Why Meghan Markle’s Lie about a Church Wedding Matters to Christians

Archbishop of Canterbury forced to defend himself

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The Archbishop of Canterbury has finally gone public to dispute Meghan Markle’s claim that he secretly married her and Prince Harry in their backyard three days before the church wedding. 

Of all Markle’s tall tales to Oprah, this one was the most offensive to people of faith. She claimed that she and Prince Harry were already secretly married when Archbishop Justin Welby presided over their public wedding.

If this was true, it would mean the Archbishop, who is the highest cleric in the Anglican Church, deliberately deceived those in attendance (and watching on TV) that they were witnessing the sacramental rite of Holy Matrimony under God. 

After almost a month of keeping silent on the matter, Welby finally responded on March 30 to the  Italian newspaper “La Repubblica” about marrying the Duke and Duchess of Sussex:

 “The legal wedding was on the Saturday. I signed the wedding certificate, which is a legal document, and I would have committed a serious criminal offense if I signed it knowing it was false.”

Most of the media around the world ran with the private secret wedding story as fact when it aired. CNN’s story is “Meghan and Harry got married three days before the royal wedding.” 

The New York Times tweeted out a story that said:

“Meghan Markle revealed that before their official wedding, she and Prince Harry got married in a secret backyard ceremony with the Archbishop of Canterbury.” 

I knew as I was watching the interview live that something was very wrong. I retweeted The New York Times and wrote:   

“The claim needs a fact check... The Anglican Church does not allow wedding ceremonies twice - one in private and one for “show.”  So did the archbishop violate church doctrine performing the 2nd fake one in front of the Queen who is head of the church?”

While the “secret wedding” was being hailed as a romantic “aha” moment with Oprah, Christian viewers started questioning it online and on social media. After weeks of pressure by the public and - likely- the church, Meghan and Harry admitted that whatever they did in the backyard with the Archbishop was neither “legal” nor “official.” 

However, the problem with the wedding claim for Christians was not whether it was legal or official. The problem was whether the three of them were making a mockery of our faith and sacred rituals by staging a fraud marriage for the cameras.

The relationship between a priest and parishioner is sacred and all conversation is considered “under the collar”, meaning they will keep it private. So that’s why Meghan and Harry put Welby in a terrible spot - -to defend himself and the church or betray their confidence. He thread the needle carefully, saying

 “If any of you ever talk to a priest, you expect them to keep that talk confidential. It doesn't matter who I'm talking to. I had a number of private and pastoral meetings with the duke and duchess before the wedding.”

“So you can make what you like about it. But the legal wedding was on the Saturday. But I won't say what happened at any other meetings.”

As I wrote earlier this month, Welby said in 2017 that he had learned from his meetings with Meghan and Harry that they specifically wanted to get married at the chapel out of faith and devotion. He said it was no  “tick box exercise” to get married in the church. 

Meghan’s “secret wedding” was likely her attempt at come across as humble and not after Harry for the royal glamour. But her PR stunt showed total disregard for how the rest of us take the church and its rites seriously.  (Meghan was confirmed into the Anglican church by the Archbishop before her wedding.)

There is no gray area for the Archbishop on the private/public, real/fake weddings. The guidebook for priests in the Church of England even has a section on re-marriage. It says: 

2.21 A couple who are already lawfully married cannot choose to re-marry each other, unless there is some doubt as to the validity of the earlier marriage.

2.22 Where there is no apparent informality in the previous marriage and the couple merely wish to go through another marriage ceremony with each other, they should be informed that they are already lawfully married to each and there is no statutory provision for marriage preliminaries to be completed in these circumstances.

The controversy started when Meghan said this to Oprah on March 7: 

“Three days before our wedding, we got married. No one knows that. But we called the Archbishop, and we just said, ‘Look, this thing, this spectacle is for the world, but we want our union between us’. So, like, the vows that we have framed in our room are just the two of us in our backyard with the Archbishop of Canterbury.”

Prince Harry added that the wedding was “just the three of us" to include Welby, who is the head of the Church of England, just below his grandmother, the Queen. 

Oprah seemingly didn’t check whether this was true before airing the special -- that 50 million people have now watched just on TV, double the number who watched the church wedding in 2018.

Those of us in the Catholic, Anglican and Episcopal churches view the sacraments as “outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace.” (BCP p. 857) And grace is defined by the church as “God’s favor towards us, unearned and undeserved.” 

The two great sacraments of the Gospel are Holy Baptism and Holy Eucharist -- the ones Jesus told us to keep doing after He went to heaven. 

The other sacramental rites for Anglicans and Episcopalians (the American branch) have evolved in the churches over time. These are not required for everyone like Baptism and Holy Communion are, but they are means of grace from God and holy. The five are:  confirmation, ordination of a bishop or priest, holy matrimony, reconciliation of a penitent and function of the sick. 

Holy Matrimony is not a wedding. It is a rite of the church in which “the woman and the man enter into a lifelong union, make their vows before God and the Church and receive the grace and blessing of God to help them fulfill their vows.” (BCP p. 861)

This bigger purpose to marriage hit me at a wedding at my former church (Episcopal).  The priest, The Rev. Lyndon Shakespeare, made a point in his sermon to notice that the vows the couple said were to God, not each other. From the Book of Common Prayer: 

The woman says, “In the Name of God, I, N, take you , N to be my husband...This is my solemn vow.” 

Do you see the the way the vows are worded? They don’t vow to each other to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, etc. They are vowing to God to stick with the other until parted by death. (The Book of Common prayer for the Church of England, which the Archbishop used to marry Meghan and Harry is similar but in more old-fashioned language.)

Lyndon’s point was that Holy Matrimony was bigger than two people in love, and the vows are not possible to sustain without God’s help. So for Meghan and Harry to say they made these vows to God in their backyard in secret with the Archbishop — and then faked them in public a few days later — meant they were lying in His church and under His watchful eye. 

Meghan’s other questionable stories — crying over bridesmaids dresses and not getting access to therapy — are entertaining. But she crossed the line into offensive and dangerous when she threw God under the bus in her lust to have the public view her as just a simple girl in love with a boy.

The Archbishop should never have been forced to defend himself in the media for breaking his vows as a priest. If the mostly secular mass media had not just reported Meghan’s secret wedding claim as true, it wouldn’t have gotten to this point. Reporters should have done a simple fact check before publishing the claim.

Or, even better, the editors of the major news outlets could learn that they need some practicing Christians in the newsroom for stories about religion for a gut check, or rather, a God check. 

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