Monday, February 15, 2010

Irony of Valentine's Day

I hope you all had a wonderful Valentine's day. The two services at church, especially the joint service with Greenwood and First Haitian, were wonderful. Of course I think many people miss the true irony of Valentine's day in the political scene. Little is known of St. Valentine whose feast day is February 14. It is not even clear if it celebrates one martyr by that name or several. Even at the time that it was added to the church calendar in 496, the pope who instituted it did not have much information.

However, there is a good story about him, even if maybe it is a later developing story. So to get to the point, apparently Valentine was arrested after being caught marrying Christian couples. This was illegal as Christians were being persecuted by the Romans, and they certainly did not want Christians to be reproducing and so they made marrying them illegal. In other words, Valentine was marrying a group of people which the state and the society did not want to get married. Sound familiar? There is no way of knowing, but those in opposition may have even said that Christians could not get married in order to protect the sanctity of marriage.

I happen to live in a state in which gays and lesbians can marry. I see no indication that the institution has been changed in anyway, either positively or negatively, since this took place. But, I also happen to be in a denomination in which I cannot marry these couples, nor can I allow these couples to be married in my church. If I do either I can and will be brought up and charges and be removed not only from my appointment but also have my license (or ordination when I get that far) revoked.

I support the right of the church to make the decisions it wants on this issue. But, I also support the right of the state to make what decision it wants on this as well. When I marry a couple I actually act as an agent of the state. The marriage license is not issued by the church but by the commonwealth. The way to solve all of this debate is to recognize this simple reality and move back to the way Europe does it, and the way the church did it until Luther. Luther was the one who moved marriages inside the church (for a good reason at the time), but there are really two different activities.

There is the state recognition of the marriage and there is the church recognition. The two do not have to meet, and they often don't. I know some clergy who actually refuse to marry people. They require the couple to go to the JP and get married by the state, and then come to them for a blessing and ceremony by the church. It is two separate activities.

Many in the church do not want to do this because they don't want to lose this "power" to the state. But, the simple reality is, this move would end all the debate and it would also give the church more power. Rather than acting as agents of the state, we would then have greater power in emphasizing what marriage vows, as the church sees them, are and give us more leverage in not only not recognizing marriages but also in recognizing marriages. Under this arrangement, we could say to a couple we're glad you're married, but we don't think you understand the vows the way we think you need to and so we're not going to perform a sacred ceremony. And, the church would also have the power to marry people that the state would never recognize as married (and there are lots of reasons to have this arrangement). Both groups could do their own thing without interfering in the rights of the other.

Making this change would take the church back to its historic roots and end the debates about gay and lesbian marriage which serve no purpose and go no where (other than to divide us and scapegoat a class of people). And if we don't want to make this change then let's stop celebrating Valentine's day because I think we are truly missing the point of what Valentine was doing.

1 comment:

  1. I am moderately amused by this, because Bruce and I got married by a JP, and then, several months later, had a blessing of the vows. Now, the reasons we did so were all about practicality - I needed health insurance, and we were going to get married anyway, so... but we had to keep it somewhat quiet, because our respective parents had issues with the concepts - mine with a JP marriage, and his with us just getting married in general. Still, it was very interesting to have the blessing of the vows, because our (Lutheran) pastor did indeed most solemnly walk us through the vows, and checked out how our marriage was going before agreeing to the ceremony. I think that we actually did "get" the vows more at that point, too.

    I dunno - I have to say that I think too much emphasis is placed on the "romance" of marriage, and not enough on the vows themselves. Power, frankly, is in the hands of the couples being married, not in the hands of the church, or the state. Witness the divorce rate. Too many think about the wedding, the party, as it were, and not the marriage itself. There is a part of me that thinks that "getting married" is a bit of a joke in our society - just a way to have the big bash and get prezzies.

    As for Valentine's Day, I frankly think it's generally a Hallmark holiday, and isn't really celebrating the acts of Valentine, but you make some good points about the history.