A recent post by Cr@ig on Main Street Plaza caused me to reflect on the strength of interfaith marriages. I had hoped to generate a follow-up post on this topic at MSP. However, since the comments on the Cr@ig’s post devolved into a blame game of whether the believer or non-believer was more responsible for marital dissolution, I decided it was probably best to avoid a second opportunity for mud-slinging.
Differences in religious belief can be the death knell to a marriage. For that reason, many organized religions strongly advocate against being “yoked with unbelievers”. This is not only a Mormon phenomenon; you see this in any faith tradition that teaches that they alone have exclusive access to God. Even before marriage, it is rare for the unmarried, devout Mormon to even consider dating (let alone marrying) a non-Mormon; most LDS women raised in the Church are taught from an early age to make a temple marriage to a returned missionary their primary goal.
Likewise, in the Catholic Church, marriage to any non-Catholic (including Protestants!) is not permitted within a Catholic church building, and is not considered to be a Sacrament. In particularly conservative Catholic cultures, it really is considered a heresy to marry someone not of the (same rite of the) Catholic Church. Consider, for example, the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding: Toula refuses to marry Protestant Ian until he joins the Greek Orthodox Church (thus leading to a humorous scene of Ian being baptized).
Similar to Mormon ‘Marriage Prep’ and ‘Temple Prep’ Sunday School courses, dating Catholic couples are required to pursue a several-month course of marriage preparations classes, known as Pre-Cana. Similar to Mormons, Catholics who have pre-marital sexual relations (usually known from the resulting offspring) cannot be married on Catholic church grounds. However, they can have their marriage “convalidated” at a later date, similar to to a family being ‘sealed’ a year after a civil marriage.
I compare these things not so much to indicate how Catholics do things so much as to show just how non-unique Mormons are in many ways with regards to their approach to interfaith marriage.
Disbelief that comes after marriage, however, is harder to deal with. Despite the admonition of Paul in the 1 Corinthians that:
[I]f any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is consecrated through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is consecrated through her husband. Otherwise, your children would be unclean, but as it is they are holy. (1 Cor. 7:12-14)
it is really not all that uncommon to see marriages Mormon temple marriages dissolve once one member of the union loses faith. The same can also be true in Catholic culture, where one of the vows made at the altar is to raise your children Catholic.
A few examples, then, to illustrate some of what I am talking about:
A Mormon female friend of mine (who also happens to be a reader of this blog) attended a non-LDS university for college. Her Patriarchal Blessing was explicit that she was to marry an RM in the temple. When a Baptist schoolmate asked her on a date, she turned him down several times before giving him an ultimatum: She would only go on a date with him if he would read the Book of Mormon and consent to taking the missionary discussions. Confident that the Mormon church was misguided, and that he could show her the error of her ways, he consented. He joined the LDS Church and they two were married in the temple a year later. Obviously, she and the Church would consider this example to be a huge success story; his Baptist family, in contrast, at that time considered their daughter-in-law to be the devil incarnate. (I suspect that they mellowed with time).
Another friend at the same university for four years dated a non-Mormon off and on, and was fairly involved with him physically (although never so far that she needed to go to the Bishop). She loved him and he proposed to her, but since he was not interested in the Church, she said no. Several years later, she met and married a convert of 1 year, in the temple. Another Church success story.
A Jewish friend attended a Jew-friendly university, but did not find a spouse. She later moved to an area in the Midwest that was predominantly Protestant, and met and fell in love with a Protestant. They moved in together, but when her family would call or visit, she threw him out of the house for the weekend. When her parents found out that she was dating this man, they first gave her a series of lectures on being ‘married under the canopy’ and of all that her grandmother had suffered at Auschwitz. They then cut off all verbal communication with her. When the grandmother found out about the boyfriend, she literally suffered a stroke. She broke up with the boyfriend, and later married an Orthodox Jew and was welcomed back into her family.
A Muslim co-worker of my husband’s met and married a Hindi woman. The parents of the Muslim refuse to acknowledge their daughter-in-law, and the parents of the Hindu refuse to call the Muslim by his real name, instead calling him by the Hindi equivalent.
When I married my husband, we were both Mormon, however I had converted to the Church as a young adult. My mother’s side of the family (who are culturally Catholic) refused to speak with my husband at family functions and boycotted our wedding. Indeed, my own marriage might now be considered as an interfaith marriage, with each of us losing our faith in the LDS Church and taking divergent faith paths. I’ve left the LDS Church and now consider myself a post-Mormon liberal Catholic, returning to the faith of my mothers (since Catholicism in America is largely passed down matriarchally). My husband is an agnostic atheist who remains actively Mormon: regularly attending his meetings and ‘magnifying’ his calling, held in the church by the faith of his fathers. My family is urging me to do what my responsibility as a Catholic mother would be: to baptize my son Catholic and raise him in the Catholic Church.
And so it goes, and so it goes. Its remarkable how adherents of all faiths claim that God will only recognize marriage in their church.
Through it all, my husband and I have retained enormous respect for each other and our religious decisions, as well as the effect that those decisions have on our son. I think respect for each other is really the only way such marriages can survive. My husband’s loss of belief was founded in his respect for me: Trusting that my reasoning was sound, he wanted to determine for himself what validity there was in my conclusions. Obviously, we came to different end-points, but part of respect is learning to accept (and even welcome) differences of opinion and conclusion.
My questions for the readership are these:
- What are your stories?
- How can a couple who finds themselves in a Mormon interfaith marriage make the relationship work?
- Is it possible to maintain a believing Mormon/non-believer relationship?
- If so, what components are required?