Hello, this is Questions & Ethics, and this is Russell Moore broadcasting here from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. This is a program where every week we take a question that you have about something going on your life, in your church, in your family, your neighborhood, and talk about it.
This week’s question comes in about an issue that I think a lot of people have to wrestle with pretty consistently, and that is when it comes to attending and going to weddings, should I go to a wedding? Should I participate in a wedding? And this comes from a mom who is writing in about her daughter, and she says, “My daughter is an atheist. She is living with an atheist, and she now plans to marry him.” And the mom wants to know, should I allow my other daughter to be in the wedding as a bridesmaid? Should I support the wedding financially? Should I go to the wedding? I want to honor God, but I still want to be a mom.
Okay, that is a really good question and I think one that we ought to spend some time thinking about. I remember several years ago I was serving a church, and I had a lady who came up to me after the service, and she whispered, and she said, “Could you pray for my daughter. She has gone to college, and she has become an atheist.” And I said, “Why are you whispering?” And she said, “I don’t want anyone to overhear me, because then they will know that I am the mom of that atheist girl.” And as I started talking to her it became clear, she thought somehow that that would make people think that she has done something shameful in her own parenting.
That’s crazy. We have got to eliminate that within the church. Throughout the Bible, you have family after family after family—it’s hard for me to think of a family in the scripture that doesn’t have a prodigal somewhere in the family. So we don’t say that because a child is going through some rebellion that that means that the parents are deficient. Not at all! And also we need to recognize that parents love their children, and families are to stay together, and we are to maintain those avenues of connection with our children as much as possible and to provide a means for those prodigals to come home. And prodigals do come home. These rebellious times don’t always last forever. And sometimes you have someone who is just going through a time of questioning, a time of confusion. Keep those avenues open.
I would also say that I understand why the mom is concerned about this, because the scripture tells us that a believer is not to marry an unbeliever. We should not be unequally yoked, as the Apostle Paul puts it. But that’s not what’s going on here. Instead you have a professing unbeliever marrying a professing unbeliever. Marriage is something that the scripture tells us is a creation ordinance given to all people; Genesis, chapter 2, “It is for this reason that a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” That’s not only true for Christians. That’s true for all people. So marriage is a good thing for everybody, including for atheists.
It seems to me that in this situation, you have a couple who are doing the right thing: not living together, but instead committing themselves to one another and marrying. If, Mom, you don’t have any other objection to this guy other than his atheism, and if your daughter is an atheist too, I would see this as a creation ordinance, and I would not have one qualm at all in going to that wedding, in having the sister serve as a bridesmaid. I wouldn’t have any problem financially contributing to that wedding.
Now, I think it’s a different story when it comes to the church officiating the wedding. I wouldn’t do the wedding for a couple of atheists. I wouldn’t officiate as a pastor, because I think that signifies the accountability of the couple to the church. That couple doesn’t have an accountability to the church; they are not under the I Corinthians 5 discipline of the church. But as a civil ordinance, getting married, I would go.
Now, if you have some reason to think that this man is harmful or abusive or dangerous, then no, you put your foot down, and you go to the matt for this. But if your only problem with him is that he’s an atheist, I would go. I would be kind, and I would seek to continue to share the gospel with your daughter and with your new son-in-law as time goes on. I would recognize that marriage is a good thing that God has given to all people.
And I also would just really encourage all of those parents out there who are going through a situation with your children—parents of atheist children; parents of agnostic children; parents of children who are going through times of moral rebellion, not just intellectual confusion or questioning or whatever—don’t be ashamed of your kids. Don’t cut off connection with your kids. Remain in contact. Love your children, and don’t be worried about what people are going to think about you. This is not about you; this is about loving the children God has given to you.
What’s a question that you have? Maybe you are reading through the Bible and a question comes up to you or something that is happening in your neighborhood or in your church; maybe something you are talking about in a Bible study or community group that you are wondering about, or something that is coming up in your workplace or your family. Just let me know. Send me an email at [email protected] or on twitter with the hashtag #askrdm, and we will take the question up here on Questions & Ethics.