I am a pastor.
For better or for worse, our culture has decided that pastors officiate weddings. Not librarians, not mailmen, not mayors, not IRS-agents.
This is cool with me inasmuch as the Bible does talk about marriage as something God created with a certain purpose behind it. So when people want to follow the Bible, it makes sense that I would officiate their wedding, and it’s a great celebration of following God’s design for sex and romance and love and the definition He gave it therein. It’s an act of worship.
But our country is built on the principle of the separation of Church and State. The authority I have as a pastor is definitely on the Church side of things, not the State side. I can’t arrest you. I can’t collect taxes from you. I can’t make laws. I can’t sentence you to prison.
It’s not that the Church shouldn’t influence the State or that Christians shouldn’t be involved in the State side, but the institution of the Church and the institution of the State are two very different things with two very different purposes. We aren’t a theocracy.
Most pastors don’t go into vocational ministry so they can do weddings; I know I didn’t. Even before the gay marriage debate became popular, I wondered why and how legally officiating marriages got attached to my profession. I get the covenant-between-God portion of it and am all for presiding over that, but why is it up to me to preside over and give someone significant tax and legal benefits?
Did you know there are 1,138 benefits, rights and protections provided on the basis of marital status in Federal law? (Defense of Marriage Act: An Update to Prior Report, General Accounting Office, 2004). Here is a short list of rights that legally married couples have that same-sex partners who would like to be married do not have:
- Surviving spouses of working Americans are eligible to receive Social Security payments, as are surviving parents of a child when a working parent dies.
- Shared Medicare and Medicaid coverage
- Employer-provided health insurance covers both spouses, not just the employed.
- Filing a joint tax return, which avoids many tax penalties and increases overall tax return.
- Tax benefits include: Gain from the Sale of the Taxpayer’s Principal Residence, Estate Tax, Taxation of Retirement Savings
- Medical leave to employees to care for parents, children or spouses.
- Ability to petition for same-sex partners to immigrate, as well as protection against deportation.
- Bereavement leave from work if partner dies
- Automatic inheritance of personal belonging in absence of a will
- Help from courts when divorce happens
- Hospital visitation and emergency medical decisions
- Public housing favor shown
- Joint home and auto insurance
- Protection against having to testify against each other in judicial proceedings. Coverage in crime victims counseling and protection programs.
- Buy and own property together.
- Withdrawal rights and protective tax treatment given to spouses with regard to IRA’s and other retirement plans.
I know some Christians will say, “Well they don’t deserve these benefits, they are living in sin.” But why are other people living in sin given these same benefits without Christians caring one way or another?
I know Christians want to fight for what the biblical definition of marriage and a family is, but divorce and premarital sex (things many Christians have done) have already culturally redefined it beyond repair. The best we can do is hold up the standard of the Bible as a light, an example for people to be drawn to (We aren’t going to change the fact that people across our culture are not following the traditional plan for sex within a heterosexual marriage that the Bible lays out–this would be an unrealistic and thus futile goal–nor is it the proper starting place for someone to meet and know Jesus).
But does a part of holding up the light of the biblical standard also have to include lobbying to deprive legal rights from those who aren’t following our Bible’s commands? And if the answer to that is yes, then why are only homosexual relationships singled out for this discrimination/legislation, and not all sorts of heterosexual sins the Bible also commands against? Why aren’t people who divorce and remarry also deprived of all of the legal rights listed above? For the Bible is very clear on this in Matthew 5:32, “But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” As well as Matthew 19:9, “And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” These Scriptures are just as clear as the ones saying homosexual acts are sinful, yet we don’t lift a finger to take legal rights away from people who are committing the sin of remarriage after divorce. Maybe we should be if we are to be consistent? And this argument doesn’t even include heterosexual sins that are much harder to monitor and legislate against such as pornography and lustful thoughts–things that to be consistent, we’d also have to remove legal rights from people who willfully did these things, as these too are just as biblically damaging to marriage and the family as homosexual acts are.
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