Jonathan Merritt and Joe Carter recently wrote about each other’s thoughts on Jesus’ relationships with sinners. Merritt thought Carter too restrictive in his doctrinal stance and Carter thought Merritt too expansive. It makes for interesting reading.
The part that got me thinking about how all this affects my own life, though, was a comment at Joe Carter’s blog:
Would anyone agree that there is a difference between
a) baking a cake you know is for a gay couple
b) baking a cake you know is for a gay couple’s wedding but not attending it
c) taking professional pictures of a gay wedding, at the gay wedding
d) officiating the wedding
Is it possible and consistent that one may perform a-c as a part of his profession, but draw the line at D, and refuse to officiate on account of his religious beliefs?
I responded by asking a question borne straight from my position as a trial court judge:
For d), what if a believer is a government official whose duties include marrying people, like my position (being a judge). If a couple shows up at my building and has their paperwork in order, do I get to choose not to perform the ceremony?
Let’s choose a different situation. My understanding of the Bible says divorce is prohibited except when certain circumstances exist. Can I refuse to grant a divorce decree for a couple who meet the legal requirements for marital dissolution but who do not meet the biblical requirements?
If anyone can see a difference between marrying the same sex couple and dissolving the marriage of a couple that does not meet the biblical standards for divorce, I like to know what it is.
There are a number of Bible passages people rely on for their position on same sex marriage, some finding the Bible supports these marriages and others concluding it prohibits them. People will talk about cultural norms at the time of the writings, others will talk about the timelessness of Scripture. And the funny thing is that I’ve seen people use either one of those rubrics to support and to oppose same sex marriage.
When it comes to divorce, I don’t think Scripture is anywhere near that malleable.
Divorce According to Jesus
On a divorce case, I check the paperwork and if the people meet the legal requirements for a divorce I grant it. I look on the decree as a judicial declaration that these people are entitled to a divorce under the laws of my state. I take this seriously and only sign papers that meet every requirement.
Jesus takes divorce even more seriously:
Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”
“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
“Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”
Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” (Matthew 19:3-9.)
These theologians thought they had Scripture on their side, but Jesus set them straight: Moses’ lenient divorce law was based on cultural circumstances – a nation of hardhearted people.
Paul continued the discussion of marriage and divorce in 1 Corinthians 7:10-16, where he said that no one should get divorced unless their spouse is an unbeliever and abandons them. If the spouse is an unbeliever and stays in the marriage, he explicitly said there should be no divorce.
But what do you do if the spouse, unbeliever or fellow Christian, is an abuser? Matthew 18:15-17 governs and you can treat that person like an unbeliever who has abandoned the marriage.
Heterosexual Divorce and Same Sex Marriage
That still leaves me with the question I posed on Carter’s blog: what is the scriptural difference between same sex marriage and heterosexual divorce?
I don’t think there is one, but I don’t see the people protesting same sex marriage out picketing legislatures to change the divorce laws.
This started as an exercise in deciding how I should handle things at work, though, so let’s get back to that. What would I do if a same sex couple shows up at the courthouse and asks me to marry them? I know the answer. I’d handle it the same way I handle a divorce case.
If their paperwork is in order, I’d marry them.