By now just about everyone has heard that the Supreme Court of the United State has declined to hear the appeals of multiples cases where lower courts had ruled against states holding to the traditional understanding of marriage as the union of one man and one woman. I live and serve as a pastor in Oklahoma, one of the states whose people have been overruled by unelected judges. Now because a federal court has spoken and the Supreme Court will not hear the case even more states will have to abide by this judicial legislation.
I know that there are many concerns about the implications of the Supreme Court’s decision not to take up this case. What will this mean for society, our children, the church, and the list goes on. One question that has been brought to my attention is what are pastor to do in regard to serving as agents of the state in performing marriages? It is easy to throw up our hands and give it up. I spoke with a brother pastor earlier this week who was ready to go to the court house and renounce his privilege of marrying couples because of the current state of affairs. I urged him not to do this.
Any pastor who considers giving up performing marriages (even with the option of blessing a civil marriage) must consider what all they would be giving up. If it has been worth it up to now to perform marriages, then it is worth it for faithful pastor to continue to do so. The opportunity to guide an engaged couple through premarital instruction, to proclaim God’s Word before friends and family of the couple have been worth for me up to now, and I don’t plan on changing my practice now that the state is confused about what marriage is.
Let’s face it; weddings have not been easy for pastors for quite a while. Wedding planners, television, and family and friends lacking a clear understanding of what is proper in worship come together to encourage couples to ask for strange practices that usually are less than helpful in proclaiming the Gospel and are sometimes contradictory to it. I have heard many pastors say they would rather do a funeral than a wedding, yet most of us have put up with the headache of dealing with bridal parties, photographers, wedding planners, and everything else that goes with the production that is a typical modern wedding because we are shepherds called to care for these lambs of Christ. We have recognized that even though some do not recognize weddings and the preparation that goes into them as a time for pastoral care, that is what they are. Pastors do not bring legitimacy to the wedding, we bring the Word of God. We could resort to only blessing civil marriages, but let’s be honest the opportunity to bring the Word of God to bear on this most solemn of events would be diminished.
There may come a time when pastors are forced to choose between giving up being agents of the state in conducting marriage and violating their conscience. I for one am not going to preemptively relinquish an opportunity to care for those souls entrusted to my care out of fear that one day I will be sued, fined, or jailed for how I provide pastoral care. I am much more concerned with the judgment of the Chief Shepherd than I am of the chief justice. The Lord has not called me to worry about what suffering may come for caring for His people. I will not turn and run though the wolf be at the door, because He did not turn and run from me, though I have been the wolf to Him.
Until I am faced with the explicit choice of giving up the authority to conduct marriages or conducting marriages for everyone who asks, I will continue to provide all the pastoral care that I can to those in my flock who desire marriage in the church. Since I was ordained I have been clear with every couple that comes to me for marriage, that my involvement is as a pastor providing pastoral care. I will not marry couples who will not listen to the Word of God by coming to premarital instruction. Nor will I marry two people if neither is a member in good standing of the congregation I serve, unless another pastor has asked me to do so on his behalf. The fact that the courts have made gay and lesbian “marriages” legal does not change my practice.
St. Paul admonishes the saints in Rome to “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” (Romans 12:12) This Sunday in the three year lectionary we again hear the invitation “Come to the Wedding Feast!” (Matthew 22:4) What joy is our in Christ our Lord, who suffered and died to prepare a feast of rich food and well-aged wine for His beloved bride?! As we hope for the final fulfillment in the resurrection of the body and the life of the of the world to come we even now rejoice at the foretaste of the feast to come as we are given the pledge of our Lord’s Body and Blood at the Lamb’s high feast. By His grace we are able to patiently endure the afflictions of this age as we pray for the strength to confess His Word faithfully, for the wisdom necessary for those in authority to govern well, and finally that the Lord would hasten His return and for His sake bring us in robes of His righteousness to feast.
Almighty God, our heavenly Father, because of Your tender love toward us sinners You have given us Your Son that, believing in Him, we might have everlasting life. Continue to grant us Your Spirit that we may remain steadfast in this faith to the end and finally come to life everlasting; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. (LSB, 311)
Ned Moerbe, Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church