A new “sign here” document called “The Marriage Pledge” is now circulating among clergy who are opposed to same-sex marriage. Presbyterians, along with clergy from virtually every stripe have signed it. Many recognizable Christian-thought leaders have weighed in as to the relative value of signing or not signing. So, the presenting question is “should you sign it?” But there are deeper questions as well.
The pledge reads:
In many jurisdictions, including many of the United States, civil authorities have adopted a definition of marriage that explicitly rejects the age-old requirement of male-female pairing. In a few short years or even months, it is very likely that this new definition will become the law of the land, and in all jurisdictions the rights, privileges, and duties of marriage will be granted to men in partnership with men, and women with women.
As Christian ministers we must bear clear witness. This is a perilous time. Divorce and co-habitation have weakened marriage. We have been too complacent in our responses to these trends. Now marriage is being fundamentally redefined, and we are being tested yet again. If we fail to take clear action, we risk falsifying God’s Word.
The new definition of marriage no longer coincides with the Christian understanding of marriage between a man and woman. Our biblical faith is committed to upholding, celebrating, and furthering this understanding, which is stated many times within the Scriptures and has been repeatedly restated in our wedding ceremonies, church laws, and doctrinal standards for centuries. To continue with church practices that intertwine government marriage with Christian marriage will implicate the Church in a false definition of marriage.
Therefore, in our roles as Christian ministers, we, the undersigned, commit ourselves to disengaging civil and Christian marriage in the performance of our pastoral duties. We will no longer serve as agents of the state in marriage. We will no longer sign government-provided marriage certificates. We will ask couples to seek civil marriage separately from their church-related vows and blessings. We will preside only at those weddings that seek to establish a Christian marriage in accord with the principles articulated and lived out from the beginning of the Church’s life.
The debate around the pledge is raging and the question is likely to be raised at your next session, deacons or church policy meeting.
Things to consider:
- What is the relationship of the Church to the civil authority? Why have I acted as an agent of the state to this point in signing civil marriage certificates? What has changed? What is my motivation to sign the pledge?
- What is my personal – and our church’s position – on divorce and remarriage? How does that conversation intersect with this conversation?
- How does signing such a pledge affect my ecclesiastical status in my particular denomination?
- What is the role of clergy in civil marriage and what, if any, are the legal ramifications of signing the pledge?
- Is this the kind of public witness I want to make or does this leave me disengaged from the conversation currently consuming our culture?
- What does signing the pledge communicate to others? What is gained and what is lost by signing?
Things to do:
- Discuss and pray with your peers as well as lay leaders in your congregation. Seek together the mind of Christ.
- Find someone on the list of signatories that you know and ask them why they signed and how they answer the questions above.
- Read widely. Many Christian-thought leaders are weighing in and not everyone agrees — for some it’s an issue of timing, for others the concern is abandoning the field of debate, for others it’s the unforeseeable unintended consequences that may result.
- Pray for discernment and the Lord’s leading — ultimately signing is an act of conscience.
The Marriage Pledge may be one of the first “tests” for the fellowship of those who stand on the same side of the cultural debate over marriage re-definition but who do not agree on how to respond. The challenge before the convictional Christian Church is to treat one another with grace and recognize that the Enemy is not the flesh and blood folks who may (or may not) choose to make the same kinds of commitments or take the same kinds of stands that we take in the ever-shifting cultural sands of our times.
The forces of immorality are pushing orthodox believers and their respective faith communities closer together. Barriers are being broken down and issues that used to seem important enough to divide us are fading in importance. That is a gift! This crisis is affording us an unusual opportunity to speak with one voice on an issue that is of fundamental importance to good government, to a healthy and coherent society, and to Christian doctrine and practice. So, how might that diverse body be gathered for humble prayer and discernment as we seek together to address marriage definition in our culture?
My concern is that the Marriage Pledge may become a wedge that divides the convictional Christian Church which must be unified in its opposition to marriage redefinition. How can we demonstrate that we stand together for the restoration of the nobility of marriage even as we stand at different places on things like the Marriage Pledge? How we answer that question is a potentially powerful witness to the ever-watching world.
If this is the kairos moment at which ALL clergy are to stand together (as the drafters of the pledge allege), then it seems to me that Body should be gathered to answer one essential question: “What is the Christian clergy’s faithful response to legal redefinitions of marriage?” Answering that question calls for much consultation, deliberation, discussion, debate, prayer and intercession among the properly constituted authorities of the multifaceted and diverse body of Christ in America.
Yes, Roman Catholics, Baptists, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Lutherans and Methodist clergy have signed the pledge. But the pledge purports to urge “all” clergy to sign on. If a pledge or call to action is to be issued to all Christian clergy, should not great pains be taken to ensure that all convictional Christian communities and their associated authorities are on board? It is not too late for that consultative process to happen but it would require that the advocates of the Pledge take a step back from the current individualistic approach and bring together a broad cross-section of those who agree on the issue.
As we lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has taken hold of us, let us also lay hold of one another for it is together that we are the body of Christ even as we are individually members of it.