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Christian denominations and marriage equality: A simple quiz

Christian denominations and marriage equality: A simple quiz May 16, 2013

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.

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