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Synod ‘Strongly Advises’ Against Weddings Without Civil Sanction

Indigenous cultures have their own customs for marriage that predate the civil authorities of the U.S. and Canada.
—Stanley Jim, Classis Red Mesa
Steven Herppich

Synod 2023 strongly advised pastors in the Christian Reformed Church not to officiate marriages that will not be licensed by the civil government. Synod also instructed the Office of the General Secretary to send its report on “ecclesiastical marriage” to the churches for guidance.

In an ecclesiastical marriage, a couple is married “in the eyes of the church but not in the eyes of the state,” said the statement adopted by synod. CRC pastors should not solemnize such marriages, synod decided, for three reasons: 1) The Bible teaches submission to governing authorities. 2) Reformed churches have historically acknowledged civil marriage. 3) Solemnizing such marriages could create legal problems for pastors and participants.

However, synod encouraged churches to “respect and honor the marriages of Indigenous peoples and immigrants who did not obtain a civil marriage … and counsel them in the understanding of Christian marriage and its relationship to civil authority in (Canada or the U.S.).”

John Hoekwater, Classis Northern Illinois, said he has encountered some people who receive disability benefits and want to commit “their relationships but did not want to be married because it changes their status” for receiving those benefits.

A pastor encountering such a request should not officiate an ecclesiastical marriage according to the intention of the Ecclesiastical Marriage Task Force’s report, which synod will pass on to churches, said task force member Loren Velduizen. The report, contained in the Agenda for Synod 2023, was mandated by Synod 2019 in response to an overture (request) from Classis Georgetown asking for biblical guidance on the issue.

Stanley Jim, Classis Red Mesa, pointed out that the original wording of the task force’s recommendation referred only to immigrant marriages and excluded Navajo and other Indigenous people, who are often married traditionally without U.S. or Canadian government recognition. In response, the wording was changed to include Indigenous people.

Synod 2023 is meeting June 9-15 at Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Mich. Find daily coverage from The Banner news team at Visit for the synod schedule, webcast, recordings, photos, committee reports, and liveblog. Synod is the annual general assembly of the Christian Reformed Church.

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