Friday, June 23, 2006

Preachers Should Quit Acting as Agents of the State

I did it for years but no more, not only because nobody asks me these days, but because I think it misses a fundamental distinction. When clergy perform marriages and sign a legal document, they are acting as agents of the state. Most of us have done so without thinking much about it. It is just something you do by law and custom. But why should we participate in this egregious violation of the separation of church and state?

Will Campbell is right. A Christian minister should perform a rite of Christian union between two people who pledge their life-long love and loyalty to each other and who intend to spend the rest of their lives together as companions.

If people want a legal document certifying they are legally married in the eyes of the state, with all the rights and responsibility thereunto appertaining, let them go to a officer of the court legally authorized to do do such things.

When church and state are thus separated, then churches need not worry about what the state does about gay marriage. Churches and ministers can do their proper work of performing a Christian rite of union without approval of the state. They can unite a man and a woman, two men, or two women, in a religious ceremony in accordance with they own convictions.

Now it will be a great sign of progress when states and the federal government recognize gay marriage or at least civil unions. But that is a political battle. Let us make it plain that clergy act as agents of the church and not of the state.

Let us quit rendering to Caesar what belongs to God and let Caesar take care of the legalities, and let us take care of our proper business of attending to the relationship of committed couples to each other and to God in the presence of those who love them.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Now you're talking. This is not a religious issue. It should be noted that in Canada, several clergy have come forward to inform the Dominion that they will no longer perform marriages as state agents. This gives them the religious autonomy to minister according to the tenets and beliefs of their respective religions.
The United States and Canada are twwo of only a few conoutries in the world where clergy act as state agents for certifying marriages. One of the other nations is Vatican City. Of course, there the clergy are the government and they should be the agents of the state.
In this country, clergy was given this role because up until the early 20th century there were huge areas of the nation that were unincorporated. Citizens needing offical certification for anything had to wait for the "circuit" judege to come to town or get on the wagon and travel to the nearest county seat to do their business. There is hardly an unincorporated inch left in this country today. The state(s) no longer need the clergy to fill in for them. Perhaps all the laws of the land that authorize duly ordained clergy to perform this function for the state should be rescinded. Especially since many clergy do not follow the law. For example, how do Roman Catholic priests get away with refusing to marry previously divorced people? The state has no vested interest in this other than that the divorce is final and the people are free to remarry. By refusing to perform this as an agent of the state is questionable at least.