Friday, February 4, 2011

For God, For Country and For Yale

That's one of the mottos of the university from which I received my Master of Divinity. It's an interesting construct, given the perception that many universities, especially in the Ivy League, are unpatriotic at best and downright Communist at worst. As the wife of a soldier and having been known to occasionally vote for a Republican, I can report feeling a little alone, shall we say, but not terribly.

Yet I always think of this motto when called upon to do one of my least favorite tasks in ministry: signing a marriage license.

I hate it. And each time I do it, I feel like I'm betraying Someone.

The thing is, my primary devotion is to be to God. This means, with regard to marriage, that I need to bless the unions of people who I feel are embarking together on a journey of companionship, devotion and dedication to God, God's desires and God's expectations.

No pressure.

When I sign a marriage license, I'm acting in some capacity as an agent of the State. The government recognizes my authority (even as a religious figure) and allows me to sign off that two people have committed their lives together and, through this act, should receive whatever recognition and benefits come from the State to married people.

I don't want to work for the State. If I had wanted that, I never would have changed my major from political science. (Lo, these many years ago...)

I'm a big fan of the privatization of marriage, but that's a different post.

My issue here is that my job is to consider the spiritual aspect of a union, to encourage a couple as they make promises to one another in front of others, to encourage others to support them in the promises and in this endeavor. My allegiance to God means I might bless couples who aren't recognized by the state as such, even while drawing stricter boundaries around what it means to be committed to one another. The state doesn't care if you forsake all others, God (and, thus, the Church) does.

When the State comes in, then they can say who is really "married" and who isn't.

I don't want to be a part of that.

When I think of "For God, for Country and for Yale", I think about the fact that my allegiance to God is supposed to be light years ahead of my allegiance to the United States, which comes still before my allegiance to Yale.

I'm weak and I've never yet told a couple to go ahead and see a judge for the legal side of their marriage- that I'd cover the spiritual side.

But each time, I press down on those carbon copies, I give a little sigh.

I guess church and state aren't quite separate enough for my taste.

Each day I consider that what I do is for God and I must remember that.

Less often, but still frequently, I consider what it means to be an American and the rights and privileges that entails.

And once in a while, I consider that what I do reflects on Yale.


Anonymous said...

Julia, I enjoyed reading this post. I am a colleague in ministry here in Anchorage and I've been thinking about this issue lately. I understand entirely the awkwardness of signing that "license." And my biggest concern is the one you lifted up... that the state really could care less about the vows the couple makes, the longevity of the vows, or the spiritual aspects of what is being done at the altar with those words of promise. Yet, ultimately, in the eyes of so many, it is the license that validates the event. Sigh...
Peter at St John UMC

Pastor Julia said...

Peter, you've said here what I wanted to say, but much more eloquently. Thank you!