Conscientious Wedding Objectors

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It’s not just gay weddings that can divide a circle of friends.

There are myriad possibilities, depending on one’s sensibilities and morals, that might prompt even close friends to decline a wedding invitation or back out of standing up in the wedding party: She’s marrying an abusive jerk. The reception will turn into a party of raging alcoholics. The groom’s an atheist, the bride’s a Christian. Dancing and a DJ will be present after cake cutting. The minister is a woman from a “heretical” denomination.

Whatever the offense, these situations often feel like a choice between your deepest convictions and your love for the couple in question.

I thought I’d left behind this problem along with my old judgmental scruples. Surely no problem would arise that a bit of tolerance couldn’t fix.

And then one summer, I was asked to sing a complementarian wedding song.

I found myself, once again, intolerant, unloving, and completely torn over my deepest values.

I had no problem attending a wedding with such a song. Every wedding I’d ever attended in my life had some sort of nod or overture to complementarian theology. That wasn’t the problem.

I just didn’t feel right with complementarian ideology coming out of my mouth — me, a vocal, public feminist trying to make it big in the egalitarian world.

Once I stopped crying about how I couldn’t believe this was happening to me — this horrific situation where I was the intolerant, unbending, convicted one — I tried sort out what was what.

I thought it was my conscience versus my love for this friend — standing up for what I believed versus deeply wounding an unsuspecting bride.

Really, it boiled down to this: not conscience versus love, but what my conscience could take. Could my conscience handle singing one line of complementarian thought? Or could my conscience settle with causing division, hurting a friend, and potentially ruining our friendship and egalitarianism’s (already extremely tarnished) good name?

Because it would. I wasn’t going to kid myself about that.

One thing was clear: I couldn’t sugarcoat my decision as doing what was somehow existentially or cosmically or eternally “best” or “loving” toward my friend. She wouldn’t perceive it as love in the moment, and she would never perceive it as love unless, somehow, miraculously, in spite of being wounded and misunderstood by this ideology, she later embraced egalitarianism.

I wouldn’t be changing her mind. I wouldn’t even be prompting her to change her mind.

In short, I would be doing absolutely nothing of benefit to her by standing up for what I believed in and following my conscience. It was either my sense of supporting what was right or her sense of dignity as a person capable of choosing good, right beliefs without my input.

How do I know this?

Because I was on the receiving end of this situation just a few months prior.

There was an issue among our wedding party because devout Catholics were not allowed to support a marriage wherein a “lapsed” Catholic declined to get a dispensation to marry outside of the Catholic church. Such a marriage was considered invalid in the church’s eyes — immoral, living in sin, akin to two sinners hooking up rather than a sacred union.

While a Catholic could attend the wedding, a Catholic could not stand up in our wedding. And Catholics made up half of our wedding party.

Everything about this was devastating. Hearing that our beautiful marriage was considered immoral. Having best friends decline to stand up in the wedding. Struggling with the guilt and pressure to follow the Catholic church’s rules rather than our own beliefs. Wondering how this would reshape or ruin our relationships with beloved friends.

I was never angry with my friends, never upset at them. I could never fault someone for following his conscience. But you can bet I was furious at Catholicism. You can bet that I slammed the door shut on even considering joining the Catholic church. You can bet it didn’t encourage my husband to repent and beg a dispensation off an archbishop.

It just hurt me, deeply, for a very long time.

Fortunately, because our friends really were trying to find a way to reconcile their religious devotion and our friendship, and because Catholicism isn’t entirely made up of heartless rules, our friends received permission from the local priest to stand up in our wedding — as long as they prayed that we would come home to the Catholic church.

(Which ordinarily would have been an incredible offense in itself, but beggars can’t be choosers.)

All of these wounds were fresh in my heart as I wrestled with what to do with this complementarian singing engagement.

I didn’t want to speak words I disagreed with. I was tired of hiding behind a complementarian facade; I was ready to be open and honest about what I believed. I didn’t want to promote an ideology that was at that moment wrecking havoc in marriages around me. I didn’t want her marriage to end up with that sort of pain on account of me endorsing it.

I really, truly, deep down in my gut hated the prospect of doing any of those things.

But I chose love. I chose her feelings. Because I knew that singing this song would have zero impact on anyone’s minds or marriages, and not singing this song most definitely would. Because I knew that standing up for my beliefs would wreck our relationship and never give me a credible platform upon which to share egalitarianism. Because I knew that if I was in her shoes, I would want my friend to support me and sing the song.

I ended up talking to her about my concerns. I probably offended her when I spoke about how I’ve seen this ideology ruin other relationships. I probably added stress to her life. I probably strained our relationship, anyways, by making this an issue.

But I was honest about my beliefs, I said what I felt I had to say, and I sang that complementarian song at her beautiful wedding as best as I could.

Yes, it chafed. It was uncomfortable. It was not ideal. These situations never are. They never have a happy ending, they’re never hurt-free for anybody. This is complicated, believing passionately, loving passionately, when your beliefs passionately part ways.

Did I do the right thing? I don’t know…but I did what I thought was right. I followed my conscience, however torn. And I hope that in situations as confusing and painful and awkward as these, that’s all that matters.

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8 thoughts on “Conscientious Wedding Objectors

  1. villemezbrown

    For what it’s worth, I think you did the right thing. May I ask what the song was? I am just curious about the lyrics. I am wondering if it is compatible with complementarian beliefs or actively and explicitly demanding them. It is just curiosity though, because in the end it doesn’t matter. There have been times in my daughter’s life and my own when for one reason or another we sang a song or wanted to sing a song or were encouraged or expected to sing a song that espoused things we didn’t believe. My mom taught me and years later I assured my daughter that singing a song “doesn’t count”. It’s like telling a story or acting in a play. Singing a song because you like the sound of it does not imply you endorse the philosophy of that song. I do know, of course, that it’s not that simple. The selection of the complementarian song told you something about your friend’s beliefs and you could not in good conscience keep silent about your feelings on those ideas. Not when you would be not just singing the song, but singing it solo in public. Doing so would feel like lying to me, in fact, so I think it is good that you said something. I’m sure you were as loving and tactful as possible when you said it. Full disclosure though – I’m pretty sure my husband would recommend I not say anything in that situation, and I’m not 100% sure he would be wrong. Just sing the song – it’s her wedding day, she gets to pick the song. If you are truly concerned about the impact of complementarian ideas on her relationship you have all the days after the wedding to gently offer suggestions and plant the seeds of egalitarian thought. Those are the points that have been made to me in similar situations. Easier said than done though.

    Adele

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    • Bailey Steger

      Where were you when I was agonizing over this decision?? Everything you said is so spot on. The song was soft complementarian; it just delineated between a husband’s and wife’s roles — the husband loves, the wife submits. It’s called “The Marriage Prayer” by John Waller.

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      • villemezbrown

        Wow. I just listened to “The Marriage Prayer”. That is a beautiful song and I totally get why your friend wanted it sung at her wedding, and I also totally get why it would make you uncomfortable to sing it. It would make me uncomfortable too. That is a hard situation and I think you handled it as well as anyone possibly could.

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  2. Jasmine Ruigrok

    Meh, I had a hard enough time with my conscience when I had to lead worship songs in church that I questioned the lyrics of. I can’t imagine the difficulty of it being way more personal between friends. I think when life bowls you these situations, we have the opportunity to be the bigger person and suck it up for other people’s sake. My walking into a conservative church and vocally espousing belief in the gifts of the Spirit and arguing it’s biblical legitimacy won’t win me friends or respect. I think it is often a grace to meet people where they are at doctrinally, whilst still having the faith they will continue to grow. I’m glad you decided to sing the song, but were still honest with your friend. I’m always hesitant to amputate relationship on the basis of different convictions. That may be necessary in some cases, but eh… I feel for you! Not sure how useful this comment is, but anyway. I commend you for humbling yourself out of love for your friend. :)

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    • Bailey Steger

      Re: worship songs: Oh, tell me about it! I always took comfort in the fact that nobody really pays attention to the lyrics or the deeper theology of things. It’s only been recently where I’ll be singing a song and realize with a start that I’m spouting either complete theological gobbledygook or something diametrically opposed to my beliefs. If I’m leading worship, I’ll keep singing, but if I’m not, I awkwardly stop until the offending line ends and then plunge back in. I don’t know. But like you said — grace. Lots of grace here, for those songs and people who disagree, for me as I work out my conscience. :)

      Liked by 1 person

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