It happens every so often. A young lady comes with her fiance and asks to be married. In this age of decaying standards, when so many scorn "the bit of paper" (alias the marriage certificate), that in itself is good. So many today merely "shack up" together—if you will pardon the modern parlance that so starkly describes those who are living together "without benefit of clergy," as the Victorians used to put it.
So, as they sit talking to you, you ask them, as casually as you can (if you do not know them all that well—or even if you do), "And are you both members of the church?" The heart of a minister (especially if he has a doubt) beats a little more regularly if they answer in concert, "Yes," or even if they both chime in with a united negative. At least he knows then that there is no ecclesiastical barrier to the church wedding with himself as the celebrant.
But occasionally—just occasionally— one will say, "Yes, I am, but John [or Sue] isn't," and usually, as a kind of pathetic attempt to cover an embarrassment, add, "yet."
Well, sometimes John or Sue becomes a church member before the date of the nuptials. But often the matter is in abeyance . . . indefinitely. What then? The plain fact is that an Adventist minister cannot then perform the marriage; it is as simple and as definite as that. Denominational policy states merely, "Thou shalt not," and it is soundly based upon the solid text "Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?" (2 Cor. 6:14).
What then? Sometimes the happy couple, the stars in their eyes preventing them from seeing as clearly as they otherwise might, go off and have the ceremony performed by a minister of an other persuasion, or even at the registry office. They are convinced in their hearts that what has turned out to be disaster for almost everyone else who has tried it will be peaches and cream for them. Why? Well, they are young, they communicate, they discuss their problems, they come to amicable solutions, they understand each other, they are the new breed of young people, they are elastic enough to give a little and take a little, they can adjust to changing circumstances, they can find a way through even in the darkness, and they have the answers even where there apparently aren't any. In other words, they are the complete optimists.
Now it is right for a young couple to be optimistic. It would be tragic if two people, launching their frail bark upon the seas of matrimony, felt pessimistic about their prospects. If one said to the other, "I don't think we have an atom of a chance of making this work," it would hardly be grounds for hope that the marriage would succeed. But optimistic they are. The future is rosy, and they walk hand in hand into the sunset of their wedding day, knowing that there is the promise of a thousand glorious tomorrows. They are in love, they are close to each other, and that is all that matters. They can beat the system. But inevitably they don't. Why?
Well, frankly, love is not enough. There must be basic agreement in a hundred areas if a marriage is to succeed. That does not mean that if John is an avid stamp collector, Sue has to be a philatelist also; it does not mean that if Emily gets starry-eyed about astronomy and spends hours gazing up at the stars through the telescope that she has scraped and saved to buy, Ken must be able to talk learnedly about the Milky Way, the rings of Saturn, and the orbits of the planets. It is not necessary, but it helps if there is an interest there; at least the conversation will not be one-sided or boring when the deeps and cadences of the hobby are explored.
But where there is a difference of religion, what of that? Well, even that may not be the world's greatest obstacle to happiness. We could point to many a successful marriage between, say, Methodists and Presbyterians, Anglicans and Lutherans, Baptists and Church of Christ members. Between Catholics and Protestants? Well, not very many here, simply because there is such a deep cleavage between the two religious ideologies. You see, there is a more basic difference between Catholic and Protestant than between two similar Protestant denominations. The important phrase is "deep cleavage between two religious ideologies." And that is where we come in.
Whatever your philosophy of Seventh-day Adventism, you must surely recognize that it is more than a religion; it is a way of life. It reaches into every corner of your life and touches every aspect of your thinking, in ways that the non-Adventist can never hope to under stand. The bride who puts her bride groom into an incomprehensible situation is doing herself and her husband a terrible disservice, and vice versa. Adventism extends its influence to the very food you eat, and the non-Adventist partner cannot be expected to under stand why you cannot say grace over a couple of rashers of bacon. It reaches down into the entertainment you permit yourself in your leisure moments, and the non-Adventist spouse cannot under stand why on earth you will not come with him to the theater where some bawdy comedy is laying them in the aisles, nor can he understand why you snap off the TV because the overt sexuality of the box is offensive to your principles, just when he is becoming absorbed in the story. The non-Adventist husband or wife cannot understand why you cannot go to the office dance, or be expected to appreciate your reasons for declining to go to the firm's annual Christmas party ("just once a year") because it is held on Friday night. The non-Adventist partner cannot appreciate why, when finances are tight and there are bills crowding in and creditors demanding payment, you carefully put aside one tenth of his money, plus some for stewardship, offerings, and whatnot, and "give it to the church" (as he sees it). And you can multiply these situations almost to infinity.
If there is any sympathy to be handed out when a mixed marriage gets into the "Slough of Despond," that sympathy should go to the non-Adventist party. He should not have been allowed to get into the morass that he cannot be expected to understand; he is battling with a many-headed opponent that, when he thinks he has one head under control, always has another one ready to bite him in some unprotected spot. He finds that he has not married someone who merely has a religion, but he has married her and the religion! Is it any wonder that so many non-Adventist spouses feel that it is just too much?
Of course, there is an alternative. Suppose John is the Calithumpian and Sue the Adventist. Suppose John (as is likely) admires Sue for her high principles that she has learned through child hood and youth because her parents and church have diligently taught her what standards are and how important they are. Then, in order to keep their fragile matrimonial ship afloat, Sue throws overboard those standards and principles just to accommodate her husband. What would any decent man think of his partner who would think so little of what she believed to be right and proper? What respect would he have for her from that moment on?
Which means, therefore, that what seemed a solution by compromise is no solution at all. And two bewildered people plus a possible addition or two by this time reluctantly come to the conclusion that their marriage is a mistake. Sad, isn't it?
Reprinted by permission from the Australasian Record, November 22, 1976.