Before we moved to Dubai four years ago to plant a church the only information I had about arranged marriages was what I saw in movies. As I’ve come to minister alongside and disciple some wonderful, Spirit-filled women in arranged marriages, the gospel has shaped my ministry in this context.
Obstacles & Opportunities
While marriages that are arranged present some unique obstacles, unique opportunities have also surfaced. Said another way, the gospel is for everyone, and followers of Christ are called to set aside cultural presuppositions as we make disciples. Examples of this abound in the Book of Acts and in Paul's letters. Our calling is no different now.
It is my hope that in sharing the lessons I've learned about discipleship and arranged marriages that some principles and examples of grace will speak to the ability of the gospel to transcend geo-political and cultural boundaries with the message of hope and renewal and salvation found only in Christ Jesus.
Gospel Hope for Arranged Marriages
I know we may be tempted to think that perhaps some relationships are outside the realm of gospel application. Some issues and situations are just too different, we reason. But the gospel is thoroughly relevant to any and all relationships. God, in his all-powerful sovereignty, governs our relationships—even the relationships that seem from the outset to be entirely orchestrated by us.
The gospel even informs and shapes arranged marriages.
There are many varieties of arranged marriages, but not a single one of them is planned outside of the providential will of our sovereign God.
Some arranged marriages are brilliant testimonies to God’s manifold wisdom as thoughtful parents and young adults are guided by the Holy Spirit. Some arranged marriages speak of God’s common grace and his merciful redemption in spite of our faithlessness and reckless planning. And sadly, some arranged marriages are cause for mourning as families and couples’ lives intersect with each other in the midst unrighteous deeds that will bring God’s judgment if they don’t escape through trusting the Son. One such example of this would be the arranged marriages of “child brides,” in which case legal authorities ought to intervene to protect the rights of children to not be given in marriage.
It goes to follow that some “love marriages” (as they are commonly called) are testimonies to God’s manifold wisdom. Some are beautiful pictures of his redeeming love despite our failures. And some desperately need to be introduced to Christ Jesus, the one who epitomizes, initiates, and sustains love.
In our consideration of how the gospel is thoroughly relevant to arranged marriages, it is evident that arranged marriages are not dissimilar to love marriages in their dependence on Jesus Christ for all things pertaining to life and godliness.
The Opportunities of Differences - Vested Interest
As similar as arranged marriages and love marriages are in their dependence on the gospel, there are some practical differences to note. I’ll mention two of these unique qualities of arranged marriages and their relationship to gospel-centered discipleship.
A first note of difference is that in an arranged marriage the community and family have a greater degree of collective input in match-making and the perseverance of the marriage. This vested interest in a marriage often results in a greater degree of accountability for the new couple. The new couple is expected to fall in line with the expectations of the community and family in almost every arena of married life. This vested interest on the part of the community can mean increased support for the new couple. For the sake of the community, families and neighbors are more likely to come alongside new couples with practical helps and counsel.
The gospel sustains arranged marriages in communities that are reborn through imperishable seed. The gospel is also thoroughly relevant to arranged marriages in non-Christian contexts as well. In these cases, the couples must remain intentionally and deeply committed to fellowship in their local church where gospel-centered discipleship can happen. As the couple receives encouragement and edification from the gospel-centered community, they shine as lights in a dark world.
The Opportunities of Differences - Working Knowledge
A second note of difference is that in many arranged marriages the new couple does not enter marriage with a “working knowledge” of their spouse. Their families may have been friends since they were children, but often in cultures that practice arranged marriages the young men and young women do not socially intermix. In these cases, the practical discussions that occur in premarital counseling are territory that is likely covered after the covenant of marriage has already been made.
In this instance the foundation of the gospel is even more obvious. When encouraging a friend to stay faithful to their arranged marriage you do not have the surface-level motive of “Remember why you got married” as a motivator from which to draw. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19) becomes manifestly important! We must choose to love one another with the strength that Christ provides to the praise of God the Father. This strength comes from being rooted and grounded in the love of Christ as it is displayed in the gospel of grace.
Don’t be reluctant to counsel your friend in an arranged marriage toward their dependence on Jesus Christ as the author of their faith. The trunk of their family tree may look different, but the roots of the gospel are the same and the fruits of the Spirit are universally sweet.
Gloria Furman is a member of Redeemer Church of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates where her husband Dave is the pastor. They have three children - Aliza, Norah, and Judson. Gloria blogs regularly at Domestic Kingdom.
For more on living the mission of Christ, check-out Winfield's book Grow: Reproducing Through Organic Discipleship.