Since leading a civil wedding ceremony a few months ago (some thoughts on that experience here), I've been thinking a bit amount the many dimensions of marriage in our society, from the role it plays with families to the couples allowed to participate in the institution to the weakening state of marriages among all populations. So it was interesting when I came across this blog post from JR Daniel Kirk, a professor at Fuller Seminary, exploring the relationship between the church and state on issues of marriage. Kirk writes:
For all the ways that our country has moved toward separating church and state, one of the remaining points at which the two are bound is marriage. Churches marry people in the name of the state. They are therefore bound to marry only those whom the state approves to be married. This, of course, has some ramifications for the question of homosexual marriage (do ministers have to marry gay couples if their states allow it? must they not if their states forbid it?). But its ramifications reach further. For example, it leaves the church without a way to marry illegal immigrants.
Kirk then asks this:
We have lived so long with pastors saying, “…and through the power vested in me by the State of _____…” that we don’t even realize how weird that is.
Can you imagine Jesus performing a wedding and saying, “through the power invested in me by Caesar Augustus and his Governor Pontius Pilate…”?
Finally, he lays out a few options for the church, including the status quo with the church continuing to act as an agent for the state, a sort of middle ground where the church participates but makes known that the civil aspect of marriage relates to the state, and finally, “pastors could just stop marrying people on the state’s behalf.” He concludes:
We don’t have to wait for the state(s) to separate itself from our work as the people of the church. We can say, “No, thank you” to the state’s offer to allow us to function as its proxy.
We can put asunder what the state has strangely joined.
What do you think of this proposal? Would exiting from the state marriage business allow the church to focus on strengthening Christian marriages and leave civil marriages alone? Or, does the church have a wider interest in advocating for its own definition of marriage to society as a whole? What is the proper role for the church in marriage?