I'm afraid I may have slunk to the depths of troll question engineering, but I'm having a hard time with this answer.

According to some facebook meme

facebook meme

it is "dictionarily" invalid to argue that "sanctity" is a state that can be enforced by the government.

I attempted to call this particular facebook personality out on the carpet by saying that their definition of religious was invalid; that it did not include worship.

I've been hearing a lot about this recently on Relevant Radio concerning the redefinition of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to mean literally, freedom of worship, instead of freedom of religion.

Did any of the Popes write on this? What is Christian religion over and above Christian worship and why must it be protected?

  • This might be closeable on account of the fact that, in theory, you could substitute Christian with Islam or Judaism. But, the circumstances are specific to Christianity (in the United States). I don't want to screw up the site, but I would like an answer because I want to talk about this with my Religious Ed. class Wednesday.
    – Peter Turner
    Feb 6, 2012 at 21:47
  • I originally posted this as an answer, but it was so off-topic that I moved it to my blog. Here's another counter-argument to consider. paranoidrants.blogspot.com/2012/02/… Feb 7, 2012 at 3:34
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    @David I don't agree with your logic... you are limiting things to your religion. Law doesn't look at a single religion; there are other religions that are happy with gay marriage - by not changing things, the exact same logic, reversed, applies. Frankly, the law here is unrelated to religion. In the UK, civil partnerships will soon be allowed in churches, but the church will not be obliged to offer them. A reasonable starting point. C of E heads say "no", but ground-level ministers have actually been lobbying to allow it. Feb 7, 2012 at 6:35
  • @David for clarification; I should also emphasise that by "your religion" I don't mean Christianity - I mean your particular angle within Christianity. There are plenty, plenty pro-equality Christian groups (and pro-equality individuals who, by location, are in intolerant denominations) Feb 7, 2012 at 6:37
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    "Proposition 8" (the California ban on same-sex marriage) was today overturned, and declared unconstitutional. Basically, the law-makers disagree. The Christian right looks set to appeal, probably at the supreme court. That raises the stakes even higher; personally I think that's a very risky move for the supporters of the ban. Feb 7, 2012 at 19:50

2 Answers 2


The biggest issue I can see in America is the frequent confusion of Christian marriage and Governmental marriage (which hints at a greater confusion between America and God, but that's another topic for another day.)

From a Christian perspective, marriage is defined as a covenant between a man and a woman to honor and love each other, and treat the other as better than oneself until one of them should die. The relationship between the two in marriage should represent the relationship between Christ and the Church in how it operates, and thus, point to Christ and his love. Ultimately, the governmental definition of marriage shouldn't matter at all from a Christian perspective.

The crux of the problem is that American Christians have, for too long, viewed things as though Christianity was primarily made for marriage, and not marriage for Christianity. Visit a large singles group in the Bible belt in the US, and you'll see what I mean. It becomes the ultimate desire of the average church-going single to find a mate, not to worship God. This kind of attitude begets a Christianity that doesn't seek after God, so much as it seeks after happiness in marriage, which means people are seeking earthly things instead of the creator who created those earthly things. This kind of seeking for earthly things ultimately fails. It's like C.S. Lewis' quote: "Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither." And of course, when two Christians, looking to their spouse for happiness ultimately find that they're not fulfilled in that search, their marriage looks no different than a non-Christian marriage. Not understanding the true meaning of marriage (to represent Christ and the church: Ephesians 5:22-33), these people view marriage as a religion unto itself, and attribute the worship of it accordingly.

So the question in my mind is: what is the difference between Christian marriage and any other marriage? Should we even care what non-Christians (including the government) do? I don't think we should. As Christians, our focus should be more on making sure our own representation of Christ and the Church, through our marriage, is so clear, that it shines before men and points to Jesus.

As for the United States, the right to worship as one sees fit ought to be protected, as it's part of the constitution, but I see nothing in any proposed constitutional redefinitions of marriage that would ultimately prevent someone the right to worship as he sees fit. Unless, of course the object being worshiped is the Governmental institution marriage, in which case, yeah, you've got a problem.

And to answer the basic question at the end: I think Christian religion and Christian worship cannot be completely separate. Romans 12:1 says that our spiritual act of worship is to present our bodies as a living sacrifice. I think it's possible to practice the Christian religion without practicing Christian worship. All you need to do to do that is do "Christian" things, but proper Christian worship is recognizing Christ's ability to save us from our own depravity, and then glorifying God for having had sent his Son for us. I don't think, however, it's possible to practice Christian worship without practicing some semblance of the Christian religion, which, in it's purest form, is glorifying God... be it through marriage or through some other means.

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    Without reservation one of the best answers I've read on this site or any. Thank you, and welcome. Feb 10, 2012 at 20:48

Ironically, I think the constitutional issue here is the simpler one.

Remember that from the Christian world view, marriage is established by God between Adam and Eve. It is a religious structure before it is a social or legal structure. Therefore, by the reasoning of the poster in the question, any law or regulation that recognizes marriage — at all — is unconstitutional. That would include not just who can marry whom, but also joint filing for taxes, federal employment benefits for spouses, federal tax breaks for private employment benefits for spouses, immigration rules, health privacy rules, joint property laws, and much more.

On the other hand, the secular (a-religious) view is that God could not have established marriage (because this view doesn't allow for the existence of God in the first place). Therefore marriage must have first arisen as a social or legal structure, which religion later co-opts. If marriage is primarily a social or legal structure, then society or government should be allowed to set it's bounds at will. Any other restriction would be the same as legislating religious compliance, which, while often tempting, is probably not a good idea.

Fortunately, there is a third category. The poster in the question is fundamentally flawed, because it focuses in on the word "religion" and ignores the entirety of the phrase "establishment of religion". This completely changes the constitutional implications. We must now also think about what constitutes an "Establishment of religion".

On the surface, marriage might qualify as an "establishment of religion". In that case, the poster is entirely invalid; not only is Congress prevented from making any laws about marriage, but as a confirmed religious establishment the definition is left entirely up to religion, and government has no say at all. If religions choose to exclude homosexual marriage, then that's what marriage is and Congress has no power to do anything about it. It's also worth noting that all tax, inheritance, immigration, employment benefits, etc outlined in my first paragraph would be impossible... at least at the federal level. Part of the premise of the poster is to first accept the word "sanctity", and the result is that this is the position the poster supports most strongly... more so than legalized homosexual marriage.

A better legal interpretation here is that marriage is not an establishment of religion, at least in the Constitutional sense. Instead, the Constitution is referring to different religious groups: the Catholic church is an establishment of religion, the Southern Baptists are (maybe have?) an establishment of religion, the Mormons are/have an establishment of religion, and so on, such that even Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism are establishments of religion and equally protected. The purpose, then, of this clause is to prevent the state from favoring (or disfavoring) any one religious group over others. The founders did not want another Church of England telling them how to worship. This clause ultimately has nothing to do with marriage at all.

Put another way, the creator of the poster likely sees religion trying to use government to create new restrictions on marriage, and believes that the constitution prohibits this. On the other hand, many Christians see the lbgt community trying to use government to expand marriage to mean something it has never meant before, and use the exact same reasoning to argue against it. Christians could easily create a poster with most of the same text that argues the exact opposite (and by acknowledging the whole "establishment" phrase rather than just the one word, would probably have a better interpretation of the constitution in the process). However, I think I've shown here that both views are flawed.

The last interpretation does allow some room for Christians to argue that marriage is primarily a religious matter, that the precise definition is not something that society is free to expand at will, and any laws defining or using marriage relationships are merely acknowledging what exists elsewhere. However, I think the current legal landscape is against Christians here. Marriage may be a religious structure, but the establishment clause does not create any protected legal status for marriage, because marriage is not shown to be an "establishment" of religion. The state has the power to recognize any marriage it wants to, even if it is clearly counter to the traditional definition. Constitutional issues aside, Christians are free to argue that the man-woman definition of marriage is the status quo and that expanding that definition is a bad idea (and I believe they would be right to do so). Unfortunately society and government no longer recognize God's authority on this matter.

The good news is that I believe that the state does not have the power to force establishments of religion to recognize these so-called marriages. Therefore, perhaps a better response by Christians would be for our establishments to more strongly assert that right.

We can now also answer the religion vs worship question, using some of what we learned addressing the constitutional issue. Christian religion would be an "establishment". Worship would be the practices of the individuals in the establishment.

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    Doubly ironically, Catholics (at least the Bishop of the Diocese of Madison) argues that marriage is not a religious institution. He uses the natural law argument and just says what marriage is, is what it is. And he used what you said in your first paragraph about Adam and Eve to show that it is not a religious institution, but one innate to mankind since the dawn of man.
    – Peter Turner
    Feb 6, 2012 at 22:26
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    The meaning of "establishment" in the First Amendment is summed up by the lemon test, which details the requirements for legislation concerning religion.
    – hammar
    Feb 7, 2012 at 1:21
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    "This leaves room for Christians to argue that marriage is still primarily a religious issue" strictly, the definition of marriage is not religious at all; it is a legal term (since the question is posed in US terms, it would be Title 1, Chapter 1, Section 7 of the U.S. Code). The issue of revising that legal term is then also unrelated to religion. That most religions tend to get excited about stamping their definition of marriage onto things does not change this. Feb 7, 2012 at 13:36
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    @Marc - see the next to last paragraph. I just said it leaves room for the argument... not that I necessarily agree with that argument. Feb 7, 2012 at 15:34
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    @Flimzy I would say religion covers everything in how man relates to God, not just the reconciliation, in which case it was there from day 1 (or rather, day 6) May 11, 2012 at 15:04

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