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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Tony Jones's sacramental (but not legal) marriage

Addendum May 2013: Dr. Jones announces his attention to civilly marriage.

Back on January 4, 2010 Tony Jones PhD, recent author of The Church is Flat and resident theologian of Solomon's Porch--an ecclesiastical community in Minneapolis--posted a call for clergy to get out of the Legal marriage business. He thought it incongruous for the church to act as agents for the state. He writes,
And most problematic, from my perspective, is that the clergyperson, with the stroke of a pen, makes legal a contract that s/he has no ability or potential to end. And, having gone through a divorce, I can tell you that extricating oneself from the legal contract that is marriage in our society is no mean feat. And the clergyman who married us was, understandably, not around to help unravel what he had helped establish.
It kind of sounds legit. His further intention was to lower the barrier for gays to marry; somehow. I'm not sure how. I have gay friends in Connecticut who were sacramentally married by clergy long before my state passed its civil union law (later becoming a gay marriage right). One couple I know of are still together, even. So I am not sure what his hopes entailed. Perhaps he hoped for a Latin America model, where the couple gets legally married at town hall, then heads to the church for a sacramental wedding.

On January 5, 2010, Andrew Jones, the Tall Skinny Kiwi and former colleague of Dr. Jones, responded to this idea with a tweetable sentence, then a longer explanation in the comments. Twitter version, "I read your post from yesterday that recommends clergy refuse to do legal marriages. I thought it was unorthodox and threatening to marriages.Your post on marriage was disturbing and controversial." Comment explanation,
why did i find tony's post unorthodox and disturbing?
unorthodox because the VAST majority of church leaders would probably NOT join Tony in his crusade to "refuse" legal marriage. its what they train for and its what they do.its a pretty cool part of the job, actually.
disturbing because the idea of sacramental wives and legal wives sounded just like the heresy in Germany that has decimated a particular 'emerging' church movement and taken away a few thousand of their numbers into this wacky movement that promotes, among other things, a way for leaders to add spiritual wives to their harem.
having said that, i asked a German friend from the movement (Peter Friesen is here with us right now) that saw this heresy and there is actually no connection at all with USA or Tony but warning bells went off anyway and and the post seemed to lessen the value of the legal wife which is always a concern to me . . . then one of the commenters on tony's post says that divorce is what needs to happen for people to heal, grow and truly love for a moment there I thought I smelt something so yes, it was disturbing . . . and unorthodox.
Now I hear echoes of Joseph Smith's wives, some of whom were legally married to someone else when he married them, and the fruit it still bears today in the case of Warren Jeffs, who had 78 wives, of whom, I guess, he spiritually married 77 of them. But this craziness doesn't have to happen if the clergy will only perform marriages recognizeable by the state. There's craziness on the other side if the state seeks to meddle in a marriage approved by another state, see Loving vs. Virginia, which dealt with Va.'s felony law against interracial marriages. There are clergy in states without civil union or gay marriage laws that will officiate at gay weddings. There are clergy in states with civil union or gay marriage laws that will not officiate at gay weddings.

Here's where it gets weird. Dr. Jones has decided to have a heterosexual marriage in a church, but without the state, sans marriage license. Here is his twitter promise from May 31, 2011 held:


Tony Jones
jonestony Tony Jones

.@MHMorgan But we are not getting legally married until you can. We are getting sacramentally married.@CoPerryPhoto @swancommarachel #glbt

I confess that I can't understand this statement, "We are getting sacramentally married." Is it sacramental, if, legally, they are co-habitating, and, hence, without consequence or repercussion, legally, if they "sacramentally divorce"? Does being in a sacramental (only) marriage, necessarily lead to the polyamory that Andrew Jones described in the particular German sect he described? Of course not, but when Dr. Jones decides to open the conversation about polyamory in the church, as inspired by gay columnist Dan Savage, (to which I added my two cents) that weird option seems less remote. I'm not making an accusation, but I think a warning is called for, and Andrew Jones made one 18 months ago.

May 9, 2011
But it gets more complicated because Dr. Jones is now an adjunct faculty, leading a Doctor of Ministry cohort for Fuller Seminary, an historically evangelical institution. As such, it has Community Standards for its staff. It recognizes that divorce happens, and they assert their right to evaluate the reasons for a divorce before employing, or continuing to employ someone (see section iii). It also takes a traditional stance on sexual expression through heterosexual marriage only.
Fuller Theological Seminary believes that sexual union must be reserved for marriage, which is the covenant union between one man and one woman, and that sexual abstinence is required for the unmarried. The seminary believes premarital, extramarital, and homosexual forms of explicit sexual conduct to be inconsistent with the teaching of Scripture. Consequently, the seminary expects all members of its community--students, faculty, administrators/managers, staff, and trustees--to abstain from what it holds to be unbiblical sexual practices.
This seems straightforward. But does this leave wiggle room for those, like Dr. Jones, who are only sacramentally married? It seems that Fuller can bring on anyone as adjunct faculty even if their orthopraxy is in doubt.

Are orthopraxy and orthodoxy related? Dr. Jones contends it does in his blog post mentioning his job with Fuller, Practice precedes doctrine. I don't think I agree on precedence to one or the other, but a symbiosis, see the Theotokos debate in the early church. I think Pelikan's treatment is sufficiently thorough in his series on the development of doctrine, especially the second volume.

Dr. Tony Jones is a teacher. James warns us in his letter, Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, because you know that we will be judged more strictly. James 3:1 James spends most of his time on orthopraxy. So is this unorthopraxis approach to marriage a tempest only in my teapot or does it affect the church at large? I don't know. But as a teacher, someone of influence, does Dr. Jones really want to influence other believers to not legalize their marriages in order to support another's cause, in his case gay marriage equality? Is it that different from encouraging fornication, something the Bible as well as the Didache (an early Christian document he wrote about) warn against? The civil marriage license is a public declaration of care and provision for one spouse with accompanying obligations to that spouse if one dissolves the union. Even the wiki definition of marriage can't avoid a traditional approach. I hope Dr. Jones reconsiders his theological position on this.

update: Dr. Jones has started a series defending this decision. He hasn't touched any of these issues I subsequently wrote about.

5 comments:

Joe Rudin said...

This idea of a "sacrimental only" marriage is troublesome to me. To me, it seems that marriage should be BOTH sacrimental and legal. In the Christian faith, marriage is certainly a sacriment, and should be treated with reverence. In the United States though, and I'm sure other countries, spouses are guaranteed certain rights that live in partners are not. If a couple were to wed in a sacrimental only ceremony, and not make it legal in the eyes of the nation, then if a spouse were to die, or require medical attention, then the "spouse" won't have the same rights because they are not legally the spouse. Furthermore, while divorce should only be a last resort in extreme situations, it does happen, and sometimes even for reasons that are excusable even according to God's word. In these cases, if the couple is not legally wed, then the "spouse" does not have the same protections as a legally married couple.

If you love somebody enough that you want to commit your life to them in front of God, why would you not want to bear the same witness for the state in order to give those protections to your spouse.

Marriage is as much legal as it is spiritual, at least the way it is set up in this country it is. A couple who isn't Christian doesn't necessarily need a religious ceremony, but their marriage is still real, legal, and recognized. A Christian couple, while serious, in love, and maybe they won't ever get divorced or run into big problems, if they do not have a legal agreement, their marriage is not recognized by the state, and they do not have the same protections.

Steve Hayes said...

My view seems to be pretty well the opposite of yours, namely that Notes from underground: The State should get out of the marriage business.

I won't repeat everything here, but I think it is quite an impotant issue, and that Christians should be discussing it more. I've also written about some of the reasons behind this in a blog post on The theology of Christian marriage | Khanya.

John Umland said...

I just wrote a follow-up post to this one about the uselessness of a distinction between marriages (sacramental or civil). http://umbl0g.blogspot.com/2011/08/fallacy-of-recent-legalization-of.html
As Joe Rudin points out, and I develop further, we live in a ocmplex legal system that can't afford to discern complex relationships. Marriage licenses simplify things for complex societies. For simple societies, I understand the uselessness of licenses.
God is good
jpu

Anonymous said...

I guess anyone can come up with their own terms of marriage these days...can anyone spare some words on what happens to the children of marriages once broken? I want to know what our aspiring theologians think about that.C

Joe Rudin said...

Doing a simple Google search, I found some of these statistics. I'll preface these by saying that I have not seen these research studies/articles myslf, so I cannot independtly verify them.

Studies in the early 1980’s showed that children in repeat divorces earned lower grades and their peers rated them as less pleasant to be around. (Andrew J. Cherlin, Marriage, Divorce, Remarriage –Harvard University Press 1981)

Compared to children from homes disrupted by death, children from divorced homes have more psychological problems. (Robert E. Emery, Marriage, Divorce and Children’s Adjustment” Sage Publications, 1988)

Most victims of child molestation come from single-parent households or are the children of drug ring members. (Los Angles Times 16 September 1985 The Garbage Generation)

A Child in a female-headed home is 10 times more likely to be beaten or murdered. (The Legal Beagle, July 1984, from “The Garbage Generation”)

Seventy percent of long-term prison inmates grew up in broken homes. (Horn, Bush, “Fathers, Marriage and Welfare Reform)

Children of divorce are four times more likely to report problems with peers and friends than children whose parents have kept their marriages intact. (Tysse, Burnett, “Moral Dilemmas of Early Adolescents of Divorced and Intact Families. Journal of Early Adolescence 1993)

Children of divorced parents are roughly two times more likely to drop out of high school than their peers who benefit from living with parents who did not divorce. (McLanahan, Sandefur, “Growing Up With a Single Parent: What Hurts, What Helps” Harvard University Press 1994)

I have heard of numerous studies that come to similar types of findings.

God's design for the family from the beginning was for a child to have 1 mother and 1 father. Men and women are equal in God's eyes, but they fulfill different rolls because they were designed differently with different strengths and different ways of thinking. Children learn from their parents in how they act, speak, respond, etc. If God designed this model and you believe God had a purpose specifically for it, then it makes sense that if this model is broken, then there could be negative consequences.

As a small example, my wife and I enjoy watching the TV show, "Teen Mom." (It's really an intriguing show, and while it's not exactly the most wholsome thing out there, it does have it's merits.) If you aren't familiar with it, it is a reality type TV show in which the lives of a few teenage moms (and in some cases moms and dads) are documented, along with all of their hardships, trials, and familiy drama. In the case of the season my wife and I were watching, we noticed that every single teen parent on there, both the mom and the dad, came from a broken home. Every one of their parents were divorced. It is another small example of how a broken home can lead to difficulties for the children later.

Now, let me also add this. If one oor both of the parents is neglectful or abusive, then I do not see this as a better alternative, even if both parents are physically in the picture. Children need positive role models.

When a couple is married with children, a divorce affacts everybody. It is not uncommon for kids, young kids especially, to internalize what is happening and feel like they are to blame for their parents splitting up.