Do you need her parent's blessing before marrying?

Question:

Hi,

I am 22, Christian, (raised and worshiping in a non-denominational church of Christ, actually) and have a bit of a conundrum. I apologize for the lengthy staging here.

I met the girl I want to marry. She is a baptized Christian, also 22, but was raised in a stricter sect of the Mennonites. She, at one time, removed herself from this group and was never a part of it in her heart. Her parents, however, are adamant believers in a system specifically condemned by Colossians 2:20-23 ("Why do you submit yourselves, then... things of the world which have no value... having the appearance of wisdom but of no value, man-made religion, etc. (I paraphrase))

I spent months just being careful, sober reflection, prayer, etc. When I eventually realized that I was so interested in her, I approached her, and asked if it would trouble her for me to approach her father. This seemed to me to be right. She was relieved and anxious for me to do so.

I spoke to him, with great disaster. He insisted that he had no desire to know what I was like as an individual, and that he would "get in too much trouble with his church to even consider me, not being a Mennonite." End result: I was told to go away.

I would have done this, but she followed me, and begged me to not let it stop here. Her being a perfectly capable adult, I refused to "take her with me," but agreed to continue to develop the relationship.

The next few months, we spent hours in the Scripture, covering every possible angle of the concerns she and I had concerning what a godly family should be, what the Word says about salvation, etc. In these matters, we were no less than satisfactorily and often stunningly, on the same page.

Last fall, I asked her to marry me. She accepted me, and quoted Scripture in the process. Her parents were furious, and though I continued to try to work with them, they refused Bible study (which they believe should only be done by "pastors") and they put enormous effort into pushing her to change her mind. Twice more, she wanted to "walk out" on them, but I, wanting to try to maintain the relationship with her family, suggested this would not be the best way.

Not long ago she was cornered by a group of ministers from the Mennonite Church, as well as her family and extended family, and told she would be in sin to marry me against the command of her parents and the church. She buckled, essentially, and said that the pressure from her family and the "church" regarding parental permission is just too strong for her to break away. I have been told to "just wait," and I have been waiting ever since, to hear something, of any kind.

So finally, my question: Is it Scripturally imperative for a woman to have the "blessing" of her parents to enter a marriage of her choice?

I know that the sin would not be the marriage itself, but the disobedience to her parents is the issue, so the better question might be "Is there scripture I can use to support the idea that at some point she must be allowed to choose who is her earthly authority? Or something like that? If I had the chance to make the argument, what would I use to support the idea that (1) It is not Disobedience to her parents to do this, for this is not something she is required to be obedient to them in, and/or (2) For her own understanding, that at some point, surely authority can be too corrupt to submit to, and therefore it is necessary for her to come away from her parent's authority?

Thank you.


Answer:

"And He answered and said to them, "Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning 'made them male and female,' and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate" (Matthew 19:4-6).

There is no requirement in the Scriptures of gaining ones family's blessing before marriage. It is a nice thing to have, but not every parent is going to agree with the choice in spouse that their children make. When your parents say they don't agree that ought to be a time of careful reflection -- they are likely seeing something that you are overlooking -- but in the end the choice and responsibility for the decision rests on the ones making the decision.

Notice the steps to creating a new family:

  1. There is a leaving of the family you grew up in.
  2. There is a joining to your spouse (marriage).
  3. There is a forming of a new family union that is independent of the two old families.

When Paul wrote:

"Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother," which is the first commandment with promise: that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth" (Ephesians 6:1-3).

"Children, obey your parents in all things, for this is well pleasing to the Lord" (Colossians 3:20).

Notice the limits in what is being said. It is directed to children. Eventually children grow up and become adults. "When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things" (I Corinthians 10:11). A child owes his parents honor throughout life, but children leave home and obedience is not owed to a parent simply because they raised a child to adulthood. Parents are a great source of advice, but for adults, the responsibility now lies on their own shoulders. They have to make their own choices. "The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself" (Ezekiel 18:20).

The second limit is that the obedience is "in the Lord." The phrase means that it is within the boundaries of what the Lord approves. Just because mom or dad says something, it doesn't make it right -- parents can be wrong. A child is not commanded to follow parents into error.

Your fiancée is an adult, so she has to make adult decisions that she is willing to accept responsibility for the results. You tried to gain her parent's approval, which they declined. It sounds as if you and she agree concerning the teachings of the Bible. Then if the two of you wish to form your own home, understand that she will likely be cut off from her family and childhood friends. It will be very hard on her until she establishes her own family and gains new friends.

What she will have to do is state that she is getting married. She would like to have her family there, but she realizes that that is their own choice. She would like her children to know their grandparents, but again, that will be their choice if they want to be a part of their grandchildren's lives. But meanwhile she has to be firm that her mind is made up to be the wife of the man she loves. She won't be excluding them, but she understands that they may not accept her choice.

Years later this same man wrote to me to let me know how his life was going. I asked him if I could share a part of his story for the benefit of others. He agreed and wrote the following:

The challenges faced when choosing to marry against the express consent of (at least one) set of parents are more significant that any person can realize. Though I am glad for the marriage more than anything, both my wife and I have reflected that had we known how difficult it would be pick this fight, we may have elected to withdraw.

The challenges can be divided into two categories.

Short-Term Risks

The fact is, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to know that the choices you are making are for the right reasons. You certainly cannot know that your girlfriend's motivation is correct in all instances either. Is your prospective partner attempting to escape a bad family situation, for example? There may be myriad good reasons for either one of you to look to change your living situation - getting married should not be an end to this means, and it is difficult to be honest with oneself about this.

We did not sin (sexually or physically) during the time we were pursuing this marriage. However, the accusations regarding this were frequent and vicious. We were accused of sinning together, separately, and other things. Some of her family started saying I was hiding an existing wife and child - none of which was true. Dealing with each of these, over and over again, is an enormous drain on your psyche and your relationship with your intended spouse.

While we did not sin, there are choices we made that we regret in hindsight. Did we ever outright lie about our plans, whereabouts, etc.? Well, not that I can recall specifically; yet, I distinctly remember the effort we went through to keep people in the dark about what was going on. This was unhealthy and dangerous. If we did not sin through deception, we came uncomfortably close.

Long-Term Impact

Both of us ultimately have experienced sinfully unkind attitudes toward the family who made our experience so difficult. For this we have repented, but still, we cannot ignore this reality.

Our influence as Christians on non-Christians took a huge hit -- particularly my influence. People heard about us. People heard a lot of untrue things about me. It is my first role as a Christian to reach the world around me. For a while, I was viewed as an uninhibited hypocrite. My efforts suffered.

Our relationship with the objecting family was painful, awkward, and difficult. The advent of grandchildren was a blessed breakthrough, but that is no guarantee and only good so far as it goes. The objecting mother will never be able to discuss this without tears. Similarly, we have discovered that our own memories of our pre-marriage years will always be dark, hurting, and frustrated. Surely, most couples in history did not marry in a vision of bliss as has been popularized by our society today, but the fact is, if your wife has always imagined the fairytale wedding at least, and her memories are of intense emotional pain and loss, she (and you) have been denied something you simply will never ever be able to go back and reclaim. 

We are still viewed as a potentially dangerous influence, six years later -- and this is something we can understand. On numerous occasions, flippant, careless couples who want to get married, excuse premarital sex, or defy one or both parent sets have come to us looking for sympathy and support. Justifiably, some parents fear that we somehow want to be the exception that changes the rule. The fact is, though, any time such a couple has approached us, we have earnestly, strongly advised against their inclinations and tried to illustrate the very things I have mentioned above. In many instances, we are well convinced that they are both unprepared for the struggle, and not motivated by the right factors -- as much as they may say otherwise. So though I hope my marriage is indeed a godly illustration of God's intention for the Christian family, we do not hold up our pursuit of marriage without full parental consent as any example whatsoever -- with possibly a rare, yet-to-be-encountered exception -- we would discourage others from emulating our pre-marriage choices.