Wednesday Word: Marriage

Traditional Marriage

In the most recent edition of The Living Church (June 3, 2018), Bp. John Bauerschmidt of Tennessee writes about possible changes to the Prayer Book in general and marriage in particular.

At the upcoming General Convention next month, the Episcopal church will consider making changes to the current BCP. This is a long process and whatever might get approved for action will take several years to implement. One change being considered is adding gender-neutral marriage liturgies to the BCP. As Bp. Bauerschmidt points out, these liturgies were developed with same-sex couples in mind, but could be used by any couple desiring to be married in the church. This would also require a change in the Catechism which would state that Holy Matrimony is a life-long union between two people.

The bishop sees this move as “troubling” because it would effectively change the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the church. He writes, “As an attempt to make the trial liturgies more widely available, it is a singularly blunt instrument to employ,” and he is fearful that those who value the traditional understanding of marriage will lose their place within the Episcopal Church.

A few thoughts.

When people use the word “traditional,” I've noticed it often means, “How I understand it to be.” If we talk about traditional biblical marriage, that can mean multiple things: one man/one woman; one man and his (dead) brother's wife; one man, one woman, and concubines; a rapist and his victim; a man, a woman, and her slave(s); a soldier and a female POW; a man, a woman, and a woman, and a woman, and a woman . . .; a male slave and a female slave. Biblical marriage is somewhat . . . malleable.

And let's not forget that marriage was, for a long time, seen as a property transaction; hence the “giving away” of the bride from one owner (dad) to a new owner (husband). It was a property transaction because the State needed a way to keep track of legitimate heirs. The church didn't really get involved in marriages until about the 12th Century.

Last week I presided at the marriage ceremony of Jerry and Bruce. It was one of the best events I have ever been a part of. Marriage is a covenant between two people and is (ideally) to be a life-long union. What if, instead of focusing on the players in the game, we focus on the game itself. The game of marriage is to be life-long; it is to represent the union between Christ and Church; it is for mutual joy, help, and comfort. Holding marriage up as ideal should be more important than who we allow to participate.

And, finally, in reviewing the bishop's words, I note that he is fearful of losing his place in the church. This seems to me to be the same fear that men had about women voting, the same fear that whites had (and have) about granting equality to non-whites, and on and on. Those in power are always fearful of losing their piece of the pie.

What those who are fearful need to remember is that God will bake more pie, because all means all.




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