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Wedding season is almost upon us. Maybe it’s already here!

Those save-the-date cards magneted to your refrigerator door have been replaced by actual invitations. Chicken, fish, or vegetarian option?

And increasingly, these invitations may include invitations to same-gender weddings. Your nephew marrying another man. Your children’s former babysitter marrying a woman.

For some, these non-traditional weddings raise anxieties, uncertainties, and fear. Pondering. Wrestling. Should I attend? What does it signal if I attend? Am I complicit? Am I condoning?

If you’re in a big hurry and can’t read this whole blog, here’s the short answer: Yes! Go!
By all means attend, whatever your feelings or convictions about nontraditional marriage.

Read on for the longer version.

If you’re inclined not to attend, my basic question is what does your non-participation signal? What are you attempting to achieve?

I have a lot of appreciation for “conscientious objectors” of all sorts — people who refuse to participate in various actions or events based on their strong convictions. I am, however, always a bit concerned when these ethical acts become too rigid, too noble, too public, too self-aggrandizing.

Being a conscientious objector to a wedding seems different. It is more personal, more directly hurtful. Less about witness and more about hostility. More about “purity” than integrity. Less about non-compliance and more about boorishness.

Do we think we’ll get bonus points from God by refusing to attend? Haven’t we all attended weddings where we hardly knew the couple? Weddings where we wouldn’t have given the marriage a 50/50 chance of surviving for more than three years? Where were our high standards and concerns then?

Three small memories that come to mind and seem somehow relevant.

More than forty years ago, my sister graduated from college and got a teaching position — at a conservative Baptist elementary school. One of the school’s requirements was that all teachers had to have been “baptized” — meaning as an adult, of course. My sister, good Reformed kid that she was, had been baptized as an infant. She quickly agreed to be rebaptized and it was scheduled for an upcoming Sunday at the church that sponsored the school. My parents accompanied her. If they had reservations or were a little bruised, they never let on. Steve, however, haughty, sophomoric, Reformed ideologue that he was, refused to be involved in this unnecessary travesty, this denigration of our infant baptisms. I did not attend. You know what? It happened, even without my presence. My sister never said anything about my absence. Maybe she was hurt. Maybe she was too busy making lesson plans to think about it.

More than thirty years ago, my sister-in-law was getting married in Europe — a sensible place for a French woman marrying an English man to get hitched. We were living in upstate New York, poor as the proverbial church mice, with a six month old child. Evidently we were so engrossed in our little lives, our little baby, our little income that Sophie, my wife, decided not to attend her sister’s nuptials across the sea. It wasn’t only the cost, there was also traveling alone with an infant for the first time. In hindsight, this is embarrassing and certainly unfortunate. We seem so small and insular. Someone would have, no doubt, helped with the costs or purchased a ticket outright if only we’d asked. Maybe even one for me. Sophie could have been there for her sister, been with her family for festivities. Our baby could have been the center of attention. But, no. There was never any open anger or recrimination from her sister. It felt, however, like for a few years there was a coolness, an aloofness, unspoken hurt. Or maybe we were all simply consumed by being thirty-somethings. It’s gone now. But our regret, our foolishness, our embarrassment lingers.

Earlier this month, Sophie and I visited Los Alamos, New Mexico — the site of the top-secret Manhattan Project to build atomic bombs during World War II. It was fascinating. It made me recall fond and equally interesting memories of visiting Little Bighorn, Hiroshima, the Lorraine Motel, the beaches of Normandy. By visiting these places am I endorsing what happened there? It’s never as simple as yes/no, good/bad. Going to these places was eye-opening, instructive, profound, and soul-shaping — as learning history often is. I’ll grant that it probably isn’t quite apples-to-apples to compare visiting a tragic or bloodstained site with attending a wedding you aren’t comfortable with. Still, I think there are some parallels. Seeing in person is always different than talking or reading about. Being somewhere doesn’t necessarily equate with approval of what happens there. (Hello to all you Walmart shoppers and Chick-fil-A patrons!)

To summarize — go to the weddings you’re invited to, no matter your feelings about the couple, about same-gender marriage.

Remember too that weddings are about much more than the couple. They are about family, friends, interconnection, loyalty, milestones on long journeys. Refusing to go only makes you look pinched and priggish. All you will accomplish is to hurt someone you care about — perhaps not the couple themselves, but their parents, your sibling, your colleague, neighbor, friend. I can almost guarantee that someday, maybe sooner than you think, you will regret your decision — even if your feelings about nontraditional marriages don’t change.

Just go.

Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell

Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell and his wife, Sophie, are the pastors at the Second Reformed Church in Pella, Iowa. Steve has served on numerous Reformed Church commissions and task forces, and also edited the journal Perspectives for many years. Before coming to Iowa, he lived and served as a pastor in upstate New York. Sophie and he have two adult children. He holds a Ph.D. from Boston College in theological ethics.

14 Comments

  • So well said. Thank you again for your insights and writings.

  • Dawn Alpaugh says:

    Yes! Yes! Yes! Excellent piece! Thanks for saying it!!

  • Christina says:

    15 years ago I married my husband, who had previously been divorced. I have Protestant Reformed relatives on my mom’s side (aunt and uncle, cousins) who returned their RSVP cards, having checked the “Regretfully Decline” box, AND having crossed off the word “regretfully.” In case I didn’t already get the message (I did), they each jotted a handwritten note to the effect that they disapproved of the marriage. The wedding was probably more fun without them, but I think it did hurt my mom most of all.

    • Marlin Vis says:

      When Sally and I got married she had uncles and aunts who were PRC refuse to attend because she was marrying a RCA boy. Those relationships were severed and never repaired. Sad. And here’s what is even sadder, I expect those uncles and aunts could care less and died believing they were doing the right thing by not attending. So this article is nicely written and I agree with every word, but those who think the way Sally’s relatives thought are not going to change their minds no matter how convincing the reasoning for doing so might be. And that is the saddest reality of all. I do not know how we convince ourselves and others that love truly is the way, and you can’t love someone with your absence—can you?

  • Kathryn VanRees says:

    Terrific insights, Steve!

  • Nancy VandenBerg says:

    Thank you, Steve!
    Hopefully your memories of poor choices and regret will prevent us from making choices we could later regret.

  • Rev. Nolan Palsma says:

    Excellent piece, Steve.

  • John Tiemstra says:

    Thank you, Steve. It needed to be said.

  • Jack Ridl says:

    Our gay pastor who has officiated many a wedding of gay couples would be grateful for your understanding that we are created with the possibility of causing and feeling lasting emotional/spiritual pain. (I add funerals where grief is amplified by the pain of rejection.) My thanks across the heavens, Steve🙏

  • Marilyn Paarlberg says:

    A thousand times YES. In my years with Room for All, I listened to so many stories of needless hurt because a “friend” or relative refused to attend a wedding or the baptism of a child with same-gender parents. The hurt is hard to erase, and an opportunity is lost. Thank you, Steve.

  • David E Timmer says:

    Looking back over the nearly 47 years since our wedding, I realize the importance of the recognition and support of our marriage by our families, our friends, and the congregations we have belonged to. Refusing to attend (and presumably thereby to bless) a wedding seems equivalent to saying, “I don’t want you to have what my spouse and I have been granted all these years. I wish you both all the worst in your life together.” I doubt that most wedding-boycotters would say those words explicitly, but actions speak louder.

  • Willa Brown says:

    Thanks, Steve, for this post. A few years ago my cousin’s granddaughter was getting married to her female partner. My cousin was struggling with whether to attend and was discussing it with me. She did not agree with this marriage. When I asked her if she loved her granddaughter, she said that she did. My advice to her, “If you love your granddaughter, you need to attend the wedding. If you don’t attend you most likely will regret it for the rest of your life.” She and her husband attended the wedding. On the first anniversary of the couple’s wedding, my cousin posted a photo and congratulatory message on Facebook.

  • Thanks for this, Steve. As I read your piece, and the comments above, I’m convicted of all the ways “certainty” can be dangerous and prevent us from being loving, grace-filled people. I recently listened to a Richard Rohr interview and this quote is stuck in my head: “How strange that the very word ‘faith’ has come to mean its exact opposite.”

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