The Southern Baptist Convention's lead ethicist, Russell Moore, has said he doesn't allow the couples he marries to write their own vows because he believes the marriage oath should be more than a proclamation of a couple's love, but also a type of pact by which friends and family will hold them accountable.
Answering a question from a podcast listener who plans on writing personalized vows for an upcoming wedding, Moore explained: "In a biblical understanding of marriage the couple is being given to one another, and there is an accountability, a public accountability for the marriage, for the wedding."
The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission president emphasized that the friends and family gathered at a ceremony are more than guests — they're witnesses. "That's why in the traditional Anglican wedding ceremony we gather 'in the sight of God and these witnesses to join this man and this woman in holy matrimony.'"
He said the witnesses at a Christian wedding "are representing the body of Christ to hold you accountable to these vows, to help you through these vows and to support you as you seek to keep these vows."
Moore's interpretation of the marriage ceremony puts a tremendous amount of weight on the content of the vows.
As a result, he advised: "A couple starting out a wedding frankly don't know the vows that they need to make without the rest of the body of Christ, with[out] those who've gone before them. They are not thinking about what happens when we find out that our small child is dying with cancer. They don't think about what happens if one of us commits adultery and we have to work through the aftermath of that. The rest of the body of Christ is speaking of the fact that the vows you are making to one another aren't simply when things are in conditions as they are right now, and it's not simply when things are in conditions that you can imagine right now, but it's in sickness and in health; for richer, for poorer; till death do us part. Those are the sorts of vows that ought to be made."
Moore added that he typically uses the Book of Common Prayer when officiating a wedding ceremony.
For couples concerned about their vows sounding too generic, Moore assured them that the sameness of the marriage vows is what gives the ceremony its charm. "The people who are gathered there who are married ought to be seeing a reenactment, in as much as possible, of what it is that they themselves have vowed to do."
The effect, he said, of one's vows should be that married couples witnessing your big day should be able to recall and relive their own marital oath through the reciting of marriage vows.