‘Mixed’ Marriages

Posted: 20 March 2011 in Ramblings

Pastors have varied views regarding how to handle the marriages of couples who are not of the same denominational or faith background.  Further research demonstrated that these views have changed over time depending on the prevailing cultural norms.  In the distant past, only those with familiarity would become married and not a lot was specified regarding the affair.  In the recent past, it was assumed that the approval of the immediate family would be necessary.  In our contemporary culture, many relationships leading to marriage take place entirely in the ethernet-world and completely outside the knowledge of the families of either party.  When these changes are considered, it is not surprising that those officiating over the Rite of Holy Matrimony have a wide variety of opinion in the methods of dealing with the wedding of those who are of differing religious backgrounds.

Turning to the writings of Martin Luther (1483-1546), it is difficult to find any opinion on the topic of inter-faith marriages.  Specifically on the topic of marriage, Dr. Luther writes five articles, apparently only after being badgered to do so.[i] These articles dealt with: 1) Marriage should not be based on secret engagements; 2) a secret engagement yielding to a public one; 3) if two public engagements have been announced, the first should take precedence, but punishment should ensue for the second; 4) if someone touches the woman of their second engagement to break the first, the action should be regarded as adultery; and 5) forced engagements should not be valid.[ii] It should also be noted here that the parties who have been betrothed[iii] were assumed to be married in the eyes of God and thus the church.  Although Dr. Luther may have made comments about marriage throughout his career, these are the only specifics he made in regard to pre-marriage.  From this point it could be derived that society at the time apparently assumed the Christian faith was common among those who were to be married.

During the period where the roles of men and women were becoming more blended, the families of those involved were the predominant officials regarding the intermarriage of individuals. Between the 1930s and 1970s, the approval of blood relatives was the cultural expectation necessary for marriages to be ‘good’.  It was not socially acceptable for inter-faith to occur.  Although it could be expected that weddings of Jewish-Christian or Roman Catholic-Protestant couples to be forbidden it was also extremely unusual for inter-denomination weddings such as Lutheran-Baptist or Presbyterian-Roman Catholic to be allowed.  When considering those outside a given parish,

A pastor should be very careful in marrying strangers, of whom he knows nothing except that they have a license to marry.  He should make doubly sure that such people have, from the viewpoint of the Church, a right to marry. [iv]

However, due to the cultural shifts during[v] the same half-century, families and the church became more permissive regarding who should or could be joined in marriage.  During the 1950s and 1960s, the courts of the United States were responding to issues of inter-racial marriage and by the 1990s, the single biggest topic on record regarding marriage was that of homosexual union which is topic of a different nature entirely and is not discussed in this writing.

As we enter the 1990s, the culture has become more permissive in regards to marriages of various mixtures.  Marriages of inter-faith, inter-racial and inter-nationality are rather common place as we enter the twenty-first century.  The topic of inter-faith and especially that of inter-denomination are persistently discussed among those who have been placed in the Office of the Holy Ministry.  The opinions of those who serve range anywhere from ‘only those of the same doctrine’ to ‘it doesn’t really matter’.  One Lutheran pastor, speaking of an agreement with a justice of the peace and a Unitarian minister, states he is “willing to do weddings for those who want a Christian service officiated by a Christian pastor” to those who were seeking to do so in a popular resort environment.[vi] Another Lutheran pastor, who once found marriage ceremonies were once one of the least favorite activities of the vocation states:

Is it fair for us to insist on [a ten-week course of instruction before the wedding] just to be married in our church?  I would strongly argue that it is.  More than that, I would argue that we owe it to couples to seek to share Christ and the meaning of the Christian faith with them without being manipulative in the process.  To do less may be to cheat them out of an opportunity to establish a Christian marriage. [vii]

Just considering the views of these two men should be enough to see the varied perspectives which Lutheran pastors have.  One very experienced, semi-retired LC-MS[viii] pastor said that he had changed from refusing to marry a couple where one or both were non-members.[ix] In recent years he had come to see that refusing to marry them would be nothing short of slamming the sanctuary door in their faces.  Another LC-MS pastor stated that his practice had changed ‘over the years’ with the exception of retaining the requirement of pre-marital sessions.[x] Still another LC-MS pastor, who has married several non-member, inter-denomination couples in the past, insists on regular worship attendance during the time of weeks in which he meets with the couples for pre-marital counseling.[xi] All of these men are devoted to their call and are humble servants of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Through their study of Holy Scriptures, the doctrine of the Lutheran tradition and prayerful deliberations, they have come to the conclusions that to be legalistic in certain matters which are not specifically spoken of in the Word, would be to create barriers for some people.  These barriers could be used by the evil one to keep some from being exposed to the love and saving grace of our Lord.  Thus careful counseling and proper teaching of those entering marriage would be preferred.  Allowing the Holy Spirit to work in the hearts of those seeking marriage would be the result.

In conclusion, should inter-faith, inter-denominational marriages of member and non-members of congregations be carried out in a confessional Lutheran sanctuary?  History has a varied perspective on the topic, yet the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther would likely say ‘yes’.  Those currently in the Office of the Ministry would also answer in the affirmative; although there would be those who would place the requirement of pre-marital counseling to ensure those being married understand the ramifications of what they seek.  That is a personal relationship of a man and a woman which demonstrates inwardly and outwardly the union between husband and wife which reflects the loving relationship which our Savior Jesus Christ has shown for His Bride the Church.

Sola Dei Gloria

A rather comical view of ‘inter-Lutheran’ marriage.
(There are several sad, but true commentaries to be made about this video clip.)

[i] Luther’s Works, ed. J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, vol. 46, The Christian in Society III (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 267.
[ii] Ibid., 268.
[iii] engaged
[iv] John H.C. Fritz, Pastoral Theology, (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1932), 162.
[vi] Kevin Murphy, “Non-Member Weddings: A Moment of Opportunity,” Word & World 20.3 (Summer 2003): 310.
[vii] Richard Foege, “Non-Member Weddings: A Time for High Expectations,” Word & World 20.3 (Summer 2003): 311.
[viii] Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod
[ix] Rev. S.U., interview by author, 10 October 2008, Ft. Wayne, IN.
[x] Rev. J.G., discussion with author, 03 November 2008, Ft. Wayne, IN.
[xi] Rev. R.T., practice observed by author, 2006-2007, Streetsboro, OH.

Sources Consulted

Dosser Jr., David A. “Including Families’ Spiritual Beliefs and Their Faith Communities in Systems of Care.” Journal of Family Social Work 5.3 (2001): 63-78.

Flouri, Eirini and Ann Buchanan. “What Predicts Traditional Attitudes to Marriage?” Children & Society 15 (2001): 264-271.

Foege, Richard. “Non-Member Weddings: A Time for High Expectation.” Word & World 20.3 (Summer 2003): 311, 313, 315

Fritz, John H.C. Pastoral Theology. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1932.

G., Rev. J. discussion with author, 03 November 2008, Ft Wayne, IN.

Larson, Jeffry H. and Holman, Thomas B. “Premarital Predictors of Marital Quality and Stability.” Family Relations 43.2 (April 1994): 228-237.

Luther, Martin. Luther’s Works, edited by J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald and H. T. Lehmann, vol. 46, The Christian in Society III. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999.

Murphy, Kevin. “Non-Member Weddings: A Moment of Opportunity.” Word & World 20.3 (Summer 2003): 310, 312, 314.

T., Rev. R. practice observed by author, 2006-2007, Streetsboro, OH.

U., Rev. S. Interview by author, 10 October 2008, Ft. Wayne, IN.

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