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On the differences between Christian marriages and secular marriages…

June 28, 2015

In my Facebook feed, I saw linked an article that aimed to discuss why same-sex marriage is not the same thing as Christian marriage. As I read through it (mainly because I wanted to understand how others think…I know that many people did not find the Supreme Court decision to be a joyous occasion, but I wanted to understand better why), I think that I got something of what he was trying to say, and I actually found it — if I might say so — beautiful. Just a few parts from the post (I have removed the formatting from the original so that the text won’t take as much space):

There exists a dichotomy between what Christians and society understand marriage to be. But this dichotomy isn’t new; the rift wasn’t just created by SCOTUS yesterday. Christians have always had a distinct and special understanding of what marriage is; and it differs wildly from society at large.

So, what is Christian Marriage?

It’s not a tax benefit. It’s not hospital visitation rights. It’s not insurance benefits. It’s not a legal arrangement provided by the government.

It’s not even the consensual, legal partnership of two adults who love each other and want to spend their lives together.

These things seem to be what people think marriage is. And for the American Government, it now seems that that is exactly what it is. But Christian marriage is, and always has been, something different.

Christian Marriage is the holy, sacramental giving of one man, and one woman, fully to each other. With the purpose of being fruitful, creating new life together, and nurturing that life within the complimentary presence of both a mother and a fatherChristian Marriage is meant to reflect Christ’s self giving relationship with the Church and it is a microcosm of God’s covenant with his people. Christian Marriage is an echo of triune love; as God created out of an overflow of just that. And so God has granted humanity, the ability to create life out of human relationship. In this way, marriage is a holy and creative reflection of the divine life.

That is Christian Marriage.

I can respect traditional, orthodox Christians for their views on marriage (or other things) because of the extent that these folks are living a vision presented through their religion and worldview. To be fair, I dislike and fear some of the positions pursued through this vision. But even though I think that rejecting contraception, divorce, and so forth are extreme and not workable models for everyone in society, I think that from within the worldview espoused from the post I quoted, these things make sense as a reflection thereof.

That being said, I still recognize the problems in this model (and perhaps the problems in any one-size-fit-all model). The beauty of this uncompromising vision is a great yet terrible beauty. It’s not something I want for myself.

So, I want to move in this post by commenting on the inspiration I got from a Facebook quote from a friend:

Could we please balance all this lovey dovey spiritual mojo talk about marriage with the civil privileges marriage affords- that part that can be upheld by courts- access to spouses insurance, property laws, hospital visitation, marriage tax laws, etc. Marriage doesn’t breed love, fidelity, loyalty, comradely, truth- people do. But Marriage does give civil privileges that can be upheld by court of law.

By quoting this Facebook status in its entirety, I do not mean to express any sense of flippancy (although I can see how talking about “lovey dovey spiritual mojo talk” might seem a bit flippant.) The particular words used by this author are this author’s.

No, what inspired me was this reframing back onto the practical effects of marriage in our society. It’s true that there are a lot of less tangible (but still valuable and beautiful) aspects of marriage or any other social institution. It’s true that there are conceptual frameworks that we can put marriage into, as the Christian blogger paints.

…But marriage as being about tangibles still matters. Marriage as being about hospital visitation rights still matters. Marriage as being about legal protection still matters. These tangible rights and benefits that the government certainly is involved with do matter for many — including many, if not most Christians, as is exemplified by the fact that Christians also seek official government recognition for their marriages instead of making it solely a religious undertaking.

I said before that I found the Christian image above to be beautiful, but in a terrible sort of way. But another thing that I personally have found beautiful as well — beautiful, but also with elements of terror certainly — are the struggles I’ve read of those who have sacrificed for partners suffering from AIDS. The image of the man who has cared for his ailing companion for years, knowing that death can be delayed, but never escaped.

…When I read stories about the sacrifices made surrounding those who suffered from AIDS in the early years when little information was known, years of paranoia and fear for many…I see images of beauty worthy of being recognized by society. Hearing the sacrificed many made with no support from larger society is inspiring in a beautiful, terrible way.

I have to admit that yes, it’s not really the “Christian” view in a number of ways. But it is still worthwhile.

I am fortunate to have grown up in an era with more information, with more understanding. I know that many still are afflicted; many still suffer. This is not the end-all, be-all for LGBT people. But I think even if some of us may be privileged enough to not be so…terrified…we still yearn to care for one another. We still yearn to love and be loved. We still yearn for this to be recognized by society, and to be protected by law.

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8 Comments
  1. Agellius permalink

    I think the majority of Christians had no problem with giving the tangible civil benefits of marriage to gay couples, which is why there was no Christian mass movement against civil unions to nearly the extent that there was against gay marriage. The main problem they have is with calling it “marriage”, by which is meant that it’s the same thing as a heterosexual union. In other words, it appears that homosexuals were not satisfied with having the civil benefits, which is why they kept on fighting even when those benefits were ceded. What they wanted was official acknowledgment that a homosexual union and a heterosexual union are the same thing.

    • Agellius,

      That’s not how I recall things going. I know for my conservative states of residence (and many others), same sex marriage bans came along with bans on any similar government recognition. States like California were exceptional in this sense.

      EDIT: This is before even beginning to discuss issues of “separate but equal”. Maybe Texas and Oklahoma (and the other states who did the same) were just particularly vindictive, but I see them (and various efforts to avoid recognizing same-sex marriage even now) as representative of conservative Christianity.

  2. Agellius permalink

    I understand, but my point is that even where civil unions were ceded, gay marriage advocates still were not satisfied.

    • I think that’s where the separate but equal question comes more into play (but that’s not all… My understanding was that there were federal issues associated with civil unions, such that when the 2014 ruling for Windsor came out, it only applied to marriage but not domestic partnerships or civil unions. And then on top of all that is the question of separation of church and state. Marriage as a legal concept is not [and cannot be] the same as marriage as described by any particular religious framework.)

      Like, it can make sense for Christians to view marriage as a sacrament and covenant relationship with the imagery quoted from my post, but this would be highly inappropriate for a pluralistic government to say that

    • Craig S. permalink

      Why *should* they be satisfied? Would Mormons be satisfied if the state or federal government decided that they could no longer get married, but they could have civil unions that would provide pretty much all of the same benefits but may or may not be recognized in other states the same way? Somehow I think not.

      • Agellius permalink

        Craig:

        Then we agree.

  3. Agellius permalink

    “Like, it can make sense for Christians to view marriage as a sacrament and covenant relationship with the imagery quoted from my post, but this would be highly inappropriate for a pluralistic government to say that”

    Fair enough. But I still feel that what gay marriage advocates wanted was basically to have their marriages be considered the same as heterosexual marriages, in whatever way. For example I’m quite sure that although gay marriage is now legal nationwide, this won’t stop GMAs from continuing to agitate for recognition of gay marriage within the various churches.

  4. I think however that the number of same-sex marriage advocates who are going to be agitating for recognition within churches is going to be a much smaller number/smaller percentage of the total number of same-sex marriage advocates…it’s not going to have the groundswell of support. For a number of reasons: a lot of them aren’t necessarily going to be members of religions/churches that oppose same-sex marriage, if they are religious at all.

    …That being said, yeah, I know that there are still lots of people very heavily invested in opposing churches, so, I know that there will still be some agitation. But there’s people agitating for all sorts of changes in church theologies.

    I mean, it just seems like how people point to whatever the most radical queer theorist says and then says, “Well, this is what gay marriage advocates were after all along!” Sure, there are going to be radical people, but they didn’t (and still don’t) represent power elements of the movement.

    I think a bigger area for challenges will be any instance where churches are serving in a “public” capacity. So, adoption services where they receive public/government/taxpayer funds, etc.,

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