Maybe churches should get out of the marriage business.

Instead of being agents of the state, and subject to the state’s direction, maybe they should focus just on faith.

As federal judges across the country overturn voters’ decisions on gay marriage, and impose a government-ordered definition of marriage, perhaps it is time to separate the sacred from the profane.

Perhaps it’s time for legal marriage to take the form of car registrations and tax payments, drivers’ licenses and DBAs. If you go to the county clerk’s office and fill out some paperwork to become a corporation or get a business license, perhaps the same process could be used to administer what the government calls marriage.

Perhaps it is time for religious officiants to stop administering governmental benefits.

In the beginning, it was Adam and Eve, and the sacred pattern of matrimony was established. Across cultures and time, family has been man and woman and the children they bring into the world. The formalization and blessing of these relationships was typically a religious ritual performed or ratified by clergy.

In Christianity, particularly Catholicism, marriage is a sacrament. It is one of a series of sacred rites essential to happiness and spiritual progression. For many, marriage is a sacred ritual similar in significance to baptism, confirmation and Christian burial.

Over the centuries, mostly in Europe and especially after the 1500s, the state came to recognize and sanction the unions created by church marriages. Mostly, this was to address issues of property and inheritance. Marriage united people under God, but the state sought to define what it did under law.

In America, Massachusetts required government license to marry by the mid-1600s. It was almost 200 years later before most of the rest of America saw the government claiming the right to certify “official” marriages.

As part of this government takeover of marriage, it licensed clergy to perform weddings – not the spiritual or religious rituals, but the government certifications. God may empower clergy to perform marriages, but it is the state which empowers them to sign wedding certificates. In this, clergy are agents of the state, in effect they are deputized clerks registering people for a government benefit.

Perhaps that’s what needs to stop.

As the concept of gay marriage is imposed by federal court on an ever-increasing number of states, issues arise. One of those issues could be discrimination by clergy – in their role as government agents – if they refuse to perform gay marriages.

While some once-prominent Protestant churches have embraced gay marriage, the largest number of religiously affiliated Christians attend churches which hold to the biblical teaching on marriage. For most Christians, gay marriage is a sin, even as it becomes a legal right.

That creates a conflict. If you are licensed by the state to administer a governmental benefit – which clergy who perform legal marriages are – and you refuse service to someone who is legally entitled to that benefit, how long before somebody files a lawsuit?

How long before a church’s property, money and tax-exempt status are jeopardized by an activist lawsuit heard by an activist judge?

Answer: Any day now.

Churches need to realize that and protect themselves against it.

And the best way to do that is to stop being agents of the state. Give up and repudiate the power to perform legal weddings. Continue to perform religious ritual, but get out of the business of signing state licenses and certificates.

People who want to register for a governmental benefit – legal marriage – should go to the clerk’s office and get in line behind the people buying fishing licenses and ordering new license plates. Perhaps the welfare office could add a form to handle government unions.

If the government wants to define marriage, let it officiate at those marriages.

Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.

Religious organizations are free to engage in any sort of ritual they choose. If they fancy these rituals to be bindings or sealings or ring blessings or pronouncements of public coupling, so be it. If religions want to declare two people one in holy matrimony, great. And if those two people want some governmental recognition or status for that matrimony, then let them go fill out a form and enter into a governmental process.

If government sees religion as bigoted – as the federal government’s embrace of gay marriage implicitly does – then let it pull its matrimonial powers from religion. And if religion sees government as sinful – as the federal government’s embrace of gay marriage implicitly requires – then let it kick government out of the chapel.

If we’re going to have a separation of church and state, then let’s have a separation of church and state.

Let’s have America’s Bible-believing clergy repudiate their power to perform legal marriages. Let them refuse to do so on moral grounds. Let them fashion religious ritual which honors the pattern set by Adam and Eve, but not taint that by pretending it needs to be sanctioned by the government.

If you want the blessing of government, go to the clerk’s office. If you want the blessing of God, go to the church.

Government can define marriage, but only for itself. God’s definition is not changing, and God’s servants ought not to engage in a government matrimonial system that makes a mockery of marriage.

Maybe churches should get out of the marriage business.