Groom Duties

God is In the Details: Religious and Interfaith Ceremonies

My buddy got married to a witch. I don’t mean figuratively or metaphorically; she was an actual, literal, bromstick-and-cauldron witch, technically in the order of “Wicca.” The officiant was a warlock. The ceremony was held at night with torches, spells, and chanting to the elements of Wind, Earth, Water, and Fire. At the climax of the ceremony, the bride and groom clasped hands and jumped over the broomstick.

Todd, my old high school buddy, never had much training in the Dark Arts, but he was agnostic so he rolled with the punches. He told me, “Every religion has some kooky stuff. How is this any different than, say, than turning water to wine?”

This is not to say that you should marry a witch. Or that you should shrug your shoulders and bow to every wacky religious demand. You should, however, take some comfort from this: if Todd can handle frickin’ witchcraft, then you can suck it up for a ceremony that’s interfaith, multifaith, or kindasortafaith.

Every religion has its own idiosyncrasies. Some are dumber than others. So rather than insult each and every culture one by one, we’ll minimize the hate-mail by giving you some broad, across the board guidelines for surviving the God stuff.

1. Try and speak the language

Let’s say you’re traveling in a foreign country. If you presume that everyone else speaks English, then you’re slapped with the label of “Ugly American.” If, however, you at least make an effort to speak the native tongue—even if all you can say is “Escort me to the crapper!”—then you accrue goodwill. Same goes for religion. If her Jewish parents know that you’re Catholic, you will score points by expressing an interest in the customs, knowing a few key terms, and treating the culture with respect. Do a little research. 12 months of your engagement will be much easier after 12 minutes on Wikipedia.

2. Side with the bride

You can disagree. You can have arguments. You can believe in different Gods. Fine. But never take your disagreements public and bitch about her religion (or her family’s religion) to your parents. Listen to Michael Corleone: “Never take sides against the family.” And starting this second, your family is her.

3. Fake it

Don’t sell out your principles, but if religion isn’t important to you either way—but it is to her and/or your families—it won’t kill you to be a good sport. Play along. This isn’t the time for indignant defiance. If she can fake it in the sack, then you can fake it at the altar.

4. Pick the right officiant

Ideally this is someone you know. It’s your friendly neighborhood pastor or rabbi that you see every weekend. Why use some random dude to say the most important, most binding words that you will ever hear? There should be only one random dude in this ceremony that you don’t know that well and don’t want to know: the bride’s father.

If you don’t have a go-to God-guy? Ask around. Do your research. Somewhere in Chicago, there’s a groom who was looking for an officiant, didn’t do his homework, looked online, saw a nice elderly reverend and said, “Hey. Now this guy looks good. He’s the head of a great church. He does lots of charity work. I’m sold! Let’s use him…what’s that name again… Reverend Jeremiah Wright.” The officiant matters. The vetting process matters. Especially in interfaith ceremonies, you need someone who’s been there, done that, and won’t get all fire-and-brimstone on that ass. Ask many questions. Ensure that they’re cool with incorporating other elements, mixing up the readings, breaking a glass and shouting Mazal Tov.

5. Don’t run up the score

If you have two faiths to balance and you choose to go with only one religion, don’t go overboard with the one that “wins.” It’s like taunting after a touchdown. Find ways to include (or at least not bitch-slap) the other religion. Incorporate some readings. Make sure your officiant knows that 50% of the guests will be Muslim, so he shouldn’t go on and on about how if you don’t worship Jesus Christ, then you will burn in the fiery pits of hell.

6. Keep your eye on the prize

Don’t get distracted from what’s important. You could win the battle (the service you want) and lose the war (relationship with your in-laws). Remember: the wedding is one day. Your relationship with your in-laws is one big pain in the ass that will last for years.

7. Please no one

“Compromise” is often defined as a solution that makes everyone equally unhappy. This might be your best bet. If you’re taking incoming fire between two warring factions of religious fury, it might be easier just to say SCREW IT and go non-denominational. Then, to appease the families, your secular officiant can read passages from the Bible, Koran, or Torah.

8. Do a two-fer

We don’t live in the 1750s. Interfaith marriages aren’t a new problem. Almost every church, temple, or place of worship will have some possible solutions. You can mix and match virtually any two faiths, even jamming a Baptist and Hindi ceremony back-to-back with two different officiants. There are no longer any “rules.” It’s sort of like an orgy cruise-ship with the 2005 Minnesota Vikings: anything goes.

9. Include, include, include

Every step of the way you need to include your family and her family. Find out what rituals are important to them. Go to ceremony with them. Pretend to listen and care. Ask if they have any favorite readings or passages. (Parents love that shit.)

10. Think twice about Joey.

Ever since the Friends episode where Joey got ordained to be a wedding officiant, million of couples have thought that maybe, just maybe, it’d be cool to have their best friend do the honors. It’s not. As easy as this gig looks, your friend will probably clam up, stutter, and fumble throughout the 200-person ceremony. High risk, no reward—it’s like not using a condom at a Tahiti brothel.

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