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, Beliefnet.com 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.