Do I need to be legally married to be welcome in the church?
10 January 2022 |
Dear Aunt Sevvy,
This is a real situation.
I am a 3rd-generation Adventist (not recently active) with 16 years in the Adventist education system, and a widower after 40+ years of marriage to one Adventist wife.
About four years after her death, I began a monogamous long-term relationship with a Christian woman. We have been together over 8 years and are both in our mid-70’s. I have recently joined her in attending a local Adventist church where she feels welcome.
I just read that GC president Ted Wilson says that such a long-term relationship is contrary to God’s plan. We are committed to continue our relationship without marriage. Are we in such a state of sin that we are shut out of official Adventist membership?
Signed, Shacked up faithfully
Let’s be clear that marriage in the Bible wasn’t the religious, civil and legal obligation it is now. If you were to follow the example of the patriarchs (Aunty doesn’t recommend it) you would simply “buy” a couple of sisters and their slave women, and have a whole bunch of kids with all four of them in the same household. (Let’s not forget that some of the 12 tribes, after whom the gates in the New Jerusalem in the new earth are named, descended not from wives, but from the slave concubines Bilhah and Zilpah, who probably had no choice in the matter.)
Aunty believes in modern-day marriage, because it protects women in ways that it didn’t in ancient times. But that doesn’t mean your choice is totally unbiblical. In fact, if you want to be technical about it, it is the modern-day religious/civil marriage that is never described in the Bible; it was inherited from earlier Catholic and Protestant ceremonies.
I don’t know why the two of you decided not to get married, but I suspect it is for practical reasons: some people can’t marry at your age because it complicates things like taxes, inheritance, social security and family relationships. It does not make sense to Aunty that being in a long-term committed relationship like yours would allow all the comfort of a relationship except for sex and cohabitation, unless you do extra paperwork to satisfy the government.
There is a difference between being married in the sight of God and asking the government to change a bunch of things about your legal status at a time in your life when those changes would harm you. Churches have confused the original meaning of marriage (the joining of two hearts in the sight of God) with the legal definition of marriage (legally changing your status by filling out forms for the government).
What can Aunty recommend? Here are some options:
- Keep it quiet and just act married.
- Attend with no official acceptance into membership.
- Try to find a church where you can be fully accepted.
- Find a cooperative clergyman to marry you in the sight of God, without government recognition. (Contact Aunt Sevvy if you need help in this search.)
Aunt Sevvy wants you to know that she is glad that you have found love again after heartbreak and loss. That is a rare and beautiful thing. I wish you and your partner years of loving bliss together.
You can write to Aunt Sevvy at DearAuntSevvy@gmail.com. Please keep questions or comments short. What you send us at this address won’t necessarily be, but could be, published—without identification of the writer. Aunt Sevvy writes her own column, and her opinions are not necessarily those of Adventist Today’s editors.