Opinion: It’s time for the church to issue its own marriage licences.
This writer is old enough to remember the burning of draft cards to protest the Vietnam war and bras being burned to somehow advance a feminist agenda. Similarly, as both a protest and affirmation, he would have no difficulty shredding his government-issued marriage licence. If Presbyterian Church in Canada (PCC) clergy, who hold to the Biblical view of marriage, took this not so radical step we could then begin the now necessary imperative of reclaiming marriage as the purview of the church. It is possible.
How have I found myself in league with the radicals of old? Our provincial governments have disgorged such a plethora of definitions of marriage it is no longer recognizable. When the defining template is simply cohabiting beyond a weekend fling, involving anyone of either gender, or now ungendered persons, marriage as God ordained it and as practiced for millennia has been shuffled into meaningless irrelevancy. What once could be identified as marriage is now so open ended, it is obliged to eventually include all manner of relationships. For example, the polygamies in Bountiful, BC, are referred to as marriages even though no government licences were issued. The spiral began decades ago when common law relationships were given legal equivalency by the CRA for the spousal tax deduction.
The muddle over marriage definition in the PCC, so aptly illustrated in the 2019 General Assembly Remits and its underpinning theological issue of the authority of Scripture, is forcing some to leave the denomination. Others, who also hold to the Biblical view of marriage, will “stay and pray.” Alternately, a middle option would be to create, source and manage a non geographical Synod or Presbytery comprised of PCC clergy, members and adherents who hold to a higher view of Scripture than is currently evidenced across the spectrum of the PCC. Strife and detraction from our witness to Christ is our future without surgery as the present constituency of the PCC is not going to change. No one has the heart for discipline. We need to create this new wineskin. Jesus never said you could not put old wine into a new wineskin and he did say, what some of us already affirm, that “the old wine is better”. The “old wine” of our historic Scriptural authority with its affirmation of male/female marriage is not just better, it is best. If the new presbytery/synod attracts sufficient numbers it should be able to negotiate in strength with the remnant of the PCC a sufficient minimal legal relationship so as to guarantee retention of congregational buildings and pensions.
Within this new Synod, the problems surrounding what constitutes marriage become resolved as clergy would cease to be agents of the state by possessing a government- issued marriage licence. The PCC has been caught up in the mess the government has made of what constitutes marriage and it is time for the church to take marriage back into its rightful Biblical purview. This Synod would issue its own licenses, perform marriages between men and women only and issue marriage certificates. The church would be free again to define marriage Biblically. The threat of legal harassment is eliminated as there is no longer an obligation to marry everyone. The government would be forced to recognize these marriages just as they must do now with other arrangements and sexual practices.
The burning of draft cards and bras occurred in a time of social chaos in the west. The church today needs to push back against the chaos in our society and church to restore into people’s lives the order that God first intended when he created man as male and female and gave us his gift of marriage.
Rev. James Statham is a past member of the Renewal Fellowship Board of Directors. He lives in Peachland, BC.