Thinking Out Loud

April 14, 2014

Should Couples Hold Hands in Church?

Church behaviorDifferent denominations have different ideas as to the appropriateness of what is sometimes called PDA — public displays of affection — in the context of Christian camps or youth group meetings. Any rules that might exist are usually put in place with the intention of applying them to teens and twenty-somethings. Some churches have very strict standards on this, while in others, you’re probably wondering why this topic is here today.

Hand holding is a mark of commitment. If people want to know if it is true that the divorced usher on the east aisle is seeing the alto in the choir, walking in arm and arm should clear up that mystery in a hurry. In the context of gay relationships, in addition to being a gesture of affection, hand holding is really making the statement, ‘Yes, we are gay;’ and so doing this in church is a bold declaration of that situation.

But today I’m not looking at PDAs as physical status updates nor am I as concerned with the puppy love in the youth group. I’m talking about couples who have been married for some time and have nothing they’re trying to broadcast by being affectionate.

Yesterday I attended three different church services. I am always aware of men who put their arms around their wives during the service — and sometimes it’s the other way around — and there are times I do this myself. Whether the church in question has pews or chairs, I like to stretch out anyway, so whether there is an empty seat or it’s my wife sitting next to me, I am likely to do this, though I probably have my arm around her less than half the duration of the sermon.

On the other hand — pun intended — there are the couples who sit really close and the hug lasts the duration of the sermon.  (Except in summer in one church I visit which has no air conditioning.) I always see this as a church service = movie date type of posture. I would hope that in worship we see ourselves as standing before God individually even though as we sing we are worshiping corporately. The worship time is our personal response to God, and not something I can do with my spouse. (A possible exception might be if the worship leader invites everyone to join hands and sing a classic like “We are One in the Spirit,” or “Father Make Us One.”) I would also like to believe that in an ideal world, during the sermon we are busy taking notes, or looking up passages in our Bibles, even when the words are on the screen.

I also believe that during the actual time of the service, our “arm around” is broadcasting more than we realize.

  • It says to everyone that we are happy and committed. (Oh, if only they could see the chaos just ten minutes before we left home!) So in that sense, we are modeling what we consider to be the normal husband/wife relationship. We’re saying that the church family is a place where we are free to express that. It might be the only time we’ve had all week to just sit together.
  • It possibly serves as a major distraction however to singles. It could be a jarring reminder that they are sitting alone; that they have no such relationship; no hand to hold. I’m not sure this is the intention, but with all the other things the church does which tends to cater to couples with 2.4 children, I’m not sure we need one more. (Especially the one where, at the end of the benediction, the couple shares a quick kiss.)
  • It does equate to something we might do at a concert, play or movie. In that sense, we are saying that we are observers; that we are the audience; when the worship environment should be one where we are participants.
  • It gives the aforementioned kids in the youth group unspoken permission to do the same, which when combined with the current trend toward low lighting levels in our modern auditoriums, should beg all kinds of other questions. Can teens with raging hormones get all turned on while the preacher is discussing righteousness and judgment? (It’s a rhetorical question.)

HandsSo while I realize the intentions and motivation in the first case may be pure enough, and while I hate to be The Grinch that ruined the only moment of affection you and the significant other had all week; the second, third and fourth points seem to suggest a more conservative approach. I’m not saying you won’t catch me next Sunday with my arm around my wife, but it’s good to occasionally stop and think our actions through.

What do you think?
Any stories to tell on this subject?





  1. … maybe just interlock your pinkies … very subtle, but less overt.

    While we’re on the whole ‘benediction’ thing, we HATE the shaking hands ‘meet and greet’ part of church. Wish we could bow like the Japanese – but if you’re gonna insist on hand-shakes, the church should supply ‘PUREL’ type products in the backs of the pews. Paul (da Apostle dude) had the right idea with ‘holy kisses’ … they transmit less germs, but who’s gonna institute that one into church policy, huh?

    Comment by Flagrant Regard — April 14, 2014 @ 1:31 pm

    • I dated a girl once and tried to use the holy kiss line. She said, “Yes, but it says a holy kiss and a holy kiss might be a handshake.”

      So there you are, back to square one.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — April 14, 2014 @ 2:08 pm

    • Yup – nothing says “love of Christ” like a five germ-encrusted icicles wrapped around your hand. Most of us have a thing about (or against) touching hands in one way or another. It’s the part you hit with, which is a big trigger to some of us. Also, I eat with my right hand. Can we at least use the left hand to be sanitary? PBS taught me that handshakes come from warm Mesopotamia, at a time when people knew little to nothing about contagious diseases. Let’s leave them there. I favor arm squeezes and pats on the head and will wear a sign around my neck saying as much if necessary. Also – NO EYE CONTACT! It’s very rude to assume that people like you peering through the windows to your soul. I can usually tolerate it if you’re wearing glasses, but I’m pretty tough from being hit so many times. :)

      Comment by pezcita — March 3, 2019 @ 12:56 am

      • This is not about the fellowship time at church, but is an article for married couples. You do realize that, right?

        Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — March 3, 2019 @ 7:54 am

      • Funny follow-up story: Last Sunday, I was expected to attend 2 church services involving hand-touch. As in hand touch only. The later was intended for survivors of domestic violence, which is so rampant here in Illinois that it’s synonymous with marriage and cohabitation. By the time I got home, I needed to be hugged and held so badly that I cried for hours and finally bought a blood pressure cuff to alleviate the pain in my upper arms. That’s life when marriage isn’t an option.

        Comment by pezcita — March 4, 2019 @ 10:36 pm

  2. Yes!! I hold my husbands hand all the time in Church and God loves me all the same and I can still hear Gods voice :)

    Comment by todessakane2013 — April 14, 2014 @ 3:03 pm

  3. “The worship time is our personal response to God, and not something I can do with my spouse.”

    I find this a very odd sentiment. Surely the whole point of corporate worship is that we are responding to God as a group?

    Comment by Trevor Morgan — April 14, 2014 @ 3:49 pm

    • I would have hoped the preceding sentence clarified what I am saying here. We obviously arrive together, we sit together (unlike some religions), and as a couple we join with other believers in the act of worship. But our ultimate response to God is personal and individual. It is not something we can do as a group in that sense.

      So as I say in the final paragraph, I do indeed put my arm around my wife at different points during the sermon. But I think our overall posture should be more related to our meeting with God, and less like a movie date night.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — April 14, 2014 @ 4:04 pm

      • But our ultimate response to God is personal and individual. It is not something we can do as a group in that sense.

        Yes, I understand that that is what you are saying, and that’s where I differ from you – I truly believe that we can respond to corporately as a group. We are, after all, part of a body, not disconnected entities. I believe that worship can be corporate in a spiritual sense as well as in a physical one.

        I know that evangelical theology places a lot of emphasis on the individual’s response to God; and I think that this is an important correction to the idea that our response can be outsourced or delegated to another representative, but I think in doing so we can lose sight of the idea that we connect to God as part of a community. We are, after all, described variously as a body, a vine, a family, a kingdom, a flock, a building and so on.

        My worship is not something I do independently of my brothers and sisters; I do it together with them.

        Comment by Trevor Morgan — April 14, 2014 @ 4:52 pm

  4. There are times we hold hands in Church – as we do whenever we are together – but it would be less likely to be in times of worship or during the message, when I am usually taking notes.
    I have worked with young people for decades and many have commented on how wonderful it is to see such closeness in ‘old’ people . . . and how it gave them reason to believe in a loving and lasting marriage.

    Comment by meetingintheclouds — April 15, 2014 @ 5:43 am

  5. […] Should Couples Hold Hands in Church? And one for the Youth Group! […]

    Pingback by Check out | HeadHeartHand Blog — April 15, 2014 @ 6:01 am

  6. I must admit that I kept waiting for a clear indication that this was satire. I’m surprised how often Christians willingly choose to add more facets of legalism to our lives. I do not believe that I should concern myself with how often and of what duration I hold my wife’s hand or place my arm around her shoulders during worship.

    Comment by Jeremy — April 15, 2014 @ 6:32 am

    • There wasn’t a ‘clear indication that this was satire,’ but you did miss what I said in the last paragraph; namely that my arm is around my wife for as much as half the sermon. Regular readers here will know that a legalist I am not.

      Again, to repeat, my concern is for those whose worship posture resembles a movie date night. It’s one of those “you know it when you see it” things.

      So if you don’t think that applies, then by all means continue doing what you’re doing. The only place we might disagree is “I do not believe that I should concern myself…”

      I think we should concern ourselves with lots of things we don’t; and sometimes we allow the exercise of our liberty to be problematic for someone else.

      Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. I Cor. 8:9

      You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. Gal. 5:13

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — April 15, 2014 @ 8:50 am

  7. This post is thought-provoking and discussion-worthy, for sure, but at least for now I tend to disagree. My husband and I are affectionate during the service, and once a single friend who has known me for years told me (through tears) that it was such an encouragement to see us and it gives her hope in having a gospel-reflecting marriage someday.
    I’m certainly encouraged when I see couples being affectionate during corporate worship. I think it’s good for kids to see that. And hopefully we are warning our youth against acting like they are married if they are not.

    Comment by Hope Henchey — April 15, 2014 @ 9:09 am

    • I’m glad your friend took it that way. It would be great if singles would see our marriages with hope-filled eyes.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — April 15, 2014 @ 9:41 am

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