Bonus Essay 2: The Church is Bound to Care About Marriage, an Atheist’s View

The church should care about marriage because we have handed to it the secular and legal task of marrying individuals.

I believe in the separation of church and state. As an atheist with heavy libertarian leanings, I am particularly sensitive to the boundaries between the institutions of government and religion. But I am also a realist–there are traditions and there is pragmatism to consider.

My polling place, where I go vote, the place where I exercise my right to ensure that our government and church stay separate, is the third largest church in the United States. Initially, I felt really squeamish about it, in fact I still enjoy the irony, but over time I’ve grown comfortable with it.

This church appears to be very careful to stay out of the way of the business of voting; I’ve never seen anything advertising Christianity in the 20 years I’ve been going there to vote. My employer has spent more time trying to influence my vote than this church.

In this role as polling place, this church is playing an important role as a community center. Churches have played this role in our culture as long as there have been churches. Weddings and funerals and town meetings happen at churches because our culture needs places to gather for these events. They’re the mortar that hold our society together, and historically there have often been churches where there are no secular community gathering places.

I’ve also attended weddings and funerals at this church and while there are always religious messages in those gatherings, the event are really about the fellowship of community. Such celebrations of life and love are vital to a healthy society.

So why all this talk of churches as important to the life of a community? Understanding their traditional role explains how we’ve entangled the important healthy-for-the-community aspect of weddings and marriages with the secular civil contract aspect of weddings. Traditionally churches have married people in the eyes of the community–well before there were legal protections guaranteed to married couples by governments. Some day we may disentangle civil, legal, secular unions from religious, church-sanctioned marriages, but that day is likely far away, if it ever comes at all.

Until that time, our churches must care about marriage. They’re bound by law and by cultural tradition to play a role in marriage.

Why do YOU think the church should care about marriage?