Spotting the sacred ghost in the era of iWeddings

Let me begin with a few confessions.

First of all, let me stress that I know that there are plenty of weddings that are completely secular or, well, they should have been completely secular. You know what I mean?

Second, I have been to quite a few weddings in recent years, in large part because I sing in our church’s choir and in an Eastern Orthodox wedding the choir is a big part of the proceedings. One of these rites was my daughter’s own wedding. During all of these rites and even, for the most part, the celebrations afterwards it has never entered my mind to whip out my iPhone and put something up online. However, I recognize that I am getting very old and, thus, lived a large chunk of my life before the all-digital era.

Third, I was totally prepared for The New York Times team to leave religion completely out of the fine feature story that ran under the headline: “The ‘I Dos,’ Unplugged.”

However, I was wrong. The story included a brief nod to the fact that some weddings are, imagine that, religious events and, thus, it is rather sad to see them crashed by rampaging hoards of social-media addicts with smartphones. More on that angle in a minute.

Here is the summary paragraph for this slice-of-life-today classic:

The hottest topic in wedding circles this year seems to be whether to request, remind or even require that guests go cold turkey on technology during the event. Everyday couples (which is to say, not just those at risk of being exposed on TMZ) have started treating their guests like paparazzi, confiscating their cellphones and cameras, even throwing them out of the reception if they violate the no-posting-on-Tumblr announcement that the best man makes from under the wedding canopy.

Emily Post, text your office, time for a new mandate: Bridesmaids, thou shalt not Instagram photos of the bride drinking manhattans while getting her hair done in a bun.

On wedding chat boards, brides-to-be fret over the problem: their queries read like dystopian, post-Zuckerbergian versions of Dear Abby. A typical entry might sound like this: “I have a wonderful best friend and she means well, but you should see the photos of my sister’s wedding she put on Facebook — photo bombs of Grandma, drunk Uncle Louis making rabbit ears behind the preacher, my creepy cousin licking the cake, and a shot of the bride and groom contorting as if they needed to go the toilet. My fiance hates cameras. I don’t want a thousand iPads in my face as I’m walking down the aisle. My florist said the flower girls will cry. Help! What do I do?”

Oh. My. God. Are the bride and groom legal and financially liable if someone blows millions on a stock trade because he/she missed a crucial text?

This is great stuff.

I was particularly struck by the fact that many people complain that they cannot possibly be without their phones for an hour or two for medical or even legal reasons. In some cases, professional wedding consultants (it’s hard for me, as an Ortho-dad, to type those words without cracking up laughing) go so far as to offer high-strung people a “cellphone coat check” option that gets the smartphones out of the shaking hands of alleged participants, but allows them to quickly glance at them at strategic moments.

Now, what about that religion angle?

Here is what the Times team offered to readers:

The idea of asking guests to turn away from their devices during the wedding itself is hardly new. Many religious institutions have long banned electronics during services. Rabbi Joe Black, of Temple Emmanuel in Denver, said that when he’s officiating weddings, he asks the couple when they arrive on the pulpit to turn and face the congregation.

“Then I ask everyone to take out their cameras and cellphones and take pictures,” Rabbi Black said. “The cameras snap away. Then I ask everyone to turn them off and be fully present for the bride and groom.”

And that’s that. The minute I saw the word “many” in the phrase about religious institutions I immediately wanted to request a sidebar for this story on that angle and that angle alone. For example, is there a Roman Catholic diocese that has been brave enough to formulate an actual policy on this matter? How about hip techno-driven megachurches?

I mean, in this day and age this issue might be just as hot about the issue of whether priests in sacramental churches should perform weddings for couples that have been cohabiting. I’m not joking.

After all, check out this tip near the end of the article:

SIGNS DON’T WORK, ENFORCERS DO

Forget placing a tasteful sign near the front door; guests will ignore it. You need a bouncer.

A social-media bouncer for your wedding Mass? Just do it.

Anyway, this Times piece included religion, but just briefly. That’s better than nothing, I guess, but there is a huge angle to this delicious topic that is just screaming for a follow-up report.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Sari

    Your post brings back the nightmarish argument we had with my MIL about videotaping our wedding. She wanted, we didn’t, and the officiating rabbi, as a matter of policy, refused it.

    There is no institutional ban, btw. The movie, A Life Apart: Hasidism in America, opens with the wedding of the Gerer Rebbe’s (great?) granddaughter, but that may have been to allow all his followers the experience.

  • Jerry

    That’s an interesting question about cellphones. In my experience, it’s understood that paying attention to how cute a photo will look online is to take one’s attention away from worshiping God. To have a cellphone ring or to pull one out to snap a picture will be first met by a strong wave of disapproval from everyone else and the unspoken assumption that the phone is on by accident and the person made an unconscious mistake. Needless to say, it very rarely happens.

    But I do like the solution of making space for photos. So more about how rabbis and ministers handle the situation would be interesting.

    As to the lack of good taste in that summary paragraph you quoted, I’m not sure what can be done about today’s digital gossip (which is what I rank it as). Anyone who can teach their children good taste and restraint in today’s environment gets a standing ovation from me.


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