Updated: Aug 15
A Redemptive Approach:
Marriage is a beautiful institution defined not by mere sociological constructs but as a God-given mandate for the good of creation and the fame of its Creator (cf. Gen. 2:24; Matt. 19:6; Mk. 10:9). Such findings, in turn, cement and gird the covenantal union between one man and one woman within a theological framework. Correspondingly, these endeavors have brought about generation upon generation of structure that has led to human flourishing such as procreation, community discourse/engagement, and more (see here). This is indicative, then, of the conceptual structure which informs creation of God’s intent in magnifying Himself in all things (cf. Job 38:4-39; Jer. 33:2; Ps. 136:5; Rom. 1:20; Col. 1:16). Marriage, in kind, becomes a drama of sorts which speaks to the tender love and care that God has bestowed upon His covenantal people through the atoning work of Christ (cf. Eph. 5:32). Thus, marriage must not be taken lightly and, furthermore, must be held with the greatest degree of respect—especially among the covenantal people of God.
You Cannot Honor What You Do Not Know. Second and third generation Hmong find themselves in a difficult and awkward predicament. What is being navigated through at the grassroot level, in my opinion, is an attempt to comprehend the unity/distinction between “Hmong-Married” and “Officially-Married.” What are the differences? Are there any differences to speak about? How are we to understand the time period between the traditional “Hmong-Wedding” and the “White (Dress) Wedding?” Can the couple consummate the marriage after the traditional “Hmong-Wedding?” When can the bride go home with the groom? How should Christians pivot through the hordes of questions? How do we honor God amid both weddings? Is what is being done honoring to God? If not, in what ways? Can there be a redemptive outlook amid the cultural influences of Hmong and Western ideologies?
What I am finding more and more among my colleagues and young friends (some of whom I have come to know as students through youth ministry engagements) is a genuine wrestling pertaining to a theological understanding of the cultural process of marriage amid the Hmong-Christian context. What seems to be occurring within this sliver of cultural expression is not necessarily a redemptive adaptation toward “Christian” ideals, but rather a mere assimilation into western culture. Is that a good thing? Is there a way to think and, consequently, feel about the current model that is being predicated? Are there ways we can redeem the process? How can we display a “Christian” representation amid two competing cultures? How are we to understand this time span in the life of two individuals who are seeking to commit themselves covenantally to one another? What does it mean to be traditionally “Hmong Married?” What does the “White (Dress) Wedding” signify? How can we honor God when we lack an adequate level of biblical understanding in comprehending the whys to what we do?
Questions Toward A Cultural and Consistent Expression of Truth:
To a certain degree—especially from where we stand in history—we may not find a definitive solution to the theological and cultural expression of martial union within the confines of Hmong Christianity in America. Either way, I find it necessary and inescapable to ask the crucial questions in order to assist the Hmong church in mining through their conjugal unions in such a way as to remain above reproach and, in turn, honoring to God. In saying that, what we may find in this article are more questions than answers, but I believe that asking the right questions will eventually assist us in venturing toward clearer pastures.
Where is the Final Covenantal Declaration? It is my understanding that in order to truly reflect a “Christian” union in biblical marriage there must clearly be covenantal declarations between both bride and groom (cf. Gen. 2:24; Mal. 2:16; Ruth 1:14; Ezek. 16:8). In saying this, I am not devaluing nor am I discrediting any marriage that may not necessarily demonstrate such cultic practices (especially within the Hmong cultural standpoint). What I am arguing for, however (if our emphasis is upon the Hmong Christian context), is a Scripturally principled anchor that fuels our approach in comparison to the antithetical practices of Hmong shamanism/culturalism and/or the sheer sexual revolution of western consumption.
Thus, where are the covenantal commitments being conveyed as well as finalized and, furthermore, what are the familial and/or communal affirmations to legitimize the ceremonial union? If one answers, “the traditional Hmong-Wedding!” Why is marital consummation (sexual intimacy) withheld, then? In addition, why is the bride encouraged, let alone mandated, to remain with her family until a later time? If the traditional “Hmong-Wedding” truly signifies marital union, why not grant the bride and groom their marital privileges? Why does the community not fully acknowledge their covenantal commitment? By asking these probing questions, in my opinion, we begin to see that though the traditional “Hmong-Wedding” has value, it cannot necessitate nor cement the covenantal union (at least in the way that it is being done in our current context with dual ceremonies). In my estimation, the traditional “Hmong-Wedding” is an engagement ceremony of sorts.
Modern ways of thinking may assume, though, “who cares about what other people think!” Yet, covenantal declaration is not only for newlyweds, rather its ripple effect impact and impinge upon the broader societal fabric of interaction. Think of, for instance, the husband’s engagements with persons of the opposite gender. No longer can he “play the field” because the conjugal commitment individually and communally ensure that his social status has changed. Thus, it is imperative that what “God has joined together, let not man separate” (Mk. 10:9; italics mine). Community engagement and affirmation is part and parcel to the covenantal union.
In this fashion, it would seem to conclude that the “White (Dress) Wedding” functions as the official wedding date in which covenantal vows are conveyed and affirmed by both parties along with the families and friends in attendance. Moreover, I would view the traditional “Hmong-Wedding” as a betrothal ceremony or an engagement party that initiates covenantal conversations.
Is the Wedding Just Formality? Some have argued that the “White (Dress) Wedding” is mere formality while the traditional “Hmong-Wedding” legitimates the conjugal union. First, as was stated above, though I find significance in the traditional “Hmong-Wedding,” I do not see it as sufficient to sanction the covenantal vows (especially if the “White (Dress) Wedding” is being anticipated by both parties). Second, if the “White (Dress) Wedding” is mere formality, we have too low of a view on the act of ceremonial union. “In other words,” according to Wayne Grudem, “when a marriage occurs, it is not merely a human ceremony. Rather, something deeply spiritual happens. God Himself joins the couple together in a spiritual union as husband and wife—their union is something that ‘God has joined together.’” Thus, when the bride and groom stand amid the proverbial altar of the Lord, they are making a profession not merely toward each other, but before their covenantal Lord who has instituted marriage itself. As Christians, the solemn commitment cannot be truncated to solely convey a physical nor naturalistic correspondence, but, conversely, is a supernatural pact made in Christ Jesus Himself. In saying that, to view the ceremonial celebration as a simple convention in order to get to the real scope of marriage is to strip it of its significance.
When is the Green Light Given? As covenantal declarations play a fundamental role in the conjugal union between bride and groom, marital consummation—sexual unity—ratifies such sanctions. Yet, to withhold intimacy not only as a marital rite but as a communal approval speaks to the notion that the traditional “Hmong-Wedding” is not necessarily seen as the culmination of matrimonial attestation. If so, why withhold such rites? If it is to keep the “purity” of the bride and groom upon the altar, what law have they broken if they are truly married under the traditional “Hmong-Wedding” rubric (if that is the measuring rod)? How are we, then, evaluating the differing ceremonies that are being engaged in throughout the marital process?
A Much-Needed Consideration:
Marriage has been instituted as a gift to creation for the purpose of magnifying the covenantal Lord of the universe. Thus, as the Hmong Christian community continues to move forward in marital union, the church must serve her people well by painting a clear biblical picture on how to engage in such endeavors to the glory of God. By holding a high view of marriage, the church not only thinks rightly of the God-ordained institution but, consequently, elevates its affections in concert with the decrees of God. This means that the assembly of saints must think deeply upon the implications of her practices and, in turn, allow the axiom of theological discourse to direct her predicament. The intention of this article is not to loosen the biblical principles that gird our praxis in covenantal union, but rather to inform how we, the church, must engage in order to exemplify the majesty, wonder, and glory of the living God. Thus, to take these questions as a liberalization or secularization of Hmong Christian engagement misses the heart and motive of such works.
Though there are multiple scenarios that can play into the cultural expression of Hmong Christian weddings, the Scriptures have not left the assembly of saints without a firm foundation. In abiding by His Word, the church must be a people who not only function upon the skeletal structures of biblical truth, but, additionally, be filled with a substance that is saturated upon spiritual wisdom. Consequently, the younger generation and the church-at-large would be well served by pastor-theologians who wrestle sacrificially and tirelessly through these initial questions in providing biblically informed responses for the good of the covenantal community. Thinking rightly, in short, produces informed practices which, in this instance, is needed as the Hmong church moves forward in a secularized age.
 Frame asserts that God’s truth and law is woven into the make-up of creation in order to display the majesty of the Lord. “God reveals His standards to us in His deeds and in His personal self-revelation, but most explicitly in His revealed law. His law is not arbitrary, but is based on His own nature. The moral law is not something above Him, that has authority over Him. Nor is it something He has created, as if (as nominalism would have it) He could change it at will (making adultery to be virtuous, for example). Rather, His moral standard is simply Himself, His Person, His nature. His acts are righteous because He is a righteous God. Righteousness, therefore, is His desire, His pleasure.” See John M. Frame, The Doctrine of God (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2002), 448.  Wayne Grudem, Christian Ethics: An Introduction to Biblical Moral Reasoning (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018), 701.
McYoung Y. Yang (MDiv, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; ThM, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) is the husband to Debbie and the father to McCayden (12), McCoy (10), McColsen (8), and DeYoung (5). He is a Teaching Pastors at Covenant City Church in St. Paul, MN. McYoung is continuing his doctoral studies at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, MO. His ambition is to use his training as a means to serve the local church in living life through the Gospel lens.