Dad’s religious and I’m not: How can I include him without giving him a platform?

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My studying-to-be-an-extremely-conservative-christian-pastor father and I have been fairly estranged since I came out rather explosively as an atheist about five years ago.

At the time the man I was dating and I were discussing getting married and my father became something of a nightmare, basically holding hostage not only whether or not he would walk me down the aisle but also whether or not he could even bring himself to come to our wedding, since I was so blatantly against what he held as fundamental beliefs.

Since then, the relationship with that previous boyfriend ended, and I decided that I would walk myself down the aisle if I ever did get married. Recently boyfriend of three years recently proposed and though I have a firm grasp on what I want to happen in regards to aisle walking, I find myself wondering:

How do I include my religious dad in my wedding day without giving him a platform?

I'm afraid if I ask him to read, or allow him to do a speech that he will bring religion into it and I really don't want that at all. I'm also not sure if I'm going to have a father/daughter dance due to our slowly healing relationship.

– Sarah

Differing religious views is an issue that we see a lot, and something that is likely to only get worse in our current geopolitical climate. Even coming together with relatives of different faiths and ideologies is challenging, let alone with someone as close as a father.

My suggestion to you would be to perhaps give him a reading that you've chosen for him. You could find a secular reading that extols some of the virtues of his faith (kindness, family, etc.) without having him choose something with dogma. Giving him the opportunity to read is a kindness and if he declines, at least you extended the offer.

Another option would be to include him in any family-centric unity ceremonies with no speaking role. It could be a candle lighting, a sand ceremony… anything that includes parents and doesn't require anything other than symbolically being there.

Alternately, if you'd like to keep it pretty low-key, you could just give him a shout-out in the program. Mostly just avoid speeches and anything that will allow him a platform that doesn't jive with the feel of your day.

Readers: I toss it to you! Who among you has dealt with differing ideologies or family drama and lived to tell the tale. Help a fellow reader out.

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Comments on Dad’s religious and I’m not: How can I include him without giving him a platform?

  1. My husband comes from a large Italian Catholic family and is now an atheist. I was raised in an American Baptist church and am now an agnostic. We did not want any religion to play into our wedding so we just wrote a ceremony with no religion. We didn’t make a deal about it and if anybody asked about it was just said “We’re having a secular ceremony.” No one really made too much of a fuss.
    But although we didn’t deal with drama over religion we dealt with drama over having a child free wedding. Basically, we just stuck to our guns and when it would come up we’d say “This is the decision that we have made for our wedding. Thank you for telling us how you feel about it and we’re sorry that it makes you (uncomfortable, angry, upset, etc) but it’s what we’ve decided and it’s the way it’s going to be.” The same can hold true for this situation. “We know your faith is important to you but we hold different beliefs and will be incorporating our beliefs into our wedding. We hope you will be able to share and enjoy the day with us.”

  2. I think the ceremony is so personal to the couple that I don’t think it’s a good place for big compromises or doing things just because that’s the way they’re done or to include people. My father and I are quite close, but I’m still glad that we stuck to my now husband and I walking into the ceremony together because of what it represented to us. And while it’s only a dress, the color I actually wanted had some religious symbolism to me, and I regret compromising on it. So, stay strong!

    I did have my father “walk” me to meet my husband in the lobby before the processional, and then he walked my grandmother to her seat before the processional. The latter might work for you, though I wouldn’t have had dad walk me at all if we weren’t close.

  3. Is it possible to limit him to “non-speaking” roles? Like walking you down the aisle and the first dance?
    If he really wants to speak, maybe you could ask him to give the two of you a private blessing before the ceremony? If you can tolerate that.

  4. I am not sure you will like my answer, but I say trust your gut. If you are worried, chances are there is a reason. Coming from a situation that sounds somewhat like yours, the best thing I did was give it time. Like, fifteen years. That might be extreme, but it worked for me. During that time I grew enough confidence and self-esteem to hold my head up, was already sufficiently distanced not to be swayed and most importantly financially secure enough to pay for it myself. I don’t know your situation, but if you expect him to pay, he will demand (and deserve) a say.

    That said, my officiant was really helpful. We had already gone over what we wanted, namely the walking in bit, and he just presented it as such at rehearsal. ” Well, so and so enters, followed by kiddos, then the couple together.” There was no back lash at all.

    I would also like to warn about believing people will be on their best behavior just because they promise to. I made the mistake of trusting my mom, although she has proven many times I shouldn’t. She tried to sabotage me the day before the wedding and we nearly didn’t have food for the reception because of it. Just be careful in assuming the best and plan for the worst.

    Be strong!

  5. This might be more of a compromise than you’re happy with, but it might be worth considering if you really, truly want your father to take part.

    Could you ask you your father to do a reading from The Song of Solomon(also known as The Song of Songs)? It is a love story between a man and woman that just happens to be in the Bible and is not explicitly religious at all.

    Your father wouldn’t have a platform to preach from, because he’d just be reading something but perhaps he’d be satisfied because it is Biblical.

  6. I was raised conservative christian and also rather explosively came out to my parents as agnostic years ago. I decided my compromise would be dancing with my dad to a religious song that we both loved while I was growing up. It still has special meaning for us and will be a way to be inclusive while staying true to my own religious beliefs (or lack thereof). It simply wouldn’t be honest to infuse the ceremony with biblical references for the sake of pleasing family when it goes against my personal beliefs.

    Even when I was a believer I’d always kind of felt that non-religious people having religious ceremonies was sort of disingenuous. Maybe there’s a way to communicate to him that you want your ceremony to be honest and genuine. There’s a passage in Revelation 3:15-17 says, “Be hot or cold… but if you are lukewarm, I will spit you out.” If you are up for debating your father, it may be a good point to make that you don’t want to be “lukewarm” so to speak.

    I wish you a wonderful wedding… I hope this issue resolves well for you!

  7. I would not give your father any speaking role whatsoever. I would also refrain from giving him a role that might give him the opportunity to feel like he COULD speak, even if it doesn’t necessarily call for it.

    My father is also a preacher and from my own personal experience, they sure can talk! Jokes aside, pastors like to preach—it’s literally their job to talk about how the faith should be incorporated into life. Now my dad is a progressive, hippy kind of pastor who is totally cool with being my officiant and keeping it 100% secular due to our atheist views. But I’m lucky. Your father doesn’t seem to think it’s rude to insert his beliefs into your life and let his religion influence how he treats you as a daughter. Given the information you have provided, I don’t think you can trust that he will see keeping his views to himself as a polite option, or an option at all.

    Good luck and let me know if you want to chat further about the atheist-child-of-a-pastor situation haha

  8. Me, my husband, and my husband’s family are atheist/agnostic, and my dad and stepmom and non-practicing, but my mom and stepdad are pretty religious Baptists. We were married by a friend in a 100% secular ceremony, which was non-negotiable for us. But when it came to including my mom in the wedding, we offered to let her speak at the reception, up to 3 minutes (we kept all the speeches short). She asked if she could lead a prayer for us, and we agreed. She and I have been estranged off and on for years, mostly for reasons not to do with religion, but I wanted to be slightly inclusive because for me it was easier than completely excluding her. When it came time for her prayer, it was pretty clear to all of our guests that the religious aspect was from HER, and wasn’t a reflection on us as a couple, but that we were just being polite by allowing her to express her best wishes for us in her own way. It was definitely out of sync with the rest of our wedding, but it was such a small blip in the day that it didn’t throw anyone off. Not saying that being polite is necessary, and it sounds like your dad may not be able to be trusted to not use the microphone as a platform. But I just wanted to say that if he does say anything, it will be pretty obvious to everyone that his words reflect him, not on you and your husband. I definitely like the idea of letting him be a part of the unity ceremony or doing a reading you’ve chosen. Best of luck!

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