For Members

If you are a member of this congregation and want to be married in the church, contact the Pastor to schedule your wedding. At that time he will also discuss with you the policies and procedures for your wedding in the church.

For Non-Members

If you are not a member of this congregation and would like the Pastor to perform your wedding ceremony for you somewhere other than in our church, call him at 206-935-6530 to discuss your plans. You may also email him at But before you do that, be sure to read the following wedding liturgy. It is what he would use at your wedding. So make sure it is what you would like for your wedding before you give him a call to discuss your plans.


The Wedding Liturgy for Non-Members



Pastor: In the Name of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.



Pastor: Dearly beloved, because marriage is a holy estate instituted by God in his law, whereby we learn that marriage is not to be entered into lightly but instead held in the highest regard by all, let us humble ourselves before our Lord and God in prayer, asking his blessing on this marriage in the name of his dear Son, Jesus Christ.



Pastor: Let us pray: Eternal God, our creator and redeemer, as you blessed the wedding at Cana in Galilee through the miracle of your Son, Jesus Christ, when he changed the water into wine, so now bless this wedding. Dwell with [bride’s name] and [groom’s name] in their married life together. Change their weaknesses into strengths so that by your power they may love and understand each other, and together glorify your name all their days. Amen.


First Biblical Reading : Proverbs 31:10-30.

A good wife… is far more precious than jewels. She does her husband good and no harm all her days. She… works with willing hands. She is like the ships of the merchant, she brings her food from afar. She rises while it is yet night and provides food for her household and tasks for her servants. She considers a field and buys it;… she plants a vineyard. She… makes her arms strong. She perceives that her merchandise is profitable…. She opens her hand to the poor, and reaches out… to the needy. She is not afraid of snow for her household, for all her household are clothed in scarlet. She makes herself coverings… in fine linen and purple. Her husband is known in the gates, when he sits among the elders of the land. She makes linen garments and sells them…. Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. She … does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.” Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.


Second Biblical Reading : Ephesians 5:21-33.

St. Paul writes: Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior…. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that… she might be holy…. Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies…. No man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body…. This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church; [so] let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.


Third Biblical Reading : Matthew 19:4-12.

Jesus said, “God who made man from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man tear apart.” And the Pharisees said to him, “Why then did Moses allow for divorce?” And Jesus answered, “For your hardness of heart Moses allowed for divorce, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces… except for unchastity and adultery, and marries another, commits adultery.” The disciples of Jesus said to him, “If such is the case, then it isn’t wise to marry.” But Jesus said, “Not all men can receive this teaching, but only those to whom it is given…. He who is able to receive this, let him receive it.”


A Sermon on Christian Marriage: Martin Luther (1483-1546).

“O what a truly noble, important, and blessed condition the estate of marriage is if it is properly regarded! O what a truly pitiable, horrible, and dangerous condition it is if it is not properly regarded!…. False love is that which seeks its own, as a man loves money, possessions, honor, and women taken outside of marriage and against God’s command. Natural love is that between father and child, brother and sister, friend and relative, and similar relationships. But over and above all these is married love, that is, a bride’s love, which glows like a fire and desires nothing but the husband…. All other kinds of love seek something other than the loved one: this kind wants only to have the beloved’s own self completely. If Adam had not fallen, the love of bride and groom would have been the loveliest thing. Now this love is not pure either, for admittedly a married partner desires to have the other, yet each seeks to satisfy his desire with the other, and it is this desire which corrupts this kind of love. Therefore, the married state is now no longer pure and free from sin. The temptation of the flesh has become so strong and consuming that marriage may be likened to a hospital for incurables which prevents inmates from falling into graver sin” (1519) (LW 44:13-14, 8).

            “Although in marriage there is… much trouble and unhappiness, still one can enter into it with good will and at times have peace and happiness. But outside marriage, where there is no grace, it is impossible to have good will toward chastity and live happily in it…. Therefore the state of marriage is by nature of a kind to teach and compel us to trust in God’s hand and grace, and in the same way it forces us to believe. For we can see that where there is no faith in marriage, there it is a most miserable institution, full of worry, fear, and hard work…. For whatever is God’s work and business is so arranged that it must practice and exercise faith. Where this is not done, it becomes a burdensome and unbearable thing…. For faith makes all things good, even death and all misfortune. Lack of faith makes all things bad and destructive, even life and God himself…. Certainly in the matrimonial order the body has its share of work, cares, and troubles, just as the heart has its troubles with faith; yet nothing is more certain than that all this is of God and pleases Him well…. Some marry for money and property. Many people marry because of sheer immaturity, to seek sensual pleasure and satisfy it. Some marry to beget heirs. But… I know of… no reason… fundamentally stronger or better [than], namely, need. Need commands it. Nature will express itself, fructify, and multiply, and God does not want this outside marriage, and so everyone because of this need must enter into marriage if he wants to live with a good conscience and in favor with God” (1523) (LW 28:28, 18, 19, 27).



Pastor: [Groom’s name], will you have this woman to be your wife, to live together after God’s law in the holy estate of matrimony? Will you love her, comfort her, honor and keep her in sickness and in health, and, forsaking all others, keep her only, so long as you both shall live?

Groom: I will, and I ask God to help and guide me.

Pastor: [Bride’s name], will you have this man to be your husband, to live together after God’s law in the holy estate of matrimony? Will you love him, comfort him, honor and keep him in sickness and in health, and, forsaking all others, keep him only, so long as you both shall live?

Bride: I will, and I ask God to help and guide me.



Groom: I [groom’s name], take you, [bride’s name] to be my wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part, according to God’s holy law; and therefore I pledge you my faithfulness.

Bride: I [bride’s name], take you, [groom’s name] to be my husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part, according to God’s holy law; and therefore I pledge you my faithfulness.


Exchange of Rings

Groom: I give you this ring as a sign of my love and faithfulness.

Bride: I give you this ring as a sign of my love and faithfulness.



Pastor: Because [groom’s name] and [bride’s name] have consented together in holy matrimony, and have declared the same before Almighty God and in the presence of this company, I pronounce them husband and wife: In the name of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen. What God has joined together, let no one tear apart.



Pastor: [Groom’s name] and [bride’s name], you may kiss each other.



Pastor: The Lord God, who created our first parents and sanctified their union in marriage, sanctify and bless you, that you may please God both in body and mind, and live together in holy love until your life’s end. Amen.



Pastor: Most merciful God, who has joined this man and woman in the holy estate of matrimony: Grant them grace to keep their marriage in line with your holy Word; may their love for each other blossom; sustain and defend them in their trials; and when tempted to stray from your ways, hold them fast; through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord. Amen.


Our Father

Pastor: Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.



Pastor: May God Almighty bless you and grant you length of days, wise and faithful children, growth in life and faith. May God fill you with good things in this world, and make you worthy of the joys reserved for the life to come, through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Amen





Renewal of Wedding Vows



P The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you.


C And also with you.


P Let us pray: Eternal God, our Creator and Redeemer, look with continuing favor upon [husband and wife], and grant that they, rejoicing in all your gifts, may at length celebrate with Christ the marriage feast which has no end.


C Amen.


P A reading from St. John 15:9-12: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” This is the Word of the Lord.


C Thanks be to God.


P Hear this reading from Blessed Martin Luther (1483-1546) on St. John 15:9-12: “You are not asked to sacrifice life and limb for him, as Christ did for you. ‘But,’ says Christ, ‘I am only commanding you to prove your faith by serving and helping your neighbor, by promoting his welfare, by showing him fidelity and love. If you do this, you have done all I ask of you; and now you are like Me. But if you neglect this or do the opposite, you dare not boast of Me. Then your own deeds bear witness against you and prove that you are not true and fruitful branches in Me, but decayed wood that has been severed from Me.’ Now that Christ has shed His blood and sacrificed His life for you, and now that He bears with all the sins and frailties that still inhere in you, it is a crime if, in return, you refuse... to overlook evil [in your neighbor].... Therefore it behooves everyone to search his heart and examine himself. Let no one bank on thoughts like these: ‘I am baptized and am called a Christian. I hear God’s Word and go to the Sacrament.’ For here Christ Himself separates the false Christians from those who are genuine, as if He were saying: ‘If you are true believers in Me and are in possession of My treasure, it will surely become evident that you are My disciples. If not, do not imagine that I will acknowledge and accept you as My disciples. You will never cheat and deceive any but yourselves – to your eternal shame and harm. Christ and the Gospel will surely not be cheated and defrauded.’ Christ found this admonition necessary, and it must constantly be repeated in Christendom, because we see that there are always many Christians of this sort among us. Christ is determined not to have or to acknowledge any false Christians.... Such false Christians would fare far better if they were heathen and non-Christians. Then they would at least not do harm to Christianity with their offensive example and would not disgrace and blaspheme the holy name of Christ and His Word” [“Sermons on John 14-16” (1537) Luther’s Works 24:250-251].


P Hear also Luther’s words on the holy estate of marriage: “We must.... honor this divine estate.... so as to teach the young people to take this estate seriously, to honor it as a divine creation and command, and not to act so disgracefully at weddings, making fools of themselves with laughing, jeering, and other nonsense, as has been common till now, just as though it was a joke or child’s play to enter into the married estate or to have a wedding. Those who first instituted the practice... certainly did not regard it as a joke.... This is proved by the rite itself. For whoever desires prayer and blessing from the pastor... indicates thereby – even if he does not express it in so many words – into what peril and need he enters and how greatly he stands in need of the blessing of God and common prayer for the estate which he enters. For every day we see marriages broken by the devil through adultery, unfaithfulness, discord, and all manner of ill” [“The Order of Marriage for Common Pastors” (1529), LW 53:112-113].


[Wife]: [Husband], I have taken you to be my husband [number] years ago. I now renew my promise to be your loving wife, faithful to you until death parts us.


[Husband]: [Wife], I have taken you to be my wife [number] years ago. I now renew my promise to be your loving husband, faithful to you until death parts us.


P Receive the blessing of God: The Lord God, who created our first parents and established them in marriage, continue to sustain you, that you may find new delight in each other and grow in holy love until your life’s end.


C Amen.


P Let us pray: Lord God constant in mercy, we give you thanks for bestowing your blessing on your servants, [husband and wife]. Grant them continued life together. Awaken them each day to new signs of your presence as they grow in love toward you, toward each other, and in service to the world; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

C Amen.


P Gracious Father, you bless the family and renew your people. Enrich husbands and wives, parents and children more and more with your grace, that, strengthening and supporting each other, they may serve those in need and be a sign of the fulfillment of your perfect kingdom, where, with your Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, you live and reign, one God through all ages of ages.


C Amen.


The Liturgy for Holy Communion






              Kierkegaard's fiancée, Regine Malling Olsen (1823-1904).

            She later married the lawyer and civil servant, Johan Frederik Schlegel (1817-1896).



Kierkegaard’s Cure for Divorce

By Ronald F. Marshall


In Gilbert Meilaender’s sermon for his daughter Hannah’s wedding, he sets out in part to show the relevance of Søren Kierkegaard’s book, Works of Love (1847), for Christian marriage.[1] This is because he thinks Kierkegaard helps explain the worthy thought that true “love never ends” (1 Corinthians 13:8).

     This sermon also provides an alternative to all the sentimental slogans heard at Christian weddings.[2] Kierkegaard is well suited for this since he is harsh and philosophizes “with a hammer.”[3] That trait gives him power to purge the drivel from wedding sermons. This power is Kierkegaard’s relevance for weddings. So just because he broke off his engagement with the young Regine Olsen and never married after that[4] does not disqualify him in matters marital.[5] The preacher still should be able to fall “in love with Søren”[6] and use him confidently at weddings.

     I want to present the gist of Meilaender’s sermon in order to augment it with further material from Works of Love and then assess its overall commendability.   

Patience in Marriage

Meilaender rightly sees that Kierkegaard in Works of Love elaborates the theme of patience or what he calls “waiting for the beloved.” Patience in marriage stops one from running off for a divorce the first sight of trouble.[7] Patience enables one to wait for better times. Meilaender says that by being patient marital love reflects the “steadfastness and faithfulness” of God's love which is what “joins Father, Son and Spirit.” By waiting, the husband or wife is able to “exercise just a little of God's own creative power – to determine ... that it will be a future together.” In that way they act like God. This makes the struggle to persevere in marriage noble.

     Meilaender sees this point about patience in Kierkegaard’s image of the broken hyphenated or compound word. That compound word is husband-wife or lover-beloved.[8] It depicts an intact, marital relationship. So if the wife leaves, she “cannot take the hyphen” with her. In this way the husband can still abide in his love for his upset wife – regardless of her behavior. He can wait with open arms. In fact what others might call “a break” is only “a relationship that has not yet been finished.” This is because the husband cannot say he knows for sure “that nothing more is coming” (WL 306). Even after years elapse he still “continually emancipates” himself from the past sad years and waits “for the future” when her love for him may once again bloom (WL 307). So his love abides even though hers does not. He does not need her love to motivate himself to love her. He waits on his own because of his love for her. By so doing his love abides even when hers wanes.[9] On this account the break between them is only apparent.

     The other image from Works of Love that Meilaender uses is that of the dancer who remains on the floor even after her husband leaves in a huff.[10] Just because he runs off does not mean she must do so too. So “if the other remains standing in the position that expresses bowing toward the one who is not seen, and if you know nothing about the past, you will say, ‘The dance will surely begin just as soon as the other one, who is awaited, comes’” (WL 307).

     So love abides in the waiting wife on the dance floor. Meilaender astutely observes that this bowing posture could be “rather awkward.... One could get...lots of cramps. A stiff neck. One could tire,” he says. But this failure to abide because of pain and impatience is warded off by the fact that “God gives us time, gives us marriage: that we may not tire, but, on the contrary, gain joy by abiding.” So the time allotted in marriage is not only for enjoyment but also for putting the pieces of broken love back together.

Self-Hatred in Marriage

This ends Meilaender’s fine sermon. But he could have gone on. Kierkegaard’s Works of Love has more to say. He could have said what Kierkegaard thought should be done with the time God graciously gives for the restoration of marriage.[11] In addition to having time to reconcile, an estranged couple also needs to learn how to fix their broken love. They should not use their time to sulk or play the blame game. That would be to misuse God's gift of time. They instead need to learn how to deal with their cramps and pain, disappointment and anger, stiff necks and fatigue.

      Picking up where Meilaender leaves off in Works of Love, Kierkegaard makes this crucial, additional point:

     But perhaps the girl actually loved herself. She desired the union with the beloved for her own sake; it was her only desire, her soul was as one in this desire. In gratitude for this fulfillment, she would do everything possible to make her husband’s life as beautiful as possible. Yes, this is true, but yet, yet it was for her own sake that she desired the union. If this is so, she is sure to become weary, she becomes attentive to the past, to the length of time – now she no longer sits at the window; she expresses that the break exists... (WL 307).

     According to Kierkegaard much more than time is needed to ward off fatigue, impatience and divorce. One also needs to use that time properly – specifically in three ways. First one must quit loving oneself. Second one must not want the marriage restored for one’s own sake. And finally one must not look for fulfillment in marriage.

     Well, it surely goes without saying that these are all highly contestable points – especially in our time when love has become “a consumptive item.” In such a time “the only way to move one's spouse is to threaten to remove the object of his or her gratification – oneself. In this way ... divorce permeates marriage.” So “all talk of happiness in marriage seems to be linked to a threat: Make me happy or I'll leave .... If the goal is the happiness of the individual partner, then the therapeutic love contract, or marriage, is inherently temporary.”[12] No wonder, then, that The New Yorker published a cartoon that has the pastor telling the newly weds: “OK., then. You may kiss, shake hands, and come out married.”[13] Marriage looks like a boxing match today because threats and the specter of divorce permeate it.

     Against this prevailing consumptive view of love and marriage Kierkegaard’s point is particularly relevant – even if contested. Marriage is not about self-fulfillment and self-love.[14] But saying this does not make it so. Kierkegaard, however, does not leave it at that.

     Earlier in Works of Love he argues that it is “foolish ... to love others for ... one's own advantage” (WL 258). If one therefore sets aside one's own advantage, love will “never give up” (WL 254). That is indeed the noble goal of marriage, viz., to never give up loving. But how does one quit pursuing one's own advantage so that one may endure? How can we make love abide?

     Kierkegaard’s answer is simple. We give up pursuing our own advantage in marriage by hating ourselves. Love that truly abides must be purged of all self-love and selfishness if it is to endure what Martin Luther called the “thorns and thistles in marriage.”[15] Such love is “self-denial’s love [that] drives out all ... self-love” (WL 55). Indeed one must hate “one's own life” in order for love to abide (WL 109). Self-hatred has the power to enrich marriage. By hating oneself in marriage we no longer yearn to be at the center of our marriage. We fight against being selfish and thinking that marriage is for our “own sake” (WL 307).

     Surely we would prefer not hearing such tough words amidst all the finery and festivity of a church wedding. Having three children myself I can imagine wishing for something better. But Kierkegaard warns against making love something “sentimental” (WL 376). The Christian goal after all is not an “easy and...sociable” life (WL 124). Luther was right that Christian living rightly brings with it “danger and difficulty.”[16]

     Because of the bitterness and despondency self-hatred can bring, its value is less than clear. In order to combat these pitfalls, Kierkegaard steers clear of inappropriate self-hatred. Self-hatred is wrong if it is wasteful, foolish, depressing or violent (WL 23). Properly construed self-hatred “removes from love everything that is inflamed, everything that is momentary, everything that is giddy” (WL 188). This alone is the value of self-hatred. With it love can truly reach out to the beloved and abide.[17] When both husband and wife practice self-hatred, a marriage lasts. This is because they are able to help each other battle back selfishness.

     So the indelible mark of love is that it diminishes and devalues reciprocity. Marital love does not live because it is returned – that would be selfish. Self-hatred enables one to let go of a dependence on reciprocity in marriage. All Christians should hear this point shouted from the rooftops at weddings. It is wrong to love only if we are loved in return. If love is returned, it is sweet – but that does not control whether or not we ourselves love. In this sense love is free of the burdens of reciprocity. That is what it means to devalue and diminish it. According to Kierkegaard, love is selfish and false when it “aspires to ... repayment” – even in the form of “reciprocal love” (WL 349). Reciprocity is defanged when it no longer controls whether or not we love. When allowed to roam unchecked, reciprocity destroys true, unselfish love.

     This, however does not turn husbands and wives into automatons. They must still rejoice in being “loved” (WL 39) whenever it happens.[18] For whether or not we are loved is not “a matter of indifference” (WL 27). Abandonment hurts. Devaluing reciprocity does not eliminate that pain nor the desire to be loved. But neither will withdrawal, rejection or attack sway us from loving.[19] This determination surfaces only after reciprocity has been devalued. According to Kierkegaard, this makes love wild and “dangerous” (WL 198, 277). It will show itself when the prudent have given up. Looking around we know how people can display “animal bloodthirstiness and savagery” (WL 169). But we are to be ready for that and not be surprised when it happens – even when it appears in its softer forms of carping and sulking. In the face of this we are to abide even if it makes us look foolish and a bit “mad” (WL 108, 132, 185, 203, 238, 287, 290, 321). So in some sense you have to be a little crazy to stay married and hold onto your wedding vows.[20] The church, Kierkegaard is saying, should push for such craziness in marriage. Going the extra mile has its place in marriage.

     One way to promote this teaching on self-hatred and disregard for reciprocity in wedding sermons would be to base them on Ephesians 5:21-33[21] rather than on 1 Corinthians 13:8. This classic marriage text from Ephesians is about “sacrifice.”[22] It says husbands and wives should mutually subject themselves to each other out of reverence for Christ. Within that rubric of sacrifice, Kierkegaard’s criticism of reciprocity fits nicely. So a wedding sermon based on Ephesians 5 could wonderfully reflect Kierkegaard’s point that self-hatred is what makes marriage last. It is what wards off divorce.

     Another verse would be John 12:25. Even though this verse is not explicitly about marriage it also can help. It says that if we hate ourselves we will be saved from hell. Now if we were to extend that thought into the realm of marriage, we could say that self-hatred also saves us from divorce – what many know to be a living, earthly hell, any way. So if self-hatred can save us from going to hell, it surely can save us from getting divorced. Conquering hell after all is much more difficult than conquering divorce. Seeing that pivotal role for self-hatred in marriage is precisely Kierkegaard’s cure for divorce.


Confession in Marriage


Criticisms of this cure are many and intense. But far be it from Kierkegaard to make a proposal that would be anything less than contentious.

     So there are questions. How, for instance, can it be that a loving husband should wait indefinitely for his errant wife to return? And is it always wrong to cut the ties that bind and look for another spouse? Or how can it be that a battered wife should keep loving her abusive husband without regard for her own safety? Should she not leave in order to protect herself? And how can it be that a husband should stay with his wife when he gets absolutely nothing out of the marriage? And is it always wrong to expect fulfillment in marriage?[23]

     How would Kierkegaard respond to these questions? I think he would say we need to learn how to live under the weight of the ideal of this “higher” (WL 45) form of love and marriage.[24]

     Kierkegaard knows that up against this exalted ideal of love we look “shabby” indeed (WL 284). Our efforts at approximating it are “superficial” (WL 364). These failures render us “unworthy servants” (WL 365) of the God who calls us to this exalted life of suffering love.

     In the face of these failures our temptation is to settle for some “medium grade” of love (WL 45) that is less demanding. With it we could master love and erase our guilt for failing to live up to this more exalted ideal. No longer would we have to appear in “an unfavorable light” (WL 370). But Kierkegaard resists this temptation. That medium grade of love must be “thrust down,” he says (WL 45). We must not “slacken” the higher form of love (WL 50). We cannot expect to “spinelessly whimper” our way into righteousness (WL 379).

     Watering down the higher form of love is not the way to go. We instead must continue to aspire to this exalted ideal while admitting that we have not reached it. And we must say that we are “always only... on the way” (WL 48). Even though we may never arrive we must always hope we will.

     Kierkegaard explains this dialectical relation to the exalted ideal of Christianity in his book Judge For Yourself![25] In the face of the “difficult and complex” problems foisted on us by this ideal, the faithful Christian should with “a purity like that of a virgin and a blushing modesty like that of an adolescent,” refuse to act “sagaciously” (JFY 103). We should dump “flabby sensibleness” and the “despicable thralldom in probability” (JFY 102).

     His reason for this is that those maneuvers constitute a “mean slandering of all ... the martyrs” in the past who died for true, rigorous Christianity (JFY 101). Their deaths for all time show that Christianity is “sheer agony” and that Christians are nothing but “worms.”[26] Backing off from this severe judgment only defames the centrality of martyrdom in Christianity.

     So we should let the ideal “stand firm” and declare that the “only way to be exempted” from the rigors of the ideal is by “humbling oneself and making an admission” (JFY 102). We must humbly admit that we are afraid to live by the ideal because it is too hard for us. Miraculously this confession does not exclude us from God. When we confess our failure and our hope for doing better, we are “eternally saved” (JFY 207). Then we “come ... to ... grace” (JFY 142). God grants us forgiveness and the hope of living righteously through him.

     This confession is monumental. It shows that our weak faith, straining under the weight of these lofty ideals, is really not “Christianity at all” (JFY 142). True Christianity is too high for us. It would leave us unfulfilled, battered and alone. But that is “treason against us!” (JFY 141). We cannot sacrifice “everything for Christianity” (JFY 134). We are too weak for that.[27] So we live with less. We live with a “mitigation” of true Christianity (JFY 142). The only faithfulness we have left is to refuse to “establish the error” as the true, redefined Christian faith (JFY 102). To do so would be to turn Christianity into something else. Here Kierkegaard stands with Luther. “This entire life,” Luther wrote, “is a time of willing to be righteous, but never achieving it, for this happens only in the future life.”[28] This admission humbles us. With it we know we are too weak to live the pure Christian life and must depend on God to carry us along.

     With this confession we develop “some respect for Christianity” (JFY 209). We refuse to water it down in order to make it easily achievable. We know we would like to change Christianity – but we refuse to do it. “Moreover, just as suspicious characters must register with the police,” so we will report to God on the “dubiousness” of our Christian identity – knowing full well that God is “sheer love and grace and compassion” and will welcome us while still expecting us to “be honest in the relationship” with him (JFY 207).

     Once we have learned to live under the weight of this ideal, Christian love will remain as extreme as ever. The picture of love in Works of Love will be allowed to stand in all of its fierce boldness. It will stand even though we will not be able to live up to much of it. We will not be able to sacrifice the way it wants us to. But we will be able to lament our failure. We will not explain it away. We will continue to let the pressure of this ideal bear down upon us – pushing us to greater faithfulness. With our sadness, however, we will also have hope. With our sorrow there will be rejoicing (2 Corinthians 6:10). For through God's abiding mercy we will be saved while we are yet sinners: “For our sake God made Christ to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).[29]



(This essay is a slightly revised version of what was published in Søren Kierkegaard Newsletter, Number 44, September 2002.)

[1] Gilbert Meilaender, “Love Abides,” Christian Century 117 (October 11, 2000) 990-991. He makes a similar point in his essay “The Task of Lutheran Ethics,” Lutheran Forum 34 (Winter 2000) 17-22, 20-21.

[2] See, for instance, Best Wedding Meditations: An Anthology, Revised Edition, (Lima, OH: CSS, 1972, 1997): “Let there be spaces in your togetherness” (38, 53) and “Celebrate the staying power of love – so bright a flame nothing can put it out” (47). Note also Wedding Readings: Centuries of Writing and Rituals on Love and Marriage, ed. Eleanor Munro, (NY: Penguin, 1989): “You can transmute love, ignore it, muddle it, but you can never pull it out of you [because] love is eternal” (25) and marriage “is like a dance .... Now arm in arm, now face to face, now back to back – it does not matter which. Because they know they are partners moving to the same rhythm, creating a pattern together, and being invisibly nourished by it” (75). May Kierkegaard’s thought save us from such “amatory banalities” as these [The Book of Marriage: The Wisest Answers to the Toughest Questions, eds. Mack & Blankenhorn (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001) 184].

[3] Emmanuel Levinas, Proper Names, trans. Michael B. Smith (Stanford: Stanford University, 1996) 76. See also the aptly titled Provocations: Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard, complied and edited by Charles E. Moore, (Farmington, PA: Plough, 1999) especially section V on “Christian Collisions.”

[4] See Susan Leigh Anderson, On Kierkegaard (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2000) 5-11.

[5] See Carolyn Kizer’s poem, “The Erotic Philosophers,” in The Best American Poetry 1999, ed. Robert Bly (New York: Scribner, 1999). Kizer accuses Kierkegaard of supposing that what was “truly terrible” for him was “to be consoled by the love of another” because if one is to “suffer to love God, ... he must tear himself away from earthly love” (102, 103).

[6] Dorothee Soelle, The Window of Vulnerability, trans. Linda M. Maloney, (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1990) 117.

[7] So we read in Pamela Paul’s distressing new book, The Starter Marriage and the Future of Matrimony (New York: Villard, 2002), “You’re young and crazy and you just sort of go for it .... We never really talked about long-term goals.” On this book see Mark D. Fefer, “The Young and Deluded: First-Marriage Survivors Tell All,” Seattle Weekly, March 7, 2002. Acceptable reasons for divorce in the Church have been “adultery, ... political treason, planning of murder, disappearance for five years or more, unjustified accusation of adultery and ... monastic vows of one of the partners” [John Meyendorff, Marriage: An Orthodox Perspective (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary, 1975) 56].

[8] Kierkegaard's Writings, eds. and trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong, in 26 volumes, (Princeton: Princeton University, 1978-2000), Søren Kierkegaard, Works of Love [1847; KW 16 (1995)] 306. All further citations to this book are in the text parenthetically with the abbreviation WL.

[9] This is no small matter if it is true that divorce by “mutual-consent ... is rare [being that] over 80 percent of divorces are now ... unilateral” [Maggie Gallagher, The Abolition of Marriage: How We Destroy Lasting Love, (Washington, DC: Regnery, 1996) 144]. That statistic alone holds out the hope that many broken marriages could be restored simply by the persistence of one of the parties in the marriage.

[10] Meilaender says this passage along with the one above on the broken, hyphenated word are “two of the most unforgettable and powerful...I have ever read.”

[11] In personal correspondence dated March 16, 2001, Dr. Meilaender says this additional point is “problematic” and so he excluded it. In his book Friendship: A Study is Theological Ethics (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame, 1981) he gives a reason for this. Any efforts, he writes, “to deny our neediness is to try to live a lie, and it must inevitably deny important features of our common nature” (45). But Kierkegaard is not guilty of this sin. He does not deny our neediness. All he does is prevent it from putting an end to love. He does not allow the tail (of need) to wag the dog (of marriage).

[12] Maggie Gallagher, The Abolition of Marriage, 231.

[13] The New Yorker, March 15, 1999, p. 50. For perhaps the seminal study on fighting in marriage, see G. Bach & P. Wyden, The Intimate Enemy: How to Fight Fair in Love and Marriage (New York: Avon Books, 1968, 1983). Note especially that “making a person angry is the surest way to find out what he cares about and how deeply he cares. Since intimates keep measuring and re-measuring how much they care for one another (‘Are you getting bored with me?’), they can make each other angry in normal but usually unconscious tests of the depth of their involvement …. These fight games can be informative [and lovers] find out by this process that affection grows deeper when it is mixed with aggression” (27). Whew!

[14] For a confirmation of this point, see the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Revised Edition, (London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1999), “After the fall, marriage helps to overcome self-absorption, egoism, pursuit of one's own pleasure, and to open oneself to the other, to mutual aid and to self-giving” (§1609). This confirmation is an example of how “extremely close to Catholicism” Kierkegaard actually is [H. Roos, Søren Kierkegaard and Catholicism, trans. Richard M. Brackett, (Westminster, MD: Newman, 1954) 19].

[15] Martin Luther, “Lectures on Genesis, Chapters 26-30” (1545), Luther's Works, 55 vols. (St. Louis: Concordia; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1955-1986) 5:195-196.

[16] Martin Luther, “Sermons on the Gospel of St. John, Chapters 14-16” (1538), Luther's Works 24:162.

[17] I have explored this thesis in “News From the Graveyard: Kierkegaard’s Analysis of Christian Self-Hatred,” Pro Ecclesia 9 (Winter 2000) 19-42.

[18] So “to rebuild marriage, we must recognize that grimly hanging in there 'for the sake of the children' will not work, that it has never been enough.” Sober, self-sufficient endurance by one of the parties will not restore a marriage. For marriage is “the incarnation of eros, the body of love. It is the psalms and the Song of Songs and it is the Crucifixion, or at least it is our aspiration to all of these things” (Gallagher, The Abolition of Marriage, 263-264). Endurance can lead to restoration but is too grim to amount to restoration itself.

[19] This would be an extension of the teaching that we should lend money “expecting nothing in return” (Luke 6:35), and an appeal to the hope of being “repaid at the resurrection of the just” (Luke 14:14).

[20] Researchers have now mounted sizable scientific evidence against keeping one’s marital vows. They try to show that just as “infants have their infancy,” so adults naturally have their adultery [David P. Barash and Judith Eve Lipton, The Myth of Monogamy: Fidelity and Infidelity in Animals and People (New York: W. H. Freeman, 2001) 2].

[21] Meilaender explores Ephesians 5 in Things That Count: Essays Moral and Theological (Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2000), 44-57. The importance of sacrifice in marriage, however, is missing from his account. Elizabeth Achtemeier has a better understanding of Ephesians 5 as the call to husbands and wives to imitate “Christ's faithfulness and yearning and sacrifice” [The Committed Marriage (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1976) 86].

[22] See Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, ed. Mark J. Edwards, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament, vol. 7 (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity, 1999) 195.

[23] For a helpful discussion of these questions see “Appendix: Hard Questions” in Kalbach & Kopp, Because I Said Forever: Embracing Hope in a Not-So-Perfect Marriage (Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 2001) 235-246.

[24] M. Jamie Ferreira has a different solution. She uses the “category of responsiveness” to balance out Kierkegaard’s account. This in turn eliminates the “extreme” elements in Kierkegaard’s view of Christian love [Love's Grateful Striving: A Commentary on Kierkegaard's Works of Love (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001) 226, 224]. I prefer a less creative solution which stays closer to Kierkegaard's actual textual formulations.

[25] Søren Kierkegaard, For Self-Examination and Judge For Yourself! [1851; KW 21 (1990)]. All citations to this book are in the text parenthetically with the abbreviation JFY.

[26] Søren Kierkegaard, The Moment No. 5 (July 27, 1855), The Moment and Late Writings, [KW 23 (1998)] 189.

[27] On this admission see the need for confession in true love in Amy Laura Hall's Kierkegaard and the Treachery of Love (Cambridge: University Press, 2002) 106, “The love to which Kierkegaard calls us requires us actively to acknowledge that true love itself is necessarily precarious – requiring prayers of confession and forgiveness.”

[28] Martin Luther, Lectures on Romans (1518), Luther's Works 25:268. See also Luther's “Defense and Explanation of All the Articles” (1521), Luther's Works 32:22, “[The Christian life] is not godliness but the process of becoming godly ...”

[29] I am grateful to Gordon D. Marino for his criticisms of earlier drafts of this essay. I would also like to dedicate this essay to my dear wife, Jane L. Harty, on the occasion of our 30th anniversary.




What I Tell My Gay Friends

 Pastor Marshall

 This essay was first published in the April 2001 issue of Forum Letter. It was favorably reviewed by Fr. Richard John Neuhaus in the December 2001 issue of First Things. There he praises Pastor Marshall’s “pastorally caring approach to homosexuals and homosexuality.” Pastor Marshall’s essay was also used in May 2001 as part of a 30 minute instructional video for the NW WA Synod of the ELCA. This video included different points of view on the homosexual debate in the church today. Pastor Marshall’s essay – read on the video by an unnamed Seattle actor – represented the conservative viewpoint. In what follows you have the video and also the actual published text of Pastor Marshall’s essay – with some references added. The careful reader will note some minor differences between the print and video versions – due to editorial changes made at Forum Letter. To view the video click on the YouTube site below.


Pastor Marshall’s Published Essay


As a conservative Christian I stand with the vast majority of Christians over the last 2000 years who have held that same-sex behavior is wrong. This however does not mean I want to keep gays, lesbians and bisexuals out of the church. I instead welcome them wholeheartedly. My only point is their sexual behavior is wrong. I disapprove of it because the Bible does – most clearly in the books of Leviticus and Romans [see Robert A. J. Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics, 2001].

Gay Rights. My homosexual friends tell me this makes them feel rejected. But I do not intend this. I want to accept them as people while rejecting their sexual behavior. That’s all. So I will champion their rights. Even though I believe their sexual behavior is sinful it does not mean they should be beaten, ridiculed or oppressed. Consequently I would defend them against all assailants. And I do not take this to be special treatment. We are all sinners in various and sundry ways and this should not exempt any of us from our basic human rights – whether we behave homosexually or not. For me it would be as wrong to deprive homosexuals of their basic civil rights as it would be to do so for adulterers and skinflints, who are – according to the Bible – even worse sinners in God’s eyes. And on the related matter of gay marriages, I cannot condone them because they entail a divine blessing of homosexual behavior which isn’t in the Bible [see Stephen F. Noll, Two Sexes, One Flesh: Why the Church Cannot Bless Same-Sex Marriage, 1997]. Nevertheless the same financial and social benefits that accrue for heterosexual domestic partners should also extend to gays, lesbians and bisexuals.

A Painful Good. So ministry to people who behave homosexually will not include encouraging them to enter into lifelong, monogamous relationships. While such a gay life would be better than a promiscuous one, that fact also does not commend it. I instead  encourage them to behave heterosexually or abstain from sex altogether. I encourage them to change. It is this ministry of transformation away from the gay lifestyle that the church should practice. Even though this transformation can be painful, long and difficult, it is nevertheless good.

Moving Hearts and Desires. Again my gay friends are offended by this suggestion. They ask me how I would like to change my sexual orientation. I sympathize and admit that I wouldn’t – and furthermore concede that none of us can change by ourselves anyway. But with God’s help homosexual people can change – either by becoming celibate or heterosexual. This is because God can change our desires and move our hearts – even to the point of giving us new hearts [see Ezekiel 11:19; Psalm 51:17; Luke 8:15; Acts 2:26]. But as far as heterosexual people becoming homosexual, God would never support that. He condemns the one affectional orientation and so works to block or replace it; the other he blesses and so would do nothing to change it. Only sin furthers the homosexual lifestyle.

My hope for gays, lesbians and bisexuals depends on the teaching that homosexuality is contrary to God’s will. Because I believe this I also believe it should be overcome. Even all the current research into the meaning of the Bible has not swayed me. For instance, all the recent attempts to retranslate verses that condemn same-sex relations so that they no longer do so fail. Rather than replacing traditional translations, all they actually do is expand them. So the condemnations against same-sex behavior now also include special condemnations against gay rape.

Reading Backward. And as far as the charge that selective use is made of the Old Testament to wage war against homosexuals, this also is wrong. It overlooks how Christians are supposed to read the Bible backward – honoring only those curses from the Old Testament that are repeated in the New Testament. So for instance, because the Old Testament laws against usury, or lending money at interest, are not confirmed in the New Testament [see Matthew 25:27], they no longer hold as do the laws against same-sex behavior which are included in the New Testament. So I uphold the Old Testament prohibitions repeated in the New Testament. That’s all. And the fact that Jesus never himself confirmed these curses does not mean he opposed them, only that he assumed them.

Undercut Verses. Furthermore I do not agree that the Bible has been misunderstood on same-sex matters as it was on women’s issues or slavery [see Williams J. Webb, Slaves, Women & Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis, 2001]. The cases are not parallel. For women and slaves there were conflicting New Testament examples that undercut the verses which were against women and for slavery. No such examples exist to undercut the verses against same-sex acts [contra Tom Horner, Jonathan Loved David: Homosexuality in Biblical Times, 1978]. So in the case of homosexuality there is no reason – as there was in the case of women and slavery – to protest. It hasn’t been misinterpreted because the needed conflicting examples in favor of homosexual behavior are simply not in the Bible. Without those examples the needed tension for generating a corrected interpretation is missing.

Finally I also disagree that when the New Testament says homosexuality is unnatural it does not apply to those who are naturally homosexual because of their inherent orientations. Being born homosexual does not exempt them from the curse. This is because the word natural in the New Testament does not mean how-one-is-inclined-from-birth. Rather it means how-things-were-set-up-in-the-Garden-of-Eden at the time of creation. That is the Biblical meaning of the word natural. On that score homosexual behavior is unnatural because it goes against the pairing of the two opposite sexes created in the beginning – male and female. So homosexual behavior is wrong because the Bible says it is. This I believe. Therefore it would be perfectly hateful of me to affirm homosexual behavior. Anything else would be to throw my gay, lesbian and bisexual friends into harm’s way.

Under a Watchful Eye. But this disapproval must be carefully made. It cannot be done with glee. It must show sympathy. I must say that I know what it feels like to be under God’s watchful and condemning eye. I too know how hard it is to give up my sinful ways. I too know the pain of repenting and amending my life [see my “Only the Remorse of Judas,” The Bride of Christ, Pascha 1995]. I therefore stand in solidarity with those whom the Bible condemns – even though I might not share their exact sin [see my “Bonhoeffer’s Schoolboy,” Lutheran Forum, Summer 1999]. My disapproval as a conservative Christian must always be constructive and loving.




Parish Resolution on Homosexual Behavior

WHEREAS the Evangelical Church in America (ELCA) at its national convention in Minneapolis, MN, August 17-23, 2009, adopted a compromise position on the contentious matter of homosexual behavior, which in effect said that each congregation is free to decide for itself what to do, and

WHEREAS this means that there no longer will be any national prohibitions on the matter of homosexual behavior in and of itself, so that ELCA congregations are free [1] to teach that homosexual behavior isn’t, in and of itself, sinful, [2] to call homosexual pastors who aren’t celibate to serve in their parishes, and [3] to bless or marry homosexual couples in their churches, and

WHEREAS no ELCA congregation is required to make any of these three changes, but if they do, they will not be disciplined or expelled from the ELCA the way St. Francis Lutheran Church and First United Lutheran Church in San Francisco were on January 1, 1996, and

WHEREAS it’s equally true, that ELCA congregations are free to affirm the historical teachings against homosexual behavior if they so chose –

BE IT RESOLVED that First Lutheran Church of West Seattle affirm and adopt as a continuing resolution regarding its parish policy the following three statements that have now, in effect, been rejected by the ELCA, but which have played an important part in our past (and which were passed unanimously at the September 8, 2009 Church Council meeting of First Lutheran Church of West Seattle for consideration at the January 2010 Annual Meeting):

[A] Homosexual Behavior. “This church regards the practice of homosexual erotic behavior as contrary to God’s intent for his children. It rejects the contention that homosexual behavior is simply another form of sexual behavior equally valid with the dominant male/female pattern. We have reviewed the challenges to the traditional interpretations of those scripture passages that appear to [prohibit] homosexual behavior. We are not convinced by the evidence presented. Among passages cited as requiring interpretations different from the traditional interpretation are Genesis 18:16-19:29; Leviticus 18:22, 20:13; Romans 1:24-32; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; 1 Timothy 1:10” [“Human Sexuality and Sexual Behavior,” American Lutheran Church (1980) Section G.2, 3 – without the last sentence].

[B] Homosexual Weddings. “We… recognize that there is basis neither in Scripture nor tradition for the establishment of an official ceremony by this church for the blessing of a homosexual relationship. We, therefore, do not approve such a ceremony as an official action of this church’s ministry” [“Resolution CB 93.10.25” (October 1993) ELCA Conference of Bishops – without the last sentence].

[C] Homosexual Pastors. “The expectations of this church regarding the sexual conduct of its ordained ministers are grounded in the understanding that human sexuality is a gift from God and that ordained ministers are to live in such a way as to honor this gift. Ordained ministers are expected to reject sexual promiscuity, the manipulation of others for purposes of sexual gratification, and all attempts of sexual seduction and sexual harassment, including taking physical or emotional advantage of others. Single ordained ministers are expected to live a chaste life. Married ordained ministers are expected to live in fidelity to their spouses, giving expression to sexual intimacy within a marriage relationship that is mutual, chaste, and faithful. Ordained ministers who are homosexual in their self-understanding are expected to abstain from homosexual sexual relationships” [Visions and Expectations: Ordained Ministers in the ELCA (1990) p. 13].

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that homosexuals will continue to be welcomed at First Lutheran Church of West Seattle and offered the full resources of pastoral care within the guidelines set forth in this Continuing Resolution and be included in the life of the parish.

Passed at the Annual Meeting 1-31-10

Amended at Church Council Meeting 3-9-10