I think there’s a way for churches to maintain their religious freedoms in regards to marriage while, at the same time, diminish the governments authority to mandate infringements on those freedoms.
Even though the phrase “separation of church and state” does not exist in the Constitution of the United States, it is used quite often to state the false notion that religion does not belong in the public arena.
Over time, it has become obvious that the separation of church and state only travels one way. The state is pushing the churches out of the government, while pushing the state into the churches. Churches are continuously pressured to comply with the state’s wishes, even if it is contrary to their core tenets and beliefs.
Marriage has been one such battleground. The reason the states feel obliged to mandate churches behavior is because a marriage is a legal event, recognized by the state. This gives them jurisdiction (though, one could easily argue it doesn’t, as it infringes on the 1st amendment. Assuming they don’t care about that, which they don’t appear to (see California), I’ll continue on).
My solution is simple. Separate the sacramental marriage from the legal one.
If I were the Catholic Church, for example, I would say this:
As of January 1, 2015, the Catholic Church will only perform sacramental marriages. These marriages will be as they always were, eternal covenants between a man, a woman, and God. These marriages, however, will no longer be legally recognized by the government. For your convenience, we will make available all of the paperwork for legal recognition by the state in the form of a civil union.
That separates the state from the church and allows the churches to continue to perform the marriages that fit within their beliefs and allows the state to handle all of the others outside of that. The government could recognize any civil union they want and it would not impact the true meaning of a sacramental marriage, which symbolizes Jesus’ relationship with his church.
The outcome of this would be two-fold:
- There would be far fewer marriages in the Catholic Church. Think of all of the people who get married in the church and never sit in the pews again
- Those marriages in the church would be by those interested in the sacramental covenant with God, leading to a healthier, albeit smaller, church.
Why this would never happen:
- Too many priests do not agree with church teaching on marriage (see the recent Synod on the Family)
- Opposition would see it as a surrender to the culture war instead of protecting the sanctity of marriage.
- Leadership in the church if astoundingly weak, more concerned about being liked than leading people to holiness.
The only reason the culture wars are being fought in the churches is because the secularist believe that churches must comply with whatever laws they pass. My solution makes a clear separation between giving to God what is God’s and giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s.
What do you think?