Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Governments Can't Manage Marriage

The separation of church and state.

It's a controversial topic, and a complex process.  And it's getting even more controversial and complex as the concept of same-sex marriage enjoys growing popularity.

Today, the BBC reported that the Church of England has warned that Britain's seemingly inevitable embrace of same-sex marriage will "alter the intrinsic nature of marriage as the union of a man and a woman."

Which, of course, is true - and only reiterates what both opponents and proponents of same-sex marriage have already been saying.  Evangelical Christians oppose same-sex marriage because it violates the Biblical purposes for marriage.  And gay marriage advocates think re-imagining the intrinsic nature of marriage from exclusively heterosexual to participants' choice will have no punitive impact on society.

Yes, gay marriage advocates want to "alter" the altar, so to speak.  So the Church of England isn't exactly breaking any new ground here.  Except that they are the church of England.  Which at least brings a new wrinkle into the debate.

The Church of England Gets Religion

Granted, it seems a bit odd for a country that has already become far more socially liberal than the United States to have this same controversy we're having here.  So perhaps it says something that, better late than never, Britain's historically prominent state church has finally gotten some religion on the subject.  The Church of England - or "C-of-E," in British parlance - has long promoted gays to senior positions in the church hierarchy, but marriage is apparently a different matter, even to them.

Although its authority across the realm regarding marriage protocols has been pretty much accepted by both its laity and its monarchy, that authority has suffered some significant setbacks.  Consider, for example, Prince Charles' recent marriage to Camilla Parker Bowles, which created quite a stir among succession purists concerned about a divorced and remarried man being heir to the throne.  And figurehead of the C-of-E.

Meanwhile, Britain's increasingly pluralistic, diverse, and morally irreverent society means the C-of-E has to make its case against gay marriage before an audience of more than just the royal family and Parliament.  Being a champion of heterosexual marriage will not make the C-of-E popular, but at least they can identify a threat to the stability of the nation when they see one.  Which is more than can be said for governments.

You see, for centuries, orthodox Christianity has allowed governments to use matrimony as the easy method God knew it would be to manage populations.  Governments interested in self-preservation have realized that marriages create families and families perpetuate society - biologically, emotionally, financially, morally, and even politically.

It's worked well this way for thousands of generations of humanity across cultures and hemispheres.  Except now, governments think they own the prerogative when it comes to defining marriage.

And they don't.

Marriage is an institution designed by God.  He made the genders, He designed the human procreation system, and He ordained the rules.  Sure, we've messed them up along the way, but that actually helps prove that following God's rules and patters for marriage works surprisingly well.  It doesn't work effortlessly, and it doesn't ensure constant pleasure, but it works.

Think about it:  when did our world's environmental problems begin?  When we didn't follow God's designs for its cleanliness.  What about when interpersonal relationships start to crumble?  That usually happens when we don't follow God's designs for how we're supposed to treat each other.  We like to think marriage is a government institution, but in reality, all a government does is grant a license to get married, tax us based on our marital status, and take a census of us based on our families, which are based on marriage.

Marriage is still God's idea, whether we recognize that fact or not.

Marriage, Church, and State: Which of These is Not Like the Other?

Personally, I wonder if it isn't time for evangelical Christianity to take back marriage from governments.  I don't know how we could do it logistically, but there should be some way that the Originator of marriage gets to restore its original purpose.  Except... He already wanted to use His people as a model for the sanctity of marriage, and it's no secret that we've blown that opportunity.  After all, one of our chief arguments against gay marriage has been how holy heterosexual marriage is.  But with a divorce rate in our churches roughly equivalent to the divorce rate outside of churches, we can't use the sanctity of marriage argument when we haven't been true to it ourselves.

The C-of-E hasn't had that much better a record over in Britain, but supposedly, as the traditional validator of the Crown, and hence the British government, at least their advocacy for heterosexual marriage may make some people reconsider Parliament's role in this debate.

Can people of faith abdicate their own roles in modeling their faith to the world and still expect their government to champion what they were supposed to hold dear?

Here in the Colonies, the debate over gay marriage may turn the separation of church and state into more of a moral chasm than, say, an academic debate over prayer in public places.
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