She was a blond haired, blue eyed, bubbly eleven year old who more or less ricocheted off walls. She wanted to talk about boys, not the Bible. She and the other sixth graders often squealed as only middle school girls can. Change the hair and eye color and that could be a pretty good description of any of that troop of girls I had in youth group.
That particular girl, though, came only to youth group, worshipping at another church in town most of the time. She came to camp with my church’s kids, and attended all the other youth group things. Because her friends were at my church, she wanted to be as well. It took a few conversations with her mom and the kids to get them to understand that yes, she could be part of both congregations.
In that youth group, more times than I ever thought possible, kids asked me, “Can my friend/boyfriend/girlfriend come, too?”
“Of course,” I said, “everyone’s welcome, especially if you like them.”
Looking back, I unknowingly blessed a lot of relationships of all sorts. I offered juice boxes and pizza, lock-ins and prayers, Disney movies and Bible studies, and said, “Yes, they can come, too.” Again and again, those kids had assurance that these relationships that were life-giving to them belonged in church. The people they loved were completely welcome; in time, we’d call those people our own, too.
There was never a single moment when the friends of church kids became the church’s kids, but they did. I know, because I sat in hospital rooms with those kids that didn’t start out as ours, waiting with them in their fear. I went to their football games. I watched over them at camp. I wrote letters of recommendation for them as they went away to college. It took a while before they figured out they could ask those things from me. When they list expanded to baseball games and art shows, band competitions and plays, track meets and chaperoning dances.
Somewhere along the way, those kids became part of the church, too. Somewhere along they way, they learned that there was a whole church full of people who would ask about ballgames and give them jobs to do and welcome their friends. Somewhere along the way, they found life-giving relationships with little old ladies and grumpy retired guys. I never understood a lot of those relationships.
I do understand this, though: those kids never would have become ours, too, if I had said no to them coming. Along the way, I’m pretty sure I’d have lost the kids that started out at my church, leaving for some place that welcomed them alongside the people important to them. Those kids had a way of sticking with the relationships most life-giving to them; the truth is, we all tend to do that.
Marriage remains the only longstanding, widespread form of blessing relationships. There’s no way around that. It’s the only time the church gathers to celebrate a relationship and say, “We’ll help you keep this relationship strong.”
Even though we imply the same message for all sorts of relationships in the church, marriage remains the only explicit pronouncement. And there’s the problem that comes if the church chooses not to care about marriage. Actually, there’s the problem if the church chooses not to care about marriage for everyone.
For offering everything but marriage still says, “You’re not worthy.” Everything but marriage denies people the only blessing of relationship we’ve seen fit to codify. Yes, the only legal power I have thanks to my ordination is signing a line on a marriage certificate. That codification brings with it legal protections and benefits that are not otherwise easily available. Denying that blessing negates all that we did before; that’s been proven true time and time, again.
And when I think of the blessings of juice boxes and pizza that led to hospital rooms and high school graduations, I am certain that if the first invitation had never been offered, then the later ones never would have been. The same is true with marriage: if the church doesn’t offer the blessing of marriage to all people, then we’ll surely never be invited into hospital rooms or funerals, babies’ births or graduations. If we don’t say, “Everyone should be able to get married,” we’ll never get the chance to be counted among the life-giving relationships of any kids. We’ll certainly never get the chance to say to beloved children of God, “You are ours.”
You don’t have to hang around church very long to realize that is worth any cost imaginable.
Why do YOU think the church should care about marriage?