Saturday, April 25, 2015

Influential Orthodox priest not signing marriage licenses

(AZ Daily Sun) - Father Patrick Henry Reardon's note to his flock at Chicago's All Saints Orthodox Church was short and simple -- yet a sign of how complicated life is becoming for traditional religious believers.

"Because the State of Illinois, through its legislature and governor's office, has 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," he wrote in the parish newsletter.

The key words were "or signed." The veteran priest was convinced that he faced a collision between an ancient sacrament and new political realities that define a civil contract. His goal, he said, was not to "put my people in a tough spot," but to stress that believers now face complications when they get married -- period.

The question priests must ask, when signing marriage licenses, is "whether or not you're acting on behalf of the state when you perform that rite. It's clear as hell to me that this is what a priest is doing," said Reardon, reached by telephone.

"Lay people don't face the sacramental question like a priest. They are trying to obtain the same civil contract and benefits as anyone else and they have to get that from the state. It's two different moral questions."

This is a timely question, as the U.S. Supreme Court nears a crossroads on same-sex marriage. The issue of whether clergy should clip this tie to the state is one that is causing tensions -- not just between doctrinal liberals and conservatives, but also between those with differing views of the theology of marriage and approaches to current political realities.
In a recent LifeWay Research survey, 6 in 10 Americans disagreed with the statement that "marriage should be defined and regulated by the state" and 49 percent agreed that "religious weddings should not be connected to the state's definition and recognition of marriage." However, 71 percent of pastors disagreed with the statement, "Clergy should no longer be involved in the state's licensing of marriage."

At the conservative journal First Things, 444 clergy and lay leaders had, as of earlier this week, signed "The Marriage Pledge," promising: "We will no longer sign government-provided marriage certificates. We will ask couples to seek civil marriage separately from their church-related vows and blessings."

These debates are about "strategy and timing, not ... faithfulness," stressed evangelical activist John Stonestreet, writing at Clergy will know it's time to exit the "civil marriage business" when they are forced out.

"Stay in the game! ... Refuse to render to Caesar authority that does not belong to him," Stonestreet argued. "Get censured! Get sued! Be nice and kind, but firm; keep the witness as long as you can."

The Rev. Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, recently wrote that any church that embraces the sexual revolution is "no longer a church of Jesus Christ." Yet a pastor who signs a marriage license is "not affirming the state's definition of marriage," he argued, but bearing witness to "the state's role in recognizing marriage as something that stands before and is foundational to society."

This topic is sure to be discussed as clergy and activists gather in Washington, D.C. for the April 25 March for Marriage. Reardon noted that his church's national leader, while not directly addressing the marriage-license issue, sent a pastoral letter to his bishops, clergy and laypeople noting that marriage debates cannot be avoided.

The upcoming Supreme Court decision could "mark a powerful affirmation of marriage between one man and one woman ... or it can initiate a direction which the Holy Orthodox Church can never embrace," stated Metropolitan Joseph of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America. "Throughout the history of our faith our Holy Fathers have led the Orthodox laity" to unite to "preserve the faith against heresy from within, and against major threats from societies from without."

At his altar, said Reardon, this means, "I cannot represent the State of Illinois anymore. ... I'm not making a political statement. I'm making a theological statement."


  1. if the license is unsigned the couple are not legally married. period. there are situations involving children, information and visiting in hospital conditions, not to mention that if one runs off and legally marries another there is no way to prosecute for bigamy and depending on the laws of the state you may have trouble with who can sign for the kids under some situation etc. etc. you have no automatic claim on social security as a survivor, or inheritance if one dies, or anything that you are not explicitly named regarding in a signed, witnessed, notarized and filed legal document.

    1. While I have no reason to doubt any of what you say is true, it is all quite beside the point. The relationship between the Church and "civil" marriage has always been ambiguous - a grey area the Church could compromise with the state a because the state did not hold to a view of marriage that was openly anti-Christian. Now that it does (i.e. has an anti-Christian view of man and thus marriage) we can no longer maintain the status quo. We now have to separate ourselves from such an unholy rite/view/legal contract.

      Now, there may be good reasons for any particular Christian person/couple to enter into the civil contractual arrangement erroneously named "marriage", but that is a different matter altogether and one that the Church and her clergy should not be a part of...

  2. It can be signed by a representative of the state.

  3. I wonder if his bishop told him to do this.

    1. Perhaps, but I don't think so - based on a comment Fr. Patrick made on another web site. Still, his bishop (as well as every other bishop in America) SHOULD tell their clergy to do this very thing...

  4. Get a civil marriage separately.

  5. Pace Brian, that is how it is for most Churches in Europe already, I know for Catholic ones and I would presume Orthodox similarly. You go and get your civil wedding, then have the Church marriage the next day, with the Church reminding you that you are not [i]actually[/i] married until the Church says so. Good for Fr. Reardon for doing likewise.

    1. In Europe it is only like this because various anti-church movements or the Communists imposed it at some points during the last century. It can even go one step further than a simple separation "a l'amiable": in France it is forbidden for a priest to marry two people who do not have a civil wedding certificate - he could be put to jail for this.
      So it may be that withdrawing from signing marriage licenses could end up playing exactly the game of the forces that try to de-Christianize society.

    2. Iosif,

      I hear what you are saying, and would probably agree with you IF the "game" was not already lost. Thus, these forces have succeeded, and (at least here in NA) we are already "de-Christianized". Thus, if we were to continue and "play the game" of maintaining some sort of equivalency with Christian marriage with what is happening in the society, we will lose anyways. What we will lose is mostly our voice. If we make a clear distinction (by not playing the "legal" game) then we can speak more clearly, mostly to ourselves, but also to society as well...

    3. This is not a fight between "religion" and "no religion", this is a fight between Christianity and secularism, which, at least in the places where it is widespread, is showing its true colors and behaving exactly like a religion (for exmple in France many of the secular marriage halls look more and more like churches, there are even "secular baptism ceremonies," with sponsors and certificates delivered thereafter, etc.)

      And the moment churches are removed or remove themselves from the "legal marriage game" they surrender this space to the secular religion, which then will make its best to provide a pseudo-religious ceremonial atmosphere around these things, such that people will not feel the need for a Church wedding thereafter.

      And also, the game in North America is not lost, at least compared to how lost it is in other Christian lands (for data you can see )

    4. Iosif,

      I agree with you that secularism is a religion. One of it's central myths of course is that it is not, but it is a myth. That said, I disagree with you that the Church should stay in the "legal marriage game". Indeed, as many constitutional scholars here in America have pointed out, by being part of the legal mechanism it opens the door for the state to come in and enforce it's anthropology on to the Church's Sacraments.

      It's interesting that you bring up France. It appears that Secularism has indeed defeated the old, semi "Christian" society. Not that it matters much, as Islam is obviously defeating Secularism in what can only be described as a rout...

  6. I am considering doing the same since I cannot continue serve the agenda of our leftist politicians.

  7. There are those who say this spells the end of marriage. Those people are fools. Marriage began its end when was seen as a mere civil contract; worse, a contract that could be dissolved effortlessly.
    As Christians, we have only two options left to us:
    Sign the worthless contract for practical reasons.
    Or boycott the damned thing.

    Somehow, I get the feeling that the Christian martyrs of the first 5 centuries would have taken the latter route. The question is, can we? It's unfortunately a choice I'll have to make if I ever marry.

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