Counseling an Impending Mixed Marriage

Discussion in 'Sacraments and Holy Orders' started by Fr. Brench, Dec 29, 2019.

  1. Fr. Brench

    Fr. Brench Active Member Anglican

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    I can't share every detail in public for obvious privacy reasons, but I have a potential situation coming my way: a Christian relative of mine is probably going to be engaged to her boyfriend very soon, and the possibility is high that I'll be asked to officiate their wedding. While she is a Christian, he is not, and sometimes vocally anti-religious online, albeit polite in person.

    Obviously this is a delicate situation. In this day and age, when people decide to get married, they don't ask their ministers for permission, they inform their ministers, and if they don't get the answer they want they get angry and look elsewhere. I don't want to drive either of them away from the church, but I don't want to compromise the teaching of the church regarding holy matrimony either.

    What principles, guidelines, rules, or parameters have you or your ministers set concerning this sort of situation? Where do you draw the lines? I want to gather whatever advice I can before the big question hits, so I don't have to spend too much time floundering!
     
  2. Rexlion

    Rexlion Well-Known Member

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    In the situation you may soon face, I feel for you. It's a tough spot to be in with a relative (family member).

    I have observed many relationships among my relatives in which a non-Christian spouse (or Significant Other) drew the Christian person away from faith to some degree or another. But when the relationship ended, either through death or through some other departure of the non-Christian member, the Christian member returned to faith. In other words, the non-Christian often is a significant hindrance to the spiritual life of the Christian. This may be one of the reasons why we are told to not be unequally yoked with an unbeliever. If the non-Christian does not depart from the relationship (or if the formerly Christian person happens to die first), has the latter persevered in the faith? Such marriages potentially imperil the soul of the Christian. Therefore, this is a point you would need to put forward in counseling the couple. I would wonder about the strength of the (allegedly) Christian person's faith if she is willing to put God in the 'back seat' of her life and be joined to an unbeliever.... in a bond which in God's eyes is a sacred, blood-covenant vow which should never be broken.

    You have the authority before God and government to perform marriages. If these two people really want to join themselves in marriage but one of them does not believe in God, that person does not have reason to believe in the sacredness of marriage nor the permanence with which God views it. I can see how you could perform such a marriage for legal/civil purposes, but I cannot see any way that you can marry them in the eyes of God. And the believing portion of this relationship needs to have that distinction explained to them (lovingly, but using Bible verses to show that it is God and not you who makes this determination). Consequently, if performing the ritual I would suggest doing so outside of the church property, to help drive this point home; it should be a bare ceremony, no eucharist, just the minimum necessary to satisfy the legal requirements. (This is just my unadorned, un-ordained opinion!)

    Another thing you should discuss with them is whether they have talked over and agreed how any offspring are to be raised... will they be raised in the church or outside of it? If the Christian half has a strong faith, she should have no question in her mind but should definitely intend to raise her children as believers; but a vocally anti-religious man is unlikely to stand for it. This will likely become a major source of friction and grief, and the children themselves will be potentially the most deeply damaged ones from such a situation. Better a millstone be hung around a person's neck and be drowned than to lead a little one astray... and yet that is what a Christian risks with the offspring when he or she marries an unbeliever.

    Sometimes a spouse with strong faith may, through prayer, love and example, help lead an unbelieving spouse to the Lord; if this is her hope and aspiration, I wish her the best. But if she is indifferent to his spiritual darkness and thinks it matters little, woe unto her! for she in all likelihood is in for a rude awakening and a hard time.
     
    Last edited: Dec 29, 2019
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  3. Stalwart

    Stalwart Well-Known Member Anglican

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    My first reaction is that we are faced with this dilemma far too often: "I don't want to offend my parent, so how do I keep the Christian stuff down." "I don't want to offend the school board, so I'll keep quiet about them teaching my son about boys wearing skirts." The fear of offense is probably today's Christians' deepest, innermost cardinal sin. And so if I were in holy orders, I'd debate making it a testament to the world, that the Christian is above the pressures of the world, even above the pressures of his own family, where the matters of God are at stake. My own priest in fact has been an example of that. I know a family where one is a Christian and the other isn't for cultural reasons (being Jewish); so my priest has both been very welcoming to the Jewish half of that family, in unusually open ways, going with them to some synagogue services, going to the circumcision. But once the decision was made to baptize their son, he turned up the volume that now they had a moral obligation to go to Church, and in ways that would seem too strong among some, reminded them of their duty to raise their son as a Christian (while still remaining 100% jewish).

    In other words he navigated those choppy waters by 'giving in' where necessary, but being implacable where required, even to a point where someone else would've feared of that family being pushed away. He didn't seem to care, and I always remembered that.

    We think of tough parents in the same way: we resent them being so implacable when growing up and even rebel against them when the age permits, but we never forget it, and on becoming parents ourselves we always return to our parents and apologize for our stubornness. I am the same way, having been anxious to throw off the yoke of my parents at 18, but now ever so grateful for their conscientious guidance of my youth, and steering me from the choppy waters that drowned (as it were) so many of my friends of that time.
     
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  4. Rexlion

    Rexlion Well-Known Member

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    Christians are called by Christ to be salt and light in this earth. Yet when Christians fail to live up to the standards of conduct delineated in the N.T., unbelievers are quick to spot the discrepancies and call us hypocrites (who talk the talk but don't walk the walk).

    An ordained minister is even more visible as a prospective example of Christlike behavior. When a minister compromises on principles, no matter the motive, it sticks out like a sore thumb.

    There are some things in which no compromise is appropriate. In my view, a Christian wedding involving a non-Christian bride or groom is not possible. A civil wedding, yes; even though it may be ill-advised, it is the couple's right to freely make the mistake. But a normal Christian wedding ceremony would speak loudly to the unbeliever, "These Christians fold on their beliefs when holding to them is inconvenient, and my skepticism is validated."
     
  5. bwallac2335

    bwallac2335 Active Member

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    I would counsel her strongly about the dangers of such a marriage to her faith.
     
  6. Shane R

    Shane R Well-Known Member

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    I went back and re-read my canons. I could perform such a marriage but no clergyman is required to perform any marriage by canon law. So the question becomes: do I perform this marriage? This is why most bishops suggest a period of counseling prior to a wedding.

    We had a young couple that we were working with a while back. The girl was only 20 and the guy was 24 or so and, as we began counseling him, identified himself as a bisexual swinger who had been previously divorced. And that was when I bailed on that situation. It was disaster waiting to happen and I'm sure the poor girl is going to be miserable in a year or two.
     
  7. Botolph

    Botolph Well-Known Member

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    I think that this matter is complex. The first thing to note is that the ministers of the sacrament in the marriage are the Bride and the Groom, and the Cleric of Officiant really serve the purpose of ensuring that all is in order, legitimised, witnessed and registered. Clergy performance in marriage is not rated according to the success of longevity of the marriages they solemnise.

    The issues are really pastoral. Are the respective families of origin really onside, and supportive of the new family unit to be created? This is a key factor in the success of marriage that we never even look at. Does the couple understand what the Church is on about in marriage, and how we will understand the covenant they are entering into, or do they think it is a nice venue which solves the problem of the need of a rainy day back-up plan.

    Baptism, Marriage and Funerals provide great opportunities for us to witness to the faith and hope of the Church in Christ Jesus, yet there is a danger when we promote the high bar in a way that it becomes a wall of rejection.
     

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