Friday, March 20, 2015
RESPONSE TO ESSAY 3: A HISTORY OF CHRISTIAN MARRIAGE
NOTE: In the coming Clergy Conference of the Diocese of Los Angeles in May of 2015, we will be learning more about the church's Task Force on Marriage report. I was asked to write a short essay on Essay #3 The History of Christian Marriage found in the Task Force Report. My comments below are brief and based upon my limited experience as a Christian and an Episcopal priest.
As a seminary student in the days of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, we were given an assignment to either defend the current canons regarding marriage or offer changes we believed were appropriate. We were to defend whatever position we took using Scripture, Tradition, and Reason. I won’t go into the details of what I wrote, but I did offer recommendations as if our canons on divorce, remarriage, and communion seemed at odds with the broader teachings of love, forgiveness, and compassion of Jesus and the church. In short, I did not deal with the political, cultural, or economic forces that defined marriage outside of the church’s canons.
The canons of the church did change with respect to divorce and remarriage. The movement was towards a more pastoral approach to the painful and growing rate of divorce. The church and the cultural understandings of marriage seemed to be very closely connected.
The wonderful Essay #3: A History of Christian Marriage is an honest look at how the church and the culture have changed in their defining of the institution of marriage. It reminds us that marriage is a creature of culture and that religion has historically laid claim to more or less authority when it came defining the meaning and boundaries of marriage.
Today, civil marriage is moving towards expanding the legal boundaries for marriage in keeping with the constitutionally defined rights of all citizens of the United States to enjoy the privileges and responsibilities and protections of marriage. This is "meet, right, and our bounden duty" as citizens of this country.
The task for the church is to discern its role in the institution of marriage within our society and within our community of faith. It seems obvious from reading this brief history of marriage that the church and religion have had to constantly re-think its part in marriage and at times approve the dominant views of the meaning and purpose of marriage and at other times offer an understanding of marriage that stands contrary to that held by the dominant view.
I know that my response to the question I was asked in seminary about the canons of the church was brought about by the increasing incidence of Christian divorce, but perhaps more importantly, by the change in the church’s influence over the cultural standards about marriage and divorce.
I rejoice that our church has taken the time and the prayerfulness required to study and offer the culture in which we live a liberating understanding of the relationships of love that are a part of our human existence and some options for exercising love in ways that point more and more towards the culture of God in which mercy, forgiveness, justice, and grace dance within all intentional relationships in creation.