Opening up to your parents about personal religious choices can be difficult. If your family is very religious and you are having doubts, or have fully left the church, this can be a point of contention and put significant strain on your relationship. Many people simply choose to not talk about religion with their family.
That is until it is time to get married…
All it takes is a marriage proposal and suddenly you are faced with questions about the type of wedding ceremony you will have, what church will it be in, who will perform the marriage, etc…
If you have a religious family and have not openly discussed your own personal philosophy, they may not even realize this is an issue. They may even assume you are planning to have your wedding in their church with their pastor and all the trappings of their religion.
Maybe not the best time…
Now I am not saying this is necessarily the time to come out as an atheist, or even agnostic. The choice of whether you want to identify as openly atheist or agnostic is very personal and can have negative consequences if your family is especially devout. Only you can know what the best tactic will be with your family.
Possibly Unpopular Opinion Time – We believe that it is important to only have a religious ceremony if that is what you actually believe. Going through the motions and having a religious ceremony just to make someone else happy is in a way disrespectful to all involved. Value your own beliefs enough to stand up for them, but also don’t trivialize the beliefs of your family.
Many religious officiants also require you to be members of a certain church or attend religious premarital counseling, which can be quite uncomfortable to non-believers.
If you decide to be open with your parents about your intention to have a non-religious wedding, do so with respect for their beliefs and feelings, but also be firm with where you stand, and understand that they may choose not to help you financially with the wedding, and in some cases they may even decide not to attend.
If you aren’t ready to be completely open, how do you have a wedding that represents you and your beliefs without offending or outing yourself unintentionally?
Choose a Meaningful Venue
Choose a ceremony venue that is not a church but has a deep meaning to you and your partner. One that is steeped with significance in your relationship. This way, when a relative presses you to explain the choice, you can tell a moving story about how important it is for you to be married at this location.
If you don’t have some place like that where you can feasibly be married, consider venues that allow you to have the ceremony and reception on the same grounds and present your choice as a financial one. Sometimes the easiest thing to do is just book your venues and inform your family of where they need to be on the day.
When your family is contributing financially to the wedding, you might have to make some compromises. In this situation, it is good to give them a specific item to handle, such as catering, or flowers, and let you handle the venue and ceremony preferences.
Choose an Experienced Secular Officiant
Something I have noticed in my work as a wedding planner is that religious parents are especially skeptical when a couple says they would like a friend to officiate the ceremony. Asking someone who paid a few bucks to get ordained online can seem like a slap in the face and even like you aren’t taking your marriage seriously. I definitely do not agree with that sentiment, but I have heard it multiple times from religious parents.
That is why I recommend hiring an officiant if you are not having a church wedding. Experienced officiants can help you create a ceremony that reflects your views and beliefs while also incorporating traditional elements to keep your parents and grandparents happy.
Maybe you cannot imagine your wedding without your friend officiating. In those circumstances, you could always find someone ordained who can co-officiate the wedding with your friend.
Like with your wedding venue, sometimes it is better to book first and apologize later. Unless you are concerned about your family disowning you or refusing to come to the wedding. If that level of reaction is expected, proceed carefully and try to find a way to include at least a nod to your families beliefs, such as a religious reading or song.
Do what feels right.
Notice I never once said, “just give in and let their Pastor officiate” or “just do it at the church because it will make grandma happy.” It is your wedding, not your mom’s or grandma’s.
Understand that you have a choice. Not everyone is going to always like the choice you make, but you are the ones who have to live with it. You can choose to have a ceremony that reflects your beliefs and your relationship with your partner, or you can choose to make other people happy.
Your vows, your ceremony, they are about your partnership. If you do not believe in a religion, you should not be expected to have a religious ceremony. Talk with your partner about what will make you happiest, and what will feel right for you!
Need advice or want to share your experience? Head on over to the Secularly Wed Community on Facebook!