mercredi, mai 09, 2012

The death of Constantine: why the church should get out of the marriage business

Perhaps it's time for Christian churches to stop being proxy agents of the state.

Every time I sign a marriage license, I have to shake myself and ask -- what the heck am I doing?

Why IS this authority vested in me?

I'm an ordained minister, not a clerk or a judge.

Neither are my ordained brothers and sisters of any faith.

As the debate about North Carolina's decision to ban gay marriage and the President's avowal of support for it splashed across my Facebook page today, I pondered the legacy of the compromises that the church made with the state in the centuries after Constantine and his famed, if fake "donation" (a forged decree in which the emperor gave power over the western part of his empire to the Pope).

That was the beginning of a power game that the Catholic Church mastered, as the years went by -- and that Christian denominations have tried to play, more or less successfully, ever since.

But in the long run, the faithful who attempt to the move  chess pieces straight or slantwise on the board really can't win.

Lord Acton was right. Power does corrupt. One has only to look at the crisis in the Roman Catholic church and its bitter fruit to realize what a deadly mixture faith and politics can be.

Christians who try to drag the church into the political arena often end up knee deep in dirt.

A look at my denomination reveals the perils of  possessing too close historical ties with the government.

For centuries, Anglicans were way over-represented in the halls of  Congress and the American aristocracy.

But battles over women's ordination, gay ordination and gay marriage revealed the Episcopal Church for what it is -- an ecclesiastical institution built on a secular governmental model -- without a theological foundation.  The closer the relationship between church and state, the more the church suffers -- or becomes remade in the image of the state.

Let the state decide who can be married, as it has and is doing.

Then the church can be an agent of blessing, rather than another secular arbiter.

Perhaps then Constantine can rest in peace. At least, that is, when it comes to the sins of the churches.

It never really was his fault, anyway.

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