A fine thing happened here, though. The community challenged me regarding some of my sweeping statements and some of my mean-spirited (or just oblivious) generalizations. We listened to one another. I grew in my understanding and gained some new insights. I am grateful for the dialogue. Please don’t only read this “first-draft” essay of mine, but click here to read my post together with all the comments. For at the end of the dialogue, I was at a rather different place than I started.
After the flurry of conversation here, I was tempted to rewrite the essay in its entirety, to reflect what I had learned through the comments. But that would lack integrity. I need to own up to what I first wrote, and I hope readers will appreciate what happened in the ensuing conversation.
What happened here is what I often see in some of my favorite blogs, but which seldom happens here: the community engaged in fruitful dialogue. I would like to see the Episcopal Church launch a similar dialogue about what marriage is in general and what Christian marriage is in particular. I know it has happened on a large scale in some parts of our church, but there has been no structured or widespread dialogue in my parish or diocese.
By the way, as a reward for your reading all the comments, I’m about to add another comment in this thread, which – while slightly off-topic – may be even more shocking than anything I wrote in the initial blogpost.
Read on .… ]
I recently attended the marriage of a couple in their mid-20s. I am related to the groom, whom I’ll call “Brad” in this post; I’ll call the bride “Jennifer.”
After the “wedding” portion, at a certain point during the dancing that was part of the reception, a dear friend must have noticed the expression on my face. She asked, “What are you thinking?” Then the exchange went something like this:
I replied, “I’m blogging in my mind.”
“The difference between gay and straight marriages.”
“The difference. All these kids had to do was get a marriage license and then throw this party without God. … Do you have any idea how many gay people are yearning to make humble vows of marriage in the church?”
I should probably back up to provide some context. “Brad” and “Jennifer” are self-declared atheists; Brad is particularly loud and proud about the fact that he doesn’t believe in God. He’ll quickly tell you he is a scientist, and that he believes all this “Christianity stuff” is just a fairy tale.
Brad was raised in a liturgical tradition. I was rather surprised – and his grandmother was mortified – that they had their wedding in a “banquet center” rather than a church.
The thing one might call a “marriage” took less than half an hour, then there were three hours of dancing and partying.
Of course, they did their best in that banquet center to mirror the outward manifestations of what I recognize as a wedding.
Frankly, I wonder: If you don’t believe in God, why in the world would you make a Big Flipping Deal of the “marriage ceremony”?? If you don’t believe in God, then the “wedding vows” are – it seems to me – no more significant than the closing of a legal contract to buy a house. No one invites the community to the lawyer’s office for a house-closing contract, followed by a three-hour party. So why do anti-church people throw these big shindigs when they make their wedding contract in front of a State-sanctioned officiant? Why would an atheist bother to invite a bunch of friends and family to witness his/her God-free vows? If the wedding is just an excuse to throw a big party, why not just go down to the courthouse, say what the State requires you to say to make the legal marriage contract, and then throw the big and delightful party you want to have? Why make people sit through miserable “wedding” “vows” that are a paean to your self-absorption?
This couple did their best to make their wedding a God-Free Zone. They hired some schmuck in a brown suit to officiate at the evening ceremony. Mr. Schmuck kept his words and his prayers God-free except for that notorious/beloved passage from Matthew. I suppose he did that to give it some sort of legitimacy; honestly, I have no idea. Because God was (otherwise) completely absent from the “wedding.”
Mind you, I am not a theologian, nor do I play one on T.V. But I have read some fine theological thinkers – especially Tobias and Christopher Evans on this point.. [NB: Long ago, I bookmarked Christopher Evans’ most amazing “Liturgy for Binding and Loosing,” upon the occasion of his union with his beloved. I have the liturgy on my hard drive, but the link to his website no longer seems to be active. Christopher, if you happen to see this, please give me an active link, and I’ll hyperlink it. For the rest of you, if you want a copy of the liturgy, post your e-address (carefully) in the comments, and I’ll send it to you.] As I understand it, one makes one’s primary vows to and covenant with God, and then to one another. As I understand it, the couple enters into covenant with God, the Church blesses, and the community affirms and celebrates that covenant.
That’s how I would want to do it, if such a time ever came for me. Thank God for the Book of Common Prayer and its ageless words for the wedding liturgy. I would want them to uphold me and my beloved.
Frankly, my heart was sad as I saw this couple “do” their vows in front of the assembled group. It seemed rather empty to me. Casting aside their liturgical upbringing, Brad and Jennifer made up their own ceremony and their own vows. Saccharine, anyone? It was very Kahlil Gibran-esque.
The service was full of words about what love means and how they will "always" love each other … what commitment means, and how they will "always" remain committed to each other. But, of course, it was about their faith in each other, their love for each other, their friendship with each other. Which is important, of course. But there were no words about transcendence – about being held together by God or any divine power … because (of course) they don’t believe in God or any transcendent power. So when the going gets tough, they will cling to … what??? Cling to the current divorce statistics, and pray they can beat the odds?
Recognizing no force or Person greater than themselves, I wonder, to whom/what will they turn when the going gets tough … as it does for all married persons? I suppose they will just revert to the same power they celebrated in their marriage: the Great Church of My Ego. For that’s the faith to which their vows seemed to turn.
I will confess: There was a sense in which this “wedding” made this Episcopalian angry. I know so many gay/lesbian Episcopalians who yearn to be married in the church, to recite their vows before God and their fellow parishioners … who yearn to make a covenant before God and the community. But we are barred from doing so in most states. And we are barred from doing so in most dioceses.
But these two young people now have the full civil/legal benefits of marriage – and the more than 1,000 legal rights it confers – because they got Mr. Schmuck in his brown suit to preside at something they and the State choose to call a wedding.
Meanwhile, gay/lesbian couples who have been together for years and decades must engage lawyers to draw up contracts that give them half the rights and protections that this young couple now enjoys in their Godless marriage.
Something in that – and in the injustice of that – just flat breaks my heart.
[P.S.: Parenthetical shout-out to IT, because I know you’ll read this. IT, I can imagine that you may have a different view re: your marriage to BP. But – unlike the young people about whom I am writing – BP is a Christian. “Brad” and “Jennifer” are both proclaimed atheists. So I will welcome your thoughts, and I hope you don’t take my blogpost here as a slam; it most certainly isn’t intended that way. The point I am trying to make is the distinction between heterosexual couples who throw huge parties for their godless marriages vs. Christian gay/lesbian couples who yearn to have their covenants blessed before God in the church.]