Should Churches Marry Canadians under Civil Law?
(c) 2012, Davd
When a woman promises to her husband, “till death us do part”, in church and in the name of Jesus Christ’s teachings—can he trust her promises?1 Civil law, in 21st Century Canada, says “No”. Christian tradition says “yes” (Mat 5: 31-32; Luke 16:18; 1Cor 7: 10-11; and likewise for the entire Abrahamic tradition, e.g. Gen 2:21-24, Mal 2: 15-16, but with more exceptions outside Christianity.)
There is, to explicate what should perhaps be obvious above, a contradiction and a conflict between Christianity and civil law in Canada and many other “nation-states”, especially those which border the North Atlantic Ocean and-or were once British colonies. If the Christian promises be enforceable, there must be important particulars in which civil law is not. If the civil law be fully enforceable, the Christian promises are not.
Given the seriousness of Jesus Christ’s words in the Gospels cited, it is fair to state that civil marriage and divorce law in Canada, and in much of the rest of “Western civilization”, is actively persecuting the Faith. As a guess, there should be several Muslim states in which Christian marriage is better supported. (Muslim readers and other readers more familiar with Islam than i, are invited to provide specifics.)
One cannot validly take both sides of a contradiction. Civil law contradicts and conflicts-with, Christ’s dicta on divorce. Ergo, churches cannot solemnize a marriage which is both Christian and in full conformity to the civil law2.
Men should be entitled to take vows made to them in church, at face value. This would even seem to imply that churches have a duty of care (in Christian tradition and also, i suspect, in civil law) to see-to-it that vows made in their ceremonies are valid and enforceable.
It would look and sound strange to me, for a church marriage ritual to replace “until death us do part” with “until I feel like leaving you and taking the children with me, at your expense.” However, if the ritual being performed is legally “civil marriage” under typical North American legal rules, those latter words would state much more accurately what the bride is actually promising her husband. In the man’s case, so long as and wherever women have presumptive custody of children, the man’s promise would be more generous: “until I feel like leaving you—but you can keep the children if I do, at my expense.”
That difference goes far toward explaining why women instigate most divorces: They are privileged today, while men are burdened.
I sincerely hope that no church alters its marriage ritual to anything like the examples above, because those examples are not Christian. Fidelity, which those examples plainly reject, is Christian. It follows, “at least as far as i can see”, that Christian churches and clergy cannot in good conscience conduct civil marriages in Canada, most or all of the USA, or anywhere that civil law fails to support fidelity—which support must include, enforcement of promises of fidelity.
Failure to support fidelity, and specifically failure to enforce promises of fidelity, constitutes serious persecution of the Faith. Any Christian church solemnizing civil marriages where the law persecutes, is thereby facilitating persecution. W. F. Price has advocated that more churches adopt the Amish practice of evicting members who divorce for less than grievous fault. This would be a whole lot better than blessing no-fault divorce just because civil law permits it. We can go further: Churches that perform civil marriages are blessing a form of marriage that persecutes; and that should stop.
Instead of using Christian ritual, which proclaims lifelong fidelity, to effect civil “marriage,” where lifetime fidelity is not legally supported, churches should—seriously—cease performing “civil marriage” because the Christian meaning of the word is crucially different. How can a church both “keep the Faith”, and abet its persecution?
Instead, since marriage is highly valued in and by the Faith, the churches should proceed to develop contracts which effect Christian marriage; and solemnize those ceremonially rather than effecting a civil state incompatible with the words of a traditional Christian ceremony. If Mexican experience is any guide, “ … the legal folks [will] call it free union, to imply it is not real marriage.” If and when that happens, the civil law will be denying publicly that Christian marriage is marriage—the contradiction will be up-front for all to see—and basically anyone reflecting on the situation should recognize the persecution for what it is.
To fight that semantic reversal, Christian individuals and political entities could vigorously campaign for the legal embodiment of the old Christian union, as marriage3 (The change churches should not expect to reverse, in a secular State, is the existence of a non-lifetime, easily broken form of “marriage” made available to those who do not want lifetime fidelity. I have argued elsewhere that such a non-lifetime, easily broken form of “marriage” is incompatible with good childrearing, and that the value of fathers to their children is greater than the value of easy escape from marriage, to adults of either sex.)
This is not hyperbole—it is about facing up to a legal reality and then beginning the long task of facing that reality down. There should as soon as possible, be a Christian marriage contract which can be entered-into instead of the civil “marriage” that blights the early years of this century.
The Lutheran ritual promises in Footnote 1 “read to me as somewhat too vague” for present-day conditions. In 1958, when the book was published, they might have been made vague so as to be acceptably consistent with the civil laws of many provinces and states, which then enforced the lifetime character of marriage. I will not attempt a draft ritual here, being neither a clergyman nor a lawyer.
I can suggest, as a general indication, that some form of the words “forsaking all others” (which some other rituals include), be added to the Lutheran ritual promises (which are very close to those of other strands of the Christian “thread”), so as to promise more definitely, sexual fidelity and first loyalty (the sexual fidelity, absolute; the loyalty barely ahead of loyalty to their children while young, and not very far ahead of loyalty to kin who are near and who return that loyalty). Marriage is rightly embedded in larger family context, and to some extent, the ritual should so acknowledge in times which are family-hostile. “Forsaking all others” was implicit in civil marriage at the time the Lutheran Service book cited, was published; but is not clearly so today.
Can churches use traditional ceremonies to marry Canadians under civil law? Not in most, perhaps all provinces. Compromise with a persecuting civil law would too greatly compromise the Faith; so, unless and until the civil law come into consistency with the Faith, the churches can take wisdom from “men going their own ways”… and resume the way of the Man who founded the Faith.
Crane,Daniel A. 2006. “A ‘Judeo-Christian’ Argument for Privatizing Marriage”. Cardozo Law Review 27:3 (January) 1221-1260.
Lutheran Service Book and Hymnal, 1958, copyright and published by eight co-operating American Lutheran churches. Minneapolis: Augsburg.
Price, W. F., 2012. How Can Christians Avoid Divorce? Spearhead website, June 25.
Zelinsky, Edward A. 2006. “Deregulating Marriage: The Pro-Marriage Case For Abolishing Civil Marriage”. Cardozo Law Review 27:3 (January), 1161-1220.
1. For example, from the Lutheran Service Book and Hymnal, 1958, p. 272: “I take thee [name] to be my wedded [wife or husband], to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I plight thee my troth.” The ritual vow is the same for both spouses. The book was published in the United States of America; but my copy was received from a Lutheran church in Canada which had used this edition for many years and with which i worshipped for about ten.
2. There are in many jurisdictions, other aspects of civil marriage law and sometimes of criminal law, which conflict with Christian tradition. “No-fault divorce” is named above as especially common and especially clearly in conflict with Christianity.
It might be that laws change to acknowledge more than one form of marriage (cf. Crane, 2006; Zelinsky, 2006). It might be that some ritual words will be lost, as “gay” was lost to its earlier meaning in the third quarter of the 20th Century. What churches should demand of the Law, is the legal embodiment of Christian marriage as a lifetime covenant enjoying legal support; in other words, an end to persecution by present legal neglect and disparagement of lifetime fidelity.