Christian denominations and marriage equality: A simple quiz

This doesn’t need to be complicated. Here’s a simple quiz to help sort things out.

Some Christian denominations regard marriage as a sacrament — a tangible “outward sign of inward grace.” For others it is an “ordinance” — a rite performed in obedience to the commands Christ gave to his followers. Those are the two views shared by nearly all Christian denominations.

All any Christian needs to do, then, is to consider whether they view marriage as a “sacrament” or as an “ordinance.” That distinction will determine, in turn, any given Christian’s logical view on marriage equality.

1. Does your denomination regard marriage as a sacrament?

If “yes,” see Answer A below.

If “no,” then your denomination regards marriage as an ordinance. See Answer B below.

2. Does your denomination regard marriage as an ordinance?

If “yes,” see Answer B below.

If “no,” then your denomination regards marriage as a sacrament. See Answer A below.

Answer A:

Congratulations! You support marriage equality!

Sectarian arguments against same-sex marriage all boil down to arguments that only sectarian marriages should be legal. These are not good arguments.

Your particular denomination may or may not regard same-sex relationships as a sin, but this is irrelevant. Because your denomination regards marriage as a sacrament, it already accepts the distinction between civil marriage and sacramental marriage. You and your church have already accepted a framework in which members of other denominations, adherents of other religions, the non-religious, and former members of your own denomination are legally free to marry as they like.

This framework — your framework — holds that marriage is a holy sacrament for members of your denomination, but recognizes that marriage is not, cannot be, and should not be restricted only to those of your own denomination who share your sacramental view. If you are Catholic, for example, you already believe it would be wrong — ethically, morally and legally — to deny Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists, Muslims, Mormons and Baptists the legal right to marry simply because they do not share your view of marriage as a sacrament. You recognize that the Catholic church has the right to deny the Catholic sacrament of marriage to whomever it wishes to deny it (the divorced, the ordained, Jews, atheists, Baptists, etc.), but that this sectarian sacrament must not be equated with the legal and civil right to marriage.

So, since this is your framework — since this is already how you understand marriage — there is no reason for you to oppose marriage equality for same-sex couples. You have already accepted that those who are not members of your church have a legal right to marry as they see fit. You have already accepted that their ethical claim to this right is legitimate. You have already conceded that it would be immoral for your denomination to claim a sectarian monopoly on marriage.

This is what you already believe. This is what your denomination has been teaching and practicing for your whole lifetime. This is your rule. You support marriage equality.

Answer B:

Congratulations! You support marriage equality!

Your particular congregation may or may not regard same-sex relationships as a sin, but this is irrelevant. You’re a Baptist or a member of some Baptist-y congregation, so you already know it would be wrong — evil, a sin — to try to impose your religious views on someone else.

That’s why you don’t baptize infants who are too young to decide for themselves. And it’s why you demand the strict separation of church and state — the civil expression of the very same doctrine from which you Baptists take your name.

You and your church have already accepted a framework in which members of other denominations, adherents of other religions, the non-religious, and former members of your own denomination are legally free to marry as they like. This framework – your framework — holds that marriage is an ordinance for members of your congregation, but recognizes that marriage is not, cannot be, and should not be restricted only to those of your own denomination who share your particular view.

Since this is your framework — since this is already how you understand marriage — there is no reason for you to oppose marriage equality for same-sex couples. You have already accepted that those who are not members of your church have a legal right to marry as they see fit. You have already accepted that their ethical claim to this right is legitimate. You have already conceded that it would be immoral for your denomination to claim a sectarian monopoly on marriage.

This is what you already believe. This is what your denomination has been teaching and practicing for your whole lifetime. This is your rule. You support marriage equality.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    But, but, but… Bible! Bible-Bible-Bible, appeal-to-nature, Bible!

    Your clever theology is no match for my dogmatism, and nothing, not even the authority I claim as highest and most infallible can change my mind about what I believe about that authority!

    [/fundamentalist]

  • Baby_Raptor

    If only people actually thought like this.

  • Hexep

    Which is the opinion of the Church of England? That’s what I was baptized as.

  • Miff

    “you already know it would be wrong — evil, a sin — to try to impose your religious views on someone else”

    Are you kidding? If you don’t FORCE other people to accept Christ (as interpreted by us), then you’re condemning them to life in Hell! That’s like the worst thing you can do for somebody else, far worse then even murdering them (if a righteous man is murdered, he still goes to Heaven).

    If the state made everyone accept Christ (as interpreted by us) then EVERYONE would go to Heaven! Don’t you want people to have eternal reward in Heaven instead of eternal damnation in Hell?

  • Miff

    (Disqus stripped by /sarcasm tag btw)

  • http://loosviews.livejournal.com BringTheNoise

    Sacrament, I believe (Disclaimer: Not a member of the CoE).

  • christopher_y
  • Baby_Raptor

    I’ve actually heard this theory advocated. My roommate’s father (Your typical Faux News watcher) openly espouses forcing everyone to go to church at gunpoint “because they’ll thank us in heaven.”

    The first time he said this, I think I might have strained my eyes with the shocked stare I gave him.

    Entirely off topic, but I approve of your Pony’s hair.

  • Hexep

    So glad I never actually took to this religion in the first place.

  • mhelbert

    And, if the church would simply get out of the marriage business altogether….

  • Carstonio

    Sectarian arguments against same-sex marriage all boil down to arguments that only sectarian marriages should be legal.

    True, but not deep enough. The arguments imply no distinction between sacrament and ordinance. These presume that individuals and societies have a duty to obey the Christian god’s orders, and that neither has a legal or moral right to disobey. The mentality rejects the idea that it’s imposing religious views on others, seeing itself instead as a theological police officer.

  • http://www.oliviareviews.com/ PepperjackCandy

    Then there is the United Methodist Church, which practices infant baptism but does not regard marriage as a sacrament. I don’t think that the UMC regards marriage as an ordinance either. The only way I can find it described is “covenant,” and I am not theologically knowledgeable enough to know if that is on the same axis with “sacrament” and “ordinance” or not.

  • Carstonio

    Appeals to nature tend to resemble Catholic theology about sex roles, and I admit that my knowledge of that theology is limited. Some of this may be a deliberate attempt to translate those ideas into secular terms. That inevitably fails because the theology requires a theo, and the translation replaces “God” with “nature” as if the latter were like the old Chiffon margarine ads. But much of the resemblance may be the theology having a pervasive influence beyond Catholicism.

  • Baby_Raptor

    Do you mean that they practice covenant marriage, perhaps?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Covenant_marriage

  • http://www.facebook.com/ericrboersma Eric Boersma

    I thought “oh, the sarcasm tag isn’t necessary, no one thinks like that”.

    Then I read Baby_Raptor’s post.

  • Carstonio

    Apparently your roommate’s father believes that getting to heaven is all about attendance, even if one sits through the sermon wishing to be out golfing instead. Or maybe the father believes that one visit will make someone magically convert, like John Belushi during James Brown’s church service in “The Blues Brothers.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/dpolicar David Policar

    Yeah, pretty much. Decisions about secular marriage ought not be made on sectarian grounds; that’s implicit in being a religious pluralist society.

  • Carstonio

    The religious arguments against same-sex marriage reject both concepts, the secular realm and religious pluralism. Fred’s point seems to be that this rejection goes against the denominations’ doctrines.

  • Emily

    That’s how my denomination puts it, but I think based on Fred’s descriptions above that it fits with the “ordinance” rather than the “sacrament” position. A bit of quick Googling hasn’t given me a good definition of marriage-as-religious-ordinance though.

  • http://musings.northerngrove.com/ JarredH

    That’s pretty much what I was thinking, except I was thinking about sitting through the whole service with my eyes close and taking a shamanic journey through the Nine Realms with Freyja as my guide. Does my church attendance still count under these conditions?

  • Mira

    And this is why I don’t have much patience for arguments about marriage equality on religious grounds. My church has performed same sex marriages for years, and as an expression of our religious freedom, we recognize them as valid spiritual and social bonds even though our state law did not. Now that they are legal (as of this week!), I’m thrilled that equality is part of our state law, but it really doesn’t change anything for my church, or any other congregation. Honestly, I don’t get it!

  • histrogeek

    I disagree with that in part. They should get out of the civil marriage business altogether. Go to the courthouse or whatever for the legal goodies. If you want to go through the ceremonies of a denomination or religion, whatev.

  • Carstonio

    That’s how it works in some European countries. Revealing that some folks in the US are advocating the opposite as a “compromise” – doing away with civil marriage and leaving it entirely up to the religions, who allegedly have ownership of the concept.

  • The_L1985

    Tell him that sitting down inside of a church doesn’t automatically turn people into Christians, just like going to McDonald’s doesn’t make you a hamburger.

  • http://musings.northerngrove.com/ JarredH

    Yay for your state!

  • Hexep

    Your roommate’s father is a turd.

  • Hexep

    Just out of curiosity, are they validated retroactively, or do they have to perform it again?

  • EllieMurasaki

    Delaware civil unions are all being converted to marriages, I believe. I’m not sure that’s what Mira is talking about, though–the impression I get from Mira is that the church did the religious part of the marriage ceremony and now the happy couples have to go find a justice of the peace or whoever to do the legal part.

  • cnoocy

    I love that I can’t, based on this, tell what state you’re in off the top of my head.

  • CoolHandLNC

    I don’t know about CofE. I looked it up in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, which is probably very close. Its complicated. The catechism talks about it as a sacramental rite that is a means of grace. The “Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage” has language like “established by God in creation … signifies to us the mystery of the union between Christ and the Church”, but then few ceremonies are carried out word-for-word according to the BCP and I don’t think many priests would insist on those phrases for a couple who didn’t want them used. There is also a Blessing of a Civil Marriage that has none of that, is similar in form to (adult) baptism, and is really beautiful. Then there is an Order for Marriage which is only an outline for use if it is “desired to celebrate a marriage otherwise than as provided on page 423″. So in typical Episcopal via media fashion, a doctrine is provided but not so much mandated. It is mostly at the discretion of the couple, the priest, and possibly the bishop.

    Whatever you believe, there is probably an Episcopalian who agrees with you.

  • Carstonio

    From my reading, some denominations already solemnize same-sex marriage, including Episcopal, UU, UCC, ELCA and Quakers. And if we’re including Judaism, the Conservative and Reform branches. Could they reasonably argue that bans on same-sex marriage interfere with their religious freedom, by requiring the clergy members to discriminate when performing legally binding marriage ceremonies?

  • EllieMurasaki

    Could and have done, I understand. Not getting much airtime, because what fun is there for the media people in showing that religious people are not a heterosexist monolith?

  • Cathy W

    …another pesky side effect of the entanglement between the clergy and civil marriage – I think opponents could say that as long as they don’t stop the clergy members from performing the religious rite, they can still forbid them from acting as agents of the state in making the marriage legally binding without interfering with religious practice. (I do recall there was a state that wanted to ban clergy from performing weddings not resulting in a legal marriage, though.)

  • walden

    U. Methodists don’t really fit Fred’s model. It’s clearly not a sacrament, but they also don’t have the “ordinance” distinction at all, but it kind of looks like that.

  • Mira

    Yup. They’re consistent about treating couples equally, too – I got married in the church and made a separate trip to a judge to get my “opposite-sex” marriage made legal.

  • Mira

    They could, but the clergy can also just refuse to discriminate by not performing legal marriages at all, and some do. My minister called it “rendering unto Caesar.”

  • Mira

    I know! This may be the first week ever that’s happened :D

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    I think that Fred has discussed this before, the “calculus of hell”:

    If you accept the premise of eternal and infinite torment in Hell, then the basic calculus there makes sense. Eternity is longer than a lifetime, and Hell is worse than any imaginable earthly suffering, so there’s a certain logic to being more concerned with saving others from an eternity of Hell than with assisting them with any earthly suffering, need, injustice or oppression.

    Once you accept that eternal suffering is the only alternative, any Earthly thing becomes justifiable to prevent it, it is a simple matter of lesser evils.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    A Covenant marriage? Like these guys?

  • http://www.oliviareviews.com/ PepperjackCandy

    Oh, it’s nothing like that. It’s just a regular marriage, dissolvable by divorce. You can marry your second, third, or subsequent spouse in the UMC as well.

  • Flying Squid with Goggles

    Church of England’s position is, I believe, Cake or Death.

    There may be some error around the edges as we run out of cake.

  • cyllan

    It’s a cnoocy! Hi, cnoocy.

    That’s all, really. No content here.

  • Ian

    Since Cranmer, the standard Anglican response to theological disputes between Catholics and Protestants has been to use ambiguous language which can be interpreted either way and INCENSE SMOKEBOMB disappear into the sacristry.

  • ReverendRef

    The Episcopal Church views marriage as a sacrament.

    but then few ceremonies are carried out word-for-word according to the BCP and I don’t think many priests would insist on those phrases for a couple who didn’t want them used.

    I beg to differ. The whole point of having a BCP is for ceremonies to be carried out as written. Things do change over time, which is why we don’t use the 1789 BCP today. And some rites do get played with and adjusted before an actual BCP revision (I’m thinking of places that intentionally use more inclusive language [God in place of His], or that have begun to add female names alongside male names).

    But if a couple comes in and says, “We want to get married, but we don’t want to use any of that BCP stuff . . .” Well, then, they will most likely politely be thanked for coming in but maybe there’s another place more appropriate for you.

    And even if the Order for Marriage (which, as you say, is a basic outline) is used, it still requires the marriage vows to be used as written.

  • ReverendRef

    They should get out of the civil marriage business altogether.

    I’ve been saying that for years. But then, so have a lot of priest.

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    Beyond everything else, wouldn’t it save you a lot of paperwork?

  • Veleda_k

    Beat me to it.

  • Albanaeon

    Not sure, but my family seems to think attendance is 9/10′s of the requirement. The only explanation as to why they keep inviting me if all I am going to do is meditate.

  • ReverendRef

    I don’t know about saving me a lot of paperwork. When you need to fill out the service register, the parish register, and the pretty marriage license, one more piece of paper to send to the county isn’t that big of a deal.

    What it WOULD save is a lot of worrying about remembering to send the legal form back to the county so that the couple is legally married. Setting it on my desk and saying, “I’ll get to it on Monday,” is often a bad idea.

  • MaryKaye

    In high school (so, quite a while ago) I read about a six-stage model of moral development. The people who want to force everyone to go to church strike me as being stuck in one of the early stages, the one where Good is *defined as* Following the Rules and therefore forcing people to follow the rules makes them Good. This is normal and appropriate for a young child, but not somewhere an adult should be.

    I am torn between thinking that we ought to “fix” a lot of people as they aren’t functioning right, and thinking that we lack authorities who could ever be trusted with the power to fix people. I just go back and forth, because I feel both points really strongly. There’s nothing like involvement with the foster care system to persuade you that some people are REALLY not functioning right and this does severe harm. There’s also nothing like it to convince you that the authorities trying to improve this situation are, in fact, riddled with people who *also* are not functioning right and are capable of doing severe harm.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X