Tipping Point

Does the continuation of civility and moral community require that we maintain the American imperium? Via Rod Dreher:

Father Patrick Reardon, pastor of All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church in Chicago, has just released the following statement:

Because the State of Illinois, through its legislature and governor’s office, have now re-defined marriage, marriage licenses issued by agencies of the State of Illinois will no longer be required (or signed) for weddings here at All Saints in Chicago.

Those seeking marriage in this parish will be counseled on the point.

Father Pat

No longer be required or signed. No recognition of the state’s authority over marriage. One is reminded of Alasdair Macintyre’s famous remark about the decline of the Western Roman Empire:

A crucial turning point in that earlier history occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring up the Roman imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of that imperium.

I could be wrong, but it sounds like the pastor of All Saints parish has concluded that the continuation of civility and moral community no longer has anything to do with shoring up the American civil order, and in fact depends on repudiating it in the matter of marriage.

A Benedict Option has been embraced by an Orthodox parish in Chicago. Who’s next?

Father Pat has never been bashful about playfully expressing provocative opinions. He’s quite involved in the conservative ecumenical journal, Touchstone, as Senior Editor. He is widely respected and influential beyond Orthodox circles. Though I had not stopped to guess who would be the first fairly-high-profile pastor or denomination to announce such a policy, he probably would not have been in my top ten list. There are much hotter heads and more strident, quick tongues than his. His precedent has gravitas.

The comments to Dreher’s blog add to my conviction that we’ve reached a tipping point. First, the story proved a sort of Rorschach test. Perceptions of Father Pat’s intentions were all over the spectrum, as initially were perceptions of Rod’s approval or disapproval. There were many who thought this was some sort of protest, intended to influence Illinois to reverse its course, which is the same idiotic treatment mainstream media give every move of the Catholic hierarchy: it’s all about power and politics.

We just don’t even understand each other any more. I see little hope of regaining that in the short run. Some power has come down and confused our tongues.

But there were those who saw and endorsed more or less what I saw (my 100% endorsement of any of the following is uncertain):

Brian: My oldest daughter goes to a Christian school, and one of the things they do is recite the pledge of allegiance regularly. As someone who served in the military and grew up disposed to see God’s providence involved in the creation and sustaining of this country, I was surprised the negative reaction that the pledge elicited in me. Why should my kids pledge allegiance to a state that holds them in contempt? Why should we pledge allegiance to anything other than the Kingdom?

VikingLS: The point isn’t to prevent the acceptance of gay marriage, it’s to opt out out of the system.

Cascadia: This is the best news I’ve heard in weeks. Drawing a bright line between civil and religious marriage should have been done long ago. It would have saved much spilled ink.

Hans: I think that’s long overdue.

Until the last 50 years or so, US marriage laws (or at least NY laws,where I live) were more or less consistent with the Christian understanding of marriage. But the laws have been changes to something that in no way resembles Christian marriage. All civil marriages are now “gay marriages.” There is no recognition at all of reproduction obligations, and what is left is a series af tax benefits, inheritance and other rights, and access to various subsidized social benefits, like employer sponsored family health insurance ….

ck: The point is that the pastors of the church are no longer complicit in state licensure. By not signing the state license, this protects the church from civil rights claims made against them. And seeing that religious liberty will no longer be a defense, the best the Church may be able to do is stop being complicit in granting state marriage licenses.

Michael K: The US might become like Europe and Latin American countries with a Napoleonic Law Code. There are two marriage ceremonies. The first is the legal signing of the marriage license at the gov’t office and the second is the religious ceremony. A religious minister in these countries do not sign the state marriage license as is the practice in the US and I would guess most of the Anglosphere. This Orthodox church is de facto adopting the Continental practice. If you want to get married at this church and have the marriage legally recognized you need the two ceremonies.

rr: This is a great move! Kudos to Fr. Reardon. My brother is a Protestant pastor and is considering the same thing. From what I can tell, many other clergy are as well.

Civic marriage has been a farce since the advent of no-fault divorce. Same-sex marriage will only make it more of a joke. The time is overdue for the church to distance itself from the state’s nonsense on marriage.

For what it’s worth, here’s my take. This isn’t a political protest. It isn’t grandstanding (Father Pat’s too good a writer to let it go with a terse announcement to an e-mail list if he wanted to grandstand).

It’s a sorrowful recognition that what the state calls “marriage” has lost a critical mass of commonality with what the Church knows marriage to be, so that Father Pat as a clergyman wants no part of the civil counterfeit (kinda like a conscientious baker, but you can’t lay a glove on the Padre, neener, neener!). It’s a statement that it is a matter of indifference to Father Pat whether a couple is civilly married as long as they’re sacramentally religiously married (I venture a guess that any future convert couples from Evangelical churches that forewent the state license for similar reasons will be received as married though their religious marriages were not sacramental). I very much doubt that Father Pat will discourage couples from getting civilly “married,” aware of the place at the government trough that status assures them.

More deeply, I think Rod nails it with his Macintyre quote: Father Pat has “ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of [the American] imperium.”

But I would hope that the counseling Fr. Pat provides or arranges for others to provide would include:

  1. Recognition that being “married” civilly (essentially, a domestic partnership or civil union with the state arrogating the name “marriage” because of it’s cachet) confers a lot of financial and other governmental benefits.
  2. That two high-wage spouses might benefit on income tax by not being married, filing as single.
  3. That no civil marriage means no civil divorce. I know of a crack-pot (or was he a visionary?) who forewent civil marriage in favor of an oddly-named Christian Reconstructionist ceremony – but went to court years later to get out (the court not learning for a very long time that these idiots were seeking relief to which they weren’t entitled; theirs was no better legally than a Marvin v Marvin palimony case).

There are others suggestions I considered in lawyerly fashion but have omitted. Antenuptial agreements if you’re not going to marry civilly, for instance. In Catholic Canon Law, it’s my understanding, such an agreement on how to divide property in the event of separation is just about conclusive proof that you don’t even really intend to be married as the Church knows marriage.

Longer-term, this may signal the turning of the popular tide against government benefits for the mere status of “married” in the government’s debased sense. This should have come up when “child-free” marriage became the oxymoronic rage. Now perhaps we’ll tie some of those benefits to the presence of dependent children in the home rather than to “marriage” per se.

But if I’m right, Father Pat’s a bellewether, however this plays out.

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“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.