In mainline protestant white liberal churchy world there’s a lot of talk about ministry on the margins. Mostly this means ministry with people living in the margins of our society. Think refugees, LGBT folks, people of color. These are very real and necessary conversations. For people of faith in the United Church of Christ–the denomination that proclaims extravagant welcome and hospitality–these conversations are not only important they are vital to the mission and ministry of the church.
At the same time, I can’t help but wonder if there is not another group also on the margins. In this case, I’m referring to predominantly middle class couples of various faith and ethnic backgrounds who proclaim to be spiritual but not religious and at the same time seek a spiritual ceremony for their wedding. Where is a questioning, curious, interfaith, or interethnic couple to turn for this rite of passage?
In churchy circles, the spiritual but not religious folks are often given a -tsk, -tsk and a wagging finger. They are not committed enough. They haven’t moved far enough in their spiritual journey. They are just part of the consumerist generation–where it’s all about me. In all of this theying, I think we have lost sight of a bigger picture.
Within our cultural landscape, these are couples who might just be starting to wrestle with what it means to marry someone of a different faith background. What does it means to be family with someone whose faith traditions challenge our own? These are not surface questions. These are not questions to be answered over night. These are questions that today’s couples with live with and into over the course of married life.
As someone who has the privelege of walking with couples wrestling with these questions as they prepare to marry, I can say most of them simply choose to disengage from organized religion altogether. I don’t know that it’s so much that they oppose religion as they haven’t seen or experienced a model that mirrors who they are. Or that permits them to ask the big questions. Or that for a couple it’s too hard to show up and explain why and how they are different than what a faith community expected.
Now before you go getting upset that you are the kind of faith leader that is open to this kind of question, I want you to pause. To take a deep breath. And think about. Really think about how not you–but your faith community –is prepared not only to welcome these couples but walk with them through this new religious landscape. Because that’s where I believe we are. We are in a new landscape, and today’s couples are asking and living in and with new questions.
We are in a new landscape where, according to the PEW Research Center, there is a significant increase in interfaith and interethnic marriages. Combine this reality with the legalization of same-sex marriage, and the predominance of stepfamilies, and you can see that Ward and June Cleaver are no longer the average couple seeking to wed. Perhaps these couples are also on the margins. And perhaps we in the church need to think about how to listen to their questions.