I was listening to Issues, etc. (podcast from last week) and the guest (a very regular guest) Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse reacted in horror when host Todd Wilken talked about the Episcopal Church having a ceremony to "celebrate" divorce.
One of the things I've contemplated when studying divorce and remarriage in the church has been how to communicate to the congregation that a member who is (or in the process of becoming) divorced has been before the elders and is deemed by the church to have the right to remarry?
- the Episcopal Church does not call it a "sacrament"
- there is a point at which this sort of ceremony would be useful
- there is an emotional healing that takes place when a person can stand before a church congregation and have them know that the church leadership is standing with them.
The Roman Catholic Church has the annulment process, by which a marriage (no matter how long it has lasted or how many children it has brought into this world) is declared "not a marriage" to the church. It does not deny that the marriage existed legally, but rather that - even if a priest presided over and blessed the vows - the marriage never existed in the eyes of the church because - in the hearts of the couple, or one or the other of the couple - it was not a sacramental marriage.
I disagree with this because one (or both) of the people involved may have very much made the covenant vows before God and man, and the heart was very much in line with what God intended marriage to be. People sin. I can come up with a couple of examples of how "annulment" may not be fair to one party.
Just one...a man enters a marriage with the intent to stand before God and man and love her as Christ loves the church until they day one of them breathes no more. She decides that she'd rather not be married and leaves...and then gets an annulment so she can get married in her parents' church. The husband is left - after taking vows that meant the world to him and that HE kept...and knowing that those vows meant nothing in the eyes of the church, since the church just told him that marriage never existed in their eyes.
To tell a person who wanted to stay married that their vows were not sacramental, leaves them at the mercy of the spiritual life of their ex-spouse.
Where Rome gets it right: The certificate of annulment comes with an assumption that the parties of the divorce have the Biblical right to remarry.
more in another post...