There are the people who support the Supreme Court decision. There are people who celebrate it…
And then there are the people, apparently about 40% of us, who do not celebrate, do not support the new law of the land in regards to marriage.
Over the last couple of years, I have heard it said over and over that state and now federal government is “redefining” marriage; the premise being that marriage has some transcendent and immutable qualities that the court just overturned.
I always found this argument to be somewhat odd, and now that the inevitable has happened, I finally figured out why. If you think the Supreme Court redefined marriage last Friday, my gut instinct is that you should probably take it up with King Henry the Eighth.
Who Defines Marriage To Begin With?
I think I’m pretty safe in guessing that those of you who are married had to make sure a couple of things got done so you could wed.
You had to go to the county courthouse, a government building.
You had to be issued a marriage license, a piece of paper bearing government insignia.
Any pastor who has performed a wedding will tell you that the ceremony, the dress, the flowers, even his sermon (if any) do not really matter. What matters is the words that come at the end – pronouncing the couple married, and making sure the marriage license is signed.
Everything else in a wedding ceremony is up for grabs. But for a moment, the pastor is acting as an agent of the state in order to officially marry the couple.
My point in saying all of this is that we gave the government the right to define marriage a long time ago. A long time ago. We gave them that right. The church in America may have had more authority than it does today, but its authority has always been social authority, never legal authority. The government has touched every single one of us who have walked down the aisle. As far as legal marriage goes, the church is a superfluous presence. It is the government that weds and divorces its citizens, in the annals of courtrooms and bureaucracies. The churches might as well be window dressing.
That’s not to say that you and I can’t have a “Christian” marriage. Marriage means different things to different people. And this is what I think Christians miss out on. Marriage is not a Christian institution. It’s a human institution. People get married all over the world. Hindus get married. Muslims get married. Atheists get married. Sinners get married.
Marriage certainly meant something different to King Henry VIII. What does he have to do with all this?
I think you might have a bone of contention to pick with him.
When Henry laid his eyes on the delicious Anne Bolyn, his older, much more religiously devout wife, Catharine of Aragon suddenly did not seem so appealing. Problem was that Henry was under the authority of the Catholic church, so he could not have his marriage annulled.
Henry’s solution, of course, was to take the fledgling Church of England out from under Rome’s authority, so that he would have a church under his control. He was successful and had many happy marriages, divorces and beheadings. And the Church of England thrived, being subservient to its government protector.
And that, my friends, is where our American heritage comes from. One of the roots of Protestantism, brought to America by the pilgrims, was formed by redefining marriage (ostensibly, degrading the very sanctity of marriage) and by putting marriage in the hands of the government and not the church. Yes, this whole argument was really over before it started, settled during the Tudor dynasty.
So if you are mad, take it up with the king.
A Good Way To Waste Your Energy
There are plenty of people who should not get married.
Most of them are straight.
And that’s what living in a free society is all about. People get to determine their own destinies, even if the other people at Wal-Mart don’t agree with their choices.
There are a lot of things we can focus our energies on. How do we form relationships? How do be build healthy churches? How do we fight rampant consumerism, even in the church?
We can also waste our energy on a lot of things. Trotting out Bible verses in front of people who don’t believe the Bible would be one. Pulling your money out of Wells Fargo, two weeks before the Supreme Court settles the debate would be another.
My guess is that many of us will be thankful this weekend for the freedoms we enjoy in this country. Let’s try to resist the urge to feel threatened in our freedom. Let’s try to resist the desire to curtail other peoples’ freedom. Let’s resist the urge to be whipped up by politicians and the talking heads on cable news, and just be Americans and Christians together.