In June, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR) adopted Marriage Between Church and State: A Report on Clergy Serving as ‘Agents of the State.’ The report follows several requests, in recent years, for the CTCR to address the question of whether or to what extent LCMS clergy should continue to serve as agents of the state in officiating marriages and signing civil marriage licenses. In a letter that was recently distributed, along with the report, to the Synod roster, CTCR Executive Director Rev. Dr. Joel D. Lehenbauer writes,
“In the years since the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, Christians have faced increasing pressure to conform to the changing cultural definitions of marriage, sexuality and gender. As a church body committed to what Holy Scripture has to say regarding the lifelong union of one man and one woman as husband and wife, and to the sanctifying of those unions through the Word of God and prayer, the LCMS remains steadfast in defense of and advocacy for traditional marriage.
“Our 2016 convention addressed itself to this in a number of resolutions, most notably Resolution 14-04: ‘To Affirm the Right of Clergy to Continue Conducting Weddings in Accordance with Confession.’ Nevertheless, questions of conscience over this matter continue to arise. … With this report, the Commission seeks to provide a resource for pastors and congregations of the Synod to consider the theological and political dimensions of marriage and the rapidly changing views of marriage in our culture.”
Marriage Between Church and State opens with a recap of the 1981 CTCR report, Human Sexuality: A Theological Perspective. Consideration is given to:
- What marriage is and who defines it;
- The role of the state and the Christian’s call to respect those in authority;
- The implications of the Obergefell v. Hodges ruling;
- How Christians should respond when the state’s definition of marriage is contrary to God’s definition;
- Same-sex marriage; and
- The question of whether, and to what extent, Christians (both laity and clergy) may in good conscience participate in the state’s recognition of and legislation regarding the marriage contract.
The report concludes:
“Marriage … 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. …
“God, in His mercy, has given marriage as the foundational institution for all of society. The church’s witness to this divine gift is, therefore, of incalculable importance. This witness comes not only in the verbal testimony to the world as it tells of God’s design for marriage, but also as the actual marriages of believers demonstrate the way marriage is meant to work in human life. Therefore, while marriage is not, strictly speaking, an ecclesial (churchly) institution, the church cannot abdicate its responsibility to teach what God intends marriage to be.”
Posted Nov. 4, 2021