On April 25 I wrote a blog about a wedding between two young Christians, one Protestant and one Catholic. This wedding was performed by my good friend Andrew Sandlin, one of the ministers of the Church of the King in Santa Cruz, California. I expect this blog generated three responses. The first one is the response I grew up with in the Bible-belt. Such weddings are "mixed" marriages and will lead to nothing but heartache and turmoil. The children of such a union will be completely confused and probably lost to the gospel. The second response would be one of liberal toleration that misses the fact that there are still real differences in our views of the church. This one leads to a shrug which says, "It doesn’t matter." The third response, which is the one I would appeal for personally, is that such a wedding has inherent problems but these problems can be overcome and should not prohibit a Christ-centered home and family. In fact, such problems could, in very strong marriages, produce fruit that is rarely seen in modern Christian homes on the left or right. So, while I do not generally advise marriages where the bride and groom have such radically different approaches to the church, and thus to important issues like liturgy and church authority, there is no biblical basis for prohibiting it. The idea that such a wedding is a mixed-faith marriage is ludicrous. And it generally leads to something less than charity, inviting the kind of rancor that is still quite evident in many sectarian settings. This was the original point I made by citing Sandlin’s blog entry.

As providence would have it, the groom in this marriage wrote me a personal note about my blog. He gave me permission to post his response. I think this letter is both edifying and insightful. It also has a sad note to it. It demonstrates that post-Vatican II Catholicism is not the same as that which I grew up with in the 1950s and 1960s. A new day has clearly arrived and many of us welcome it since we pray and work for the unity of the Christian church. But it also shows that extreme sectarianism will keep up the resistance movement against real changes. This means that we must arm ourselves with the love of Christ and continue to press the claims of the gospel, which calls us to a grace that loves even those who oppose us and feel led to attack our character and beliefs.

Here is the letter from the groom.

Thank you very much for your positive comments on Andrew Sandlin’s April 22nd blog entry, "Catholics and Protestants Together – Literally." I am the groom – the Roman Catholic – mentioned in the post. I was rather shocked to find out what a stir our marriage has caused in the ‘blogosphere’. My wife and I knew that we would lose some friends over our decision to follow God’s call to get married despite our disparity of cult. However, I did not anticipate just how much strife it would cause among people we don’t even know. I am saddened by the lack of charity that many people are displaying by hurling invective at Andrew, questioning the validity of our marriage, and making assumptions about the spiritual health and development of our future children.

The thing that bothers me most, though, is that many have either implicitly or explicitly called into question my faith, salvation, and overall Christianity. In a few cases, this Inquisition rhetoric has also extended to my wife and to Dr. Sandlin. It is clear that when the comments stray into this realm, they cease being merely offensive. They become patently diabolical.

That said, I greatly appreciate the grace and charity with which you’ve handled this issue, and hope that your stance will not cause you too much grief.

May Christ richly bless you, your family, and your ministry!

Regards,

Nick Sobrak-Seaton

PS – I was blessed to be able to hear your sermon at COTK a few months ago. It was one of the most true, inspiring, and Godly sermons that I have ever heard. Thank you, and keep fighting the good fight!

Well, thank you Nick! And may God bless your Christ-centered union with much joy and grace my dear brother. Sadly, you will need much more grace to deal with the harsh critics on both sides of this debate, both sectarian/contrarian Catholics and evangelicals. May your life together become an icon of the love of Christ that we all need to see in real life.

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Comments

  1. Mike June 3, 2006 at 12:22 am

    John,
    This is a very interesting issue. Many, many years ago the bow-tie wearing senator from Illinois, Paul Simon, son of a Lutheran missionary, wrote a little book with his wife, Jeanne, daughter of early 20th century RC education, titled, “Protestant-Catholic Marriages Can Succeed” I thought it was a good take on the ups and downs of such a union with a good dose of American civil religion thrown in. If you can find it, I would recommend it for the perspective it offers.

  2. Anonymous October 10, 2007 at 3:09 am

    Dear John,
    Your blog is a breath of fresh air!
    I recently became in engaged. My fiance is Catholic and I am a non-denominational Christian. We have known each other for quite some time and the differences in our denominations has never posed a problem for us up until this point. We pray together and attend a non-denominational Bible Study together.
    At any rate, my fiance wants to get married in the Catholic church. I do not have a problem with this and have preliminarily agreed to marry in his church. My fiance and I met with his priest last night and I learned that in order for us to get married in the Catholic Church, as the non-Catholic party, I would need to sign a paper called “Permission for Mixed Marriage” and that by signing this document, I would be “promising that there will be no hindrance to the Catholic party in the practice of his/her faith and that any children will be baptized and raised as Catholics.”
    I have no qualms about not hindering my fiance from practicing his Catholicism but I had some questions about the charge regarding raising the children Catholic. I asked the priest if what was meant by the language that “that any children will be baptized and raised as Catholic” was that I would allow my children to attend mass and participate and take the Catholic sacraments and he basically indicated that I was correct.
    I requested literature on Catholicism so that I can learn more and the priest said that he would provide it to me on Sunday when I accompanied my fiance to mass because he could not locate it at that moment. In the meantime during the day today, I have been doing some internet research on Catholicism on my own so that I could understand it and grasp the differences between Catholicism and Protestantism. I was getting somewhat discouraged until I read your blog.
    Thank you in advance and here goes:
    (1) I have heard prayers that begin “Hail Mary full of grace. The Lord is with thee . . .” It seems to me that the individuals praying that prayer are praying to Mary. While I understand that Mary was a virgin when she carried Christ and that she was blessed among women, I do not understand why one would address her in prayer. It is my understanding that there is one sovereign: God in three persons (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) so it is counter-intuitive for me to understand why a prayer would begin by addressing Mary. Please help me understand who exactly the person is praying to when praying this prayer.
    (2) If I remember correctly, the prayer I referenced above ends by asking Mary to pray for us (or perhaps that is another prayer). At any rate, how can Mary pray for us if she was a human who has died. I understand that she was a Christian who obviously was given eternal life and resides with God in Heaven and that she was definitely blessed and favored by God, but how can we ask her to pray for us? We don’t ask any of our deceased relatives to pray for us who we know were devout Christians whose spirits we are pretty sure are now in Heaven.
    (3) What exactly is the need for confession to a priest or deacon? If we have our own personal relationship with God and the Holy Spirit dwells inside of us, why can’t we confess to God on our own through prayer? Why is it required that Catholics participate in confession as one of the sacraments?
    (4) What is exactly is the function of the rosary?
    (5) What exactly does it mean “to raise your children Catholic”?
    (6) Do you know of any progressive or liberal Catholic churches in the Southern California area? Do you know of any Christian churches that are Catholic influenced (maybe along the lines of an Episcopal church or a church that envelopes portions of both the Catholic and Protestant traditions?)
    Thank you so much for taking the time to read this long email. I love my fiance very much and I believe that God has been guiding us along our journey to each other and that He gave us this wonderful gift of love. I am willing to submit to my fiance as the head of our household once he becomes my husband, and if he feels that Catholicism is the most appropriate denomination for our family, then I would like to be on board with that. In fact, I am not necessarily opposed to converting. However, I need to make sure that the premises and foundational aspects of the Catholic Church and tradition are grounded in the Bible before I agree to adhere to them and agree to allow my children to be raised in accordance with them.
    Again, thank you for your time and I look forward to hearing from you soon.
    NOTE: I responded to this email in private and urged the young woman to do further study and to consider that this relationship needs to include more honest study of the real differences that exist between Catholicism and Protestantism “before” they marry.

  3. John P December 3, 2007 at 8:55 am

    Hi,
    I’d like to comment on this subject as it pertains to me personally. I have researched this topic with great length over the past year while dating a Catholic and I feel that it is possible and in fact I am looking forward to a Catholic/Protestant wedding in the near future. I discovered after doing my research that many of my concerns I had with the Catholic Church were stereotypes. After speaking with a very knowledgeable priest on the concerns of raising my children catholic and the differences in our religion I am very positive about our relationship. Really, Protestantism stems from Catholicism and all of the important aspects of the religions are unchanged. It is true that there are major differences in the churches such as divorce, birth control, confession. I would argue however that these can be overcome by focusing on the core values of Christianity itself and how much of this affects your relationship with God vs. your convenience with life in general. For example natural family planning is not compromising your relationship with Jesus and neither is never getting divorced. While confession and praying to Mary to pray for your will take some research I think you’ll find there are stereotypes here as well and your research into why and what it really is goes a long into discovering if this is something that is unreasonable or not. Its important that both parties sit down and discuss these types of things and both sides should do their research into the others religion. The extra thought you will have to put into this type of relationship may very well make you much stronger and closer to your partner and God if you decide you are able to handle the challenges. I admit we have experienced a lot of negative energy from both sides of the fence, but here again most of it is based on a lack of knowledge on what it really means to be a Catholic or a Protestant. Consider what God would want you to do and if you feel He is really calling you together. Consider all the facts and do your research. Most of all remember what really defines you as a Christian vs non-Christian or other religion. What would you or your partner (or both) have to give up and what are you really compromising and what are you really gaining. In my relationship I am finding myself with a woman that is highly devoted to God and doing the best to live a holy life in a somewhat unholy world. I think that our trade-offs are well-worth the lifetime of benefits, but I cant say that everyone should or will feel that way.

  4. Emily June 3, 2008 at 5:53 am

    Dear John,
    I am protestant and got engaged two years ago to my fiance who is catholic. We are hoping to get married and had originally decided to get married in my protestant church where I have a good relationship with my local victor. Recently my fiance has changed his mind and is insisting the wedding is to be held in his catholic church otherwise it will not be infront of Jesus. He feels he is putting me before god if he has the wedding in a protestant church. I was wandering if there is any comprimising I could do but still have the wedding held in my church. For example I was wandering if it was possible to have a catholic priest conduct the wedding or have a catholic blessing.
    Looking forward to hearing from you,
    Emily

  5. Rick Schnetz June 3, 2008 at 4:26 pm

    Dear Emily:
    I know that you directed your question to John, but I’d like to add my comments.
    I am a Roman Catholic and was married in my wife’s church (she is a Protestant, Evangelical Christian). It was in 1972, and I wrote to the bishop that presided over the region where my wife’s church was located. I asked if a Catholic priest could give a blessing at our wedding. I received back a beautiful letter giving me permission to be married in her church and to have a priest say a blessing at the ceremony.
    The RCC recognizes Baptism and Marriage fron non-Catholic Christian churches as valid.
    I would strongly urge you and your fiance to seek out a Catholic priest, one that is up to date with the teachings of Vatican II, to learn what the RCC teaches concerning Christian marriage. I think it is very important for you to understand how much you have in common as Christians before you commit to marriage; there needs to be a mutual respect of each other’s faith traditions…not compromise. Marriage is about unity, not division.
    Would you consider taking the necessary time to learn more about your faith (both of your traditions) so that together you can build your marriage on the firm foundation which is Jesus Christ? I pray so.
    _Rick Schnetz

  6. Gretchen July 29, 2008 at 8:27 pm

    Hi. I have been reading the comments and am in a similar situation. I am a protestant Christian and am seriously dating a Catholic Christian. We have been through our rough patches regarding religion but mostly it has been me who is unsure of the relationship and our differences. I get scared that this is something that may not work itself out. We are both committed to our own churches but have recently been attending each other’s churches on Sundays(2 services). I have come to appreciate Catholicism and now understand better what it means to be Catholic. I was wondering if there is any advice that could ease our struggles (mostly my own paranoia) in order to grow in our faith rather than tease out our differences. I am learning to trust God in this matter and would like to know how we can become closer together as a couple. For example, I am confused as to whether Catholics pray (spontaneously) together??

    • Felipe November 30, 2012 at 6:58 am

      Muslims from different cueltrus have different wedding traditions. To find out, you’d really have to ask someone from the specific place he is from (traditions are different even in the same country). If his family are religious, gender segregation will almost certainly be expected, or if not, seating on different sides of the room. Certainly no women should dance if the company is mixed. No alcohol of course. Some Muslims are more strict that others about not eating or especially drinking when standing up. And obviously, as the bride, you should be dressed in something quite modest if the party is mixed. You’re not Muslim, so they probably won’t expect you to dress like one, but you shouldn’t show your upper arms, chest, stomach or legs below the knee, and not tight. Even if you segregate the parties (which would be nice for your Muslim guests, as Muslim women like dressing up), if his family is quite conservative you should be careful not to dress in anything too tight, low cut, mid-riff bearing or above the knee. Other than that, have a good time! Muslim women generally know how to party. Hope this has helped.

  7. Alyssa September 4, 2008 at 12:17 pm

    I am also in a simular situation.Im a non-denominational christian, whose been dating a catholic for over a year now. We have discussed this issue a lot.
    About praying to Mary. This is the way my boyfriend explained it to me: Catholics beleive that the dead can hear the living and they ask the dead to pray for them in much the same way you might ask your family members or spiritual mentors to pray for you. The mindset is from a verse in the bible (can’t remember where it is so look it up if you’re not sure) that says the prayer of a righteous man can do a whole lot of good. Well, who is more righteous as a human being than the dead who’ve already made it to heaven. They aren’t praying in the way that protestants pray, where its almost a form of worship, they’re simply communicating. When they pray to God its a much deeper sort of reverance.
    Personally, while this explanation satisfies me I still have trouble praying to the dead because emotionally to me it feels somthing akin to worship. My boyfriend says I’m like the former jew who still can’t muster up the effort to eat bacon. I’ve prayed a version of the rosary b4 and found it supprissingly fullfilling.
    The question that bothers me though is the question of infant babtism. I believe catholic salvation is valid but I feel as though I’d be cheating my future children out the memory of the expierience. The sensation of feeling the spirit rush into me when I went under the water is something I’ll never forget.

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