How appropriate to celebrate this second night of Hannukah with not one but two queries about interfaith marriage. Read them with me, dear AMG community, by the dwindling light of the menorah:
I am a single woman in my early 30s, and I’ve been a member of the Mormon Church my whole life. I learned to read by reading the Book of Mormon. I grew up in Utah, attended BYU, and served a mission. I can count on one hand the number of Sundays I’ve missed sacrament meeting in the past ten years. Mormonism is fundamental to my religious beliefs and my personal sense of identity, and it is the community that I identify with most strongly.
For about a year now, I’ve been dating a man who is not a member of our church (I’m avoiding the temptation here to go on a long digression about what an incredible person he is, how supportive he is of me, and how much I love him). Early in our relationship, I gave some thought to the question of whether I would ever be willing to marry a non-Mormon. As our relationship has progressed, this vague hypothetical question has led to some much more concrete thinking about what an interfaith marriage would be like for me, for him, and for us. How could I help a non-Mormon spouse to feel like a member of my ward family when he is not a member of my church? I am willing to add his religious observances to our worship as a couple and as a family, but should I also be willing to give up some of my participation in my own faith – for example by attending the temple or Sunday services slightly less often in order to spend more time as an entire family? Is it wrong to make those types of sacrifices? Is it wrong not to? Is it naive to think we could raise our children to fully participate in two different faiths? If it is even possible, would it strengthen or weaken their ability to develop a personal relationship with their Heavenly Father?
The doctrinal and afterlife issues around a non-temple marriage are an entirely different topic, and one that I am personally much more at peace with than my questions about how one might make an interfaith marriage work in this life.
I realize that the answers to many of these questions may be different for every family, and that we need to continue to discuss them more as a couple as we continue to think about our future. Still, I would be interested to hear your perspective and that of your readers.
For the first time in my life, at age twenty-seven, I am in a relationship that is good and loving and serious enough that I believe it may lead to marriage. The man I’m dating is amazingly kind, generous, intelligent, funny, honest, affectionate, and hard working. And while I’ve grown up in the Mormon church and been a member my whole life, this very good man was raised Catholic and now claims no church or religious faith. Like many single members of the church, I have often wondered whether I would be willing to marry someone outside of the temple, and over the past few years I have come to believe that I would be willing to do so. Now that my boyfriend and I are beginning to talk about a future together, though, I realize that I need to consider this question of marrying outside of the church very carefully. So much of what I have been taught during my lifetime as a member of the church has conditioned me to see any marriage that isn’t a temple marriage as as settling for less, even as disappointing to God, but I don’t think that marrying someone outside of the temple and striving for an eternal marriage are mutually exclusive. I have observed in relationships among friends and family inside and outside of the church that holding a temple recommend does not guarantee a strong, happy marriage. On the other hand, my religious faith is so much a part of who I am that I worry marrying someone who is not religious, let alone Mormon, may present obstacles I can’t even begin to anticipate.
I intend to spend some quality time in the temple, with my bishop, and with close family and friends as I think and pray my way through this decision, but I would also value your insights into this.
Ladies, I sure can’t tell you who to marry, but because you asked, I’m going to say something here I’ve never said in public before:
I am not sorry I married outside the LDS faith. Not one little bit.
The lessons I’ve learned? Wow. They could fill a book, the stories I could tell! Like the other night when my husband was standing in front of the kitchen window in his pajamas threatening to shoot the inflatable snowpeople on the neighbor’s lawn with a BB gun because he so dislikes Costco Christmas cuteness in his line of sight. Hilarity.
Interfaith marriage. Frequently hilarious. But easy? No, of course it’s not easy. It’s freaking marriage! And you will be shocked! Shocked! SHOCKED! At just how frequently grown men miss the toilet when they pish (there’s some Yiddish for you) in the middle of the night. By exactly how much ESPN gets watched in the course of a man-day. And how little some men understand the value of a well-dusted baseboard. It is positively shocking.
But wait a minute! you say. It’s not just non-Mormon spouses who love SportsCenter more than housework. Exactly. What I’m saying is that marriage itself is quite the learning experience—for everyone. It kicks just about everybody’s butt. Interfaith marriage is but one variety of the learning experience. And there are questions and lessons that dual-faith couples face that zero-faith or single-faith households do not.
Will people have feelings about your interfaith marriage? Of course. They might be disappointed, or overjoyed, or judgmental, or supportive. And their feelings about your marriage are their business—not yours. Of course, your parents will care most. Especially if they’re Mormon and you’re Mormon and you’re marrying a non-Mormon, it may be pretty difficult. It may change your relationship to them forever. But that parent-child relationship was bound to change anyways as you become an adult. All parent-child relationships do. Be gentle with them and yourself.
What about the folks at church? Only idiots are unfriendly to non-Mormon spouses. Because what are Mormons about? Converts, baby. Converts! Even if you and your spouse have a signed-in-blood pact that you will never try to convert him—it’s worth considering—the Mormons around you won’t be able to help themselves. Missionaries will love your non-member husband, especially if he’s the friendly type. Every new set will see your man with fresh and hungry eyes as a potential golden contact. And unless they are total cretins your ward members will love him too. And if you do belong to a ward full of cretins, you must do everyone a favor and just ignore them until they go extinct. Because people who have problems with interfaith families must needs shortly become a thing of the past. Today, at my ward sacrament meeting, in the back section of the chapel where I was sitting, all the women except one were Mormon wives in interfaith families. Welcome to the future.
No, it’s not really important if other people have feelings about your interfaith marriage. But it is important to be ruthlessly honest with yourself about how you feel about it. And you must be honest in your conversation with God about it. Mormon theology is pretty clear: to go to the highest levels of heaven, you must marry a fellow Mormon in the Mormon temple. But Mormon theology is also rich with opportunities for second chances. I’m a firm believer in the God-is-big-life-is-long-there-is-a-plan-for-all-of-us school of Mormonism. That’s because, it turns out, I largely failed the I-have-all-the-answers-worked-out-in-advance-and-execute-them-perfectly variety of Mormonism. And guess what: God roots for both our teams–the hopeful screw-ups and the straights. God loves every last one of us, regardless of religious affiliation.
And here’s the big story God gave us to make sense of all these situations: you have a choice in this life–stay in the garden naked and simple, stick to your holding pattern, or make a choice, take a bite, get dressed and go learn something. Be fruitful and multiply. Fall in love, learn, make some mistakes, laugh, serve other people, reproduce, and let the whole story start again. That’s what it’s all about.
Do you really love him, honey? Mazel tov. Is he really “amazingly kind, generous, intelligent, funny, honest, affectionate, and hard working”? Tov meod. And can you talk about hard things together? If so, then step away from the internet and go look him in the eyes and take his hands and start asking him all the questions you asked me. Because if your marriage is going to make it, you’re going to have to talk and talk and talk about all this stuff until it’s all talked out, and then like all the other married couples around the world—interfaith or single faith or no faith at all; Hindu, Jewish, Mormon, Muslim, Methodist, Catholic, atheist–you can do the dishes, dance in the kitchen, worry over the bills, tuck in the kids, pull up the covers, watch the Daily Show, kiss goodnight, say your prayers (together, separately, what have you) and fall asleep.
There’s so much more to say—so very much more. But as long as you’re in love and talking and working out all the details together, it should be okay. I hope. Keep me posted, please. And if you do reproduce, keep an eye out for my friend Susan KatzMiller’s book On Being Both, due out next year from Beacon Press.
And now, a final word: folks, I had hoped to launch an extravagant donations drive for the Family Acceptance Project in honor of Chrismukkah—and ten generous artists, authors, and crafters who read AMG donated amazing prizes. But it turns out there’s some seriously tricky legal business around donations, raffles, and premiums. So I’m going to just ask you straight out: won’t you consider donating to the Family Acceptance Project this holiday season? If you’re in the mood to give AMG a gift, send me a screenshot of your FAP donation receipt and I’ll add you to the honor roll on my blog. Happy Hannukah!
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