Thursday, November 6, 2008

Marriage: A Contract Versus a Covenant

Fascinating to hear and watch the repercussions coming out of California in the recent vote for Prop. 8, in which the state constitution of CA is being amended to be sure that marriage is only "between a man and a woman."

On NPR this morning, the reporter covering the repercussions interviewed a pastor from a large mega-church in CA, in which the pastor said that "the Bible says that marriage is between a man and a woman." He offered the hearers of this story to correct him if he is wrong, but he was sure that the Bible says that marriage is between "a man and a woman."

Herein lies the problem: the Bible does not say that anywhere. There is no such wording in either the Old Testament or Hebrew Scriptures or the New Testament. Moses, Jesus, Mary, and Paul do not say marriage is between a man and a woman.

Genesis 2: 24: a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.

No where in this often cited passage does the word "marriage" or "married" come into discussion. Granted, there is the reference to the word and noun, "wife," but there is a whole lot going on "underneath" and around that noun, with assumptions that need to be named. For example, polygamy was a common practice by our biblical forbears, e.g., Abram. Do we condone polygamy in this culture? Ask Mormons, in which their move to the now-state of Utah was done in order to practice polygamy, as do fundamentalist Mormons to this very day, e.g., Texas. What was fascinating was that so much of the pro- Prop. 8 money came from the Mormon church! A Church that openly practiced polygamy until the last few decades.

The pastor on NPR is wrong. We can put a lot of biblical ideas together and make a conjecture that the Bible says that marriage is between a man and a woman, just like we put a lot of biblical ideas together to make a conjecture that the Holy Trinity exists, even though the Bible never states anything explicit about Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as the Holy Trinity.

Herein lies our reality: in the USA, being married is a contractual agreement between two individuals. People can marry 1 to however many times they want in the USA, as long as they're heterosexual, save for those who live in the states of CT and MA. When I wed people I am, in part, an agent of the State, witnessing and certifying the contract between two people. The state doesn't care if I say or don't say "God" in a wedding.

However, for those of us in the Church, a marriage may also be a ritual--not a sacrament in the PCUSA--in which two people are vowing to be in a covenantal relationship not only with each other, but with God as well...but only if their vows make that explicit.

Can marriage between two men and two women be allowed? Yes. The state decides the boundaries and context of what is a marriage. Does the church have to allow it? No. Because the church is not part of the State.




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