2014 saw great change in the status of same-sex marriage across much of the country. While our country has to some degree merged the idea of civil and religious marriages, those changes have prompted questions about the church’s role in civil marriage.
Through the years, and long before same-sex marriage became a common topic of political debates, I’ve heard Baptist pastors who served on the BJC Board or worked closely with us in some capacity question the role of pastors as agents of the state in marriage ceremonies. Many find ways to avoid or minimize that connection as they perform weddings; some routinely explain the different meanings of marriage during ceremonies. Strong advocates for church-state separation who stand against government efforts to usurp religion through government funding or sponsorship of religious exercises are right to be skeptical about letting the state use them. Many have admirably educated their congregations about the complex, but importantly distinct, roles of the church and the government.
Though it would be extremely difficult to fully unravel the tangled relationship between religious and civil marriages that state laws reflect, the BJC welcomes the thoughtful discussion. The good news for religious liberty is that churches remain free to make the autonomous decision about whom to marry — without state interference. Likewise, there are always options for civil marriage that do not include a minister’s signature or religious ceremony. The separation is up to us.
Read the whole thing.
In related news, a new Lifeway poll indicates “most Americans think religious weddings should not be connected to the state’s definition and recognition of marriage.” A conservative religious magazine is asking ministers to pledge to refrain from participating in civil marriage. This question is worth following next year. Stay tuned.