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Sunday, May 17, 2009

Baskerville on Clergy Boycotting Marriages

I found Baskerville's comments in this Anglican church publication quite interesting. What would happen if clergy simply said no to marrying people? Anything at all? Personally, I don't think so, but you take a read and decide:

We in the Anglican Church and throughout the Western world are not facing the marriage crisis. The destruction of marriage has gone far beyond cultural decline. It is today’s most urgent and far reaching crisis of church-state relations and the greatest test facing the church. Under “no-fault” divorce laws, the vows we take to one another before God and our congregations are worthless: The state can simply dissolve them. The state can tear up the contract and the covenant (and marriage is both, the one unable to survive without the other) at the mere request of one spouse without giving any reason and without any “fault” by the other spouse. Once they dissolve the marriage, state officials then seize control of the private lives—children, home, savings, wages, movements—of all family members, however innocent of any legal wrongdoing. In fact, the state typically rewards the guilty spouse and punishes the innocent one, who may be removed from the home, separated from the children, expropriated of all goods, and jailed without trial.

When the state then steps in and abolishes that marriage, without any objection or resistance from their church or fellow Christians, is it any wonder they see no purpose to the church or doubt the sincerity of our faith when it is put to the test? We rightly challenge government officials who permit the killing of the unborn or the redefinition of marriage to include same-sex unions. But we do not challenge the state when it abolishes marriages altogether—marriages we have witnessed and pledged to support. As long as we tolerate this, our strictures on marriage and our preaching (in the negative sense of “nagging”) about its sanctity will earn us nothing but contempt.
Christians can act to change this. Recognizing that the state has effectively abolished marriage, perhaps it is time to acknowledge that fact ourselves and in the process to demonstrate the value we place on marriage in a way that would cost us something. As a thought exercise, imagine what it would say to the world if the churches refused to consecrate marriages until the state stops tearing them up.

Protestants, given their history and experience with the oppression of the Catholic church, should have known better than to permit the state to horn in on the domain of the Church some 200 odd years ago. They surrendered any influence over marriage when they permitted the state dominion over marriage; it just took this long for the state and public mores to render the Church entirely impotent in the marriage issue.

If marriage is to be saved, it will be a political question. Political as in convincing the people to expel the state from the marriage business entirely, and the business of doling out goodies based on who one keeps house with. Only then will the Church have real influence in marriage once again. In the interim, the Church could do a lot to support marriage not by pitching a hissy about homogamy, but rather by attacking the scourge that is divorce in their own Church body.

21 comments:

MarkyMark said...

With all the money the state makes off of marriage and divorce, I wouldn't look for them to leave the marriage & divorce business quietly-too much of a cash cow for them...

Novaseeker said...

Aye.

I'm reminded of something that catwoman said a few days ago over at Anakin's blog: no-one really challenges the existence of no fault divorce, neither liberal nor conservative. For all of its negative impacts, no-faul divorce appears to be extremely popular. People raise practical issues about legal fees and rancorous litigation. But I think the underlying reason is that most people think that people should not be "stuck" in a marriage with which they are unhappy, regardless of whether there has been technically "fault" by their spouse in the sense of divorce-justifying fault.

In a sense, the train has left the station, culturally, when it comes to no fault divorce. Clearly, it's the core of the problem relating to marriage, because it has made marriage about personal happiness, rather than commitment. The whole idea of no fault is to allow people to leave unhappy marriages easily -- which means that our vision of marriage is that it is supposed to be happiness enhancing, and when it is not, it is quite right to jettison it, regardless of whether our spouse has done anything "wrong" (or whether we have ourselves).

Until we change that underlying and widespread cultural meme about the "point: of marriage (again, today it's about personal happiness, and not the traditional definition of being about commitment and children), we won't make any headway about no fault laws. The way people view marriage in terms of its purpose has simply changed -- and that has changed the institution.

These memes have infected the churches as well, almost completely. Even the Catholics, who do not technically allow divorce, have set up an alternative apparatus relating to anullment which, given how easily they are obtained in some countries (such as the US), mirrors the divorce culture quite well.

So the fight about no fault is really a fight about the purpose of marriage, and the mainstream view is that marriage is an institution to serve personal fulfillment and happiness -- a view that requires no fault divorce, really.

MikeT said...

I think you give Protestants too much credit. Your average Protestant is unwilling to change their views in accordance with better teaching and instead seeks out churches which conform to what they want to hear preached. Far from being a bulwark against this sort of thing, modern Protestant denominations play right into the modern liberal trap by not providing strict guidelines that, once crossed, cost one one's right to be called a Christian.

Learner said...

All I have are questions:
Are "covenant" marriages a step in the right direction?

Should the church (meaning the body of Christ) be who sets the example for society? Is what we really need spiritual reform?

Elusive Wapiti said...

Mike, I would contend that Catholics are no better. Yes they have standards and all that jazz via the Papacy. Yet Catholics who want to do what they want to do either leave the Church, or in the case of divorce, make use of the RCC-provided divorce trap door via annulments. Catholic legalisms I don't think help much either when the heart of man is simply evil and doesn't wish to comply.

Learner, since I do not reasonably see gov't getting out of the marriage business anytime soon, I do think that covenant marriages are a step in the right direction. It pains me very much to say this, since I abhor government intervention in this realm in general.

The trick is going to be getting the State to enforce a covenant contract more than a standard contract. I remain unconvinced as yet that a Covenant marriage contract will be enforced with any more vigor. But even if they do, Covenant marriages are such a tiny minority of marriages that I doubt they'll have much of an effect. But every little bit helps.

One way for the Church to set a good example would be for Christians to get our ship uprighted, start having intact families free of divorce and actually have more than 2.1 children, and then be able to point to the empirical data of the benefits of intact families and low divorce rates and a self-sustaining native population. Precisely how the Church will go about stamping out divorce in its ranks without alienating the majority of its parishioner base, I don't know. Many of church-going women will chafe at this bit, methinks, and in any case won't cotton too well to being called out by pastors where they haven't been before.

Perhaps we should be glad that Muslims are setting up a Muslim religious college in the States. The structure that Islam provides for families may help rectify that spiritual flaccidity on the part of Protestants that Mike refers to (and to which I add Catholics).

Christos.Kotsaris said...

First let me say i am a Greek Orthodox Christian. It surprises me that people almost never mention the Orthodox church's views on these matters.You all tend to forget(or you were never taught in the first place) that the original body of Christ is the Orthodox Church, all others have detached from it. To my point of view, Catholics are heretics and Protestands(who protested righteously against the Catholic corruption) are even more heretics... If you want to see what is the true christianity doctrine, you have to learn about the Orthodoxy. But nevermind that now.I don't want to proselytise, i just wanted to mention this since it is so common among other denominations to ignore the original Church they all came from...

In scripture it is written that we christians shouldn't let non believers decide for our matters. We shouldn't go to non believer judges, and we should settle our disputes within our community, with peace and love. This simply means that no christian should accept the state's authority over religious matters, like marriage. This was an obvious mistake by western churches, and we made it too after our resurrection as a nation because we wanted to be 'modern'. It was not always like that.

Right now there are not many thinks to do. The obvious thing is to only marry religiously, not politically. I don't know how the american system works, but here it is possible to have separate political and religious marriages. I intend (if i ever marry) to marry only in Church, not in State. Matters like property can easily be arranged via contracts. I don't want the state to have a saying over my marriage, only God.

We cannot guarantee that either us or the person we marry will be forever faithful to us. A Christian isn't obligated to accept bad behaviour from anyone, and is free to divorce no strings attached if the other person cheats or leaves. It is in the Bible... No man should be forced to pay support or give away property if he did nothing wrong. And the kids should remain with the parent who has no fault over the divorce. Because common sense dictates that the parent who leaves is more selfish than the other, unless he/she suffered cheating/really bad behaviour.

We should make better choices as Christians too. The Holy Spirit remains inside every true Christian, and i cannot accept the excuse that he/she didn't see it coming... If you have your eyes open, you cannot make mistakes in spouse selection... All divorces can be avoided with better choosing skills. And with some nice management of the marriage.

These are the obvious things for a christian to do right now. But in order to change this situation more actions are needed. You should think carefully if those divorce-laws are constitutional. I believe that someone with proper education and standing could prove they aren't. How is it a righteous thing, the breach of a contract with no penalty... If i sign a contract and do not keep it, i will suffer penalties. It is common sense. For the state to not enforce penalties on the cheating member of the agreement, is obvious fraud. They say people are free. Of course if i marry a woman and she decides to go f*ck someone else, it is her right. But she isn't only making choices, she destroys my life too. I made commitments, i spend money, made dreams, and much more, and now she decides to simply break the contract. She has to suffer some penalty for it, or it is simply fraud. I am sure if people there got organised and decided to argue over the fact that marriage is the only contract that is breached without penalty,that something good could happen.

I care for what is happening in the West, especially in the USA since Greece is just an american colony, pretty much like Israel but not so obvious, partly because we do not like american policies and the greek orthodox church is openly against them, at least in the past. What happens there will happen here but with some delay. For example i saw in TV that they are planning to establish no fault divorce here in 2 years... So please do something better than simply stating the problem, because you are an example for much of the rest of the world.

PS: I apologize for any mistakes in English

Roci said...

I think a partial solution is to have every couple plan their divorce as part of their pre-nup counseling. Get it in writing so that each person will know what the consequences of divorce will be.

But I would not be supportive of a state enforced "till death do you part" clause. All that would do is lead to people being separate but married and higher adultery, and an imposibility to every remarrying (cenying full benefits to the future spouse as well).

The Mosaic law permitted divorce because of men's hearts. Men's hearts have not changes since then.

Kathy Farrelly said...

"Even the Catholics, who do not technically allow divorce, have set up an alternative apparatus relating to anullment which, given how easily they are obtained in some countries (such as the US), mirrors the divorce culture quite well."
As a Catholic who has obtained an annulment I must respectfully disagree with your simplistic view Nova. It cetainly was not an easy process!
My divorce on the other hand, was straight forward and very easy.

The Catholic Church will only procced with an annulment once a divorce has been obtained from the state,and legal matters have been sorted out.

Novaseeker said...

Roci -- Of course, the state would not enforce "till death do us part" literally. There would always be grounds for divorce, namely the big "A's" -- adultery, abuse, abandonment, addiction. It just wouldn't permit the "Yawn, I'm bored" or "I fell in love with someone else" kind of non-reasons for divorcing. The latter "reasons" reflect the transformation of marriage from something that is about commitment and children (but breakable for big reasons) to something that is about personal fulfillment, which of course is going to be very unstable because what we find fulfilling today may not be what we find fulfilling in ten years. That is not as a big a deal where there are no children involved, but where there are children it's a disaster to view marriage that way.

I suspect, however, that no fault divorce is here to stay for a while at least. There isn't any real support for changing it. So probably the best we can do is tinker around the edges with things like strong presumptions of shared parenting custody -- something which would likely reduce the divorce rate significantly.

Christos -- Yes, here in the US, the constitution does not apply to any domestic relations cases -- that is, no constitutional rights in family law courts or divorce courts. It's kind of insane that some of the biggest, most impactful issues in your life -- your marriage, access to children, your assets, access to future income -- are decided in courts where you have no constitutional rights, but that's where we are. A rapist has more constitutional rights than a father does in the United States.

Also, we don't really have the separation between church and state marriages -- church marriages become state marriages, normally. I suppose one could marry in church and simply not sign a marriage certificate, but I don't think many pastors or priests would go for that in the US.

Kathy -- Okay, but the number of annulments handed out in the US is quite high. A Vatican document from 2005 (http://www.ewtn.com/library/CURIA/VISMARRI.HTM) notes that of the 46k annulments granted worldwide by the RCC in 2002, 31k (67% of the total amount) were granted in the US, while the US has only around 7% of the total number of Catholics in the world. This is an extraordinary figure, which certainly suggests that annulments are easier to obtain in the US than elsewhere. To me, it also means that the Catholic Church, at least in the US, is collaborating to a large degree with the secular divorce regime, because to not do so would alienate many Catholics. I doubt that it's the case that the Holy Spirit is generally less present in American Catholic marriages than he is elsewhere, or that American Catholics are uniquely defective in their intent when they marry as compared with people elsewhere.

MikeT said...

The fact that the marriage contract is so easily voided is one of the reasons why I think the libertarian concern over gay marriage is beside the point. The courts and legislatures have made an open mockery of contracts through the way that they have allowed every abuse to be inflicted on an innocent party who abides by the terms of the contract, without penalty to the abuser.

Roci said...

I agree that the church inAmerica is a weakinstitution for practiacally all purposes other than fundraising. It is falling behind in propagation of the faith, accountability of members, and great works of charity at the community level (hospitals, orphanages, homeless shelters being taken over by government).

It won't be long before most believers ask, "what use are they"?

Anonymous said...

Marriage is a very old and very obsolete institution: its only purpose is money. It definitely has no place in today's society.

Religion falls in the same category: their only purpose is to raise money from their followers.

Those two obsolete institutions should be put in moth balls.

Roci said...

Anon,
It is reasonable to ask the question: What good are they. It is clearly another thing to conclude without investigation that they are useless.

There is no doubt whatsoever that traditional two-parent marriage is a social structure that creates a situation of great strength for the parents and children. When done right, it offers all involved many blessings that are not replicated by other forms of social contract.

Like the church, the weaknesses of marriage cry out for remedy, not abolition. Reasonable people can disagree on what remedy is possible, desireable, or profitable.

It is easy to decry the modern institutions of marriage and church as obsolete, but that word implies, "having been replaced by something better" and that is certainly not the case. Even mothballs hints at something of value that you are preserving for later use.

I would propose to you the idea that our society is as good as it is because of those two great institutions. America would be a crueler, poorer and more tyranical state without the mitigating influence of marriage and church up to this point. You have benefited from their presence, even as other people who do not in any way participate in either. As they continue to decline, everyone will suffer as a result, including those who are actively working for their demise.

Learner said...

Well said Roci

Elusive Wapiti said...

Christos.Kotsaris wrote:

"i just wanted to mention this since it is so common among other denominations to ignore the original Church they all came from..."Well I for one am fairly ignorant of the circumstances in which the RCC broke off from the Constantinople half of the Church. I know it happened, but I don't know why, and it appears that I need to brush up on my knowledge of early church history. Think it had a lot to do with who got to be emperor of what, but I could easily be wrong. In any rate, the Eastern Orthodox types were on the receiving end of some of the later Crusades...

"We shouldn't go to non believer judges, and we should settle our disputes within our community"
Agree. But I don't see that happening in the West, which has its Protestant tradition of a separation of Church and State, anytime soon. Unless Sharia imposes itself upon all of us, which may very well be in the cards for Britain and other Euro countries in the future.

The problem, Christos, with bifurcated marriages...some via the State, some via the Church...is that the State claims dominion over it all. So it doesn't matter here in the USA if you were never married, or had your pastor wed you, or had the JOP (Justice of the Peace) job. When the time for one party of the union rolls around, the secular law applies, and those who didn't have a certificate of a State marriage are assumed to be holding one via common law.

I agree with you that much family law is unConstitutional in the first place and does violence to the rule of law in the second. Yet there's a lot going on in the USA right now that is clearly not constitutional...family law is but one area of many.

Kathy wrote:

"As a Catholic who has obtained an annulment I must respectfully disagree with your simplistic view Nova. It cetainly was not an easy process!"
As a Protestant whose Catholic ex wife obtained an annulment against me, from my perspective the annulment process wasn't difficult at all. It took about 9 months, which was less time than for the divorce to be heard and adjudicated, with far less due process, and rendered my kids from a 7 yr marriage bastards in the process. Not that anyone cares about bastardy anymore, certainly not the Church or the government which encourages it.

And I have to wonder why it is that the RCC waits for the State to declare the union legally dead before annulling it. By doing so, the RCC appears to give primacy to Caesar in matters of matrimony, and also seems to function to provide post facto justification for the divorce (e.g., a couple divorced, ergo there was some defect in the marriage).

Elusive Wapiti said...

Anon 10:57,

Come now. If you're going to be cynical about marriage, you hafta go whole hog. As in:

"The function of modern marriage is to transfer income from men to women"

There. That's better.

Triton said...

The obvious thing is to only marry religiously, not politically. I don't know how the american system works, but here it is possible to have separate political and religious marriages. I intend (if i ever marry) to marry only in Church, not in State. Matters like property can easily be arranged via contracts. I don't want the state to have a saying over my marriage, only God.I agree with this completely; if I ever marry, it will be in this fashion. The tricky part is finding a minister willing to conduct the ceremony knowing he might be committing a misdemeanor.

When the time for one party of the union rolls around, the secular law applies, and those who didn't have a certificate of a State marriage are assumed to be holding one via common law.Only in states that recognize common law marriages. Mine does not.

Elusive Wapiti said...

Good point Triton.

Also, I wasn't aware that it was a misdemeanor in some places for a member of the clergy to marry someone without the by-your-leave of the state.

Something Feral said...

I'm with Triton on this one: I'll not be getting any licenses, as it is not something that they have the power to revoke. Period.

Roci: "It won't be long before most believers ask, 'what use are they'?"

Some of us are already asking; when the church rolls over and wets itself on command from the State, it has chosen a side, and it ain't my side.

Anonymous said...

Elusive Wapati makes some excellent points: "One way for the Church to set a good example would be for Christians to get our ship uprighted, start having intact families free of divorce and actually have more than 2.1 children, and then be able to point to the empirical data of the benefits of intact families and low divorce rates and a self-sustaining native population."

The only ones I know called Christians who adhere most faithfully to those points are the Plain People: the Amish, and the conservative churches of the Mennonites and Brethren. They are very different from most Christians. They are non-resistant. They are criticised for legalism because of their clothing and for their following the ordinances of their churches. On the other hand, you never read about them in the news as having gone on a murder spree. (I don't attend a Plain church.)

ChristosKotsaris: "I don't know how the american system works, but here it is possible to have separate political and religious marriages. I intend (if i ever marry) to marry only in Church, not in State."

The Quakers refused to seek a state license for marriage, which meant seeking permission from the state for a Christian union. Quakers had what is still called a Quaker license. Even non-Quakers can obtain one. It basically means there is no preacher or priest presiding over the union ceremony. In the end, it is still a legal union recognized by, and ultimately controlled by, the state.

There are others who are opposed to obtaining a state license for a Christian marriage, though I'm not sure if this is the accurate history of how state marriage came about in the US:

http://www.mercyseat.net/BROCHURES/marriagelicense.htm

In the original post: "In the interim, the Church could do a lot to support marriage not by pitching a hissy about homogamy, but rather by attacking the scourge that is divorce in their own Church body."

But it's "homogamy," and not divorce, that will more likely be the end of marriage apart from the state. Conservative pastors and churches will be forced to stop having anything to do with marrying at all, because otherwise they will be sued and/or jailed for discrimination in not marrying homosexuals or letting them use the churches for their ceremonies

Roci said...

...they will be sued and/or jailed for discrimination in not marrying homosexuals or letting them use the churches for their ceremoniesMost churches can easily avoid that by only letting church members use their church for a wedding. As it is, churches should only be performing ceremonies for members. What benefit is there to do otherwise? A church and pastor are not just public accomodations, available for hire to anyone. If they are renting it out, who cares, what use it is put to (providing appropriate cleaning fees are collected afterwards). In those churches which already actively support the homosexual agenda, there is no conflict. They were willing to allow samesex "marriage" anyway.