Something I realized when I was getting started as a wedding planner was that quite a few wedding vendors actively participate in Christian witness through their business.
Witness is the practice of sharing the gospel and word of God with all people and the purpose is to bring new people to Christianity. This can be as overt as a coworker inviting you to church every Sunday, but it can also be more subtle, such as a Jesus Fish on a business card or a bible quote in an email signature.
You have likely seen it in the wild yourself. Forever 21 prints bible verses on their shopping bags, In-n-Out prints them on their cups. A trendy clothing & home decor company, called Altar’d State, with 70 retail locations has a “Prayer Request” section of their website and considers itself “a modernized Christian shopping experience.”
I honestly do not have a problem with businesses doing this because I can choose where I shop. These subversive religious messages simply alert me to the company’s alignment. I can always go and research a bit more about how the company gives charitably and where they align politically before I make a choice whether to give them my business. But at the same time, it’s not like you see any other religions getting away with this level of blatant proselytizing, at least in the US.
Christian Witness in Wedding & Creative Biz
So how does this manifest in the Wedding Industry and Creative Businesses? One place you will see a lot of Christian creatives engaging in witness is on Instagram and Pinterest. Bible quotes and religious testimonials in pretty watercolors and modern calligraphy are everywhere on these platforms. You will also see witness in website copy, usually on the vendor’s about page or mission statement.
Once again, I want to reiterate that I have no problem if a vendor chooses to have a faith-centered business. From a marketing perspective, they are signalling their ideal customer by including their faith as part of their business model, much the same way I use my Secular Humanism to signal my ideal clients. There is nothing wrong with having a targeted brand message.
Where I take issue with Christian Witness in small business, and especially in the Wedding Industry, is that it can come off as disrespectful to non-believers or people of other faiths. Weddings are steeped in tradition and cultural significance already. Secular, non-Christian, and non-white couples already feel pressure to conform to wedding industry norms which center wealthy, white, Christian couples and weddings as the Standard Operating Procedure. Anything that veers from that is labeled alternative, offbeat, niche, or cultural (uh, aren’t we all cultural?).
With all the news stories about Christian wedding vendors denying services to LGBTQ+ couples, it is hard for progressive secular and LGBTQ+ people to trust that the same things won’t happen to them. There is a difference between a vendor posting bible quotes on Facebook and a vendor engaging in religion-based discrimination. Unfortunately, it is sometimes hard to tell which vendor will cross that line when they are already comfortable with promoting their religion through their business.
Witness is intended by Christians to be outreach to non-believers. The goal isn’t to start a debate or philosophical conversation, but to show their love for Christ and God, and in a way to show how great and joyous life can be if you come around to their way of thinking. However, to secular people or even some non-evangelical Christians, this kind of witness comes across a bit like a “humble brag.”
Many business owners and creative entrepreneurs choose to include their faith in their brand story and in doing so, they associate their faith with their business successes and failures. There is a lot of pressure on creative biz owners to put forth a brand story that is perfectly curated and luxurious, even when you might be just starting out or even struggling (a conversation for another day). Adding faith into the mix send the message that your perceived material success and luxury are because you believe in God, not because of the hard work you do. #blessed
Put your money where your values are.
Secular couples shouldn’t have to endure subversive religious messages from vendors they have hired for their weddings, but they should also understand that Christians have every right to highlight their beliefs (not discriminate) in their business. The wedding industry is driven by soloprenuers and small businesses where personality is how you differentiate your business from your competitors. If that is how they choose to differentiate, so be it. If you are not comfortable with that, do not hire them.
My decision to include my own secular philosophy in my business marketing was actually inspired by the witness tactics of Christians. I want to show that you can have meaningful, beautiful, loving marriages without God or a church. I want to be the wedding planner for the people being excluded by the religious vendors.
The choice to be openly secular as a business owner was a tough one for me. Mostly for fear of alienating potential clients. I shouldn’t have to be afraid that my business might suffer due to being open about my beliefs. This is a fear not shared by the Christian vendors who use their business to witness. Christians can make these statements and proselytize without fear because there will always be people who either are also Christian, or simply look the other way.
Atheists, Secular Humanists, Non-Christians, and LGBTQ+ people need to be more comfortable about speaking up. Let’s put our money where our values are. Support other openly secular businesses. Support vendors with progressive mission statements, or that give to non-religious charities. Don’t just have religious weddings because it’s what your parents want! Research your vendors and hire people you feel comfortable with and who will respect your beliefs.
The Secularly Wed Vendor Directory is coming soon! Join the conversation and get updates in the Secularly Wed Community on Facebook!
Erica Greenwold Reisen is the founder of Secularly Wed and is a Wedding Planner based in Chapel Hill, NC. Her Wedding Planning business can be found at www.folieadeuxevents.com