In Theory: Can interfaith marriages be effective?

Jews are most likely to marry outside their religion, while Mormons are least likely, according to the results of a 2010 survey of interfaith marriage.

The study found that the rate of interfaith marriage in America is around 42%. But, says writer Stanley Fish, many couples of different faiths who decide to marry don't know what they're getting into.

"Interfaith couples tend to marry without thinking through the practical implications of their religious differences. They assume that because they are decent and tolerant people … they will not encounter difficulties being married to someone of another faith," he says. Some of the problems of interfaith marriages come around even if one partner converts to the other's religion. Fish said a spouse could pull the "conversion card" during an argument and say, "but I left my faith for you!"

Q: What are your thoughts on interfaith marriages?

Interfaith marriage is disastrous! It shouldn't happen, not if anyone truly believes the faith they profess. Some hail from cultures where birthplace and religious identity are linked (regardless of anyone's actual belief) so "interfaith" simply means "I'm from here, you're from there" and neither values God; it's not faith that's mixing, but culture. Culture isn't necessarily marital death, but those who marry into another's faith for that sheer purpose are not appropriate spouses. Imagine believing in God, but getting involved with someone who's understanding is so flexible that they can live like a spiritual chameleon. Would anyone find that attractive or worthy of marital commitment?

I've known folks that identified as Jewish, and their identity was not based on Judaism, but on simple lineage. Sure, they liked to throw a dinner on Passover or light candles on Sabbath, but they weren't even sure they believed in God. Interfaith marriage wouldn't be a problem for them. I dated a gal once that told me if we married, she'd convert to whatever I was, just as her mother had with her Jewish father. She told me this because I was wrestling with accepting Jesus Christ at the time. I knew that just couldn't be right. If someone converts for marriage, it's pointless; if they convert because they truly believe, then it's blessed, unless they're in one of those cultures that will murder you over it.

God says, "Do not be yoked together with unbelievers" (2 Corinthians 6:14 NIV). Ergo, Christians don't "I do" with non-Christians. What if an issue requires spiritual direction and opposing faiths command opposite action? What hope exists for eternity if one's mate is going to hell for personal rejection of the Savior? What a sad state for the spouse. What confusion for the children. What a black-and-white issue. No!

Rev. Bryan Griem
Montrose Community Church
Montrose

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Since I am married to a Jewish woman, I had better be all for interfaith marriages! Seriously, while my wife and I were courting, I let her know that I wanted to go to church — this was before I was in the ministry — and she was free to join me or not. Since this was a second marriage for both of us, and since we were beyond our child-rearing years, perhaps we started in a good place.

I think she is very tolerant and I think I am too. Also, we usually celebrate with her family the Jewish High Holy Days (Passover, Rosh Hoshanah and Yom Kippur), and Christmas and Easter have become times for family get-togethers. They are not particularly "religious" observances, but they are certainly wonderful family times.

Isn't a relationship with God about love? And shouldn't religion bring people together, rather than drive them apart? I cannot possibly believe that the Almighty would insist that we choose our own kind, and if I'm going against anybody's scripture or interpretation of anybody's scripture, even my own, so be it. I believe God is a god of love, and I am aware of various scripture passages that urge those of the "one true religion" to stick with their own kind. But I am also a disciple of Jesus, who told the story of the Good Samaritan, shocking his listeners, I am sure; he also talked to a Samaritan woman, shocking even his own disciples.

There is an evangelical minister in Michigan, I think, by the name of David Bell, who has dared to suggest that if God is as loving as Jesus says he is, there is no hell. I don't want to descend into maudlin sentimentality, because I believe the Lord of Hosts requires us to live godly, righteous, and sober lives — but living such lives means caring for the powerless, the poor, the sick and the unlovely, such as prison inmates and people with HIV/AIDS and other modern-day leprous afflictions. Does such a demanding and loving God require that you be sure and marry one of your own kind? I cannot possibly believe so. As I tell my psychologist wife as she heads off to her job, "You're doing the Lord's work."

The Rev. Skip Lindeman
La Cañada Congregational Church
La Cañada Flintridge

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If you're concerned about the health of your body, don't mix impure water in your drinking glass. Tainted water in a glass I never drink from won't harm me, but pouring it into my drinking glass will. If you're concerned about the health of your faith, then interfaith marriage or even dating is a bad idea. Romantic relationships form bonds that either draw us closer to God or draw us away from him. The influence of an unbeliever will always and only be toward unbelief.

In 2 Corinthians 6:14 believers in Christ are warned, "Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?" While there may be affection and attraction, fundamental partnership and fellowship are lacking in an interfaith marriage.

King Solomon made two huge, self-destructive mistakes in marriage. First, he married multiple women, a practice described, but never prescribed, in the Bible; and second, these wives rejected faith in God alone. "It came about when Solomon was old, his wives turned his heart away after other gods; and his heart was not wholly devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been" (1 Kings 11:4). Fascinating that such a wise, powerful and devoted man didn't turn those women to God. They turned him away from God. This stands as an eternal warning to those who see interfaith marriage or dating as advisable or as an avenue to the unbeliever's conversion.

Pastor Jon Barta
Valley Baptist Church
Burbank

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Most Americans today see interfaith marriages as proof of tolerance and progress in our social relationships. Many new couples see marriage as an institution where emotional connection is more important than traditional goals of child rearing, faith and social functions.

All marriages face profound challenges. While most couples begin their marriages believing their love will transform all problems into a stronger union, difficult surprises always occur in every marriage.

All families experience conflicts and difficulties, more often due to personal misunderstandings than to differences of faith. The same efforts must be made to maintain interfaith relations as with all relations, which include compromise, forgiveness and avoiding of stereotyping and prejudging.

There is no one representative interfaith couple; instead, every interfaith couple has a unique story with lessons to learn and share about pressures and love with family members, challenges around social and work obligations, and tensions over raising children. As we experience the differences that separate us and draw us together, we realize that every couple and every individual is different, and we can all grow from our differences as well as from our shared experiences. Successful marriages come from how we treat one another and love one another.

Steven Gibson
Atheist
Altadena

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Anyone who has been married understands the challenges, large and small, that create friction in even the best relationships. Marrying outside one's faith is risky because it adds to them in significant ways.

However, the primary reason Mormons are less likely to marry outside their faith is that we believe marriage covenants made in our temples bind faithful husbands and wives together, with their children, for eternity. Church members who want this blessing, as most do, will naturally look for a spouse who wants the same.

The reference article is based on Naomi Schaefer Riley's book, "Til Faith Do Us Part: How Interfaith Marriage is Transforming America." Among her findings: Many young couples often dismiss religion as a potential problem in misguided deference to tolerance. Only later do they realize the depth of their religious roots. Problems can range from celebration of holidays and to thornier questions of how children should be reared.

There are additional stumbling blocks for the LDS. They include the practice of tithing 10 % of our income and observing a dietary code that excludes coffee, tea, tobacco and alcohol. The church also encourages a level of involvement that consumes a good deal of members' "spare" time. Each of these things can be difficult for one outside the church to accept.

Shared faith and spiritual goals help couples weather the many challenges that confront them. Marrying within the faith doesn't guarantee happiness in this life or the next, but we believe it increases the odds.

Michael White
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
La Crescenta

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My first thought is that if fewer than half of interfaith marriages fail, they are surviving as well as marriages overall in the U.S., one in two of which end in divorce.

I am surprised that interfaith couples whose religions are important enough to cause marital problems wouldn't sort it out before getting married, or at least recognize the divisive potential of having different religions. I also would expect that pre-marital counseling is encouraged, if not required, for those wanting a church wedding or an ordained officiant.

I sympathize with any couple facing marital strife. My husband and I agree on the big stuff, including atheism and in our political beliefs generally, and that doesn't make getting along any easier at times.

But ours too is a mixed marriage — some would say inter-planetary — between a man and a woman. And we know those are not always paradise.

Roberta Medford
Atheist
Montrose

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From my years of experience as a pastor, I think that interfaith marriage poses significant difficulties for Christians. These difficulties go beyond some of the common challenges such as competing rituals, traditions, family expectations, practices and beliefs. While these can certainly complicate the relationships of an interfaith marriage, the situation for true Christians hinges on a different issue.

True Christianity is more than a doctrinal statement, set of values, celebration rituals or worldview. True Christianity is an intimate relationship with the living God. We are told in Romans 8:14 that "Those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God." True Christians view marriage as a triangle involving themselves as a couple joined together in Christ. The closer each one becomes to Christ, the closer they become to one another.

This relationship is so vital that there is a distinct sense of a third person present in the marriage. That person is the Holy Spirit of God. I have actually counseled in situations where a nonbelieving spouse felt jealousy over a believing spouse's relationship with God.

For the true Christian, an interfaith marriage can be represented as a couple going on a vacation having never discussed their destination. He's anticipating a ski trip and packs sweaters, thermal underwear and sun goggles. While he's attaching the ski rack, she's packing her shorts, bikini and suntan oil, anticipating their wonderful Hawaiian vacation.

While this vacation couple may be able to come up with a compromise that will work, when the destination is the purpose of one's life rather than simply a vacation spot, reaching true resolution becomes very difficult. God points this out to us in Amos 2:2 when he says, "How can two people walk together without agreeing on their direction?"

Pastor Ché Ahn
HRock Church
Pasadena

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A pastor friend of mine who is also a sociologist professes, "Love is a decision, not an emotion. When a couple goes through shared experiences which allow them to arrive at that decision of love, then the emotion comes." Once people decide that they love each other enough, then the emotion they often feel is, together they can conquer the world.

Interfaith couples might survive at a higher rate as they learn and develop sufficient tools for "world conquering" coming from their different pasts. Chief among those tools might be, being willing to question their own cultural and faith traditions. Those things that we often hold most sacred may be found on examination to be merely strategic values. In all of religion, the core value of love and respect for every other human being as we exist in the sight of God seems to be at the root of all we profess to believe.

Indeed, when the Samaritans and the Hebrews were in Babylonian captivity, they did not consider themselves of the same culture or of the same race. Yet they intermarried and raised families together. The decision to work together and survive seemed to give birth to emotions that brought couples together to work through custom and rite. It was only when they were freed and allowed to return to their homeland(s) do the Gospels record estrangement between the two groups.

Today our society is increasingly polarized. The open table of being tolerant is always in tension with the sanctum of being right.

Marriage has become many things, including, in western society, a legal contract. Some modern young couples having children choose not to marry at all. Similarly, older couples have found that not marrying keeps financial arrangements simpler.

When couples of different faiths decide to marry, they must determine which traditions and customs that each brings to the marriage will support the union and which ones will do it harm. They must learn forbearance and appreciation for each other's sacred histories.

In an interfaith marriage, customs are mixed. Marriage itself can be a mixture of the sacred and the secular. Some marriages already mix and include those of different races and those between whom there are large age differences. As we learn to accept, tolerate and celebrate our differences, it is not such a large leap to allow the idea and the right of marriage to mix and expand past interfaith, intergenerational, and inter-race to include those consenting adults who come from the same sex.

The Rev. Dr. William Thomas Jr.
Little White Chapel
Burbank

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