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Beyond 1st Corinthians – How To Deal With Religious Differences at Your Wedding

My husband’s family is very, very religious; fundamentally so. His dad was performing the ceremony. We didn’t want a religious ceremony. So what were we to do?Jon’s dad is an ordained minister. He travels the world on a mission to spread Christianity. He puts himself in harm’s way regularly to do so; touring the Middle East, sending rescue teams to disaster sites and so on. He doesn’t just go to church; he walks the walk of an evangelical, spreading the word and helping those in need. When I say there are religious differences between his parents and us, these things need to be noted to stress that the very foundations on which we live our lives are motivated by completely different forces. If given his way, the entire ceremony would have most likely been read directly from the Bible. Given our way, there would be no mention of any God. I think this is a problem that many couples face, whether it be religious differences among their families or among themselves and there are few times it will become more apparent than when a wedding is imminent.

As many children of strict religious upbringings are, Jon is an unapologetic atheist. I have a more moderate take on the whole thing, embracing some ideas of spirituality and God while being vehemently against any attempts to legislate my life or my body based on religion. Obviously, the religious issue is a big one between Jon and his parents, and we were prepared to stand our ground when it came to the ceremony. My position was one of respecting the opposing view but being firm about our wishes. Unfortunately, Jon had a talk with them before I could state my case, and by talk, I mean raucous argument in which God may have been compared to both Santa and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Not the best starting off point, but important to note because it shows that fights can go down and it can all still work out in the end. However, the argument led to a standstill in talks that stretched out for a few months. Neither side wanted to engage in another round of heated debate on the issue, and neither side wanted to hurt the other. I would suggest avoiding this course of action because it led to us worrying our ceremony would be soaked in Jesus juice and Jon’s parents potentially thinking we were going to engage them in some naked, orgy-based bacchanal.

I need to point out that I adore my in-laws. They are loving, kind and wonderful people. We try to avoid topics that would shine a light on our vast differences religiously and politically. We all know that we have such polar opposite beliefs that we aren’t going to change each others’ minds, so we just let it be.

The most important wisdom I can impart when it comes to such a contentious issue is to choose your battles. Jon and I discussed what was most important to us and what we wouldn’t mind. This is a limit that each person must decide for themselves. Really take the time to think it through. I often find that if I am willing to give a little on my end, the person on the other side will be willing to give as well. We realized that, while it was our wedding and we wanted it to be our way, it wasn’t going to be the end of the world if a bible verse or two got thrown in, as long as it wasn’t about me obeying anyone and as long as it wasn’t 1st Corinthians. I don’t know why, but I just can’t take that verse. Too wedding cliche, too trite, and honestly, it’s just not accurate. Love does a lot of things that verse says it doesn’t. We hit a snag along the way regarding the verse, actually, wherein my father-in-law secretly tried to enlist my little brother to sing it during the ceremony to “surprise us.” Luckily, my brother knows me well enough to know there would have been hell to pay had he partaken in that, so he tattled and we shut it down. Besides, it was my brother’s job to play the Buffy and Angel Love Theme while I walked down the aisle, not sing bible verses.

In the end, we wrote out a script for the main parts and set a 10 minute time limit for the ceremony. To limit too much ad lib time, we included two very short readings which two of my other brothers and Jon’s brother read (Jon’s brother, also very conservative and religious, may have read a excerpt from the Massachusetts court case legalizing gay marriage without his knowledge. C’mon, we have to get them in where we can!). My mom and dad walked me up the aisle. When we got to the platform, Jon’s dad said “who gives this woman to be married?” to which my father replied, “Her mother and I do. We’ve been putting up with her shit for 30 years, she’s his problem now. Good luck with that!” The crowd laughed and then Jon’s dad turned it out like a pro. He had our guests and us laughing through the whole thing and kept it short and sweet. It was absolutely perfect, even more than I could have ever hoped for. He was throwing out one-liners right and left and we had many people come up to us afterwards to tell us that was how a wedding should be, full of laughter and love.

What a lovey

21 replies on “Beyond 1st Corinthians – How To Deal With Religious Differences at Your Wedding”

Wow. This was really touching. It was stupid of your in-laws to try to make you have a wedding you didn’t want, but that you didn’t stereotype them as another stupid Christian really means a lot. I usually feel alienated on feminist sites (I’m new here). You are such a nice person to put up with that though.

I never really imagined, prior to getting married, the constant negotiation that building relationships with in-laws can entail. Most of my aversion to weddings had more to do with ambivalence (I mean… unless they started selling wedding dresses at target, I probably couldn’t be motivated to go shopping for one), but the ardent anti-religion of my family and the fervent praise-jeebus of my husbands also played into our decision to elope.

Now I just dance around the religion thing during holidays and family vacations and such. There’s a lot of stuff that really bothers me, but ultimately I realized that it was more important to them to “pray for me” than it was for me to take a stand against my problems with religion with some really lovely people.

“I often find that if I am willing to give a little on my end, the person on the other side will be willing to give as well.” This can just be applied to, well, everything. It’s such a polite way to say “no one here wants to be an asshole.”

I totally agree on the “giving a little” applying to everything, but have you noticed how few people actually practice it? It drives me crazy sometimes! I felt like it was a little too common sense of a statement, but then thought of all the times I have been listening to friends complain about not getting their way, yet being completely oblivious to how their “way” means the other person getting nothing. Empathy seems to be missing from so many interactions.

And I’m right there with you on the whole “praying for you” thing. It is hard to swallow one’s pride, but it is exhausting to try to argue a point with someone so firmly entrenched in their beliefs that you aren’t going to change their minds. Yes, we’re going to Hell, but we will have so much fun company!

Oh you’re totally right about how no one practices “giving a little”. I’m lucky to have really well-rounded friends, and I find every time I’m sounding off about something in my life they come back at me with “Well yea ok, but is that really necessary for you?”

I still feel 8 years old sometimes, wanting to stomp my foot and declare “That’s not fair”.

According to my husband’s parents beliefs, like, none of their children are going to heaven…but they aren’t freaked out about that at all. I can’t imagine if I believed my family was going to burn eternally, but they still sit there and politely say grace. It’s a constant battle not to stand up yelling “The hypocrisy! The hypocrisy!”

I really like your post as a reminder that the things we think are sooooo important, may not actually be that important.

My uncle and my new aunt decided to elope because of family drama too. His mother and sister are completely insane (not in a medical way, just personalities) as are one of her sisters. They went to Hawaii, had a beautiful beach wedding. They made an announcement later and gave us all a photo book of the wedding. Frankly, sometimes it’s the best decision to elope!

I’m agnostic leaning heavily towards atheism. My husband, prior to us marrying, was very religious. To the point that when I told him I loved him his response was, “I’m going to have to pray on this”. I refused to be married in a church or by the only pastor he knew – who officiated at his first wedding. We all know how well the church wedding and that pastor worked out for him before.

So. We compromised. We got married on the deck outside of our reception hall on the edge of a marsh in late summer. Sun shone down on us and we were surrounded by greenery and the noises of nature.

We were married by a Unitarian Universalist pastor who has known me through my father for a few years and had met the two of us (me and the husband) for a total of an hour ahead of time. We researched what we wanted said exactly, printed it out and gave it to her. God as a concept was used, the name Jesus was not. We had a small ceremony, only 14 people including the photographer and the officiant. Literally five minutes before the ceremony my dad walked in to the room I was prepping in and said, “So, do I walk you out? If you don’t want to, that’s ok – I just need to know where I need to be.”

We didn’t consider it “giving the bride away”, it was more “escorting the bride so she doesn’t hyperventilate and get the jitters and fall on her face she’s so nervous”.

My philosophy on weddings is this: do what makes YOU TWO happy. All the rest can go by the wayside, you’re forming a new family unit that doesn’t have to be part of the old guard and how they do things.

Oh goodness, I don’t know how I would have dealt if the husband had been the uber-religious one. You say he was very religious- has that changed as you two have been together?

I love the “escorting the bride” line of your comment. That is totally how I felt, too. Not only was it a nervous thing, but we also got married outside where a long walk up a grassy, squishy aisle was required. I was clinging to both of them for dear life in my four inch heels.

Yeah, the whole “giving me away” thing always weirded me out. Plus, it seems to put this emphasis on the father, which I think is kind of shitty to do to a mom, like he gets a say in their daughter’s future but she doesn’t. I loved having both of them walk with me, and setting my dad up for a stupid, hilarious joke? Priceless.

@bunnyring That’s something that I’ve been thinking about a lot too. I really like the idea of emphasizing that a wedding is creating a new family more than that the daughter is being “transferred” to the husband, so I kind of want both of my partner’s parents to escort him down the aisle and both of my parents to walk me down too to reflect how two separate families are merging and creating a new one. (Obviously I need to mention this to future Mr. and see if he likes it, haha.)

I really, really love the idea of having one of your readings be from a pro-gay-marriage court case decision. I’ve been grappling with how to best acknowledge our privilege in being able to get married during our wedding – it feels wrong to me to not acknowledge it but I also don’t want to get too political or preachy, and I feel like that strikes the perfect balance.

And I love that picture. :)

Please feel free to steal all or some of this, from the 2003 Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage in that state.

“Marriage is a vital social institution, the exclusive commitment of two individuals to each other nurtures love and mutual support. Civil marriage is at once a deeply personal commitment to another human being and a highly public celebration of the ideals of mutuality, companionship, intimacy, fidelity, and family. Because it fulfills yearnings for security, safe haven, and connection that express our common humanity, civil marriage is an esteemed institution and the decision whether and whom to marry is among life’s momentous acts of self-definition.

It is undoubtedly for these concrete reasons, as well as for its intimately personal significance, that civil marriage has long been termed a ‘civil right.’ Without the right to choose to marry, one is excluded from the full range of human experience.”

Dan Savage is the one that turned me onto this when I was reading a column about someone not wanting to marry until everyone can. This reading was done at his friend’s hetero wedding, and he thought it was a lovely sentiment.

I went through this too (without my parent being ordained). My parents boycotted, as a result my mom didn’t get to be involved with the planning or anything (I’m her only daughter). They decided at the last minute they’d attend, but 11 years later, I’m still mad about it (not seething hatred, but melancholy, I guess). We just don’t talk about religion at all.

Argh, I’m so sorry you had to go through that, and that you missed out on doing planning stuff with your mom. It kills me when people can’t set aside their own personal shit, choosing instead to make a stressful time even more so. **internet hugs**

Jon always, ALWAYS flips off the camera when anyone takes his picture. Since the photographer was the only thing we actually paid a substantial sum for, he was forbidden from doing so on our wedding day. This was his sneaky way of getting around that edict. Of course, it ended up being one of my favorite photos.

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