witness to their relationships and can testify that they are marriages in every sense of the word except for their common gender.
- Christian response to outsiders in the early life of the church are instructive. The Ethiopian Eunuch asks, “What is there to prevent me from being Baptized?” (Acts 8:26-40) Peter accepts Cornelius, a Gentile, as a full member of the faith. “Who was I to hinder God?” (Acts 10 & 11).
- We have come to believe that the difference between homosexual and heterosexual is not a difference between “unnatural and natural” or “sinful and holy” or “dysfunctional and normal.” The distinction is much more like the distinctions made by Paul in Galatians 3:27-28. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are capable of holiness in just the same way that heterosexual people are.
- Marriage is “another sacramental rite.” In our tradition it is proper to call only Baptism and the Eucharist “sacraments.” Marriage as a “sacramental rite” flows primarily out of the vocational aspect of Baptism.
- First of all, the Canons make it clear that no clergyperson is bound to preside at any marriage (I.18.4).
- Criteria must be met: one member of the couple must be baptized, there be no coercion, that both parties may legally be married and understand marriage to be lifelong (a “Declaration of Intent” must be signed to this end).
- Pre-marital counseling must be done.
- At least thirty days must pass.
- There must be two witnesses.
- The Canons say “When marital unity is imperiled by dissension, it shall be the duty, when possible, of either or both parties, before taking legal action, to lay the matter before a Member of the Clergy; and it shall be the duty of such member of the Clergy to act first to protect and promote the physical and emotional safety of those involved, and only then, if it be possible, to labor that the parties may be reconciled.” (I.19.1)
- Re-marriage is allowed when there has been a legal annulment or divorce and the Bishop has passed judgment on the marital status as well. Nearly all second marriages are granted no matter what the cause of the divorce. Written evidence of annulment or divorce must be obtained.
Ah, now there’s the question!