Our Daughter Is Marrying a Non-Christian

As a Christian father, should I give my daughter away at the wedding if she's marrying a non-believer? Over the more than twenty years of our marriage we've worked hard to raise her in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Her decision has come as a great disappointment to us. We love our daughter, but for us this is a question of conscience and faithfulness to biblical principles. In light of what Scripture says about being "unequally yoked," should I, as her father, support this marriage by "giving her away" at the wedding?

This is one of those questions that doesn’t have a single “correct” answer. As you say, it’s a matter of personal conscience. Conscience is something the biblical writers take very seriously. They allow room for a great deal of latitude and scope in this area (see, for example, Acts 23:1; Romans 2:15, 9:1, 14:5; I Corinthians 8:1-13; II Corinthians 1:12; I Timothy 1:5, 19; Hebrews 9:14; I Peter 3:16, 21).

Why do we say this? Because in the final analysis, only you and your spouse can decide how to handle this sensitive situation. For our part, we can encourage you to pray, seek wise counsel, and talk things through carefully with one another and with your child before making up your minds. We can also mention a few points you may want to take into consideration as you move through that process.

First, as a full-fledged adult, your daughter is your peer. This means that the task of “raising” her is now complete. Your basic role has changed from guide and director to advisor or mentor. You’ll always be mom and dad, of course. It’s understandable that you want her to honor the faith in which you’ve raised her. In spite of this, you are no longer in a position to tell her what to do. You can express concerns about her choice of a marriage partner. You can talk about relevant biblical principles. You can point out the increased potential for conflict in any marriage where the partners can’t agree about their deepest spiritual convictions. You can urge the young couple to confront that potential head-on with the help of a pre-marital counselor. You can discuss all of these issues openly and intelligently, just as you would discuss them with any other adult Christian friend. But in the end you have to treat your grown daughter as an equal and respect her decisions.

Second, bear in mind that here, as in every area of your relationship with an adult child, it’s crucial to maintain healthy boundaries. This means identifying what’s yours and what isn’t. It’s a matter of learning to tell the difference between the things you can and can’t control. As we’ve already said, you can’t dictate the behavior of another adult. You can, however, determine to stay faithful to your own values and convictions. You can also ask the other adult to respect your beliefs. If you’re thoroughly convinced that it would be wrong to support this marriage by giving your daughter away, then by all means stick to your guns. Don’t give in to pressure. Don’t compromise your beliefs simply to appease her. But be sure to explain your actions and choices with compassion, sensitivity, and great care.

Finally, take time to ponder all of your options. Don’t rush into anything on the basis of emotional reactions. If you think about it carefully, you may conclude that this issue isn’t as black-and-white/all-or-nothing as it seems. It’s one thing to give your “stamp of approval” to a marriage by actively participating in the wedding. It’s another simply to attend and sit in the congregation as an expression of love and respect. It might be worth asking yourself whether there are other ways of articulating legitimate concern about this union. However you handle it, you want to avoid severing ties and bringing about a long-term estrangement from your daughter, her husband, and your future grandchildren. You need to weigh and balance all of these considerations before coming down on one side or the other.

If you feel it would be helpful to talk this over at greater length, don’t hesitate to give our staff a call. Our counselors would be more than happy to discuss your situation with you over the phone. They can also provide you with referrals to qualified family therapists in your area who specialize in problems of this kind.


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