Friday, July 03 2015
Supreme Court & Extreme Reactions
Here’s one of the many ways the Bible “speaks” about marriage:
The Apostle Paul makes it most clear that his preference for us all would be celibacy when he wrote to the Corinthian Church in I Corinthians 7 beginning with verse 1:
Now for the matters you wrote about: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” 2 But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband. 3 The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. 5 Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. 6 I say this as a concession, not as a command. 7 I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.
8 Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. 9 But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
Paul’s preference is celibacy for the whole community, “I wish that all of you were as I am,” but as a concession to libido, Paul begrudges that sex within marriage is acceptable. For Paul, marriage itself is a compromise, it steps away from the higher celibate calling that provides a witness unencumbered by active sexuality. Those who have a burning passion should marry and not torment themselves.
It has been rightfully pointed out that the Supreme Court does not define marriage. It defines who is eligible to gain the benefits and the responsibilities of a civil contract called marriage. In interpreting the law Justice wears a blindfold and cannot be a respecter of persons. If one believes in gender equality before the law, the Court’s decision makes sense; for civil purposes the excess or absence of Y chromosomes in the room makes no difference as to the right of two individuals to enter a marital contract.
The recent Supreme Court decision regarding marriage has nothing to do with the religious ceremony of a wedding, even though a religious officiants file paperwork certifying the time and location of the contract’s consummation. Conservative Christian hand-wringing over the possibility that ministers and congregations will be forced to perform same-sex ceremonies completely misrepresents the fundamental difference between the civil contract of marriage and the religious recognition of covenant.
For well over a millennia, the Roman Catholic Church has denounced divorce and re-marriage, requiring an annulment of prior relationship in order to proceed with a second wedding. Annulment is a statement that the prior marriage was not performed or executed in good faith, thereby in the eyes of the Church, it never happened. This document frees the parties to pursue their “first” marriage.
This, of course, has no bearing on the civil contract of marriage. A divorced individual is not exempted from alimony if the relationship has been annulled by the church. The line between civil expectation and ecclesiastical definition is unambiguous; the church defines its sacrament, the state defines its contract. As a consequence, Roman Catholic priests do not live in fear of civil (or criminal) litigation forcing them to perform “second” marriages without the benefit of annulment. Civil courts have no interest in meddling in the business of a religious institution’s definitions, the constitution simply forbids it. As the First Amendment states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” The right to freely exercise a religious definition of marriage will remain intact.
Cynically I believe some groups are using the threat of litigation as a means to raise money, playing off a well-oiled paranoia among their constituents. Unfortunately, I’ve heard the same anxiety expressed among colleagues who I thought better understood the Constitution. The place where Christians, or any other individual for that matter, is not protected is in the civic realm of commerce and association that now requires the recognition of same-sex nuptials. (I’ve sometimes wondered if not recognizing same-sex marriage means continuing to introduce nice young girls to married gay men.)
I have heard cries for civil disobedience against gay or lesbian weddings, and I would assume similar discrimination for married couples, in the name of “Biblical values.” The most obvious context would be for those in the wedding industry refusing service to same-sex couples. I honestly feel some sadness for individuals who, as a matter of conscience now find their business base radically re-defined; and for all the bakers, florists, deejays, bridal shops, and tux rental vendors who are unwilling to expand their market, I hope they will find good employment in different industries. But they are no more “victimized” than the teetotaler waitress needing to quit because the restaurant owner just secured a liquor license; or the motel clerk who resigns his position because unmarried couples are renting rooms for sex. There are difficult moral calculations faced by a myriad of individuals in multiple industries – fortunately, the State does not have the power to force us into our vocation.
But to suggest individuals in these industries are doing so in order to be consistent with Biblical teaching is to draw a strange line, a line over which most have already vaulted. Those proposing civil disobedience regarding same-sex wedding commerce have not suggested the same stand on divorce and remarriage commerce, something about which the Bible is even more clear than homosexuality. The issue of same-sex marriage is not one pitting those who “believe the Bible” against those who “reject the Bible” it is between groups who draw their lines of Biblical compromise in different places.
The Apostle Paul suggested the best expression of a Christian sexual ethic, was universal sexual abstinence – something the United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing (aka the Shakers) believed and practiced. They chose not to compromise with Paul’s absolute best. Behind them are others who preach and teach an absolutist position regarding divorce… that is NEVER. Curiously, Christian Colleges who terminate divorcing faculty are not worried about litigation regarding their right to require permanent marriage.
Years ago a dear friend of mine “came out” to me, he could no longer closet his sexuality and feel authentic in our friendship. His wife, however, was a faculty at an institution that terminates contracts with divorced instructors. My friend’s solution was suicide – his wife could maintain her employment and his inconsistency was resolved.
I wonder who gets to set the price of “Biblically consistency” and who is left to truly pay that price.