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Wedding Vows

Over recent years we have observed what we consider an alarming trend among young couples as they make the huge step of making vows in the wedding ceremony before their family and friends. These young people so sincerely are promising to “lovingly lead” (the guy) and “willingly submit” (the girl)

Do they think through what these words mean in real life, everyday situations ? The very phrases sound alarm bells for us after 35+ years of talking with couples whose marriages are in trouble. The whole concept of one person leading (however lovingly) and the other submitting (however willingly) gives occasion for huge disappointment for both or either person.

How can a  husband know he is leading in love and not just doing/saying what he considers is best for his wife?

How can a wife know she is submitting willingly without subduing her own walk with God and leaning on her husband?

Given these concerns, we are grieved there is an attempt within the Anglican church in one state of Australia  to have the word ‘submit’ used in the official wedding vows. The matter will be voted on in October  and may not go ahead, but the fact that young people so easily believe that this way of doing marriage is biblical and God-honouring, will continue to influence many who are considering their wedding vows.

Young people approaching marriage are rightly concerned with the percentage of failed marriages among Christians and it has been suggested to them that working in this leadership/submission model will make a huge difference for the better. Our experience tells us just the opposite…….that when one person believes they have the ultimate authority under God it destroys the opportunity for a couple to enjoy one another as joint heirs with Christ and to learn how to esteem each other better than themselves.

How can we turn this trend back to encouraging our young people that marriage is essentially about love and one-ness ?

PS:  check out the latest Arise on the r/h side of the homepage to read a further account of this move to change the wedding vows.



  1. JMoss
    Comment #96700 posted September 16, 2012 at 1:22 pm

    It has been my observation over the past 50 years that wedding vows in many cases are meaningless drivel. I think couples should write their own and be honest, i.e., I will leave you at the drop of a hat if I find someone more sexy, who makes more money, etc.

    My husband and I have been together for 50+ years, so this is not a sour-grapes comment.

    • Liz Trevor
      Comment #96701 posted September 16, 2012 at 7:02 pm

      Liz and I have been married for 46 years and knowing what we know now we would have done things so differently in our actual wedding ceremony. I’m pretty sure that we would have had the traditional vows and while Liz’s father wasn’t present at the wedding we still had someone, a dear older christian friend, give her away (to me) as part of the service.

      What we did do was dispense with superstition in that we were both together, still organising things somewhat an hour or so before the ceremony. The reason being that we were both a long way from home, apart from our parents, and had to arrange everything for ourselves. That part was very different and felt good to us both.

      Knowing what we know now we would have had ‘customised’ vows and not have had someone give Liz away to me because of all of the baggage that relates to that. It made us aware that the day belongs to the couple and they should have the freedom to craft their own wedding ceremony and the things that they would like to say to one another as they enter into one-ness. As Pastors we could now put those options before soon to be married people and it made their day that much more personal and special.

      • Liz Liz
        Comment #96703 posted September 16, 2012 at 8:38 pm

        While we didn’t think to write our own vows, I remember we didn’t want the full traditional ones and settled for a shortened version. I didn’t promise to obey :-)

        • JMoss
          Comment #96705 posted September 17, 2012 at 9:09 am

          Many years before the equal rights flap and even more years before I was aware of the word “egalitarian,” I asked that “obey” be taken from our vows. My husband fortunately is not all about “power and control,” so it has not really been an issue, but I did not want to start our marriage by lying to him.

          • Red
            Comment #96758 posted September 26, 2012 at 12:02 pm

            “…but I did not want to start our marriage by lying to him.”


  2. Don Johnson
    Comment #96702 posted September 16, 2012 at 7:51 pm

    Any covenant vows are important, the challenge is that people today often do not understand the principles of a covenant and there is a lot of bad teaching in this area. The basic idea is that the vows form the covenant bond and one party breaking a vow is a reason for the other party to declare the covenant dissolved if they choose. It is actually fairly simple, but it gets complexified and distorted.

    It is true that the wedding should be for the bride and groom and they should come up with their own vows based on what the Bible teaches in this area. But again, there is a lot of bad teaching in this area and a lot of bad examples of vows being offered by people that do not know what the whole counsel of Scripture is in this area. Biblical marriage vows include faithfulness, material support (food, clothes, shelter) and emotional support (sex, love) and both parties make them.

    • Michelle
      Comment #96707 posted September 17, 2012 at 11:10 am

      Yes–my parents actually made identical vows to one another when they got married last year. (Well, technically it was my mother and her new husband, as dad passed away years ago.)

      They searched the Internet for ideas for vows and were unhappy with most of what they saw, as much of it was along the same husband=in charge, wife=whatever you say, honey, lines.

      I am puzzled as to how younger people think this is a good idea, unless they were taught this from a young age.

      • Liz Liz
        Comment #96713 posted September 17, 2012 at 7:02 pm

        The reason so many young people in the more conservative churches are following this trend is because they are told it is biblical and God-honouring as against what ‘the world’ is doing. They are reminded of the failing marriages within the secular and church world and that if couples got back to the biblical ‘ideal’ and ‘roles’ then everything would be so much better.

        • EMSoliDeoGloria
          Comment #96722 posted September 18, 2012 at 11:52 am

          agreed – I’ve also seen young people from conservative backgrounds buck this trend.

          • Michelle
            Comment #96727 posted September 19, 2012 at 1:53 pm

            I’m glad to hear that some young people from conservative backgrounds are bucking the trend: That’s good news. I’ve seen some buck it, and others keep it (the latter being unsurprising).

            The thing is that I am under the impression that there are some young people who were NOT raised up in that particular religious/cultural environment who are nevertheless drawn to making this sort of commitment. I am mystified as to why that may be.

  3. EMSoliDeoGloria
    Comment #96708 posted September 17, 2012 at 11:55 am

    We wrote our own. And we chose the wording very intentionally.

    No promises to ‘loving lead’ or ‘respectfully submit’ or such because we weren’t planning on having a quid pro quo business arrangement but an equal partnership characterized by mutual respect, service, love and honor.

    • Liz Trevor
      Comment #96718 posted September 18, 2012 at 4:08 am

      We both read your vows and your story and found it all incredibly encouraging and inspirational. Thank you for sharing your journey with us. The way that God brought the two of you together should prove to be a blessing to others who are willing to put their trust in God and move into a relationship carefully and intentionally. Getting to know and appreciate one another from the inside out has to be the very best preparation for marriage. BTW, love the vows that you made to one another. Very thoughtful and there is nothing more that you could have promised in committing yourselves to each other for life.

      • EMSoliDeoGloria
        Comment #96721 posted September 18, 2012 at 11:26 am

        Thanks for your encouragement – so far, marriage has been really wonderful and we truly love each other more now than when we made that promise and expect our delight in each other to only deepen in the years to come as we navigate all the challenges and joys of daily life together!

      • Comment #96824 posted October 19, 2012 at 7:05 pm

        This post has helped me think things through

  4. Amanda Beattie
    Comment #96725 posted September 19, 2012 at 2:58 am

    I would like to see more vows where both spouses promise to submit to and serve one another. I think it’s a good way to keep the biblical language and the posture of humility, while still sending a strong message about equality.

  5. Laurie Ljubojevic
    Comment #96729 posted September 20, 2012 at 6:09 pm

    This marriage framework, the man leading and the woman submitting to his dictatorial demands, is a framework for divorce. It is in these relationships where power wars take place, resulting not in shared fellowship, which Christ longs for the church, but embittered battle. Worse than this, though, is the fact that this lead-&-submit framework is the description of a marriage of domestic violence, including marital rape.

  6. J. Martha Compleman
    Comment #96730 posted September 20, 2012 at 6:29 pm

    Notes from the other end of life, At age 82, I now find myself twice divorced by “Christian” husbands for non-biblical reasons. It has been very difficult to come to a place of acceptance. The first time, after 34 years and 4 sons together, I was tormented by the phrase, “until death do us part.” Neither of us had “died.” God eventually helped me see that the relationship had died. We discuss marriage vows as if it were all about 2 persons. Their relationship has its own life and reality, and if it is not well nurtured, it can and does die. The newly formed “one flesh” needs multiple bridges of communication. In addition, each Christian partner has a relationship with God that needs to be acknowledged, nurtured, appreciated and shared. I was slow to realize that marriage may become the primary place where God can bring into the light of Truth what needs to be “put off,” to put on more of Christ.

    • Comment #96734 posted September 21, 2012 at 1:49 am

      Thank you Martha for your wisdom, borne no doubt from a measure of suffering. May your experience help others to think more seriously about the consequences of some of our marriage traditions.

  7. Don Johnson
    Comment #96736 posted September 21, 2012 at 7:26 am

    My daughter is getting married tomorrow. I recommended that she use symmetrical marriage vows, I know they are writing their own.

  8. Christensen
    Comment #96738 posted September 21, 2012 at 9:39 am

    I’ll have to come back and read this more closely, but as I was looking through my friends’ pics on facebook I saw, what I thought, was a foot-washing ceremony for my friend’s parents who recently did a rededication (it turned out to be a foot massage). This got me thinking of the image of Jesus washing the feet of His disciples (the Church, in essence). What do you guys think? I think it would be a great symbol of mutual submission to do a foot-washing ceremony during a wedding – where both the bride and the groom washed each other’s feet. It would then be a visible symbol of what Jesus did for us in that He lay down His rights as God to be our servant, even to the cross (and a turn-around of the husband leading because of his role of “Jesus” in the marriage). This would be more than words but also a visible symbol of how a couple desires to mutually serve and love each other. Those who are married…what do you think? Just throwing out an idea I just had.

    • John D.
      Comment #96741 posted September 21, 2012 at 2:22 pm

      Mutual footwashing as part of the wedding ceremony is not uncommon in Anabaptist wedding ceremonies. My sister’s wedding included it. While it was happening, my mother and I sang a duet of Will You Let Me Be Your Servant – a great song for weddings of mutuality.

  9. John D.
    Comment #96742 posted September 21, 2012 at 2:56 pm

    In the weeks leading up to my own wedding, I searched through various Christian wedding sources, and was fairly disturbed by most of the vows I encountered. The ones which touted up the various folk familiologies that have sprung from bad interpretations of Eph 5 and “head”, or Gen 2 and “help”, were expected, but the really troubling ones were the ones which were nearly symmetrical but essentially put the husband in the wife’s vow as leader, in the very place where Christ was found as leader in the husband’s vow – how could the authors of said vows be so very blind to the blatant idolatry of such a thing?

    Eventually I explicitly searched for “egalitarian wedding vows”, found one I liked to start with, and then my fiancee and I modified it until it suited us. Our vows were identical, and included as an explicit counter to the “headship” rhetoric the following lines:

    As we build a home together,
    I will look to Christ as Lord of our home
    and to you as my partner in service to Him.

    • Liz Trevor
      Comment #96745 posted September 21, 2012 at 7:33 pm

      Thank you John D for both of those comments. The Anabaptist inclusion of footwashing and you and your mother singing, “will you let me be your servant?” Beautiful! Also your search for wedding vows and the words that you finally came up with. Wonderful!

      Thank you Christensen for having that flash of insight to ask that question. I’ve not heard or seen it demonstrated before but it sounds like a wonderful idea to demonstrate mutual submission and a desire to serve one another in humility.

      While Liz and I had traditional vows in our wedding service we were given a wall plaque, as a wedding present, that has these words:

      Christ is the Head of this House
      The Unseen Guest at Every Meal
      The Silent Listener to Every Conversation.

      As I reflect on that, this plaque, which still has prominence in our home, has always been an inspirational part of the whole way we have conducted our marriage, family and church life. Perhaps it was the very beginning of our journey into egalitarianism.

  10. Red
    Comment #96759 posted September 26, 2012 at 12:13 pm

    When I got married, my husband and I said the same vows exactly, and I think the vows avoided any hot-button words like submit or obey. I think we promised to love and serve.

    Really sad that I can’t remember the wording :) But we’re living the principles as best we can, and that’s what counts.

    Other than avoiding the loaded S and O words, we didn’t think much about which vows to pick. We had very clearly discussed our expectations for an egalitarian home ahead of time, and a mutual understanding of that seemed more important to us than the wording. However, I think if we were getting married today, after having a few more years to think about it, we might be pickier about making our vows blatantly egalitarian in some way.

    My dad did give me away, but I have no regrets about that. I completely understand and support couples who choose to break with this tradition, for obvious reasons! I saw it as a special time between father and daughter, a sort of tradition that has moved away from its original meaning and come to instead symbolize the bond between parent and child. (However, maybe sons should be given away too!) I felt like my dad was not so much “giving” me to someone as he was showing his support of what I was about to do.

    My dad insisted that, when asked “who gives this woman to this man,” he was going to say “her mother and I” instead of just “me.” I like to see ceremonies where the minister says “who gives these people to be married?” and all the parents say “we do” in unison. That’s one thing I KNOW I would change if I had my wedding to do over.

    • Liz Trevor
      Comment #96762 posted October 1, 2012 at 5:19 pm

      Yes Red, that observation about parent involvement is a very valid one. I appreciate your sentiment about the father daughter bond too. It has become quite popular, here in Australia, and in our experience, for both parents to stand for the, “who gives this woman to be married to this man?” and say together, “I do.” I like your thought about both sets of parents speaking for the couple instead of just the woman. One thing that Liz and I did a little differently for our youngest son’s wedding was to share the speech at the wedding reception, instead of the father of the groom (only) responding. I scripted it, with Liz’s input and we agreed as to which parts we would read. It was a very liberating experience and I think that the people in attendance really appreciated the change in expected tradition.

  11. Don Johnson
    Comment #96763 posted October 2, 2012 at 6:19 am

    My daughter got married last Saturday. I am so happy for them.

    By her request, I “walked her down the aisle” in an outdoor wedding. The pastor made it very clear that I was not “giving her away” but rather it was an indication of parental blessing on the marriage. They also used symmetrical vows, altho I did not know what they would be doing ahead of time.

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