The Male Dominated Wedding Sermon

wedding cakeDear Preacher,

I am one of  the groom’s uncles who attended the wedding on Saturday. I was concerned about and saddened by the sermon at the wedding. I understand that your intended point was to emphasize that marriage requires large amounts of love and forgiveness.
Here is what I remember: 

Before the sermon there were readings. The elders’ wives were brought up to the podium by their husbands, even though they were not permitted to read, but then there was no room for the wives, so the wives stumbled around until they stood behind their husbands, and their husbands didn’t seem to notice, which seemed to negate the point that they were reading about: husbands love your wives.

In the sermon, at the intro to the Adam and Eve story, you said in an exasperated tone, that people sometimes let their philosophy affect their theology, implying, in my mind, that anyone who disagrees with you about the role of men and women has let his or her philosophical attitudes affect his or her theology.  (I have heard the exact same argument used by people on the opposite side of the fence from you, arguing that people who maintain a reactionary attitude about the roles of women have allowed their cultural background to affect their theology, that the scriptures clearly teach equality,  and that one’s cultural background even impacts what translation of the scriptures one chooses.)   And the problem with debating an attitude or philosophy in a sermon is that it is one sided; nobody is allowed to speak up, as I was tempted to do as you were speaking, and ask a question, or quote a passage, or give an alternative interpretation. So to speak with what sounded like sarcasm at the beginning of your sermon aimed at anyone who might disagree with your philosophy and interpretation of male/female roles as created by God, is to turn off any listeners whom you might have had a chance of convincing. It violates the Golden Rule, applying the same standard to understanding others as you would understand yourself.

The second thing I noticed was that marriages and their failures were listed:

1.  with the exception of Boaz and Ruth , who may have had a good marriage, though not based on romance.

2. Adam and Eve blamed each other for their sins, after Eve succumbed to temptation,

3.  Isaac and Rebecca played favorites and there was deceit (on the wife’s part),

4. Solomon had 300 wives (not wise [because it led him into idolatry]  ),

5. Jacob’s amazing love for Rachel,  but Rachel’s idolatry and lack of faith.

6. I don’t remember Moses and his disagreement with his wife,  but someone told me that was part of the sermon, [with his wife accusing him of being a husband of blood] .

BridesmaidsI don’t think you intentionally wanted to denigrate females, but I think by the fact that these were the easiest examples that came to mind, you may have unintentionally sent a negative message about wives. I wonder if in future you could include examples from the Bible of husbands wrecking marriages and wives showing God-like love and sacrifice to restore the marriage?

Then you stated that not in a million years could you imagine using Ezekiel 16 for a wedding.  I wondered if someone picked the passage for you? Requested it? And for what purpose?

I was horrified as you read  the  Ezekiel passage: God’s love, God’s rescue, God’s covenant,  then the whoring starts and goes on for quite a while, several different kinds.  I glanced over at 5 year old children in my row. I looked at the bride with her 4 year old son, sitting directly in front of me.

Then Hosea‘s whore wife, Gomer, whose children are not his, yet he buys her back from slavery.

So the final point was that men today have to love their wives in the sacrificial way that God loved Israel and Jesus loves the church.

I think we could say that when we talk about heroes and villains in marriage, and husbands are consistently the heroes and wives are consistently the villains, whether we intend to or not, we’re sending a negative message about wives, which saddened me. The examples you chose were of women who were unstable temptresses who have to be forgiven for ruining men’s lives and their families, through idolatry and adultery, a classic and familiar theme.

I wondered who the target audience was: 

1. I worried it might be the bride with her son born out of wedlock? Was she the temptress that could lead my nephew astray? I know when I married a new convert, a divorcee, my parents were very upset, and a friend told me my father said that divorcees wear heavy makeup, have big hair and high heels and she got her hooks into his son.

2. The bridesmaids who might be feminists?

3. The groom who might need to be reminded not to be led astray by his bride?

4. The general membership of the congregation?

5. Liberal Christian relatives who might subscribe to egalitarianism/feminism? 

1. I wondered why you did not mention that Jesus was not afraid of women as temptresses, nor did he think women were the source of most divorce, blaming divorce on men’s selfishness, and noting that Moses prescribed divorce certificates as a protection to women who otherwise were unprotected. 

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2. Or why you did not mention Jesus’ respect for women, teaching Martha and Mary as equal learners in sharp contrast to the prevailing worldwide attitude that women not study or be educated, His example prompting the apostle Paul to be the first philosopher of antiquity to prescribe that all women learn and be educated.

I had to learn the hard way how to speak to an audience at a wedding or funeral who did not share my male-dominated White background.  [If I weren’t being so polite, I would have said, insular, male-dominated, White, Deep South, sectarian background.] I remember reading a passage about the raising of Lazarus at a funeral attended by 20% Jews. I had never seen the words “the Jews” used so many times in a negative way, in any Bible passage before that day, and here I was reading it to devout Jews at a funeral. 

What I need from people who are trying to convince me of their point of view is respect; respect for the fact that I also pray and read and study. That I like to think of myself as honest and sincere and smart. And that I have probably already heard various viewpoints before and have thought about them carefully.

Would you be willing  next time you preach on the roles of men and women or marriage, to run the sermon  outline by a few women you respect beforehand for helpful feedback? They might let you know how it comes across to them.

Sincerely,

Mark

“Mark,

“Thanks for writing. I was very honored to be asked by [the groom and bride] to participate in their wedding, and I am so thankful for the work of grace the Lord has begun and continues to do in both their lives. I knew when I prepared and presented the sermon there would be some who did not like or approve of it and others who would not understand it. Respectfully, I think you misunderstood the message.

“The sermon had nothing to do with bias against women. Whether you felt that way due to a prior disposition or an early misimpression from what was said, I think if you could listen to it again you would observe that my critical remarks about marriage in the OT were about both parties involved, not just the wives. The thesis of the lesson was not that husbands should be loving, sacrificial, and forgiving. It was that Christ is the husband who is loving, sacrificial, and forgiving, that marriage is a type (symbol) of the union for which we are created with God, and that without an eternal relationship with the Lord we will be truly alone.

“My intention was to present marriage as a picture of the gospel, a human relationship designed to point us to and teach us about the greater need for relationship with God in Christ. I believe this is why the Lord gave us marriage. The survey of OT development (Genesis-History-Ezekiel-Hosea) was to help the audience see that marriage has always pointed beyond itself, to something greater, and that God has used it in just this way in the lives of His people. Of course, Paul’s instruction in Ephesians 5 explicitly affirms and strengthens the typology.

“I am sorry that you misunderstood the sermon and found its content objectionable. I would be happy to discuss its gospel implications with you further, but I hope that you will at least take a second look at the passages I shared and the remarks I made and see whether they appear different in light of this correspondence. I would also encourage you to take a second look at the two quotations included on the wedding program: one from [the groom and bride] and the other from a book by Tim Keller. I highly recommend both quotes (and Keller’s larger work on The Meaning of Marriage) as a guide to discerning the true point of the sermon and of[the groom and bride]’s design of the wedding service as a whole. The latter was truly a beautiful display of the centrality of Christ, the grace of the gospel, and the glory of God in the context of the marriage union.

“I hope that will be helpful.”

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About Mark

I was raised in the conservative non-institutional churches of Christ and attended Florida College in Tampa, Florida. I served as a minister for 8 years in the non-institutional churches of Christ, and 4 years at a mainline church of Christ in Vermont.
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5 Responses to The Male Dominated Wedding Sermon

  1. Deborah Cox says:

    Thanks for this piece Mark.
    I’ve attended dozens upon dozens of this exact wedding/sermon and reading your post reminded me of the suppressed outrage I learned to live with as a girl in the C of C.

  2. Kimberly says:

    I remember at my own (first) wedding, the coc preacher making the importance of wifely subservience a focal point of his sermon. I wasn’t pleased, but what could I do? Interrupt the ceremony to tell the man that I didn’t appreciate his sermon? My mom and sister, neither of them coc, were upset because they understood that the preacher was aiming those remarks at me.

    After leaving the coc, I went to another coc wedding. The young woman said in her vows that she accepted his headship in their home. The young man had a panic attack during the reception and I thought, “She’s given her autonomy over to someone who can’t get through his own wedding. How is he going to lead her through life?”

    My second wedding was much nicer. I married a man who did not grow up in the South, was attended only by my two children from the first marriage, and we were married by a woman. She did an excellent job and included my kids in the ceremony. My current husband is of an egalitarian mind and I am so much happier.

    My children, and son and a daughter, are still taken to the coc by their dad on his weekends. My prayer is that they see a better way to live through my second marriage and that they don’t get caught up in the legalism of the coc.

  3. BH says:

    What makes people simply ignore some parts of the Bible and act like their very lives will end if other parts are violated freely? Seems to me the parts about a wife’s duty to her husband are as easy to see as a husband’s towards his wife. Yet so many dump on the wife.

    From a psychological standpoint why the selective blindness?

  4. Pingback: Bait and Switch Evangelism | Ex-Church of Christ Blog

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