Thursday, July 23, 2009

file under: if you can't beat 'em, join 'em...almost literally.

Okay, not many things I read make me laugh out loud. In fact, I can think of only a few: some (most?) Roz Chast cartoons, Andy Borowitz, Dave Barry, Joe Queenan and selected Zits comics. But I read a story in the newspaper today - well, in the screen-paper today - and found this.

The Church of England has begun what can kindly be termed a two-for-one promotion: "Come to Church and with just one visit, we'll perform your marriage ceremony and baptize your children." I suppose that's making lemonade out of lemons, where the Church takes the rather unsavory state of an unmarried couple who is raising their child(ren) without the benefits of marriage and in the space of just one visit to their sanctuary, turns them into a whole new family: Wife, Husband and Children.

The part that made me laugh was the quote from John Broadhurst, the Bishop of Fulham, who sounds like someone I'd like to meet. His take on the Church's decision was somewhat less gracious than others: "It is a pity they have not put in a funeral for grandma as well," he said.

Apparently, many couples in the UK are opting for a civil ceremony and the Church wants them back. Through this program, they are simply trying to make it easier for people to enter (or re-enter) the Church to sanctify their union.

Turns out that 44% of the children born in Britain are to single moms. Forty-four percent!!! And 20% of couples who marry have one or more child together or from a previous relationship. I can see why the Church has opened its arms, that's a lot of people to risk losing, just because you want to hold onto archaic ideas like getting married before you have children.

Honestly, though, I don't know why this is even a news story. About a week ago, ran a story on the Top 10 celebrity "soulmate" couples. Two of these soulmate couples never bothered with anything as prosaic as a wedding ceremony, at least to each other. They had kids and never had any kind of "joining ceremony" for their families as far as I know. One of the couples (Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward) hit the fifty-year mark in their marriage before Newman's death.

Look, I know marriage isn't for the weak. And I also know that a failed marriage doesn't make you a failed person. But for God's sake, do we have to ignore the idea that making a marriage commitment is probably - probably! - a better choice for almost everyone who has children and raises them together?

And sure, religious tradition has us celebrating the return of one lost sheep to the fold. I get that. After all, where would religion be without sinners? Answer: Out of business.

It's just funny to me that in the space of about one generation, we've gone from one extreme to the other in terms of how we view co-habitation and children born to unmarried people. What used to be something of an embarrassment, something you coped with as best you could and then you moved on, and tried to do the right thing...has become something that gets celebrated, it gets headlines on the gossip shows and toasted by the masses.

I'm not saying that people who found themselves pregnant and unmarried in 1972 were pariahs who deserved to be scorned and abandoned. I'm not saying that couples who live together without being married aren't loving people who care about each other. But I am saying I don't think we're headed in the right direction if even a church has to develop a new ceremony that more or less negates some of their teachings, i.e. a religious marriage ceremony is a sacrament and a promise before God that publicly acknowledges a couple's committment. Better late than never, I guess, particularly when there are children involved.

But I think I agree with Reverend Broadhurst here. Bending your own rules to get more people to take the plunge feels disingenuous at best. And kind of sad, too.


LVCI said...

It matters little whether 'Church' or 'Civil', but rather what it signifies to one another... "Commitment".

-an act of committing to a charge or trust
-an agreement or pledge to do something in the future
-the state or an instance of being obligated or emotionally impelled

By not "committing ", it implies..
-a LACK act of committing to a charge or trust
-LACKING an agreement or pledge to do something in the future
-BEING LESS THEN emotionally impelled to one another

Even if one were to have an event in the backyard with friends and relatives to pledge their 'commitment' to one another.

Honestly, if two people can't even do the simplest of these I cannot imagine any sort of bonding what-so-ever for when future adverse events occur.

renee said...


Thanks for your comment. I think we agree - the public commitment is one of the key elements of announcing your union, in whatever forum you choose. This story surprises me because the Church seems all too willing to basically say, "That sanctity of marriage stuff? And committing to each other before perhaps starting a family? Don't worry about it. In this case, we'll do it your way."

If you have standards and rules, at least have the guts to uphold them. You may risk losing some fans, but you probably lost them long ago anyway.

I'm not saying they shouldn't agree to perform marriages between adults who have, in fact, already had children together. Just don't make a "here's our newest offer, we just want you all to feel good about yourselves and your choices" promotion about it.

Chris Casey said...

This has me thinking of my issues with the Catholic Church. Don't ask the people who want to stick with rules to change, do what Martin Luther did, and a few others, start your own branch of christianity that allows married and woman priests. Oh wait, I joined that church, the episcopal!

renee said...

Hi Chris -
If I understand your thoughts, I think we make the same point.

If you believe in something, you believe it. If you don't - for whatever reason - or some of it begins to trouble you unduly, it may be time to do one of two things: dig deeper and see if the troubling aspects of that belief lies within you and can be resolved, or lies outside of you and it's time to move on.

In the case here, people seem to be abandoning a religious wedding ceremony in large numbers, and the Church of England is alarmed. Maybe these couples stopped their religious affiliations years ago, maybe they just didn't want to go through the church to make their relationship 'legal.'

But to entice them back, the Church seems to be adandoning some of their core beliefs and creating a new "joining ceremony."

Yes, we're imperfect people and for me, I'll take my judgement someday, somewhere else, not from ayone on earth, including anyone wearing a collar or anyone sitting in the next pew.

I guess it's all about standards, and how high or low to maintain them. Does that make sense?