the Shelby Sentinel in June 2014. I missed it then but it showed up today in one of my newsfeeds -- and I thought it was one of the most clear, concise and helpful summaries I've read in a very long time.
It will not tell you anything you don't already know, but it is totally worth reading and bookmarking for future forwarding to our "But you're redefining marriage!" friends as the journey toward equality continues. (And it WILL continue until we "arrive at destination.")
Marriage is reflection of God's love | by Valori Sherer
Many modern Christians hold the idea that marriage, that is, the union of one man and one woman in a life-long covenantal relationship, is an institution created by God in the Genesis story of Adam and Eve.
It is clear, however, from the Old Testament that many of the Jewish patriarchs had multiple wives, e.g., Abraham, Solomon, Jacob. Polygamy was still in practice, though less so, during Jesus’ time. Divorce was an accepted practice as well, but only the husband had a legal right to demand it. For centuries, marriage was a private, family matter and most marriages were arranged by the father of the family or the legal guardian.
It was St. Augustine of Hippo who, in the fourth century, first described marriage as “a sacred sign, a sacramentum, of the union between Christ and the church.” In the fifth century ecclesiastical blessing on marriage was only required for priests and deacons. It wasn’t until the eight century that “church weddings” became common practice.
The Christian perspective that has remained consistent is that marriage, as a covenantal relationship of persons, reflects God’s covenantal relationship with creation as described in Scripture. The fruits of any marriage, therefore, must reflect God’s saving plan for the whole world. The marriage must be a sign of Christ’s love to a broken world.
Historically, the concept of marriage has evolved from polygamy to monogamy, from property exchange to consent, from duty to love. Each cultural shift in understanding has led to a shift in theological understanding and in the development and application of sacramental rites for marriage.
Our cultural, theological, and ecclesial understanding of marriage continues to evolve. We are confronted almost daily with changes in legislation around the country on the issue of marriage.
As we study, legislate, and enter into marriages in the world we live in today, it may help to remember that in the thirteenth century, the only legal marriages were those conducted in a church because the church and the state were the same entity. Such has never been the case in American history or in American church history. It hasn’t “always been this way” as some voices say. It has always been evolving.
In the Episcopal rite of marriage, we pray for the couple, asking that by God’s Holy Spirit “they may grow in love and peace with God and one another, that their life may be a sign of Christ’s love to a broken world, and that they may be given such fulfillment of their mutual affection that they may reach out in love and concern for others.”
Christians are a New Covenant community commanded by Jesus Christ to love God, one another, and ourselves as he loved us. St. Paul’s letter to the Romans assures us that the sacrifice of Christ for our salvation was made once, for all. Christians, whether heterosexual or homosexual, form a community whose individual members constitute equally important parts of one body, Christ’s body; and we are all saved through faith, by grace. Marriage is one way we all can reflect this truth is our world.
Valori Sherer is Rector of the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in Shelby.