I recently went to a speech by Bishop Gene Robinson, retired bishop in the Episcopal Church. In his speech, he offered a novel way of doing a wedding that honored the religious ceremony while also reminding the attendees of the sacred/secular divide.
Briefly, clergy that officiate weddings are acting as agents of the state, deputized to do a civic duty (binding two people in marriage) wrapped in a religious observance (Christian worship through the ceremony).
However, for a number of clergy, their definition of marriage does not match their civic culture. Even with the domino effect of state after state legalizing marriage equality, many clergy are still in mismatched situations and don’t want to be agents of the state. And some are not considering marriage equality at all: they just don’t want to be agents of the state.
So what to do for church members who want to get married?
A Proposed Order of Christian Marriage
Bishop Robinson offered up how he came to do weddings:
- The wedding party would meet on the front steps of the church, literally the dividing line between the world and the church, the secular and the sacred. A separate Justice of the Peace would administer the vows and declare the couple partners in marriage. The clergy would be there too to witness and support the couple.
- The church would start the organ or harp or musicians and the wedding party would process into the church. They would sing Christian hymns, do whatever liturgy or vows or rings exchange that they want, and celebrate the couple’s love for each other in the context of worship. The priest or clergy would officiate like they normally do, without doing the officiating legal aspect.
The procession and doing the two separate vows cements for both the couple and the congregation that there’s a difference between officiating the marriage of two persons and blessing of the marriage of two persons in the context of Christian worship. All the elements of a traditional wedding can be done in a way that satisfies secular and sacred understandings of a wedding.
Thoughts? How does this solution strike you to help separate the civic and spiritual aspects of Christian marriage?