Looking Back and Forward– A Journey

At the Christmas Eve service I was sitting next to my wife reading the bulletin when I came across the following announcement:

“A Workshop on Marriage”
“Marriage is defined and sanctioned by the Christian church, and by the state. The issue before the PC (USA) is whether or not to say something new about marriage, specifically concerning same-gender couples. The hope for our PC (USA) congregations and the church as a whole, is to have a clearer view of God’s good will for us in marriage; to have a deeper understanding of our tradition and context, to have a better understanding of differing views; to develop a common language for speaking about these matters, and a way forward for the body of Christ. Using Scripture, the Book of Confessions, the Book of Order, the Book of Common Worship’s marriage liturgy, we will work to provide a healthy process for discussing the question of marriage.”

This class is of interest to me. Why? Because I support the LGBT community and their right to marry the person they love as much as I had and have that right now.

Marriage is an institution that people have set up to design society, and each society’s image of marriage is different. Some societies use a spiritual being as the authority for the marriage. This authority is called by many names – God, Allah, Jehovah, Buddha, and many other deities. But we all have one thing in common – it is that we all ask the state to sanction the right to marry.

In asking the state to sanction the act of marriage we establish it to be a contract between two people. We must apply to the state for a license to marry, and ask the courts of the state to intervene if problems arise resulting in divorce (the distribution of assets) and child custody.

After receiving the marriage license we are free to choose a civil servant or to go to our chosen place of worship and ask the priest, pastor, or someone else authorized by the state, to perform the ceremony we call marriage. In some countries it is required that a civil marriage be performed before a religious ceremony can take place.

In partnership with the state we also expect certain rights or privileges be granted, such as taxes (being able to file a joint return), expecting to inherit property without judicial review unless the estate is challenged. The right to travel between jurisdictions without having to continually prove the marriage is legal and proper.

Why do we have this idea that only the church has the right to define marriage? It comes from politicians who write the laws and proclaim what is and isn’t marriage. They are influenced by those in the church to write the definition to suit the ideology or theology of their particular church or religious teachings.

As you will notice in the church bulletin announcement the use of scripture and other books will be used to discuss the question of marriage. I have no problem if my church denomination wants to define marriage. It is their right to associate with those with whom they choose. My problem is that too many churches and denominations want to define marriage for my church and society as a whole. Who gives them this right? I don’t think it was God, I believe that in their minds this is what God is telling them.

I have found that most of these religious leaders who demand that society follow their definition are afraid that if people are happy then they can not scare them any longer. I stopped being afraid of different marriages long ago. When I was a child the only mixed marriages I saw outside the norm of my parents were between white men and Japanese women. This I was told was because many men who were stationed in Japan, married Japanese women whom they met after the war. Was this appalling to me, did it interfere or influence my choice later in life? I think not.

When I was in the Army I met many people in mixed race marriages. Now it was not just white men and Japanese women, but men and women of all races that were joined in marriage. Many black/white couples requested not to be assigned to bases in the south because of the bias and racism that was prevalent in many places below the Mason/Dixon line. Did their marriages in any way jeopardize my marriage? Not any more than mine jeopardized theirs.

So that brings me to why are we so concerned with same-sex marriages. Returning to the time when I was young and continuing up through today we have taught our children to be aware of strange men. It is good to teach children that not all men and some women can be trusted. But the problem with this is that the lesson taught was to be aware of those men who were different from the rest of us. Those being strange and feminine, who walked and talked funny, or they have a mental disability, they were the ones who would kidnap you, take you away and hurt you. Time has proven that this is not the case; usually it is the so-called normal ones that do the crimes against children.

With more and more men and women, young and old, coming out – family, friends and people in general are realizing that being gay or lesbian is not something to be afraid of. They are people, they laugh, cry and love just like you and I. They want to marry and have a family too. Adoption is the way most same-sex marriages grow as families. Just because a child has two fathers or two mothers rather than one of each doesn’t influence the sexual identity of the children they are raising. And by the way, how many families have a mother and father in their home. There are more and more single parent families today than ever before.

So why are we discussing marriage? Or is it that we are trying to convince ourselves not to be afraid and that the church and society will not fall apart. The Church has had a long history of changing and adapting to the changes of society. Society determines the role of the church and the church does not like to change its role just because society has determined the need and direction of that change.