by Scott Williams
and Bob Lepine
In the wake of the California Supreme Court's decision to recognize same-sex marriage, Episcopal Church leaders there are discouraging everyone from marrying in the church. The denomination doesn't recognize homosexual marriage.
"I urge you to encourage all couples, regardless of orientation, to follow the pattern of first being married in a secular service, and then being blessed in the Episcopal Church," Bishop Marc Handley Andrus wrote his clergy last month.
Upon first reading about it in the Boston Herald, we wondered whether this might be a signal that the church, which has already ceded so much ground to the state when it comes to marriage, is finally giving up on it altogether.
In recent decades within Western civilizations, Christian marriages have first been blessed by God and celebrated in the church, and then recognized by the state. Today it seems, we look to the state to sanction and bless marriages, while making the blessing God and the church completely optional.
Reading the article, it becomes obvious that the Episcopal Church position is an attempt to sidestep the homosexual marriage issue. But some of Bishop Andrus' fellow clergy think it makes sense for the church to avoid the sanctioning of marriage altogether.
The Very Rev. Brian Baker, dean of Trinity Cathedral in Sacramento, supports the bishop's proposal.
Being a part of couple's special day is an honor, Baker said. But like other clergy, he believes weddings have become too trying in recent years.
"There are a lot of benefits in getting out of the legal marriage business," he said. "This way the clergy and the couple can focus on the spiritual blessings the church has to offer and not the political stuff."
While many couples choose to celebrate the start of their marriage in their home church (usually that of the bride), church attendance across denominations is dwindling, so increasing numbers of couples end up shopping for a church like they would for a cake, flowers, the gown or the invitations—something that looks pretty and would make the ceremony memorable.
The real issue is that God is the one who has the authority to bless a marriage. He is the author of marriage, and the local church or denomination is the caretaker of the things of God, His representatives on the earth. Marriage is a physical picture of the spiritual union between Christ and his church.
Bishop Andrus' proposal moves the church in exactly the wrong direction.