This April, my wife and I celebrated our one-year anniversary, and I was told that the traditional one-year anniversary gift is paper. As I reflected on our journey so far, I came back to the marriage license we both signed, that piece of paper we got one year ago means more to us than it probably does to other couples. We married in New York last year; it was where we began our journey together and one of the few places where we could legally wed at the time. Although in our initial wedding planning we had not wanted the civil and religious aspects of our ceremony combined, and I’m still not convinced that the church should be involved in the civil side of marriage, I’m glad that legal piece of paper was signed by our minister. Much has happened in our first year of marriage. Section 3 of DOMA was overturned a couple of months after our wedding, and just a few months ago a federal judge ruled our home state of Oklahoma’s same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional. What was in April of 2013 an almost purposeless legal document for us, that paper now has much legitimacy in the eyes of civil authorities.
But, as I looked back at that piece of paper, it means much that our minister, our church community, has signature on it. For that paper’s real authority and power is in the ceremony it represents and remembers. When I think about why the church should care about marriage, I don’t think about that legal document, I think about the things that happened just prior to it. The church holds a special place in presiding over marriage, as it unites a whole host of people in covenant to each other and, most importantly, to God. As in most marriage ceremonies, my wife and I made a covenant to each other before God and our family and friends to love and support each other as we navigate together this thing called life. But our marriage also includes a covenant between those who were present and us; our families and friends share in the covenantal relationship of our marriage as they pledged to support, love, and encourage our covenant to each other.
The most important part of these covenants is that they are made because of the relationship God has called us to in Christ; they are to reflect the love God has shared with the world and the witness Christ calls us to in the church. Because of such, our first act as a married couple was serving communion to those present. At the Lord’s Table, we are reminded that like our lives, our marriage is a gift from God. The Table remembers the relationship of sacrifice and promise Christ made to each of us; thus, our marriage is not a covenant of paper but of a new life together and love that will at times require sacrifice. As we served the elements together, it was a reminder that in our new life together we are called to be Christ to the world around us, ready to serve, ready to love, ready to help the poor and oppressed in an unjust world.
On our paper anniversary, I remembered these things that piece of paper represents; these are why the church should care about marriage. If the church is more concerned about signing legal documents than on the covenants between two people and their communities, covenants that reinforce our relationships to God, then the church should get out of the marriage business. And even though I now appreciate my minister’s signature on that paper, I would not be disappointed if churches removed themselves from the business of civil marriage or unions. But whether we continue that practice or not, the church should remove itself from the concern of state/civil marriage; for the sooner it gets back to concerning itself with the covenants it entails, the sooner it can get back to treating marriage as something worthy of being associated with the church. Perhaps if the church had a little less concern with paper, it could have a little more focus on making sure two individuals and their communities of support understand the commitment and are truly ready for it. Perhaps if the church had a little less concern with paper, it could have a little more focus on making sure marriage is inclusive of the diversity of God’s kingdom. Perhaps if the church had a little less concern with paper, it could be more involved and resourceful in helping both partners love, cherish, honor, and comfort each other.
Why do YOU think the church should care about marriage?