A Note From Our Editor: Blessing Of Same-Sex Marriages In Protestant Alsace? -- By: John Warwick Montgomery
A Note From Our Editor: Blessing Of Same-Sex Marriages In Protestant Alsace?
Protestantism in eastern France is an interesting phenomenon. The Lutheran Church (as well as the Reformed, the Roman Catholic, and the Jewish faith) is state-supported—in diametric contrast to the rest of France, where the separation of church and state goes back to 1905. (The reason is historical: the Alsace was then part of the German Second Reich and an ancient Concordat protected established religions there and continued in force after the Alsace was returned to France following the First World War; the French Constitutional Council has recently affirmed the continuing validity of this special Alsatian religious situation.)
In the rest of France—referred to in the Alsace somewhat depreciatingly as “la France intérieure”—the Lutheran and Reformed churches united in 2013 to form a single Protestant church body. In the Alsace, the Lutheran and Reformed denominations continue to exist in order to benefit from the Concordat protections—but an umbrella organization (the “Union des Eglises Protestantes d’Alsace et de Lorraine”) has been formed to demonstrate commitment to ecumenicity. (There also exists in Alsace the tiny confessional Eglise Libre Luthérienne de France et de Belgique—an independent church body in doctrinal fellowship with the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod in the United States, but this body does not enter into the discussion to follow.)
This year the big concern among Lutherans and Reformed in the mainline churches is whether to bless same-sex unions. In France, since the Revolution and the Napoleonic era, no church has been able to perform legal marriages: that is a prerogative of the state alone. Religions may, however, once the state ceremony has taken place, conduct a religious rite of blessing of their own—regarded by the faithful, but not the state, as the “real” marriage. (My wife and I thus went through two ceremonies—a fairly perfunctory civil ceremony at the Mayor’s office, and the substantial service at the historic, Reformation Lutheran church of St Pierre-le-Jeune in Strasbourg.) Now, with same-sex unions having been legalized by the current Socialist government, the thorny question has arisen: should a similar (or perhaps modified) service of “blessing” be performed for same-sex couples desiring it?
On Sunday, 12 January 2014, a most interesting public discussion of the issue took place at the Protestant Temple Neuf in Strasbourg. A religions professor (Reformed) who is serving on the committee to examine the question in the “France of the interior” preached an essentially neutral, non-committal sermon, followed by the presentation of arguments pro and con by two local pastors, and finally group and plenary discussion invo...
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