Read it all and and the resolutions are here.
My prayers are with you, Anne and Clint.
[blockquote] Whereas, there are persons in the Episcopal Church (gay and lesbian, seniors and others constrained by financial concerns) who are in committed, monogamous relationships who wish to have their relationships blessed in the church by a clergy person, and . . .[/blockquote]
Thereâ€™s a new twist here in Resolution 08-09. Seems that if I, a senior, am shacked up with someone whom I donâ€™t want to (or can’t) marry because I might lose my Social Security, pension, etc., now will be able to call our relationship â€œholyâ€ and get it blessed. Yup, I can just see the next step. What about this scenario: my spouse is in a nursing home, suffering from some disease, and taking a very long time to die from it. I donâ€™t want to divorce him because he needs the medical coverage and besides, I might not qualify for SS, but I still have â€œneeds,â€ so I go and find a more healthy person to satisfy those needs. Blessing this relationship sounds like a very pastoral solution to the problem. Didnâ€™t we see this in that blessedly short-lived TV program, The Book of Daniel? Two characters, bishops, no less, are having an affair while the spouse of one of them languishes in a nursing home. Everybody seemed to be cool with it, so I guess it qualified as â€œholy.â€ Whatâ€™s next–blessing a loving, committed, and monogamous relationship with one’s dog?
Why limit this resolution to gays, lesbians, and seniors? There’s lots of people in relationships who don’t want the full marriage thing because they can’t afford it. (The real reason, I suspect, is that it’s too permanent and it’s divorce that’s expensive.) I guess they’re covered under “and others.” Just think how happy these celebrations will make the wedding planners and caterers. Blessings all around!
Sue – now, really, the scenario you paint is called adultery. I’m asking serious questions because these have always been abiding questions in my mind.
Who is the final arbiter of a “marriage” – the State or the Church or both in some fashion? Does a couple need both a certificate of license from the State and a blessing from a Church to be married? Obviously not according to the State. What about the Church; what does it believe? Does the Church have the authority apart from the State to marry a couple? That couple may not be recognized by the State as married and thusly the couple may not receive civil benefits pertaining to a State recognized marriage, but does that matter for the Church or the Christian couple?
If two senior citizens who can’t afford to live together in a marriage sanctioned by the State because of the reduction of State SS benefits, if the Church conducts a marriage liturgy for them before God and the people, are those two people considered married in God’s eyes, in the eyes of the Church, or is it a necessity that the marriage be sanctioned by the State in order to be valid in the Christian sense?
What are the criteria for a valid marriage? Church sanction? State sanction? Sanctioned by both? The State says that the Church is not needed. What does the Church say, really? They say that the blessing of the Church is certainly not needed, because the Church recognizes marriages that were only conducted by the State. Is that a good thing, or not?
In the eyes of God, what constitutes the beginning of a right marriage? Consummation of the relationship sexually? A State license? The Church’s blessing? All the above?
Frankly, I have a hard time giving over to the State the right to determine for the Church who is and who is not “married” in the Christian sense. What now happens in Massachusetts as the Church automatically recognizes State sanctioned marriages? If you are in favor of gay-marriage, no problem with the way the Church has traditionally interacted with the State concerning what is considered to be valid marriages. If you aren’t in favor of gay-marriage, then there has to be a change in the way the Church has traditionally dealt with the State in the definition of a real “marriage” – in this sense the “conservatives” become the “innovators.”
So what happens next? Does any of this really matter in real life?
Bob G, of course, it’s adultery! That’s why I used that precise scenario. Some misguided priest will compassionately look at the life situation of a parishioner and say, “Well, they’re entitled to some happiness in life, and with a spouse in medical limbo, why not given it to them now?” Actually, it (the spouse in a nursing home) isn’t too different from my own situation. I’m a widow now, but only after years of nursing an ill husband. I remembered the “in sickness and in health” part of the vow I took, and knew that I was not free to put another man in my life or home, and if I divorced my husband, his medical coverage would have ended.
As I said, it’s misguided compassion to offer to bless what is actually sin, which is defined as “sex between only a man and woman in life-long union,” which is what all of this extra-marital blessing controversy is about. Blessing two people who don’t want to marry because of financial considerations is even more wrong because it’s so selfish.
Perhaps we should go to the system that most other countries follow where the religious officiant does not act as an agent of the State, but only of God. If you marry in France, for example, you have two ceremonies, one at the city hall and the other in the church. It’s the same in Mexico. That way, the marriage is recognized both by God and by the state. However, I do know of a man who married a woman in church, but did not go through the civil part, then came to this country and married a woman in a civil ceremony. They have three children and there are more from the first marriage. I’m sure that if you were to ask God which marriage he recognizes, it would be the first one. Actually, I think that if you were to ask God about what ceremonies he recognizes, it would have to be only the religious ones, and only those that adhere to the Biblical standard. Who are we to tell God that we’re changing His rules to make us happy?
Even the religious ceremony is the blessing of a contract. It’s only in the last century or so that love between the two people was even a consideration. The families chose the spouse for their offspring, so it was a joining of families, as well as two individuals. If the husband and wife came to love each other, so much the better. It’s still the same in much of the world. Let’s face it; we are often blinded by passion, and when that fades, a marriage based only on it is in big trouble!
Sue – I’ve known elderly people in the situation you described earlier. It isn’t selfishness, its survival. The couples could not have survived financially on their meager SS benefits if the were married in the eyes of the State because the State would have reduced their monthly benefit. What then? Concerning marriage, where does the locus of actuality lie in God’s eyes? When are two people actually married – what determines it?
While I agree that we have been blinded by passion and that through most of history marriage has been more a contractual event than two people bonding due to “love,” but I still wonder when the actual moment of marriage in God’s eyes takes place. Sex, license, handshake between parents, ceremony?
God says to obey the authorities over you, so I don’t know whether he would or would not recognize the civil ceremony. If it is only the religious ones, is it the ceremony itself that is recognized or the intent of the heart? For example, I know of situations where marriages of convenience were conducted in churches for purposes of immigration or a straight women marrying a gay man to hide that fact that the man was gay. I’m asking sincerely, does God recognize the intent of the heart as that which makes the marriage valid or the ceremony itself? If we take our Anglican understanding of the Eucharist, it isn’t the condition of the priest or his/her intent that validates the blessing of the elements, but the “ceremony” and the people cooperating, etc.
Bob, you’ve asked good questions, but I don’t even pretend to know the answers. I do know that marriages can be annulled if deception was involved, previous marriage, inability to consummate, coersion, etc., but the rationale is that it was not valid in the first place. In the Roman church, there’s a whole industry that deals with annulments, since they don’t recognize divorce and have to prove that the marriage never existed, sometimes by some pretty Byzantine methods. At least, we Anglicans can be more honest about why a marriage died.
So, my question is–supposed we bless these innovative relationships. What happens when they end? Do they go through some unblessing ceremony or do they just separate?
I don’t know what happens when relationships that are blessed/sanctioned by the Church but are not sanctioned/recognized by the State end. One of the problems that resonates with me concerning our battles over the place of same-sex relationships in the Church and society deals with our lack of a good theology of what marriage actually is and what is accomplished within it, when it actually starts, how it might or might not legitimately end, the proper relationship between the State and Church concerning marriages., etc We are weak in this regard. The Canons and Prayer Book and the liturgy for marriage give us a sense of what is/should be, but our various interpretations of that “is/should be” contribute to our overall problems. History and Scripture give us a variety of examples dealing with all these concerns. A great deal of theological work needs to be done!
You are so right, Fr. Bob! I don’t think that a diocesan convention is the place to start deciding these things. What will probably happen, as has happened with other innovations, is that clergy will start doing it, bishops will look the other way (a la +Bruno’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy,) and soon GC will say something like, “Since everybody’s doing it, we might as well make it official.” Isn’t that how change has come about in the last 30 years?
Hopefully, we will continue the effort and put the horse before the cart once again.