In 1995, I was serving as an active-duty Air Force chaplain in the San Francisco Bay Area when a helicopter pilot called asking if I perform “all weddings.” At first I said, “sure,” but his phone call had such an odd approach to it, that I thought I should qualify my answer.
“I’m a Protestant chaplain, and I do all Protestant weddings,” I said.
I’m not sure he heard my limitations because he still scheduled the premarital counseling. The couple came to my office that afternoon holding hands and in good spirits. They asked to see a written copy of the ceremony I would use.
They were studying the script together when the pilot blurted out a question. “Would it be possible for you not to talk so much about God?”
The woman added some explanation. “Our friends are going to be offended if you mention God and the Bible.”
I tried to gently explain that I couldn’t officiate a Christian wedding without using Christian vows because I was, well, a Christian.
The woman leaned forward in her chair and made her confession. “I should have told you. I’m Wiccan.”
“Yeah,” I said, “You definitely should have mentioned that.”
As a group, Wiccans are generally peaceful and tolerant people. They are a nature-based religion. They do have witches, but not witches in the sense of potions and spells. They don’t worship the devil. In fact, they don’t believe in the devil. “I can’t do the wedding,” I said, “but perhaps you can get a justice of the peace.”
The woman nodded in agreement, but I could see that her fiance was getting furious. “But you said you did all weddings, no matter what denomination,” protested the pilot.
Military members are entitled to use the chapel with no charge, and chaplains aren’t allowed to charge for their services. The result is that we get a lot of calls from bargain hunters who have never been in church. This pilot was one of them.
I reminded him of our phone call when I said I do Protestant weddings and I tried to explain that Wiccans aren’t just another break in the Baptist Church. He remained unmoved.
The woman confronted her fiance: “Dear, don’t you understand? We would be hypocrites for saying the Christian vows and the chaplain would be a hypocrite for officiating a wedding for people he knows don’t believe the Christian vows.”
Wow, I was under her spell. Her words were so profound that I have repeated them to nearly every engaged couple who has come to my office.
This Wiccan had a sense of her own worth, but her fiance was more interested in bargain hunting, to the point of denying something that was important about who she was. He was a bargain hunter trying to smuggle God into a relationship where God was not wanted.
We often try to haggle the price of our integrity. We try to hide who we are because showing who we really are might cost us something. But in the end, if we have to conceal who we are, if we sell out who we are, it has cost us everything.
Norris Burkes is a syndicated columnist, national speaker and author of “No Small Miracles.” Email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit thechaplain.net.
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