[Note: Questions and Ethics is a monthly series in which Dr. Russell Moore provides insight into how Christians should navigate through life's most challenging moral and ethical issues.]
Dear Dr. Moore,
My daughter is an atheist. She is living with an atheist, and she now plans to marry him. Should I allow my other daughter to be in the wedding as a bridesmaid? Should I support the wedding financially? Should I go to the wedding? I want to honor God, but I still want to be a mom.
Dear Concerned Mom,
I remember several years ago I was serving a church, and I had a lady who came up to me after the service, and she whispered, and she said, "Could you pray for my daughter. She has gone to college, and she has become an atheist." And I said, "Why are you whispering?" And she said, "I don't want anyone to overhear me, because then they will know that I am the mom of that atheist girl." And as I started talking to her it became clear, she thought somehow that that would make people think that she has done something shameful in her own parenting.
That's crazy. We have got to eliminate that within the church. Throughout the Bible, you have family after family after family—it's hard for me to think of a family in the scripture that doesn't have a prodigal somewhere in the family. So we don't say that because a child is going through some rebellion that that means that the parents are deficient. Not at all! And also we need to recognize that parents love their children, and families are to stay together, and we are to maintain those avenues of connection with our children as much as possible and to provide a means for those prodigals to come home. And prodigals do come home. These rebellious times don't always last forever. And sometimes you have someone who is just going through a time of questioning, a time of confusion. Keep those avenues open.
I would also say that I understand why the mom is concerned about this, because the scripture tells us that a believer is not to marry an unbeliever. We should not be unequally yoked, as the Apostle Paul puts it. But that's not what's going on here. Instead you have a professing unbeliever marrying a professing unbeliever. Marriage is something that the scripture tells us is a creation ordinance given to all people; Genesis, chapter 2, "It is for this reason that a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." That's not only true for Christians. That's true for all people. So marriage is a good thing for everybody, including for atheists.
It seems to me that in this situation, you have a couple who are doing the right thing: not living together, but instead committing themselves to one another and marrying. If, Mom, you don't have any other objection to this guy other than his atheism, and if your daughter is an atheist too, I would see this as a creation ordinance, and I would not have one qualm at all in going to that wedding, in having the sister serve as a bridesmaid. I wouldn't have any problem financially contributing to that wedding.
Now, I think it's a different story when it comes to the church officiating the wedding. I wouldn't do the wedding for a couple of atheists. I wouldn't officiate as a pastor, because I think that signifies the accountability of the couple to the church. That couple doesn't have an accountability to the church; they are not under the I Corinthians 5 discipline of the church. But as a civil ordinance, getting married, I would go.
Now, if you have some reason to think that this man is harmful or abusive or dangerous, then no, you put your foot down, and you go to the matt for this. But if your only problem with him is that he's an atheist, I would go. I would be kind, and I would seek to continue to share the gospel with your daughter and with your new son-in-law as time goes on. I would recognize that marriage is a good thing that God has given to all people.
And I also would just really encourage all of those parents out there who are going through a situation with your children—parents of atheist children; parents of agnostic children; parents of children who are going through times of moral rebellion, not just intellectual confusion or questioning or whatever—don't be ashamed of your kids. Don't cut off connection with your kids. Remain in contact. Love your children, and don't be worried about what people are going to think about you. This is not about you; this is about loving the children God has given to you.
Related: You can find more answers to ethical questions and subscribe to the Questions and Ethics podcast on the website of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.