‘I don’t’: Conservative pastors vow not to officiate government marriages

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A prominent religious journal has launched a movement encouraging pastors to refuse to perform marriages as representatives of the state. The concept is not entirely novel and isn't just being proposed by conservatives.- (Image credit: http://bit.ly/1uJwoaA)

A prominent religious journal has launched a movement encouraging pastors to refuse to perform marriages as representatives of the state. The concept is not entirely novel and isn't just being proposed by conservatives.- (Image credit: http://bit.ly/1uJwoaA)

A prominent religious journal has launched a movement encouraging pastors to refuse to perform marriages as representatives of the state. The concept is not entirely novel and isn't just being proposed by conservatives.- (Image credit: http://bit.ly/1uJwoaA)

A prominent religious journal has launched a movement encouraging pastors to refuse to perform marriages as representatives of the state. The concept is not entirely novel and isn’t just being proposed by conservatives.- (Image credit: http://bit.ly/1uJwoaA)

What’s the surest way conservative pastors can avoid ever having to perform government-mandated gay marriages? According to one prominent religious journal and a growing number of ministers, the answer is not to perform any civil marriages at all.

First Things, a conservative religious publication, has launched a movement encouraging pastors to refuse to perform marriages as representatives of the state. A signing statement called “The Marriage Pledge” has been posted to their website where ministers can affix their names electronically. It was drafted by Ephraim Radner, an ordained Anglican and professor of historical theology at Toronto School of Theology’s Wycliffe College, and Christopher Seitz, an ordained Episcopalian priest and senior research professor at Wycliffe.

“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,” the pledge says. “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.”

The document concludes:

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.

Yesterday, First Things’ editor R.R. Reno teed up the effort with a column Solomonically titled, “A Time to Rend.

Reno wrote, “For a long time Christianity has sewn its teachings into the fabric of Western culture. That was a good thing . . . . But the season of sewing is ending. Now is a time for rending, not for the sake of disengaging from culture or retreating from the public square, but so that our salt does not lose its savor.”

Dozens of ministers from a range of Christian traditions have already signed the pledge. Their respective congregants will now presumably ask their ministers to perform a religious ceremony and concurrently but separately take the necessary steps to obtain a marriage certificate from the state.

The concept that civil and religious marriage should be seperate is not entirely novel. At U.S. Catholic, columnist Bryan Cones has asked, “Is it time to separate church and state marriages?” And writer Len Wooley raised similar questions at the Mormon-run Deseret News.

But what’s more interesting is that the idea isn’t just being suggested by conservatives.

Gene Robinson, the first openly gay Episcopal bishop, proposed the idea as early as 2009. And in July of this year, Paul Waldman argued at The American Prospect, a progressive publication, that religious couples should fill out state-mandated marriage forms and then have whatever kind of religious ceremony they desire. “The wedding, in other words, should be a ritual with no content prescribed by the state, no ‘By the power vested in me by the state of Indiana’ at all . . . . The state doesn’t tell you how to celebrate Christmas or Ramadan, and it shouldn’t tell you how to get married,” Waldman said.

The Marriage Pledge” is not some crazy media stunt driven by fringy conservative activists. It’s a document drafted by respected Christian scholars, and the idea they are proposing is one that thinkers on both sides of the marriage debate support. While it may seem revolutionary to those who can’t imagine a different path to “I do,” it should not be dismissed out of hand.

Indeed, rending the church and state in this way may help diverse factions of believers to remain unified.

  • Larry

    My reaction is best summed up by the music and lyrics of Rodgers and Hammerstein

    If these pastors do not want to perform civil law sanctioned marriages, they do not have to get licensed to be officiates. The marriages performed will still be valid in the eyes of whatever church they want. It inconveniences their congregations, but that is an issue between pastor and congregation alone.

    Its the usual lie that churches and clergy could be compelled under law to perform religious rites against the dictates of their faith. The only time a pastor could possibly be “forced” into performing a civil marriage against the tenets of their faith, would be if they are running a business performing marriages which already does so (such as providing services to all faiths in a non-religious manner). Even then, most states make an exception to that.

  • HG

    The differences between marriage and a same sex union should be obvious.
    The notion that marriage should be redefined to make men and women
    interchangeable is absurd on its face. The idea that a union created
    for male and female to provide safe and healthy boundaries for sex,
    reproduction, and family somehow illegally discriminates against couples
    anatomically unsuited for sex, reproduction and subsequently, family,
    is profoundly ignorant.

    “we have now sunk to a depth at which the restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.”

  • Good thing the state has no stake in the sanctity of marriage, and the church has no stake in the culture. Because if they did, this would be a fantastically-bad idea.

  • Larry

    The idea that marriage is related at all to procreation is absurd on its face and horribly reductive of the institution. Biological reproduction has never been the only legally sanctioned way for married couples to have legally recognized children.

    Your view discriminates against infertile couples, unmarried parents, and married couples who use contraception. You want to grant biological children greater legal status than adopted ones for some irrational discriminatory purpose

    The notion that gay couples do not have children or are capable of having them in some fashion is fiction. Never heard of adoption, surrogates or sperm banks I guess. When your thinking is from the Bronze age, you tend to forget about the changes in the world.

  • Larry

    Bad for whom? Not the state. Not the churches.

    The churches get to continue as they always have without any conceivable legal impediment. The state saves time and energy on spurious claims of religious freedoms being curtailed and furthers its civil goals.

    If clergies don’t want to abide by civil laws when it comes to marriages, they don’t have to. They can simply opt out of civil recognition by not licensing themselves as officiates.

  • David Atwood

    Separating the church celebration of marriage from that of the state, is in fact returning to what was in place up until (I believe) the Anglo Saxon era. It was only then that churches became functionaries of the state because the clergy had the appropriate education to take on this task. Separating the state and church roles is in my mind is a logical return to the original spiritual function of the church. It is then up to the churches to determine whether to marry same sex couples. My only comment here is that those churches who refuse to marry same sex couples based on their understanding of the bible should not be marrying divorced couples either (Matt 19). Churches tend to be very adept at initially imposing their views on Gods word, but they eventually change their position upon further reflection of what it really means to be the Body of Christ.

  • Lorin Partain

    In China you need a license to have more then one child. A license to be married is equally ridiculous. It should be done away with.

  • Confusion always exists because of lack of understanding of what marriage in western societies really is about – property ownership rights. Marriage customs and laws are concerned with how property is deeded within family groups. A minister/church is only acts as an agent of the state when performing a wedding. As far as the government is concerned, marriage has nothing to do with religion. This is not a new idea. I wrote about it in 2012: dianovo-cumberland. blogspot.com/2015/05/north-carolina-and-gay-marriage-law.html

  • Fourth Valley

    My religion’s prophets literally state that the purpose of marriage “must be this: to become loving companions and comrades and at one with each other for time and eternity.”

    Procreation is mentioned nowhere in our scriptures in regards to marriage’s purpose, rather, it is stated repeatedly that marriage is a spiritual joining of two persons to become loving companions forever, both in life and afterwards.

    Now, just because that’s what we believe doesn’t make that the correct purpose of marriage, persay. But it does illustrate that the definition and purpose of marriage differs from person to person and culture to culture and faith to faith. The “union” was not created in the form you describe, but rather many unions have been created under the label of marriage with differing purposes and causes.

    Thus it is absurd to force one person’s definition of marriage upon another (thus, I can’t (or shouldn’t) impose my definitions on you and forbid Christians from remarrying after the death of their partner, and you shouldn’t impose your vision of marriage on anyone else either).

  • As you say, Jon Dewey, this is not a new idea. The Pilgrims established civil marriage registration as the only form of marriage in their colony. The first civil marriage there was in 1621. William Bradford, writing about this later, stated that “May 12 [1621] was the first marriage in this place, which, according to the laudable custom of the Low-Countries, in which they had lived, was thought most requisite to be performed by the magistrate, as being a civil thing, upon which many questions about inheritance do depend, and other things most proper to their cognizance, and most consonant to the scriptures, Ruth 4. and no where found in the gospel to be laid on the ministers as a part of their office. ‘This decree or law about marriage was published by the State of the Low-Countries Anno. 1590. And those of any religion, after lawfull and open publication, coming before the magistrates in the Town or State-house, were to be orderly (by them) married one to another.'”

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  • HG

    Marriage is about the union of a man and woman which sets boundaries for sex, reproduction and family. Marriage is based on the reality that the pairing of male and female is the only possible means of procreation. Granting marriage to consenting opposite sex couples is in keeping with the reality only men and women procreate. It doesn’t mean they have to have children, just like getting a driver’s license doesn’t mean you must have a car. It’s that simple.

    If we follow what you say “should be” then a driver’s license should be given to anyone regardless of age since a driver’s license holder isn’t required to have a car.

  • HG

    Religious meanings of marriage are for those of religious persuasion to decide. Marriage, on the other hand, has a long history and origin “rooted” in the union of man and woman. We can’t just ignore this reality. We can’t pretend that the union of a man and woman has nothing to do with procreation. We can’t pretend that the union of marriage is some empty vase we can arbitrarily fill with whatever we want. Marriage began, existed, and exists today as the foundation of a biological family. It is a union no same sex union could ever hope to duplicate. At best a same sex union is a parody of marriage.

    Accepting what is the natural order of men and woman and that marriage provided boundaries for sex, reprocuction and family is to define what marriage was intended and established to be. Its what marriage is historically, traditionally, religiously, socially, etc.

  • Larry

    According to your personal beliefs, not anything else which has to be taken seriously.

    Your definition is not one shared by the rest of the world or our civil laws concerning marriage. The only time children are mentioned as part of marriage laws is the assumption that one born to a married parent is the child of both married parents (until proved otherwise). Marriage laws concern procreation only to the point of preventing dangerous inbreeding. You are simply making assumptions with nothing to back them up even remotely logically.

    Your view isn’t even one taken by Christianity in general. The only reality is that you didn’t think very hard when you used a clearly canned argument. You really have a very insulting view of marriage in general and a pathological hatred of non-biological children by a couple.

    All you are doing is stating your belief, not why anyone needs to take it seriously. I already pointed out how really silly your assertions are when considering the laws of the land.

    -At no point are non-marital children legally denied rights or privileges derived from their parents. So marriage is not a right to procreate at all.

    -At no point are biological children of a marriage given greater status than adopted ones. So again biological procreation not being an important defining element of marriage. PROCREATION IS NOT THE SOLE FORM OF PRODUCING CHILDREN IN A MARRIAGE, EVER!

    -Gay people have children. You keep pretending they do not exist. Denying them marriage rights attacks the ability of of gay parents to raise their children in a sane manner under the law.

    “If we follow what you say “should be” then a driver’s license should be given to anyone regardless of age since a driver’s license holder isn’t required to have a car.”

    Only if you like bad analogy. Usually people who don’t have a valid point to make and can’t argue facts at hand like to do that. Also rather boneheaded on your part. You don’t have to have a car to be issued a driver’s license. Unlike a driving age, there are no rational or secular purposes to banning gay marriage. The laws generally want you to be old enough to reach the pedals. 🙂

  • Larry

    Fourth Valley already mentioned that his religious tradition doesn’t ascribe to marriage the same purpose as yours does. So there goes your stipulation.

    Tradition means absolutely nothing under our civil laws unless you have a compelling rational and secular reason for keeping them. It could mean a lot for your religion. But what your religion says on any given subject is never going to be relevant in of itself as a basis of our laws. Slavery also is rooted in a long history of tradition and acceptance by society and religion. The argument means nothing. All you are saying is you don’t like changes but can’t articulate why anyone needs to care.

    Marriage never was about procreation. It was about joining families and determining rights of children. Repeating an assertion is not the same as showing it to be true. Your view of marriage is rather disgustingly simplistic and insulting. Biological children are the only ones to be considered in a marriage? That has never been true. Nor has marriage ever been a prerequisite to procreation.

    Btw there is no such thing as a Biblical view of marriage being strictly one man and one woman. Even the New Testament contemplates polygamy as acceptable.

  • Ben in oakland

    The notion that marriage should be redefined to make men and women interchangeable is absurd on its face –

    You’re right, because that isn’t what is happening here. No one is doing that except perhaps the people who think like you apparently do.

    it sounds like you are saying something, but it’s really a big fat nothing. Men will go on being men, and women women, and most of them will marry each other.

    “The idea that a union created for male and female to provide safe and healthy boundaries for sex, reproduction, and family”

    If this is what heterosexuals need for their families, then I would guess that gay people need it for their families.

    Really, try and read something besides Robert George. He’s very well educated, very useful for, but he’s an idiot.

  • rob

    Confessional Lutheran pastors only perform Christian marriages
    and no confessional Lutheran recognize same sex marriages…

    They never had and never will represent the state. so there is no need to sign a pledge. Lutheran pastors can lie to government authorities
    even sign statements they never intend to keep .. its not against God to lie
    when protecting oneself or others from evil .. confessional Lutherans lied to the Nazi’s government all the time when they suspected they were up to no good.
    Why would they not do it to this government to, when they suspect its up to no good.

    The commandment is though shall not bear false witness “against’ they neighbor ..


  • Andy

    Hey Jonathan, I just wanted to give you a shoutout for your tweet challenges today. Sorry, I’m no theologian but reading on how Jesus was fulfilling the ancient Jewish wedding custom is completely fascinating.

  • MyName

    To HG: Much of the world shares an opinion different from yours, and their perspective is not unreasonable. Others disagree with it, but it is not an unreasonable perspective and many see it that way. My question to you is this: Are you comfortable stopping at calling that other perspective “obviously” wrong, “absurd on its face” and “profoundly ignorant”? Are you sure you don’t want to belittle an opinion different from yours more than that?

    And by the way, if you think gay couples are “anatomically unsuited for sex,” then you’re doing it wrong.

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  • Larry

    Great to see that Christian relativistic morality in full force. Lying, cheating and stealing is OK if you are doing it to the government and God says so.

    If your little cult doesn’t want to act as an agent of the state, no worries. Just don’t have their clergy licensed as officiates. They are under no obligation to do so and God still will approve the marriages they perform. Bye bye, don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

  • ben in oakland

    Unclutch your pearls, Mary, and get off that faintin’ couch. Ya got a bad case of the Vapors.

    If you are a minister in a church, there is nothing that requires you to marry any couple you don’t wish to marry. It is possible that if you are a minister, and own an open-to-the-public Weddings ‘R’ Us business which is not a church, AND your state has non-discrimination laws for religion and/or sexual orientation, that you would have to service gay couples as well, but that is open to question. But even then, I cannot imagine a single couple ever wanting to work with a minister who considers their lives an abomination, and is both impolite and self righteous enough to say so.

    so it sounds to me like your fears are entirely misplaced. It also sounds like you are one of those so-called Christian so-called wedding professionals who can’t wait for the opportunity to inform those icky queers who icky they are, how righteous and Christian and everything you are, and what a victim, martyr and saint you are for Jesus.


    What are you really trying to say here, besides this self-proclaimed martyrdom for something that will probably never happen?

    By demanding marriage, those dirty queers have just filthied up the institution, so you can no longer be a part of it? Not pretty.

    That you will tell prospective hetero couples that you are not going to perform their marriage because the dirty homos are getting married, and so you must take a stand against ALL marriages? Don’t you think that a lot of hetero couples are going to be relieved that they have to find a different minister than such an obvious bigot?

    Why do you hate marriage so much?

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  • Tim

    I was talking to a pastor 10 years ago who said he’d like to let the state conduct all marriages, and that way he’d avoid all the issues that come with performing weddings – for him it was not just the same-sex issue but what to do when believers want to marry non-believers, believers marrying believers when one or both are not ready for it, handling the fact that believers get divorced after the pastor performs the ceremony, etc.

    On a related issue, what advice would these clergy who want to stop performing marriages give to those of us who perform civil marriages as part of our jobs? As long as they are advising us, I’d also like to hear their thoughts on judges signing no-fault divorce decrees. These are not easy issues, as explained in “Same Sex Marriage and No Fault Divorce – how do you rank them?”

  • Bobby

    Have you actually been living in the same U.S.A. that I have for the last several years? You might want to look up what the city of Houston is doing to some of its pastors and churches if you are ignorant enough to actually believe what you said.

  • Bobby

    Really man, do you actually believe what you say? Do you think that when two men have gay sex, and then adopt a child, they have kids the same way that heterosexual couples do? Does it rain in the world you live in?
    Even animals know better. Given the worldview you have disclosed from your trolling, I assume you believe in Darwinist evolution. What would Darwin have to say about a species that mates with members of the same sex? Would that be an evolutionary “step up,” or would that be the beginning of the end of that species; the “end of the line” genetically for the survival of the fittest. Really, try thinking intellectually with your mind instead of with your bleeding heart. It doesn’t matter if its not fair, we were created (okay, okay, “evolved” if it makes you feel better) to not mate with the same sex.

  • Larry

    Do you think things through? There is nothing intellectual about your view, there is nothing rational to it. It has no relation to facts or the real world. Bobby, your whole view is about redefining marriage into something crass and insulting. An alleged permission to breed. You seem to have no clue what marriage actually entails or how families exist.

    Why are biological children somehow of a higher status than adopted ones to you? What is the basis for this prejudice against them? So you are saying all infertile couples, elderly couples or couples who use contraception have no right to be married.

    Also since when has marriage been a prerequisite to producing children? Our laws never thought so. Non-marital children are entitled to the same rights and obligations from their parents.

    You have to keep pretending gay couples don’t have children or that somehow such children should just be ignored for some unknown reasons. Why is that?

    So what purpose is served by banning gay marriage? Its so bigots can feel superior to gay couples. That’s it. There is nothing rational or secular motivating it. Like all bigots, the marriage equality opponents like to maintain the fiction that they are not irrational hating people but have some excuse for their position.

  • Ben in oakland

    And you know this…how?

    You really might try reading a book called “Biological Exuberance.” You’d learn something about homosexuality in nature. You might read something in the field of sociobiology. You’d learn about the role that sociology and anthropology play in the process of evolution.

  • Larry

    Bobby, you have demonstrated you are uninformed and hysterical. Those pastors were part of a group suing Houston in order to fight for a right to legally discriminate against people. They were material fact witnesses and the subpoenas were limited by the courts (as subpoenas usually are when challenged) to pass muster. Houston is the new Benghazi, a catchword for ignorant conservative ramblings.

    Ignorant is a better description fr the whiny bigots like the plaintiffs in that case who think that they are entitled by God to act maliciously to others. Behind almost every claim of conservative Christians being persecuted in the US is about a dozen lies and misrepresentations about people being admonished for acting obnoxiously.

    If those pastors don’t want to perform state licensed marriages, they can buzz off. They aren’t necessary to the process. Nobody requires them to be licensed officiates. If that is how much they hold their congregations in contempt, so be it.

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  • NR

    Keep in mind that we are dealing with the topic of marriage here. If we were living in a Darwinist society, wouldn’t people be procreating with the most suitable mate/mates without worrying about the union of marriage? We are humans, not creatures. Animals do not know better, they do what is instinctual for survival. They don’t make choices that determine happiness and misery, like humans do. Therefore, we (or at least most of us) are concerned with having a loving union between two people, not merely reproduction.

    You seem to have a negative view towards homosexual relationships, not just that marriage should traditionally/religiously be between a man and a woman. How would you feel about a similar union being created for same-sex couples? The union would be lawfully equal to the union of a traditional marriage, but it would still be a union different from the church’s marriage between a man and woman. Would this be all right or are you simply against homosexuality? In which case, that is fine to have a different view from Larry. However, you should not be insulting others who might not agree with how you see the world.

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