I did a wedding a couple of months ago where one of the guests was a relatively new, late in life ordination. During the reception, one of the other guests asked what my affiliation was because (she said this with a fair amount of disgust) this newly ordained gentleman was trying to determine if the wedding was “valid.” I find such spiritual games to be rather amusing, but they do belie the profound arrogance and denial of some religious people, both lay and ordained.
You see, the truth is that the State determines who can do a valid wedding ceremony, not the churches. The churches do have the right to determine whether or not they will recognize the spiritual validity of a wedding ceremony, but the truth is nobody outside their particular church really cares what their opinion is – most especially the couple being married, who have already voted with their feet by not being married inside the church! It’s the kind of grasping at straws that we see in institutions of all kinds that have lost most of their relevance.
In fact, I believe it is precisely such religious nonsense that has driven people away from religious practice. If we had a neighbor who was always making negative comments about the things we did, sooner or later we would stop speaking with them – and that’s exactly what has happened to the church. People have thresholds of both negativity and attempted control, and when organizations cross those thresholds are crossed the organization loses credibility in the eyes of the people. In the northern hemisphere the days are long gone when most of the population was uneducated and abdicated all matters that required an educated opinion to the Church. I am not entirely sure the Church has caught on yet, however.
One of the marks of maturity of an individual – and, I would argue, of an institution – is the ability to allow others to makes their own decisions, especially when those decisions have no impact on us. IF my neighbor decides to dress funny, it’s not my job to tell them that they can’t dress themselves without assistance. If a co-worker decides to go on vacation to a destination that I would never choose, my job is to be happy for them, not criticize their choice. Expressing such sympathetic joy is a deep spiritual value, while raining on people’s parade is the mark of a chronically unhappy person (or organization) whose only joy comes from attempting to make everyone else as miserable as they are. The funny thing is, nobody enjoys hanging around such people – or organizations.