Interfaith Families

Interfaith Marriage: It’s not the most precise term, really. When I say I have an interfaith marriage, the question that follows is, “What religion is he?” Um . . . well . . . none fully, but we’ll claim the Jewish heritage. The term interfaith marriage suggests two people who hold strongly to different faith traditions. But what about the unexpected “interfaith marriages” in our LDS wards – where one spouse loses faith, changes faith, or reinterprets faith. When a child chooses a different path . . . does it create an interfaith family? And how gracefully or painfully do we navigate these waters?

A few years ago Exponent II published some of my thoughts in the “Sisters Speak” column (modified excerpt here):

When I started dating my husband, I sent my pleas to the Exponent powers that be to devote an issue to interfaith, multi-faith, confusing-faith, and changing-faith families. I just didn’t have models for how to do it.

I’ve laid some of my concerns to rest over the last two years, but new ones have come forward. I’m less concerned about nurturing my future children’s spirituality — I’ve become more open to exploring multiple religious traditions since entering this relationship, and I feel like windows keep flying open; I’d never want them closed again. I hope our home provides an expansive definition of faith and spirituality; an open heart to god in any tongue.

I worry, though, about the dismissal or trivializing of other faiths that I encounter in church meetings. I think about the well-meaning stories I grew up on about “praying dad into the church”; “no empty chairs”; “families can be together forever IF . . .”; “only true church on the whole face of the earth . . .” Can I screen their primary teachers? How much “damage control” is involved in raising an interfaith child?

I had a good talk with a Unitarian Universalist Minister the other week. She noted that many interfaith couples are drawn to this theologically open faith because they are looking for a place to attend church together with their children that does not minimize either parent’s faith tradition. It’s a bit of an interfaith haven. It makes me wonder what we, as Mormons, do to be more responsive to diverse faith families?

I pose that question to you. I’m still looking for other people’s stories!

Two final thoughts:

1) While I was raised LDS, many of my siblings have chosen different paths. Every one of them played a role in my wedding. It’s no small irony that if I had married a Mormon man in the temple, most of my immediate family would not have been able to attend. This is clearly a touchstone issue for many families, and I’ve heard too many painful stories about what should be a unifying day. I know some people use ring ceremonies — other ideas?

2) I’ve frequently been asked if I want my husband to convert. Usually it’s phrased, “You want him to get baptized, don’t you?” or “Has he taken the discussions yet?” I don’t think it’s healthy enter a marriage relationship expecting the other party will change a major portion of his/her life. Imagine how the resentment would build. I want him — and us –to lead a happy, ethical, meaningful life. Wherever that leads us. That’s what I pray for.

Deborah

Deborah is K-12 educator who nurtures a healthy interest in reading, writing, running, ethics, mystics, and interfaith dialogue.

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  1. Rob Osborn says:

    Deborah,

    I see your concerns. I come from a family that on one side is very much LDS and on the other side they are very much Catholic. My wife on the other hand comes from a family that on one side is Lds and on the other No rligion at all. When I fell away from the church as a teenager and fell in love with my future wife, I think parts of both of our families gave up on hope to some degree. Me and my wife were married in a nice little community meeting hall and we both had a great time there.

    After about a years time my wife decided she wanted to join and we both agreed that would be good. Since then (about 10 yrs. ago) I have become reactivated and we were both sealed in the temple along with our son.

    I do think though that the church puts in too much emphasis on the “Celestial Kingdom or bust” attitude. We are not even sure how all of them kingdoms will work, and who will go where. We tend to have many preconcieved notions about things like- “If my wife or children don’t make it to the Celestial kingdom with me, they will never be with me” As far as I know, that kind of teaching is one of those pushy doctrines in the church that ends up driving many away because of interfaith issues.

    God is a just God, if people repent, whether here or in the spirit world, and they so desire to be with their families, what isn’t to say that God will see to it- after all he is a just God. Why would he punish someone for all eternity just because of a brief decision made in mortality? I do not believe the God I know is like that. I believe that as long as people are willing to accept and abide by his laws, whether here or over there, the atonement allows one to be clean and they can enjoy any of the blessings reserved for those who accept God and his son Jesus Christ.

    We as a church need to be more forgiving of other faiths and try to realize that when it all comes down at the end, there will be very few indeed that don’t want to accept Christ and his atonement in their behalf. I further believe that all 3 kingdoms are part of God’s kingdom and that all of his children within those three kingdoms can continue their family relationships throughout all eternity. Remember- God is a just God.

  2. Rebecca says:

    Most of my brothers haven’t been active for at least 10 years, and none of my extended family is LDS. When it came to my wedding, I was glad I’m English. We have to have a civil service first (as the law states a marriage must take place in a public place, which a Temple is not). We were sealed later that day after our reception. It was great for friends and family of any religious denomination.

  3. Deborah says:

    Rebecca: Do you know if there has been any move to relax the rules in the US (e.g. allow couples to have a civil ceremony followed by a temple ceremony if it helps preserve family harmony)? I know of one bishop who petitioned all the way up the line to allow this because the bride’s family — who was finally willing to accept that she was LDS — was deeply upset about 1) not being able to attend 2) not being able to incorporate Indian traditions into the wedding. It took several letters and calls, but they finally got the ok. But if this is common practice (of necessity) internationally . . . well, couldn’t it be a win-win situation?

  4. Caroline says:

    Deborah, I definitely think it’s a win win situation. An option for a civil ceremony first followed immediately by a temple one. This would mean a lot to many families.

    I was talking to a woman at church a couple of months ago, and she was really upset that our church says that it believes in putting families first, but then proceeds to alienate families when it won’t allow non-member families to attend a loved one’s wedding. I can see how a lot of extremely harsh and hurt feelings could be avoided if the Church in the U.S would allow a civil ceremony first.

  5. Caroline says:

    Also, regarding your questions about how to navigate interfaith marriages – I feel like I am right there struggling with you. My husband and I joke that we have an “inter-faith Mormon marriage.” We both may be LDS, but we have vastly different beliefs and practices.

    I don’t think I have negotiated this aspect of our marriage very gracefully at times. It still makes me upset, REALLY upset, that he won’t (with rare exceptions) see R rated movies with me that are really important to me. Films to me are a type of literature or art, something that helps me to understand and think about the world around me. I want desperately to share this with him because by doing so, I’m able to share parts of me with him. (And I’m not choosing movies full of gratuitious sex and violence. These are great, critically acclaimed films.) This is only one example of the way our inter-faith Mormon marriage leads to challenges and conflicts. I’m afraid that when our children are born, we’ll be dealing with vastly more weighty issues.

    Like you, Deborah, I have also had my windows flung open regarding the wonderful things other faiths offer. I happily attend a liberal Christian congregation occassionally, and I have felt spiritually touched and refreshed by what is said and sung there. I would like my kids to also be able to experience the great things different religious services have to offer (and therefore, perhaps, neutralize some of those trivializing comments about other faiths that we hear at church.) But I know that that idea is highly threatening to my husband. I guess we’ll just cross that bridge when we come to it.

  6. Deborah says:

    Caroline:

    A couple of years ago I had lunch with a woman who I only knew in passing. When I told her that I was in an “interfaith relationship,” she confided that her husband was contemplating leaving the church — and this was a major crisis for their family. I felt that I could offer sympathy but not necessarily empathy — I entered my relationship _knowing_ that we came from different faiths. We had to address this from beginning. For my new friend, however, this was not part of The Plan. And then there was the expectations of family and ward members (one relative mentioned that divorce might be her best option husband if he didn’t “come round.”)

    I think the church is full of “interfaith Mormon marriages,” as you put it. In many ways, I have it easy — he has no expecations about what I should or shouldn’t believe.

    However, it is harder to feel connected to the ward. Those who don’t know me well sometimes try to direct me to the Single Adult Sunday school. Why is it that I sat in the front pews when I was in singles ward, but now sit in the overflow chairs in the back in the family ward? Hmm . . .

  7. Deborah says:

    Oh, and Rob — thank you for your thoughts and comments. I believe heaven, whatever it looks like, will include a connection to those I love.

    We don’t know many concrete details about the after-life, but “God is love” seems like a good thesis statement.

  8. Rebecca says:

    Deborah – I don’t know of any relaxing of the rules on this. When a neighbour of mine found out I was LDS recently, he said ‘your the ones whose family can’t attend you wedding if you’re not mormon’! It’s unfortunate that this is what he knows the church for. Civil services really are an ideal situation, and it doesn’t delay the Temple at all – in England you HAVE to be sealed the same day or wait for a year. We had a 10am wedding, a lunch time reception and a 5pm sealing (the temple was 2 hours away). It was great capping the day off with the sealing, and with just our parents and a few very close friends.

  9. Aspen says:

    My husband and I are in an interfaith marriage. He is Catholic, I’m LDS. Since getting married (~ 2.5 yrs ago), we attend both Mass and the LDS services every week (that’s right… every week—we are uber-religiously observant). I really enjoy and appreciate this current arrangement. I’ve gained so much more understanding of his religion as has he with mine. Our marriage works partly because we’re both willing to adopt and merge each other’s traditions, as well as the fact that neither of us is orthodox. I’m still trying to figure out exactly what kind of Mormon I am, and he readily accepts other religious possibilities.

    As for the civil/temple ceremony. I was among the last of my group of friends to get married, and every single one of them in retrospect wished they would have had a similar ceremony to the one my husband and I had (in addition to their temple ceremonies). But I think that having the temple ceremony in the morning followed by an evening civil would be better (then the party can occur right after the ceremony, with a larger group of family and friends attending both. And it can be a real party, not just a reception line).

  10. Deborah says:

    Aspen: The full block? That is a lot of church! Hats off to both of you. If you don’t mind me asking . . . if/when you have children, do you forsee continuing this practice?

    Per ceremonies: I feel that one of the major purposes of a ceremony is for the couple to seal their union in the presence of loved ones who have shaped their life — that in essence, the audience is “vowing” to support this fledgling family. That is one reason why the exclusion often necessitated by the temple bothers me so much — young couples need the support of the “village.”

    I have been to a number of temple ceremonies and consider them sacred events. However, most of my friends did not know their sealer in advance, and in the “high season” in Salt Lake, it can feel a little impersonal. My husband and I worked closely with a minister — a Presbyterian family friend — to plan our ceremony. We met with him several times, picked scripture readings from the Hebrew Bible and New Testament and kept Shaker hymn “Simple Gifts” as the musical motif. The ceremony included our parents taking a vow to support the union. Family and friends gave readings, my sisters sang and played violin, and my brothers ushered. It was simple and beautiful, and had I married a Mormon, I would have wanted to have both this and a temple ceremony — I think they serve distinct purposes, especially for interfaith extended families. A marriage isn’t just about the couple and God — you really do marry your spouse’s family!

  11. Aspen says:

    Deborah,

    We both attend sacrament meeting, and I stay on while he goes home. He honestly thinks we’re crazy for having a three-hour block. As for kids, we’re still not sure (not only if we’ll have them, but what we’ll do). The current theory is to either try to maintain this arrangement (thankfully, the plethora of catholic mass times/locations aid in attending both each week), or to alternate services each week. Also, he could always convert 🙂 Although, I’m seriously not sure if that’s what I want (unless he was converting on conviction, not just convenience).

    The wedding thing: I think that a lot of LDS couples just don’t know that there are possible alternatives/addendums to the mid-week temple ceremony/ evening reception line wedding. But if more and more people opt for full external weekend civil/ring ceremonies followed by regular receptions (parties), then the trend will increase (because that option would appeal, I think, to most people once they realize that it is an option). By the way, I’m not advocating expensive receptions, just more inclusive and celebratory ceremonies/receptions.

    Also, just some more info on the inter-faith wedding thing (how we did it). My husband and I decided to get married outside, in the mountains since we couldn’t get married in our churches (both the catholic and lds require either conversion (lds) or promises (catholic) before you can get married in the temple/by a priest). We felt that a mountain ceremony would be non-denominationally spiritual. We also had a relative deputized and she officiated the ceremony with friends and family giving readings/advice/songs. It was great. I wish we could do it every year.

  12. a spectator says:

    The explanation I have always heard about not doing a double civil/temple ceremony is that it “trivializes” the temple ceremony. Only in places where it is legally required (the UK is the only such place I know of) can you be sealed the same day. Otherwise you have to wait a year.

    I was married by an LDS Branch President to a Catholic in a bar! We were 8 hours from the nearest LDS congregation and could not have transported my husbands’ family that far. The BP was kind enough to travel for us and we rented a room at a hotel that ended up being a bar. The church would have prefered a home, but (in Kenya) most homes are one room, so unsuitable and an outside wedding (my preference) was inpractical.

    Husband has now been baptized, but we certainly are not an average LDS couple. Who is?

  13. Deborah says:

    A spectator said, “The explanation I have always heard about not doing a double civil/temple ceremony is that it “trivializes” the temple ceremony.”

    Yeah, I’ve heard that a lot too — and a recent Ensign article said as much. But (as you note) so few families fit the “average” label — we are a church of interfaith families! This policy just seems so incongruous with the larger church doctrine of “strengthening families” — not to mention missionary work. If a bride’s parents are sitting outside the temple gates, shut out from their daughter’s big day, I can’t imagine they are thinking “Gee, what a lovely religion — where can I sign up?”

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  1. January 24, 2010

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