mawwiage.jpg Inigo Montoya: You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
Some movies yield many memorable lines.
Crash, Eddie: Were you killed?
Buck: Sadly, yes. — But I lived!
Sometimes I start to wonder if we even know what we’re saying anymore.

But let’s clarify.

I think Andrew meant unorthodox as in unusual or breaking with convention, rather than unorthodox as in a doctrine at variance with the officially recognized position. But I could be wrong. I do know that we’re losing our grip on the meaning of the word “marriage” — not for talk of extending it (or not) to gay and lesbian unions, but for talk of whether it represents a spiritual or a legal union and whether it’s a contract or a covenant and what technicalities facilitate their binding constitution or allowable dissolution.

Manny: Just WHEN exactly did you loose your mind?
Buck: About three months ago. I woke up married to a pineapple. An UGLY pineapple…
[sighs lovingly, looking wistful]
Buck: …but I loved her so.

Not keeping up? I can’t believe it. Or maybe I can… I’m having a hard time catching up.

Yeah. So, after
Andrew Jones posted that in his opinion, “2009 marks the year when the emerging church suddenly and decisively ceased to be a radical and controversial movement in global Christianity”, Tony Jones responded with some stuff about Karl Marx and Lonnie Frisbee and how according to the shuffling of his speaking calendar, the ECM is still pretty controversial. Andrew meant to clarify by listing ten types of emerging churches that are probably not that controversial anymore, though I think one of them is still at least a little controversial which I mentioned when I referred to this discussion in the intro to my take on where the church is headed this decade, though I kinda got distracted and still haven’t said yet. But I did say that what Andrew was describing is what I previously said would happen, right around when it did. So on the whole, I had to agree with Andrew. Though I though Tony did have a good point on the domestication of the ECM, even if I didn’t really track with him about the Vineyard. Oh, and when I said that I was “saddened that within the emerging church, people who shared a pulpit at the beginning of the decade won’t share more than the time of day at the end of the decade,” I wasn’t talking about the Joneses. But my “You know who you are” comment that followed can be used as a handy “if the shoe fits” reference. Thankfully, I don’t think the Joneses are there yet. Well, not these Joneses, anyway.

Well, it turns out that Tony struck out on a new topic before Andrew posted his response, which therefore referenced the new topic as well. On the whole, that’s probably a good thing, and here I think Andrew’s observations were valid. But let’s back up and take a running leap into the fray. What Tony said (in part) was:

Were we to separate legal and sacramental marriage, it would solve all sorts of problems, not the least of which is the growing discomfort that many of us have that legal marriage is available only to some responsible adults who are in monogamous relationships. To recapitulate in short what I’ve written in the past:

  • There is no “historic” institution of marriage; it has been a fluid concept for thousands of years, changing with time and across cultures
  • Our society has determined that monogamy is good, so we incentivize it in various ways
  • It’s a plain reality that gay and lesbian couples are among us, and they’re not going away
  • So let’s afford them similar incentives toward monogamy by allowing them to enter the binding contract that we call “legal marriage”
  • This will not implicate what any congregation or denomination considers a “sacramental marriage”

He then called upon clergy to “stop performing (legal) marriages,” which Andrew saw as “unorthodox and threatening to marriages.” Andrew then suggested to Tony that “The controversy you are stirring up seems unrelated to the main emphasis of the emerging church movement.”

In the midst of this came Julie Jones’ comments on Andrew’s blog, which Andrew deleted and asked her to resubmit without the “personal stuff.” Stir into the mix a bit of rumour and innuendo with past controversies, and you get a fairly complicated and delicate concoction. If you weren’t caught up, now you are. If you were caught up, sorry for the rehash. And if I’ve gotten any of this wrong, my deepest apologies and invitation to the participants to use the comments below for the purposes of correcting the essential facts.

So. I find myself looking at Tony’s list about what he’s said on marriage (quoted above), and thinking:

  • Perhaps in the legal sense, but this is what “common-law” actually means… it’s a reference to the understanding that we have taken recognized spouses for millennia, and an assent that there is a legal sense with binding obligations upon those who have represented themselves as spouses, with or without religious or legal ceremony.
  • Yes, our society has determined that monogamy is good. And our Bible has determined that it should be mandated… so there you go, two good incentives. (Add common sense, and you’ve got a third.)
  • It’s true that gay and lesbian couples are present, and becoming more widely accepted as such.
  • And sure, they could have similar “incentives toward monogamy” through a binding contract, but it shouldn’t have to be called “marriage.” In point of fact, this is already allowed in many jurisdictions, by one term or another.
  • In the minds of some, it will implicate what people consider marriage, simply through the use of language. The production of the term “sacramental marriage” introduces what it to me an odd dichotomy to the idea of marriage.

I don’t follow the logic that instituting the legal aspects of marriage concurrent with the religious (or sacramental) ones makes any clergyperson an agent of the state. It’s simply expedient for the couple to have it all done at once. If you go with sacramental vows only, the state will automatically define the legal aspect for you after the passage of a set time (with some allowance for jurisdictional variance here). If you go with legal vows only, your religious community will automatically attribute the sacramental ones. Why make any attempt to separate these any further by simply refusing to sign a bit of parchment? All this does is make it harder on the couple.

The one thing this would do is allow the taking of sacramental vows without the formal dissolution of legal ones. This is, I think, a bad precedent, but here again, some jurisdictions will automatically impose the legal disolution after a set period of separation. And for the record, I don’t think the two definitions should be equated without careful thought. It’s for this reason that the Anglian Church in Canada adopted what was called by some “The Woody Allen Amendment”, because the legal requirements and prohibitions in Canada allows a person to legally marry someone who lived previously under their roof as a step-child. I suppose that a similar confusion about who should and shouldn’t be allowed to marry occurred in a place called Corinth and was commented upon by some apostle or other. But I could be reaching.

Now, I like Tony despite the fact I disgree with him on many things. But that won’t stop me from recommending his latest book to the extent that it doesn’t promote those views with which I disagree. Will I like the next one? I don’t know yet. But because I can separate the two, I don’t mind being on the same page with people on one issue but not another. But in this mix, we ought to know that — as Andrew spake aptly — not every bit of controversy we face is directly related to our participation in the ECM. Maybe sometimes they just don’t like our hair.

And where does this leave us? Let’s try to be on the same page relationally even if we aren’t on the same page doctrinally, at least to the extent that the doctrinal differences are not threats to the essential matters of faith and practice. I wonder if that’s what the wind of the Holy Spirit might be challenging us with at the outset of this decade.

Crash: What’s that noise?
Buck: It’s the wind. It’s speaking to us.
Eddie: What’s it saying?
Buck: I don’t know. I don’t speak wind.

Disclosure: this post has been edited from its original form in order to reword a few points for clarity and to remove a couple of references that were not constructive. I’ve apologized to Tony for those, and he has graciously accepted that apology. To be clear about the comments below, I know that some of the discussion has gone toward Tony’s personal life, but here I would like to keep the discussion focused on what he has said in his post on marriage, and the pros and cons about separating the legal and sacramental aspects of marriage.

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