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On Interfaith Marriage and Weddings

til faith

Over the weekend I spent some time reading Til Faith Do Us Part: How Interfaith Marriage is Transforming America by Naomi Schaefer Riley. This book is fascinating in its description of modern marriages, 45% of which are interfaith unions, and the religious beliefs of  various married couples. Riley discusses everything from the wedding to raising children to divorce rate comparisons, and she writes from a first-person perspective based on her own experience of meshing her Jewish background with that of her husband’s Jehovah’s Witness upbringing. Riley points out what she perceives as both weaknesses and strengths of interfaith marriage, although at times I found it difficult to view the “strengths” as such.

This post is not a review of the book, but as I read, one particular quote in the Conclusion chapter stood out to me:

[…] it is easy to see why interfaith marriage is growing by leaps and bounds. We like diversity; we believe members of other faiths are not only decent, but can get to heaven; we see marriage as a largely individual decision; we will meet our spouse and marry him or her with little forethought about his or her religious beliefs; when we find a potential partner, we believe the relationship between spouses will be an all-consuming one and that our families and communities do not have any kind of competing claims on our loyalties; we think religion is important but it is for kids and parents, not for young, single adults.(p.205)

As I set the book down, I wondered, “So what do we do with this?”

Parents may be raising their children with certain religious convictions or participation (or not), but we read and hear many reports stating that college students are widely prone to leave whatever faith system they were formerly part of. Whether this means a period of religious experimentation, or, as the author purports above, no importance at all placed on religion, we see it increasingly is not a make-or-break factor in many marriages.

The book described spouses from various backgrounds (LDS, Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, mainstream, evangelical Christian) in marriages with those from other backgrounds. Many of those interviewed thought of their religion very little until time to make decisions for the wedding or when determining how to raise children. I found the author’s description of how couples celebrate holidays (such as Christmas) fascinating. She writes, “I have heard many interfaith couples use the analogy of a birthday party to explain the celebration of holidays to children: You can help your friend celebrate his birthday by going to his party and singing and eating and giving him a present. It’s not your birthday, but you can still participate. We can help dad celebrate Christmas even if it’s not our holiday.” (p.99)

I confess it’s difficult for me to imagine all of this. I know there are many couples who experience changes after marriage in their religious identity–some deny the faith they formerly claimed, others convert–but the thought of starting out marriage from such different points of view seems to be an enormous challenge.

Of course, the assumption in all of this is mentioned in Riley’s quote above: “We like diversity; we believe members of other faiths are not only decent, but can get to heaven;” This belief opens us up to marry whomever we wish–if he/she is a good person, why not? But then the questions come:

“Should we have mass at the wedding if one spouse is Catholic and the other Protestant?”

“Should we mention the name of Jesus if one spouse is Christian and the other Jewish?”

“Is it possible to raise our children in both faiths? If not, how do we choose which one?”

So how do we respond to this in our own churches and homes?

I can’t speak to other faith traditions, but I can just a bit to evangelical Christianity. So here are a few reasons why I think we’re increasingly seeing interfaith marriage as a possibility in the Church:

First, we don’t know what Christianity is. We don’t know what it means to truly follow Christ. We’ve reduced our “faith” to a common experience–to traditionalism. If this is the case and if all the “take up your cross” and “deny yourself” (Matt. 16:24-26) stuff is merely a suggestion for the truly devout, then Christianity might just be compatible with various religious systems. But if “to live is Christ, to die is gain” (Phil 1:21), then our lives mean far more than many of us realize.

Second, we don’t know what marriage really is. What does it truly mean? If it’s a social construct, then by all means we should marry whomever we wish. But if, as the Bible states, it was created by God to demonstrate a far greater reality, then our marriages mean far more than many of us realize.

But maybe you’re reading this and feel I’m simply stating the obvious. And here’s where the third observation comes in. IF the Christian life is about more than moralism and tradition, and IF marriage is meant to represent a far greater reality, how do these truths apply to our weddings?

The third truth is this: We don’t know what a wedding is. We don’t realize that not only did God create marriage, He orchestrated the first wedding. Running through the pages of Scripture is the beautiful metaphor of marriage, a picture of an intimate, loving husband and His bride, awaiting their ultimate union. Our weddings should reveal this expectancy and excitement, the tension of the already/not yet of the Kingdom. Marriage is common grace, God’s good gift to the world, but Christians should “get it” in a different way. And if we did, our weddings might reveal this truth to all those in attendance. We might rejoice in the greater reality of what we’re truly doing. And we might see how incompatible this reality is with faith systems that deny the deity of Christ–our true Bridegroom.

So I write all this not to motivate us to despair or try harder, but to encourage us to truly see Christ and point others to Him. We shouldn’t respond in fear of the future of evangelicalism, but maybe with a mix of hope and sadness. Love compels us to see what our friends and children are missing–we’re not fearful for the future of a “system” from which they’re turning away, but rather heartbroken that they haven’t truly seen the love of Christ.

From the outside, we may seem exclusive or intolerant. But the love of Christ compels us to share with others this great truth–Christ is all! A life, marriage, or wedding without Christ misses the point. This realization spurs us on to love and good deeds, powered by the gospel truth and the Holy Spirit to demonstrate through our imperfect lives and marriages that there is a far greater reality to come. So as we await that reality, we invite others to the ultimate wedding celebration to come.

Pre-Marriage Counseling–What Do YOU Think?

'couple-reading-books' photo (c) 2012, Erin Kelly - license:

Writing has been a little spotty of late around here. I’ve been in VA spending time with family while my husband was in Belgium shooting a missions video. So rather than writing, I’ve been going to the beach, hanging with my precious niece and, thanks to my kind parents, sleeping in!

At some point in the next few months I plan to revamp this blog to create a better forum for both wedding-related and non-wedding posts. In the meantime, though, I’m working on a couple of series I hope will be helpful.

I need some help with the first one.

Many of the pastors I talked with in writing the book stressed the importance of pre-marital counseling. So I would like to do a series focusing on the need and the content of these counseling sessions.

If you have been through pre-marriage counseling and have thoughts on the subject, this is what I’d love to hear from you:

1. What are the most helpful things you took away from pre-marriage counseling?

2. In retrospect, what do you think would have been helpful that you did not hear from your counselor?

3. Any other thoughts (resources used, format of sessions, who did your counseling) you think might be helpful.

Thanks in advance for your help with this! I love the variety of responses I receive from people as it really aids in giving a full picture of the topic at hand.

Please feel free to pass this on to others as well!

Weddings on the Web – Laura & James

I ran across this wedding on Style Me Pretty and wanted to link to it here as it illustrates some things I think I key in planning your wedding.

The groom’s advice to couples in the planning process is to focus on the people:

 I think that perhaps our favorite part of the wedding was the rehearsal dinner the night before. A time for laughter and heartfelt memories, it gave us the confidence to boldly declare our love for not only each other, but for Christ. Each story, every piece of advice, and any kind word that was poured over us that night had to do with Jesus and the impact he has made through us. There is nothing that will get you through what can be a bumpy ride like an encouraging word from a friend.

For any and all couples going through an engagement – watching these videos and dreaming of your perfect wedding, my advice to you is to focus on the people. Forget the details, and the frivolous things that will pass, and focus on who truly makes the day special.

If you have a few minutes, go here and watch their wedding video, put together by PenWeddings. I love how the video perfectly illustrates the groom’s words. You really get a sense that the people in their lives are there not only for the wedding day, but to encourage and lift them up going forward throughout their marriage.


Weddings on the Web

'Wedding Photos' photo (c) 2011, Katsu Nojiri - license:

The Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) recently launched a new website with both a men’s and a women’s channel. I have really enjoyed the women’s channel and they are currently doing a series on weddings that is definitely worth checking out.

Today’s post by Jenny Manley looks into how planning a wedding points us toward the greater reality of “Preparing for the Ultimate Wedding Day.” She describes what we do when we plan weddings and how this reflects the working and waiting for our union with Christ. I love this quote:

So, dear bride, prepare for your earthly wedding day.  And as you pick out the dress and the photographer and the wedding cake, remember your calling to prepare even more diligently for that ultimate day.  Preparations are already underway in heaven.

Last week, Courtney Reissig wrote about sex and expectations for the wedding night in a post called, “When the Wedding Night Isn’t Perfect.”  This is something that is rarely discussed, but super important and I’m so thankful she tackled it (and did so with much grace). Courtney writes:

Virginity is not a down payment on the guarantee of amazing sex. And that’s not the point, anyway. Sex, like every good thing (including marriage), takes work. Contrary to nearly every movie’s breathless, raucous, and perfect portrayal of sex, the reality is that sex doesn’t always end up that way. And when we promise nearly married people that this is what awaits them if they simply hold off until the wedding night, we are doing them a grave disservice.

And a couple of weeks ago I was privileged to kick off the series with my post, “What I Wish I Had Known When I Planned My Wedding.”

Stay tuned to the CBMW “Karis” channel for more grace-filled posts on a variety of topics.

Music Monday – “Beautiful” by Phil Wickham

The lyrics for this song by Phil Wickham are below the video. I’ve heard of this being used as a processional for a wedding, but it would work great for corporate worship or a special number during the ceremony. I particularly like the last two verses. And the time lapse video images below are just gorgeous.

I see Your face in every sunrise
The colors of the morning are inside Your eyes
The world awakens in the light of the day
I look up to the sky and say
You’re beautiful

I see Your power in the moonlit night
Where planets are in motion and galaxies are bright
We are amazed in the light of the stars
It’s all proclaiming who You are
You’re beautiful, You’re beautiful

I see you there hanging on a tree
You bled and then you died and then you rose again for me
Now you are sitting on Your heavenly throne
Soon we will be coming home
You’re beautiful, you’re beautiful

When we arrive at eternity’s shore
Where death is just a memory and tears are no more
We’ll enter in as the wedding bells ring
Your bride will come together and we’ll sing
You’re beautiful, You’re beautiful, You’re beautiful

Real Wedding: Aylin & Ethan

I defy anyone with a heart to watch this video and not cry. This is one of the most humble, Christ-exalting things I have ever seen. I do not know this couple personally, but they graciously agreed to share their video and story with me for the blog and book. Here are the bride’s words about their wedding:

We wanted it to be very clear that our marriage was built on His grace and His alone. Both of us are pastor’s kids, with desires to serve the Lord in ministry. People kept saying, “You deserve this marriage.” “Look how God has blessed you for having waited to well in His time.” We both knew the many struggles we had with our sin during our singleness. We wanted it to be very clear that if the Lord blessed our marriage it was all because of Him, not because of anything in us. So, we had a time of public confession of sins, and then we nailed those sins to a Calvary tree “sculpture” that we prepared. As we nailed the list, our pastor read Col. 2: 16. Then we sang The Power of the Cross.

Please, take a few minutes and rejoice in the power of the cross and the great love of our Savior.

Aylin + Ethan from Studio 16×9 on Vimeo.

Music Monday – “Holy” by The City Harmonic

I had never heard this song until Tim Challies posted it on his blog several days ago. A couple in his church used it in their wedding ceremony and I can only imagine how beautiful that was to behold.  The lyrics are included in the video below–watch and rejoice!