To Sign or Not to Sign

The Christian magazine First Things has published a document titled, The Marriage Pledge. The pledge calls for pastors and others to divorce Christian marriage from civil marriage by refusing to sign “government-provided marriage certificates, ask couples to seek civil marriage separately from their church-related vows and blessings,” and “preside only at those weddings that seek to establish a Christian marriage.” Marriage as an institution was created by God, and is blessed by the church, and recognized by the state. Those affixing their signatures to the pledge declare they will no longer be agents of the state following the state’s redefinition of marriage.

Traditionally marriage has served a twofold purpose. First, it serves as a covenant of committed companionship between a man and a woman, the basic unit of society and the only institution that provides for the continued flourishing of humanity. Second, the state recognizes the marriage license as a legal contract between a husband and his wife. Marriage is first a covenant; and second a contract. But how can we marry a couple and then refuse to sign the very document that gives their union legal significance and protections under the law?

In an article entitled Not Yet Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention says the pledge is premature. Moore posits, “if the state ever forced congregations or religious institutions to solemnize unions that are not, in our view, marriages, we would be compelled to obey God and conscience and not the bureaucrats…that moment will not be upon us any time soon.” There is no instance I am aware of where a pastor has been forced to solemnize a same-sex marriage. Why the haste?

Moore is not alone in calling for restraint. John Stonestreet at the Colson Center agrees there is no rush to sign the pledge. He writes, “There may very well come a time when the church must take this step. It is quite conceivable that church officials will be forced out of the civil marriage business and not even given the option of being an agent of the state. But my view is that we’ll know when that time comes, because we’ll have been forced out. But let them do it to us. Let’s not leave before then.”

If that time does come Moore is right, “We must obey God rather than men,” Acts 5:29. But as Moore and Stonestreet have observed that time has not yet come. Until it does Moore advises, “by registering Gospel-qualified unions as civil marriages and not officiating at unions that are not Gospel-qualified, we call the government to its responsibility even as we call attention to its limits.” Like Stonestreet cautioned, “There may very well come a time when the church must take this step,” but as Moore pointed out, “Not yet.”

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