Secular Joy in Christian Marriage

The best video I've seen in a while is J&K's Wedding, which has been making the rounds for their awesome use of pop music and a choreographed wedding processional to give their wedding really a celebratory feel.  Everytime I watch it I'm struck by the joy that becomes contagious in the crowd, even to the lil' old lady in the front that is having the time of her life.

Embedding might be disabled so you can watch the video here.

Of course, there's some problems with it:

  • The song "Forever" is by Chris Brown who recently admitted to serious domestic abuse of his girlfriend Rihanna.
  • The song lyrics are questionable and, if nothing less, the emphasis on "this one night" rather than "this whole marriage" really misses the point of a wedding ceremony.
  • Finally, it is secular (also called profane) music in a religious ceremony (everything else was religious: it is a Lutheran Church officiated by a ELCA pastor). While people will talk about the incidentals, it's often the secular music in church thing that really irritates people.

In her critique of the lack of religiousity at the event, Mollie at Get Religion links to a Washington Post article that has this to say:
We all know what we're supposed to do at weddings: Look on politely as a matchy-matchy parade of friends makes its slooooow way down the aisle to Pachelbel's Canon in D. Try not to giggle. Rise for the bride.
But, by dancing their entrances and sending that upbeat, physical energy right back out to their guests, the Peterson-Heinz wedding turns the rote behaviors into spontaneous reactions. Of course the guests watch attentively as the wedding party bobs in. You can bet not a single child had to be shushed at that point. This was no longer a display of bad posture and dyed-to-match pumps -- it was an uplifting swell of celebration with a beat. The bride -- unescorted, we note; so independent! -- was and wasn't the center of attention. The true focus was on the unified, wordless but palpable emotions of her whole support system.
In a way, this is a worship.hack in that it turns the solemn dignified space into a reflection of the energy of the gathered community.   It turns things upside down and opens the senses to see what new thing God might be doing.  I would hope that's why the ELCA clergyperson agreed to this.

However, I believe the bolded critique is correct: God was not the focus at the beginning of the ceremony, the people were.  The celebration and sheer joy that the bridesmaids couldn't help but giggle about it. Did the focus shift during the ceremony?  Almost certainly.  So is any harm done?

So my question is: do we have to use liturgical elements to evoke that sense of community?  Or can secular music at the intersection of church and world suffice to gather the community?  Two points:
  • First, Weddings themselves have questionable practices.  Bridesmaids dress in revealing ways to divert the devils to them rather than the purified couple.  Is that any less offensive to our contemporary minds than a secular dance  down the aisle?   I think not.
  • Second, seeker churches (or services) do this all the time: play secular music at the beginning of worship and move to Christian hymns as the service progresses. There's liturgical consideration for the beginnings of services to mark transition from profane space to sacred space. 
Thoughts?  Can secular music serve a purpose in religious settings?  Or is there a hard and fast line in these types of ceremonies that music & arts that do not witness to Christian ideals just don't cross.


I can't judge this wedding having not been in on the plan or seeing the ceremony.  But I can judge the joy at people being there to celebrate with their friends and family.  And that joy was there.


Robert Lewis + July 30, 2009 at 12:11 PM  

I do not have a problem with the beginning of this service. As you said, it is no different than seeker services using "secular" music. (what is "secular" music and art is a whole different discussion).
Weddings should be joyful, regular church services should be joyful, event funerals should have some joy in them (after all, the person is still alive in eternal live with Christ).
No where in the Bible does it say that church should not be joyful - yes there are times when people go beyond joyful and get corrected for it - but joyful is not sinful.
Martin Luther himself made church contemporary for his time. He used the type of music that was being played in the streets and the public houses.
Yes, I would have had a problem if their was no liturgy and/or worship in a church wedding. But with that said, how is the beginning of that service any different than using "Morning Has Broken" as the open/gathering hymn on Sunday (it is in several Hymnals including the new "Cranberry Book" being used by the ELCA)?
In my opinion, there are much worse songs to play or sing in church and some of them are suppose to be "Christian" (They have really bad theology).
Ironically, I am currently finishing up preparation for a tradition church wedding this weekend, but this is what the couple wants. However, is it what the couple wants because that is the way mainline church society tells them it should be done, or because they truly feel connected to that type of service?
I will explore that question with future couples.

Songbird July 30, 2009 at 12:13 PM  

I have to admit to being hung up on the Chris Brown part of this, though a friend pointed out that if we had to judge all music by the composers, we'd have a pretty narrow selection of things we could enjoy.
At one of my first weddings, the bride and groom (who already had a young child--this motivated me to get them married) could not afford a musician and asked to use pre-recorded music. I agreed (see parenthetical aside above), and at the rehearsal I learned the Processional would be a song by The Bangles. At that point, I didn't see any way to stop it. But it didn't feel holy or joyful to me. It felt like a display. But maybe that's what a wedding processional is, anyway, as you point out above.

Songbird July 30, 2009 at 12:14 PM  

I'm afraid I don't get the comparison to Morning Has Broken, which was a hymn long before it was recorded by Cat Stevens.

Missy July 30, 2009 at 2:42 PM  

The wedding march, which is traditionally what the bride would walk down the aisle to is a secular piece of music written by someone who held anti-semitic views, and is connected to a rape scene within the opera...

johnmeunier July 30, 2009 at 3:49 PM  

Great reflection and discussion, Jeremy.

I'm not persuaded by the idea that the personal history of the writer of a song is an important issue. "Amazing Grace" was written by a slave ship captain, after all.

I understand the issue about "inappropriate" music. I am going to officiate at my first two weddings this fall, so maybe I'll have some standing to comment on this after that. But it seems that weddings are nearly incurably secular these days. If you play proper church music but spend $10,000 on a wedding dress, after all, which is the bigger issue?

Blake Huggins July 30, 2009 at 6:13 PM  

I love your last few sentences. I been to more than a few highly religious weddings (at least traditionally speaking) that lacked any sense of joy. I think if anything this is an instance which demonstrates that the supposed divide between the sacred and the secular is becoming increasingly unstable if not untenable.

Warren July 30, 2009 at 9:11 PM  

First, I am saddened that the pastor did not participate in the dance. I think I would want to as the clergy person.

Second, I disagree with your distinction between sacred and secular music. I believe all music is sacred. How it is used may not be.

lance.houghtling July 31, 2009 at 1:17 PM  

At Pastor's request, we are doing Clapton's Before You Accuse Me this Sunday. Of course we'll change a few of the words, but it's something about a speck and a log thing. . . .

Joe July 31, 2009 at 1:42 PM  

Funny. I thought it was one of the most disrespectful, remarkably self-centered things I've seen lately. I'm uncomfortable when a holy, sacred ceremony is turned into a bad audition for "America's Got Talent" [sic].

As for attending traditional weddings that have no "joy," that's a problem with the couple and attendees, not the ceremony.

Really, really unfortunate.

Nathan Mattox August 1, 2009 at 9:53 PM  

As Madeleine L'Engle said, "There is nothing so secular that it cannot be sacred. That is one of the deepest messages of the incarnation."

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