Its probably time for me to open up to the hating. I'm going to reflect on marriage. Regardless of your opinion, you probably won't like what I write unless we've already had conversations about marriage. I do not mean to offend you. My intention is to think through what marriage is (the next few posts) and how it relates to other sacramental practices of public Christian worship (some few posts after that). Feel free to hate all you want in the comments. I ask, however, that you think about what you write rather than just list off a bunch of opinions.
Fair warning: this is Part 1. To keep this and the next few posts at a readable length, I'm giving bits of my thoughts here rather than dump all at once.
Not a Church Thing
I want to make this point as clearly as possible: marriage is not a church thing. Yes, I say this with a profound bias because I'm Lutheran (cf. Augsburg Confession XVI), but a quick reality check makes this point obvious. If marriage were only a church thing, then only Christians could get married.
Maybe you're expansive and want to include Jews and/or Muslims because that way all the current expressions of the Abrahamic faith are accounted for. But what about everybody else?
If marriage was limited to those who are believers in one of the big three faiths, what then comes of those who leave the faith--are those marriages dissolved? What about marriages where one person is a believer and the other isn't--is this only a half marriage?
So if marriage isn't a church thing or religious thing, what is it?
A People Thing
People get married. If you don't like that phrase, how about this: People decide to join with each other for some span of time in intimate and vulnerable ways, sometimes involving already existing or yet to exist members of previous or following generations.
And there we have one reason why the what-marriage-is debate gets problematic. The above could describe more than just a marriage. People join together all the time and for lots of reasons, and not all of them are marriage. This is where government steps into the conversation, regardless of the form of government.
Societies form in various ways. Societies also form judicial practices. These judicial practices eventually have to answer questions of protected relationships. We call some of these relationships marriage. But if we limit our thoughts about what marriage is to the relationships the government protects, then marriage becomes a government thing, not a people thing, and we begin looking at it backwards.
People enter into relationships with each other. Some of these relationships become something more than acquaintance, they become friendship. Some of these relationships become something more than friendship, and maybe this is marriage.
One of the many gifts God gives us is each other, and this is regardless of each person's faith or quality, just like the rain. Churches will solemnize relationships because those in Christian community desire the support of the community in their relationships. Governments will decide which relationships are protected and how, calling them various things. But people will marry each other with or without the blessing of the church or the approval of the government because marriage is a people thing.
Like all other people things, the people in a relationship of marriage will do so well or poorly. People will eventually ask the government for some sort of judicial rulings and religious groups for some sort of communal support both when things are going well and when things are going poorly, but the marriage relationship is still a people thing.
The biblical metaphors of marriage for the relationship between God and the people of Israel help us make sense of both marriage and the relationship God has with the people of Israel. There are some similar elements--trust, love, and fear--which leads to a humorous ending of this post: I haven't mentioned sex yet...