These statistics about dropping divorce rates may, however, be somewhat misleading, as outlined by the NY Times at http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/04/upshot/how-we-know-the-divorce-rate-is-falling.html?mabReward=RI%3A18&action=click&pgtype=Homepage®ion=CColumn&module=Recommendation&src=rechp&WT.nav=RecEngine&_r=0&abt=0002&abg=0 due to fewer marriages and greater cohabitation in recent years. Nonetheless, divorce is less popular this decade, as the Times writes: "Of course, the marriage rate has also fallen over this period. But even measuring divorces relative to the population that could plausibly get divorced — the number of people who are married — shows that divorce peaked in 1979, and has fallen by about 24 percent since."
This is indeed a good sign for family restoration.
Marriage policy is apparent through the licensing process, but Christians are struggling with how to manage these policies in light of changing legal definitions of marriage. Theologian and Speaker John Stonestreet, writing at the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview, discusses marriage, and how Christians should respond to changing regulatory dictates:
“Is it time for the church to get out of the state’s marriage business? Some say yes. I say no. Let’s talk about it more.
Some 60 percent of Americans live in a state where the definition of marriage has been changed to include same-sex couples. And the Supreme Court may soon enshrine the new definition nationwide.
In response, Christian churches and denominations, including evangelicals, are dividing between those who believe what Scripture and the church have always taught about human sexuality and marriage, and those who prefer to change with the times.
And, as I have written in a new article at BreakPoint.org, there is further disagreement among those who hold an historically orthodox view of marriage, about how we should best move forward in response to the state that seems hell-bent on denying it.
Writing in First Things last week, Ephraim Radner and Christopher Seitz have proposed what they call “The Marriage Pledge.” Because, they say, “the new definition of marriage no longer coincides with the Christian understanding of marriage between a man and woman,” they’ve asked clergy to “disengage” civil marriage from Christian marriage in the performance of pastoral duties.
Those who sign the pledge “will no longer serve as agents of the state in marriage . . . will no longer sign government-provided marriage documents . . . [and] will ask couples to seek civil marriage separately from their church-related vows and blessings.”
In practical terms, this means that once a couple makes vows before God in church, they’ll need to go see a justice of the peace to sign civil marriage documents for legal purposes. This is already how it works in other countries, like Germany, or closer to home, Mexico.
And the pledge is getting a lot of positive responses. The clergy of my church have signed, and my colleague Anne Morse, who wrote for Chuck Colson for many years here at BreakPoint, has supported it as well.
And I fully agree with Anne that Chuck would have been “proud of these Christian ministers” for standing for their convictions on marriage. But I don’t agree that he would have endorsed this pledge.
And neither do I endorse this pledge. At least not yet.
Now before I explain, let me be clear: I understand what the pledge signers—my brothers and sisters in Christ—are trying to do. And in no way do I question their motives or commitment to the orthodox view of marriage. Neither side here is “compromising.” This is a question of strategy. And here is why I differ.
First of all, there’s nothing on a state marriage license that requires clergy to say that marriage is something that it is not. But by refusing to sign any marriage licenses, we’re missing an opportunity to proclaim to the state and to the public what marriage truly is.
Second, by backing out of the civil marriage business, we risk perpetuating that illusion that marriage is something the government defines instead of something it recognizes, and we perpetuate the myth that the Christian view of marriage is only for us Christians. In fact, marriage existed before the church and before the state. It’s the job of both institutions to recognize it.
And here’s a question that bothers me. If clergy should not participate in civil marriage, why should laity? If it’s wrong for pastors, isn’t it wrong for parishioners?
Now, there may come a time when the state asks Christian ministers as agents of the state to participate in same-sex ceremonies. When that time comes, then yes, absolutely, no question, they should refuse.
And at that time, we may be forced out of the civil marriage business. If that happens, so be it. But let’s be forced. Let’s be forced out of the public square—not leave willingly. Instead of graciously bowing out, I ask ministers to graciously stay in to proclaim the truth of marriage, as well as their allegiance to an authority higher than that of the state.” Read his entire piece at BreakPoint at http://www.breakpoint.org/features-columns/articles/entry/12/26462?spMailingID=10022103&spUserID=ODk4MzEzMDgyMDcS1&spJobID=422217126&spReportId=NDIyMjE3MTI2S0.
Learn more about how marriage is affected by changing definitions at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=269418. Family restoration relies on strong marriage convictions from people of faith, living out those faith convictions in the public square. That means making God’s design for marriage apparent in state policy through the licensing process.