Published: Wednesday, Nov. 24th, 2021
An intense debate within the Lutheran Church that began when same-sex marriage was first legalized may finally be resolved… at least on paper.
For years, Pastors opposed to same-sex marriage have refused to sign state-issued marriage licenses in order to protest the 2015 federal legalization of same-sex marriage (Obergefell v Hodges). Signing licenses, they say, would make them ‘agents of the state’ for a government that’s definition of marriage disagrees with their own.
Now, Lutheran leaders have released a clear message on the issue: Pastors should sign marriage licenses and respect the government’s marriage laws, even if they don’t agree with them.
In a report titled Marriage Between Church and State: A Report on Clergy Serving as ‘Agents of the State,’ the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS) Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR) writes that:
“Marriage truly does stand between church and state. It is both sacred and secular. It is God’s institution and holy work, but one that He enacts by means of earthly authorities and instruments such as laws and customs. Marriage, by God’s own created design, is subject to earthly laws and customs, even though human laws and customs sometimes undermine or even abrogate God’s good purposes for marriage.”
Basically -- Pastors and lay members of the Lutheran Church don’t have to agree with ‘earthly’ marriage laws, but they should respect and adhere to them. Clergy members can decline to participate in same-sex marriage ceremonies, but they shouldn’t refuse to sign marriage licenses for ceremonies they do perform.
Marriage is sacred within the Lutheran Church, the CTCR explains, but it's also a secular institution protected by law.
(And rightly so!)
And it’s (mostly) good news. Although a marriage rite can be a part of many people’s spiritual lives, marriage is ultimately a secular contract -- at least that’s the way the law sees it.
The Constitution protects an individual’s right to enter into the institution of marriage on their own terms. This means that all people have the right to marry and receive the benefits of marriage, regardless of their race, gender, ability, sexual identity, or faith.
To honor this right for everyone, religion must be left out of the law.
Still, the Lutheran Church isn’t alone in this debate -- nearly all faith organizations have faced passionate discussions and intense disagreements between members over same-sex marriage in recent years. The United Methodist Church (UMC), the Catholic Church, and even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints have been asked to reconsider their policies and doctrine. Some organizations, such as the UMC, may simply split over the issue.
(This is why AMM is so passionate and vocal about marriage equality.)
As calls for inclusivity within faith organizations increase, organizations will either adapt, or, as recent polls show, many members will leave in search of more accepting spaces.
In the meantime… American Marriage Ministries will always advocate for marriage equality, celebrate love, and offer minister ordinations for free online to all adults.
Become a Wedding Officiant with Our Free Online Ordination!