Arranged Marriage, Love Marriage and Cross-Cultural Marriage
Brother R. Stanley, an Indian post-graduate in Soil Mechanics and
Foundation Engineering, born in 1947 and born again in 1962 is in fulltime Christian service since 1975. He has been honoured with a Doctorate in Divinity by the Hindustan Bible Institute, Chennai in 2000. Notes, outlines and sermons born out of the personal Bible meditations of R. Stanley can be read at http://www.StanleyOnBible.com Materials from this website, launched on 31 August 2002, can be copied for private circulation, but not for publication.The books authored by Brother Stanley in English and translated to a number of Indian languages, and tapes, are available from the Blessing Youth Mission (BYM), http://www.BlessingYouthMission.org an inter-Church revival and missionary-evangelistic organisation in India.
Are Arranged Marriages Better Than Love Marriages?
Arranged marriages, until recently, have been normative in Indian culture. But now the number of love marriages is on the increase. Arranged marriages are an inconceivable idea for the westerners. Eventhough the eastern culture is considered to be too conservative, divorce rate is much less and family ties much stronger here. The modern young people are terribly confused over the issue.
The Bible was written in the middle-eastern culture in which marriages were mostly arranged by parents. God the Creator was the parent for Adam and Eve, and it was He who found the bride for Adam (Gen 2:22). It was Abraham who initiated the bridal hunt for his son Isaac (Gen 24:1-4). Of course there were rare instances of love marriage also, like that of Jacob (Gen 29:18-20).
When parents arrange marriages there’s a tremendous advantage of their wisdom and experience of years incorporated in the choice. As long as they don’t force their sons and daughters to accept their choice, this procedure is welcome. Even in the ancient times, parents gave perfect freedom to their children to accept or reject their proposal. In some Indian homes, even educated girls have no say in this matter. This is wrong. Abraham’s servant was very anxious to take Rebekah to be married to Isaac. But her brother and mother said, "We will call the young woman and ask her personally" (Gen 24:56,57).
Parents must not quote Ephesians 6:1— "Children, obey your parents in the Lord"— in the matter of accepting a proposal made by them. They can suggest... recommend... encourage... and so on, but never force. A son or daughter at marriageable age is not a child but an adult and he or she must became wholly responsible for the final decision of the choice. Both the Testaments speak of this principle (1 Cor 7:39; Num 36:6).
Falling in love is not sin, but love at first sight is risky. Go slow. Consider the pros and cons. Consult your parents, trusted elders and senior Christians before giving word. Commit the matter to the Lord and wait before Him for a season. See if you have peace over the matter. If you are open and sincere, God will guide you with confirmations. If due to some reason or other, your parents don’t agree, but you are assured of God’s will, take time and do all that’s possible to get them reconcile to the matter. Parental blessing is wonderful. Don’t forget that in the Asian setting marriage brings not only two individuals but two families together. Avoid unnecessary conflicts.
Eventhough love marriages are becoming more and more common in India, a recent poll in some of the major cities reveals that nearly 80% of the young people prefer arranged marriages. This is encouraging. However no two young people are alike. Even within a family one child differs so much from the other. King Saul had two daughters, Merab and Michal. For the first one it was arraged marriage and for the next love marriage (1 Sam 18:19,20).
In conclusion let me give my personal opinion. Parents should sit with their grown-up sons and daughters and ask them whether they would like to make the choice themselves or have the parents make proposals. If the children opt for the first, there must be an understanding that the choice must be made known to the parents very early before making commitments. If parents would choose the candidates, they should assure the children that they would not proceed with the matter without their wholehearted consent. Whoever makes the choice, don’t marry in haste lest you worry at leisure!
What About Cross-Cultural Marriages?
Having an evangelistic ministry to young people in a land like India, I cannot avoid this question but must address this burning issue honestly. India is not just a country but a country of countries because of its multicultural dimension. There’s virtually no field here where casteism does not play a part. Marriage is one of them where cultural background is a major factor of consideration for compatibility.
The Bible nowhere discourages directly or indirectly cross-cultural marriages. The only thing it speaks against is a believer in Christ marrying an unbeliever. It challenges, "What part has a believer with an unbeliever?" (2 Cor 6:14,15). The one condition the Bible lays down for a child of God is that he or she must marry only a person who is "in the Lord." Otherwise he or she is at liberty to choose whom he or she "wishes" (1 Cor 8:39b). Abraham’s plea with his servant not to go to the Canaanites to find a bride for his son Isaac but take a bride for him from his own country and kindred was not against a cross-cultural marriage. Abraham did not want his son to return to the land from where God had called him out (Gen 24:1-19). God got angry with Miriam and Aaron who spoke against the cross-cultural marriage of Moses (Num 12:1,9). Joseph’s wife was a non-Hebrew (Gen 41:45).
Personally, while I am not against cross-cultural marriages, I am not advocating them either. Because, even if the bride and the groom are from the same cultural background, there would be so many differences—temperamental, intellectual, spiritual, etc.— they would have to work on to keep their marriage work. Cultural difference will certainly be an additional stress factor. When the Bible says that there’s no difference between Jew and Greek, it is relating to our salvation and standing before God. Jews are not higher than Greeks, and Greeks are not higher than Jews. But the social distinctions do not go off instantly. In the same text the Scripture says that there is neither "male nor female" in Christ! (Gal 3:28). What it then means is obvious!
When whites marry blacks or Easterners marry Westerners, in most instances, the children have identity crisis. When the mother tongue of the bride is different from that of the groom, they do not have a heart language for communication unless they are fluent in a common language. When a man from a civilized mainstream society marries a tribal girl from a hidden people group, all sorts of complications would develop after the honeymoon or even before it’s over! In most of the South Indian communities the groom takes the bride to his house whereas the practice in certain north-eastern States is for the groom settling in the bride’s house, and be submissive to his mother-in-law!!! No wonder according to a recent opinion poll of 18-21 year olds, 84% declared they would prefer marrying within their community. (India Today, 27 Sept 1999). Such a mindset of this segment of Indian society, numbering 56 million, may sound too conservative but it is quite practical.
We do not encourage cross-cultural marriages among the field believers in pioneer missionary work, as this hinders mass movement of people groups as communities embracing the Christian faith. But the prevalent casteism among mature Christians and in old churches is a curse. When young people from caste Hindu families come to Christ, we must do all that’s possible to find them life partners among believers of their own communities. Otherwise their family folks will become more and more hostile and bitter towards anything Christian. Social reformation is not the priority in evangelism. Otherwise Paul in his time would have compaigned against the slave trade. On the other hand to the Jews he became as a Jew and to the non-Jews as a non-Jew (1 Cor 9:20,21).
It won’t please the Lord to reject a marriage proposal purely on caste consideration if other factors are satisfactory. Stern refusal to cross a culture sometimes results in marrying cousins, nephews and nieces which is unhealthy from the medical point of view. I have had the privilege of arranging several cross-cultural marriages which are working well. My wife and I have given freedom to our daughter to marry from any community as long as it is in God’s will. "Thank You, Jesus, for choosing us from Gentiles to become Your bride!"
Stanley On Bible