"We pray what we believe and we believe what we pray" is a theological maxim so important it was originally written in latin, lex orandi lex credendi. The deal is that this is a statement more about human nature than God. The way it works out is that you can figure out what a community believes about a thing from looking at how it ritualizes a thing. A family that sits down every night for a meal views eating differently from the family where everyone grabs a bite when they have time and eats it wherever they please. This shows a difference in how they view eating but does not, by default say, anything positive or negative about the health of the family. I have been thinking about this maxim, lex orandi lex credendi, in relationship to the marriage of thirty three couples at last night's Grammy Awards. What does the ritual act performed their say about the beliefs these individuals hold about marriage.
Marriage is a responsibility for the world and the world must support it. People across the world saw these individuals vow their lives to each other. This is not a concept of marriage as a private matter but one that involves all of society. This is not an elopement to hide from family and social scrutiny in private but a very public statement of commitment. The couples view their relationships as something that directly impacts and is impacted by society.
Marriage is part of a greater picture. Very few people tuned in last night for the wedding, they tuned in for the music. The wedding was how these thirty three individuals entered into the life of the music, a cultural idiom that breaches across all of the world and all of our history. Their wedding is in service to a greater ideal. The marriage song itself was a blurring of genres and time periods that opened up the audience to this greater picture.
The celebrant of a wedding must be a voice of the community. Queen Latifah might not be the Pope of pop culture but she is definitely in the running. She is a true and acknowledged shaman of her craft and beliefs. The marriage gains potency because she was the presider. They could have had some minor local official do the ceremony and make the important players those getting married, but the important player was the officiant. The couples were for all intent and purposes normal.
Marriage is egalitarian and about love and commitment between two people. The couples presented a myriad variation on race and gender combinations. The common thread is their commitment to each other to become family as two equal adults of their own free will.
There are many other points but I think these bring out the core parts of marriage as presented by this ritual: marriage is the loving commitment of two equal individuals of the sake of something greater in our society and culture that society and culture must support and as such is celebrated by a voice of the community. Not surprisingly this definition reflects a lot of Christian ideas around marriage. Most Christians, I would hope, would sign on to the whole of that definition and simply put qualifiers on it.
The obvious, and central Christian qualifier, would be to ensure the "something greater" involves Jesus. This is part of the Christian mission to transform all of society and culture towards God through Christ. The only other "Christian" qualifiers I have seen running about the web are ones I find inherently problematic.
These qualifiers boil down to two things. One, that marriage should not be a relationship between two equal consenting adults. Two, that if the couple cannot biologically procreate then they are incapable of marriage and family. I will readily admit that the bible presents an idea of marriage that is not egalitarian and requires procreation. I would readily challenge, however, that the bible calls us to something greater than this presentation.
The point, however, is to show that the lex orandi lex credendi of the Grammy Marriage is not inherently opposed to Christian Marriage. Like many points of secular culture it is many of the Christian concepts with God removed from the top of the cultural hierarchy. Many seek ways to force God back on top of the pyramid, through laws, violence, or coercion. My suggestion is to start with what people are accepting and find out how we can reground what is growing in Christian belief. God at the root of our society is much more valuable then God at the top.