My Interfaith Marriage: Reflections, Five Years In

By Deborah

This week, I got an e-mail from an Exponent reader who wanted to hear more about my interfaith marriage, as she is currently dating someone of a different faith.   Last weekend, I went out for coffee (okay, hot chocolate) with a member who is 32, single, and wondering if she should open up the dating pool. “What’s it like being married to a non-member?” she asked.  A couple of weeks prior, I heard from an old friend who — as an interfaith newlywed — is feeling some anguish over finding her identity in the church. And that’s just this month.

I understand this desire to reach out. When I started dating my (now) husband, I fled to the Exponent II retreat begging for stories, for insights, for people to talk to.  I knew there were interfaith marriages out there, but I hadn’t seen any up-close-and-personal, and it felt like I was leaving the well-lit path and lighting out into an unknown wilderness.  However, I recently celebrated my five-year anniversary, and I’m happy to report that I’m happy.

I thought I’d use this post to share a few thoughts I’ve had about the religious dynamic of my marriage, five years in. And to share a few links that might add to this discussion.  Links first:

I can unequivocally say that marriage (for me) has been better than courtship. I have had many LDS women friends express the opposite; a whirlwind romance, a spiritual confirmation, a temple marriage — and then the difficult adjustment to early married life. My “difficult adjustment stage” came before the “I do’s.”   We dated for three years before he proposed . . . partly because the interfaith aspect gave me no small amount of stress.  It wasn’t what I had planned for my life — (and there was the whole fear-of-disappointing-the-parents thing!).  I don’t know that there was ever of moment of knowing that I “should” marry this guy.  But I did have some strong spiritual promptings BEFORE we started dating that helped me decide to give him a chance. So how did I decide? After years of dating, we really loved each other.  Sometimes answers to prayers aren’t claps of inspiration but the ability to look back and recognize where the journey has brought you.

Being in a part-member marriage does lead to certain challenges at the church-participation level.  My husband doesn’t attend unless I’m speaking. Just not his thing. One effect is that our social life is largely based outside the LDS-circle because I’m not a “couple” at church, and LDS couples tend to socialize with one another.  Also, I find that three hours away every Sunday (really four with travel time) is a lot of time away from my husband on a weekend. Since being released from the primary presidency a year ago, I often leave after sacrament meeting.   This does take me away from Relief Society, unfortunately (oh, if only we could have a 2-hour block!). We will likely move soon, and in my new ward I am considering letting the powers-that-be know that (in terms of callings) I will be an “every other week” full-block participant.  That feels, right now, like it would be a good way to integrate myself into the ward while still preserving the option of Sunday morning family time. I am open to this dynamic changing through the years.

I still have the occasional well-meaning member who assumes that my marriage must be a “trial”  . . . something to mourn at some level.  “Doesn’t it make you sad that he isn’t Mormon?” is the most common question. When I am with LDS women I don’t know well, I am quick to preemptively “talk him up”  — and let people know that he has no interest in converting and I AM TOTALLY OKAY WITH THAT.  Mostly, people are respectful and busy with their own lives and just grateful if you show up and help out.  Here’s the only real advice I’m going to offer to those contemplating interfaith marriage: Would you be okay if your spouse never again (or once) set foot inside an LDS chapel?  Marriage is complicated enough without entering it with the hope/expectation that your spouse will have a profound change of heart someday.

We have gotten better at talking about spirituality through the years — this relationship has caused me to think about what I mean by terms such as prayer, prompting, grace, Christian, testimony . . . to take them out of “church speak” and talk about them in a way that makes sense to him and us. And that has helped me grow spiritually, I think. Also, because he has no expectations about what I should believe, I have had the space to explore my spirituality without threatening his.  This has been both challenging and liberating; I have had to own my spiritual journey. I have also come to value his perspective on hope, intuition, and hero’s journeys — three concepts that influence his sense of spirituality — and learned that, minus the “details,” we have a remarkably similar belief system.

Pre-marriage, one of the best pieces of counsel I received came from a counselor in my single’s ward bishopric (the husband of an amazing Exponent II editor).  After a tearful chat one day, he said, “At the end of the day, every marriage is about two people trying to make it work.”  Somehow, that stripped down a lot of the labels I was putting on matters.  Through the years I’ve come to realize how many LDS marriages are their own form of interfaith marriage — because of differing levels/styles of belief or because one spouse stops believing.

In fact, the first time I found myself in the position of “sharing my interfaith story” came when I was engaged and serving in a Young Women’s presidency.  One night, in between planning New Beginnings and a service activity, the YW president told me that her husband no longer had a testimony and wanted to leave the church. That very morning, her mother had urged her to leave him and “come home” — especially since they didn’t have children yet; “start over” so that she could have the future she deserved. “But I love *him,*” she told me.  “I really really wish he still believed, but he’s not someone I can exchange for a new model.  He’s my best friend.” I saw her anguish and realized that my interfaith marriage would look different than hers in many ways, because I did not enter it with the expectation that he would be a Mormon.  Rather, I had to struggle with that change in my expectations during our courtship. I had planned on marrying a Mormon; I fell in love with a man who wasn’t.  This woman was feeling a “bait and switch.” Here are a few links that might offer perspective (and company) to those who find themselves in similar situations:

That’s long enough for now.  Onto discussion:

  • If you are in an interfaith relationship (or one that has evolved through the years to become an mixed-faith relationship), what insights would you add?
  • How have your closest relationships (romantic or otherwise) influenced your spiritual journey?
  • I am happy to share more of my journey in upcoming posts — what questions do you have or what topics would you want me to introduce for discussion?

Deborah

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

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58 Responses

  1. Mell says:

    I am in an interfaith relationship for 1 ½ years now. For about the first 8 months of dating, whenever we would even mention the word marriage I would break down into tears over the prospect of not getting married in the temple. He would hold me through these times and help me calm down while in the meantime feeling like he wasn’t able to give me the things I needed and thinking that I would be better off finding a nice Mormon guy. The idea of loosing him usually sent me into more tears, so we realized that we couldn’t continue thinking down these paths.

    I had to change my thinking on marriage. Of course, all my life the expectations of my future temple marriage had been placed on me. I remember my mother handing postcard sized pictures of temples in sacrament meeting when I was a child asking me which one I wanted to get married in. Growing up, when we would get wedding invitations, the first thing mom would point out to us was if they were getting married in the temple (it also determined the size of their gift). Then in YW we were often taught how “worldly” marriages were inferior and undesirable.

    It wasn’t until I started dating my love that I really called these expectations and notions into question. I looked at my parents marriage and the marriages of my friends wedded in the temple and those not. I realized that having an eternal marriage didn’t stop my parents from fighting and not having an eternal marriage didn’t stop my friends from loving each other deeply.

  2. G says:

    Deborah, thank you for this exceptional post (and for an amazing collection of great links, wow.)

    My own marriage is one of those that has evolved, both of us starting out as believing members then becoming a mixed faith marriage. It was a rough, but ultimately strengthening process for us.

    As for future discussion, I am fascinated by an apparent gender divide in how couples act when it comes to interfaith marriage and/or one spouse leaving the church. (Ie, how women respond, how men respond). If you have any insights into that, I am very interested in hearing them.

  3. Deborah says:

    Mell: Been there. Just promise me that you won’t look up the topic of interfaith relationships on lds.org. It will take you to a YW manual lesson about a woman whose non-temple marriage leads her to a terrible fate — put me over the edge one afternoon years ago!

    More seriously, regarding your final paragraph, in moments of stress it was a real temptation to idolize LDS-LDS marriages, as if they didn’t have any conflict! I remember the day I realized that my parents temple marriage was in some ways as much an interfaith marriage as mine because of the profoundly different ways they expressed spirituality. That doesn’t make mine better or theirs worse — it just is. And I really respect that every family has its own path to tread.

    Thanks for your comments, G. I’ll have to think some more about that gender question — that might prompt some interesting discussion . . .

  4. Hi Deborah,

    I don’t know if we’ve bumped into each other around the Bloggernacle before, and I don’t comment at Exponent often, but I am an evangelical Christian who has been married to an active Latter-day Saint for over six years now. Here is the link to my story:

    My Mormon-Evangelical Interfaith Marriage

    I appreciate your reflections and the links you’ve provided. I remember the article by Jana Riess in Sunstone came out while DH and I were considering the possibilities of interfaith marriage, and I appreciated it a lot at the time.

    There were also two issues of Dialogue, one in 1990 and one in 1991, which contained essays from couples in interfaith marriages. Here’s the links:

    Summer 1990
    Spring 1991

    A person who helped me figure out my own interfaith marriage was Juliana Boerio-Goates, who is a chemistry professor at BYU and a practicing Catholic. Her husband, Steve Goates, is also a chemistry professor there, but LDS. She did one of the essays for Dialogue.

    One last link. Here is the news story of a Mormon woman married to an evangelical counter-cult minister (!):

    It’s an in-your-faith chasm

  5. Deborah says:

    Jack: I was hoping you’d chime in! I had read your first link (your story) but not the Dialogue issues. I look forward to reading through them later this week. Thanks. And that last link is a doozy. Makes you wonder what Karma they are both working out 😉 But good on them — 26 years is no small feat.

  6. DC says:

    Deborah-

    Thank you for sharing this. I’ve been digesting your email since you sent it to me, and I look forward to looking at the links provided by you and the commenters in the days to come. I anticipate continuing a dialogue with you.

    From your comments one thing that really resonates with me is referring to your discussions with DH about spirituality. I’ve been so grateful for the discussions I’ve had with my non-member/non-religious boyfriend, because it’s really help me strip down my beliefs and come to understand what I really believe.

    I’d be curious to hear more about “talk up” your husband, and the defense that you have to make. How was it coming to terms with him not being a member and how is it expressing to others that you’re ok with that? I imagine that has provoked some interesting discussions as well…… It’s something I’m clearly still struggling with my self and I’d love to hear more about your process there. I love my boyfriend very much, but it’s hard to break down years of expectations.

    Thanks for sharing your story!

  7. that1girl says:

    I’m preparing my lecture for tomorrow morning, so this won’t be eloquent, but I’m in an interfaith marriage (following a temple marriage that went kaput). While trying to avoid comparisons to the first (crappy) marriage, I will say that what I have with my husband is the single most important thing in my life and is exponentially better than anything I ever could have imagined for myself. I have had conversations that I probably wouldn’t have had and have learned things about myself and my faith that I never would have discovered otherwise. I was truly meant to be with this man, regardless of his religion, and to be honest, I wonder if he could be who he is if he were Mormon. (To be completely honest, I worry how membership might change him if he were to convert now.) While I would like to be sealed to him someday, I am so joyful and content and comforted by our Savior in my marriage that I honestly never worry about it. (But I will admit to getting mildly annoyed when the RS ladies get that look of pity or – worse – when the look all paranoid when I talk to their husbands, as if I’m on the lookout for a member upgrade. Pfffft.)

    • Anonymous says:

      What did the conversation with your husband look like when you explained what marrying an endowed member of the church would be like?

  8. Sterling Fluharty says:

    Deborah: What happens when you talk about kids?

  9. mb says:

    Deborah,

    Thank you for your thoughtful post.

    I would be interested in hearing from any readers who are committed believers and also are raising children with a spouse who has never been a member of their faith. That is the part that looks the most challenging to me.

  10. Patty says:

    so is a temple marriage in the future or does it not bother you to have those blessings especially when children come into the picture. Just curious

  11. CatherineWO says:

    The thoughts in this post tossed back and forth in my brain all day yesterday, and I woke up this morning thinking about it again. I am particulary struck by the idea that all marriages are interfaith marriages. When I married (in the temple) almost 37 years ago, it never occurred to me that my husband and I would not agree on every point of doctrine and the proper way to structure our spiritual lives. Oh, was I in for some big surprises!
    I admire you for going into your interfaith marriage with your eyes wide open and for dealing with spiritual matters before the wedding even took place. I went into marriage with way too many spiritual assumptions, not only about my husband and our relationship, but about myself, and I have experienced much heartache over the years as a result. [I should interject here that my husband is the stalwart, I am the wanderer.] But in the last couple of years we have come to peace with our differences. We have (finally) learned to put the marriage first and respect and accept each other’s faith (or lack of it). It is the calm after the storm and the sailing is ever so much more pleasant.

  12. Deborah says:

    Sterling/MB: Ah, you caught that I hadn’t brought that up yet. Future post 🙂 But if anyone has insights in the meantime — or (better yet) wants to submit a guest post about raising children in an interfaith marriage, I’d be THRILLED! We’ve talked a lot about it, but it’s all hypothetical at this point.

    Patty: Temple marriage is not in the cards unless he choices to become Mormon at some point, and I don’t foresee that happening. But I don’t let concerns about that get in the way of the closeness and sacredness of our relationship. I think that’s what most families try to do, in the face of their own distinct challenges.

    Catherine: Thanks for that thoughtful glimpse into your journey. I know I’ve said this on another thread, but the man who married us said, “Marriage is a profound leap of faith. We are committing to love, support, and nurture a person through changes and challenges we cannot possibly foresee. Because you *will* change. And you *will* face the unforeseen. Anyone — religious or not — who has ever truly joined their life to somebody else’s understands something about faith and hope.”

  13. Deborah says:

    That1girl: Thanks for your comment and perspective. I love your attitude!

    DC: I promise I’ll respond to those questions soon!

  14. Kevin Barney says:

    Thanks, Deborah, I very much enjoyed your post. When I was young I would never have considered marrying outside the Church; such a concept just didn’t even exist for me. Now that I’ve matured and experienced more of life, were I in that position I would be much more open to such a relationship. I personally think this is an avenue that more LDS women should consider, given the depressing demographics of single Mormonworld. And I thought your point about having space to negotiate your own faith since he doesn’t have a stake in it was a really good one. I wager a lot of liberal Mormons would have an easier time of it with a non-LDS spouse than with a more conservative LDS spouse!

  15. MSL says:

    Deborah—
    (I’ve long time been a lurker and occasionally posted using some different aliases.)

    Thanks so much for this great post! I am also in an interfaith marriage. I had read some of these links before, but not others, and I always appreciate hearing the insights of those living in similar situations as my own. I’ve been married now over 4 years. My husband was actively investigating the LDS Church when we met, but he never felt that he quite had a testimony of some of the claims made (e.g., the “one true church.”). It eventually came down to that he could promise to always support me in my faith, but was not ready (and not sure if he ever would be) for baptism. I struggled with the decision at the time, but after a lot of pondering and some important spiritual experiences, I made the decision to go forward. Our marriage has been wonderful in many ways, but has had a good amount of challenges too. We also just had our first child, which has brought a lot of joy, but also makes things a bit more complicated.

    Since a few people have asked about people in interfaith marriages with kids, I thought I should chime in. My daughter is just under a year old, so I’m not really an authority on the subject, but I do have a few insights: We talked a good amount about our expectations surrounding the religion issue before we had her, which I think is important. We’ve agreed that we’ll raise our daughter LDS Church. My husband considers himself a non-denominational Christian and he doesn’t attend another church, so it made the decision for her to attend the LDS Church an easier one. He attends sacrament meeting with us every week, which is helpful to me with managing the baby and all. He’s also quite well versed in his knowledge of LDS culture, history and doctrine, and is friendly and service-oriented, which helps him fit in well in the ward.

    We’ve made a point to do things a little bit creatively in regard to my daughter and the church, so he feels included. For example, we held her baby blessing at home. My husband conducted the meeting and gave a talk before the blessing, so he was an integral part of the experience, which he would not have been if we had had the blessing at church. We’ve agreed not to force her to be baptized, but we know if she attends Primary, she’ll most likely want to and my husband is okay with that. I plan to actively seek a creative way that he can be involved in her baptism too when the time comes. In our home, I think I’ll still plan to do many of the LDS things, such as FHE, scripture study and family prayer, but I’m going to emphasize the beliefs we hold in common, such as Jesus Christ, having faith, serving others, etc., rather than more “Mormon” doctrines. I just got called to teach Primary and I have found myself wondering how I will handle it when my daughter learns about very specific Mormon doctrines there—some of which I’m totally on board with, and some which I have much more nuanced views about. My thoughts now are to simply let it go and let her progress through Primary, but to talk to her more about my own and her father’s views on subjects as she gets older.

    I do wonder how I will handle things if we have a boy next time, as the priesthood/mission issues will play more heavily. I’m confident though that as we continue to try and listen to one another and form suitable compromises and agreements, it will work out. The most valuable things I’ve learned in my marriage so far have been to communicate constantly and respectfully, be as flexible as possible and to accept the other person for who they are. That’s easier said than done a lot of the time, but as long as I follow those guidelines, I believe we can work it out. I could say a lot more, as I’ve just barely scratched the surface, but that will do for now.

    • Emily says:

      I am so grateful to have found this thread! I know it is seven years old, but the content is so relevant to my life, I’m hoping to get some feedback. My boyfriend is LDS and I consider myself a non-denominational Christian. He does not drink or smoke, but he has tattoos and drinks coffee. He is recently divorced (within the last year), and is the father of a one year old. He loves his son more than anything and wants to be as involved in his life as much as possible. He and his ex wife have agreed that they will uphold the Mormon standard in both of their homes, and he has decided to give up coffee and that we should not continue to have sex before we are married. I agree with him on everything he has proposed in our relationship, except for giving up coffee! (That is a compromise I cannot make, especially since the God I know and love does not tell me I cannot!). I attend talks with him at his ward now and again and have continued as a member of my own church. After 7 months I can say that I am head over heels in love with this man. We get along so well and he truly is my best friend. As we move forward and are facing more serious long term considerations, several issues have come up that we can’t seem to find the answers to….and after riding this merry go round several times, we both find ourselves in tears and anguish over not knowing what to do. Our biggest challenge as of late has been this:

      I love my own family more than anything in this world. He has chosen to not allow alcohol or other drugs in his home, (fine by me), but my family does partake in coffee, wine and beer at holidays and while camping, and other such activities. How can we move forward, knowing that he won’t want his own child, or any children we may have of our own..around my family because they drink coffee and alcohol? We are so in love and enjoy an incredibly active life together, and he is truly my best friend. But I cannot be expected to give up a relationship with my family because he and his ex wife decided they don’t want their child around that, can I? How can this be resolved? Any thoughts on the topic would be greatly appreciated!

      • Rebecca says:

        Emily,

        I am so glad I have found this post. I am in almost the exact same situation as you are currently, and would love to talk and discuss the challenges it seems we are both facing. Like you, my boyfriend is also LDS, recently divorced, and has kids from his previous marriage. He is without a doubt my best friend and we have been able to support each other through some real challenges but also face some of our own when it comes to our beliefs. I am struggling to find a balance in us both having a “voice” when it comes to our faiths (in the context of our families, his kids, and our own potential family).

        Hopefully it is ok with you that I am reaching out like this, I felt like I had to! This site and some of the links provided have certainly been helpful, but I think it would be great to talk to someone who is currently in such a similar relationship.

        Let me if you would want to chat via email or something!

  16. Hillary says:

    My husband was raised an active member of the church, served a mission, was married and sealed in the temple, but chose to leave the church. When we got married, there was still a possibility of him coming back to church.

    The decision to marry someone with whom I’d have no guarantee of the perfect LDS life was a huge one. I know it probably pained my parents to watch their oldest child fail to choose something she’d always been raised to do.

    Nearly 6 years later, my marriage has grown and changed in ways I could never have imagined. Is it hard to have a husband whose beliefs went from disenchanted with Mormonism to practically atheistic? Yes. But, like the author said, it also gave me the opportunity to carefully evaluate and explore my own spirituality with no expectations from him. Do I wish he would come back to church? Sure, but there’s more to life and more to marriage than common religious beliefs. A temple wedding is no guarantee for a happy marriage or eternal togetherness.

  17. Deborah says:

    Kevin: Per your final observation, I have often wondered whether it wouldn’t be *more* spiritually trying to be hitched to someone who was dogmatic about certain doctrines in ways I am not! Fun thought exercises . . . 😉

    MSL: Wow, thanks for chiming in. My current thinking nearly parallels what you are trying with your daughter. If you ever want to do a guest post on this, please let me know . . .

    Hillary wrote “Nearly 6 years later, my marriage has grown and changed in ways I could never have imagined.” I hear you. I am constantly amazed by how much our relationship has evolved as we have face things together.

  18. MSL says:

    Thanks for the guest post offer, Deborah. I may want to do that, but I think I might have more interesting things to say as we get a little further along in raising our daughter. I’ll definitely connect with you when/if it feels right to do a post.

  19. rachel says:

    thanks, deborah!

    i’m also in an interfaith marriage. we’ve been married about 16 months…so we’re still pretty green. when we were dating i also contacted deborah for some advice. plus, i also spoke with some other women i know that are in interfaith marriages. i was searching for positive examples. it seems that everything the church teaches or publishes is doom and gloom if you marry outside the temple. i didn’t buy it. i knew there had to be plenty of LDS folks in interfaith marriages that were successful….and i found several of them.

    i agree with a lot of what deborah said and what many of you have said about your marriages. i too enjoy that my faith is my own…but i also have a loving husband that will listen to me pray, suggest i fast for a specific person, and occasionally go to church with me…even though he doesn’t do any of these things on his own. he is supportive and respectful of my faith. and i am of his beliefs too. the challenges we’ve faced in marriage have nothing to do with religion. (i’m sure many of you are thinking…first year is the honeymoon phase! ha! i think after being single for 31 years and he being single for 38 years there has been a big adjustment for both of us regardless of religion.)

    i’m not sure what will happen when we have kids. we discuss how we’ll raise them all the time. since he doesn’t have a church they’ll most likely go with me, but we want to teach them about all religions and ultimately let them decide what they want. right now we only have theories on how things will work….so i am also interested in hearing from anyone else that has walked this path with kids.

    DC, you’re also welcome to email if you want to discuss in more depth. rhsowards at gmail dot com

  20. Caroline says:

    I just wanted to say that I very much appreciate everyone sharing their experiences on this issue. I have a Mormon-Mormon marriage, but as others have commented, that doesn’t mean it’s not interfaith in a lot of ways. There’s still a lot of negotiation on matters of faith that needs to take place.

    Several people have commented that being in an interfaith marriage has allowed them the freedom to explore their own spirituality without pressure from a marriage partner to stick to orthodox Mormonism. I love this insight, and oddly enough, something similar has been true for me in my marriage to a stalwart Mormon. I may feel some pressure from him to be more orthodox, but being married to him has made me feel strangely safe exploring other avenues. I may wander and experiment with other communities and belief structures and ideas, but my husband is always the anchor bringing me back to Mormonism. Having him there as my anchor makes me feel secure but at the same time liberated to explore. He/the Church will always be there to return to.

  21. js says:

    I was married to a nonmember for a few years. Yes, we loved each other. No, it was not enough. In the end, I found out that marriage is NOT about two people loving each other…its about a family, and how not being on the same page creates havoc, confusion, disappointment, and hurt…for the couple, and for their children.

    IME, these marriages seem to implode once the children arrive. All of a sudden, its not okay anymore for your partner to just be ambivalent about whether you go to church or not. When its 7am and you’re having to drag 3 little children to sacrament meeting alone, it MATTERS. When the sole weight of their spiritual nourishment is coming only from you, and the other person doesn’t care one whit, it MATTERS. It is such a heavy weight…its heavy enough to be a parent trying to teach your children and raise them right, but when you’re not on the same page with your spouse, its pretty much impossible.

    After my experience, I would never encourage a member to date or marry a nonmember. Its hard to say it that flat out, but for every interfaith marriage that works, there are a thousand more miserable ones. And its hurting more than the couple, it hurts their children, too.

  22. mb says:

    Thank you, js. I appreciate your honesty and your courage.

  23. Deborah says:

    JS: Thanks for your candor and perspective. I hope you have found peace on your path. I am a big advocate of going into any serious relationship with eyes wide open (at least to those issues you can predict!). This isn’t the path for everyone — that’s why I hesitate to give advice; instead I just share *my* story . . . which is exactly as large as him+me. I have, through reaching out, found many women who are in happy and healthy interfaith marriages. But it’s certainly not the case for everyone, as you note.

    I realize that the one permutation of interfaith marriage that I haven’t brought up is when one spouse converts AFTER marriage but the other does not. That’s a common scenario, too. I’d be happy to hear comments (or a guest post) on someone’s experience with that.

  24. KLC says:

    Caroline, I’m also part of an interfaith marriage, not mine but my parent’s. I’m struck by the fact that all of the comments so far are from parents and none from children.

    If you choose both a non-member spouse and the believing LDS path for your family you should know that sooner or later your child will feel spiritual pain that you cannot comprehend. She will listen to lessons about eternal families and he will hear testimonies about temples and they will be weighed down with the knowledge that those blessings will never be fully theirs and they will be forced to contemplate an eternity without their non-member parent by their side. I know you think you will understand that pain but you willfully chose a separate path, they did not, they had no say in your decision.

    I also know you will say that you can reason and counsel with your children, and your child will also reason and rationalize her situation, but if you choose an active LDS path how can you deny the doctrines of temples, celestial glory, sealing and eternal family units? Your children will try to understand but in their most searching spiritual struggles your help will not be sufficient. What choices remain for them? Either reject the LDS world you sacrificed so much to provide for them or live with the hollow space your interfaith union can’t fill.

    My mother eventually got baptized when I was 16 years old and my dilemma was resolved. But I will never forget one of the members of my freshman BYU ward. After a rousing lesson on the blessings of eternal marriage she left the room with quiet tears filling her eyes because she was also part of an interfaith marriage. I knew what she was feeling.

  25. rachel says:

    KLC,
    you bring a great perspective…that of the child. i have some friends that were raised with active LDS moms and non-LDS dads. many of them never went through the agony that you speak of…they just took it as… oh, dad just doesn’t go to church and all things will work out in the end. they never stressed over the eternal family aspect or their own spirituality b/c they figured if their fathers didn’t accept the gospel in this life then they surely would in the next….so i guess it affects everyone differently. all these friends and their siblings were raised in the church and remained faithful in the gospel.

    but i will add my personal experience. i was raised in a LDS home with two active parents. we had FHE, always prayed together and tried to read scriptures….y’know all the typical things. i thought my parents were happy. then when i was 20 my parents separated. it totally rocked my perfect mormon world. then a year later i found myself serving a mission and trying to testify of eternal families. it was very painful because my family wasn’t going to be one of those eternal families. i spent a lot of years trying to figure out how my spiritual beliefs come into play in relation to eternal marriage. ultimately, i believe in a heavenly father that loves all his children. i don’t think families will be broken up b/c their not sealed in this life. i think we’ll all be given that opportunity.

  26. Deborah says:

    Thanks for chiming in KLC. Rachel articulated many of my thoughts. I’ll just add this. A few years ago I was in a YW presidency and not ONE of the 20+ girls had two parents who attended church. Some were the only member in their family. If my lessons made them feel as if their families were less or damaged or that God would break up their family . . . I think I’d be guilty of spiritual abuse! It’s the balance between teaching gospel principles but remembering that serving others with love is THE gospel principle. With so many interfaith and part-member families, learning how to nurture all our families seems like an important task of a Zion community. Sounds like a good future post from someone . . .

  27. KLC says:

    Rachel, how can you speak so assuredly about what your friends did or did not feel? Are you sure they shared everything with you? You talk about it as if they thought it was no big deal but that is not a suprising perspective from someone who didn’t have a non-member parent. To you it wasn’t a big deal because at that time you never had to consider it except as a theoretical problem. Maybe your friends were astonishingly vapid and shallow and never considered the dilemma of their situation and LDS doctrine, but I would bet that they weren’t, and if they were breathing and conscious I would bet that they did think about it and it did cause them a lot of concern, anguish and pain, the kind of deep, existential pain that many people don’t share with others, even good friends.

    Your experience with your parent’s divorce shows that you did experience pain and confusion similar to mine, but I think I should have been more explicit about why I commented in the first place. I see an important difference between your experience and that of a child in an interfaith marriage. I doubt your parents got engaged assuming that 2 decades later they would dissolve their marriage and cause their children pain and confusion. But adults who enter into interfaith marriages with the intention of raising their children as LDS do make a conscious choice that definitely will cause pain and confusion for their children as they try to reconcile what they hear and see in church with their own families.

    I’m not talking about being sensitive to family situations in lessons, I’m not talking about nurturing part member families which we all know comprise a significant amount of the church. I’m not sure I explained adequately what I felt as a child and why my BYU friend left that classroom crying. Those feelings weren’t from insensitive or abusive teachers and members. Those feelings arose from conflicts between our own situations and fundamental gospel principles of eternal families sealed together in the temple which I knew and my friend knew were out of the question for us at that time. Of course we could have hope, of course we could depend on a loving God, but I can assure you that did not eliminate the pain.

    I’m not saying interfaith marriages are bad, I’m not saying that anything said in this discussion is wrong, everyone has to decide what is best for their own lives, including who they will marry and why. But the whole tone of the conversation struck me as incomplete. Yes you and your spouse can negotiate an interfaith marriage with compassion and thoughtfulness and success, but if you intend to have children and you intend to raise them in the church you cannot approach the question of interfaith marriage without seriously considering what kind of consequences you are creating for the silent partners in that decision.

    I hope I haven’t come across too abrasively or insensitively, perhaps you can tell that this topic dredges up deeply personal and deeply painful memories for me.

  28. Deborah says:

    KLC: I absolutely hear the passion and pain in your tone. Please be careful that, in this intensity, you don’t cross over into maligning others (e.g. suggesting that a child that does not face an spiritual crisis within an interfaith family is “astonishingly vapid and shallow”). Your story offers valuable perspective — absolutes less so (e.g. “your child *will* suffer this way”); people are in part-member marriages by choice, by inspiration, by painful change in circumstance (when a spouse loses faith), or by conversion (one converts, the other doesn’t). I hope, as a community, we can help nurture families on their diverse journeys.

  29. rachel says:

    KLC,

    i’m glad you’re commenting. i think your perspective was needed for a more rounded discussion.

    i’m not trying to discount your experiences and/or feelings or even those of my friends. you’re right, i’m sure my friends didn’t tell me all of their deepest feelings. i just know that in their homes it was always taught that their family would be sealed one day….so they children didn’t dispair (or at least that’s what they’ve indicated to me). there was always a feeling of hope and we will be together b/c the gospel plan leaves that open.

    do you think there is anything your parents could have done differently so you didn’t feel such anquish? i’m wondering what i can learn from your parents so my future children won’t feel this pain.

  30. rachel says:

    deborah,

    yes! we are the body of christ. it would be great to hear from people on how others have been supportive of interfaith families…either other family members or ward members, etc.

    i know i never thought i’d marry outside the church and/or temple. i think i shocked everyone i know by doing so. but i also know i felt guided by the spirit in my decision. i don’t think an interfaith marriage would work for a lot of people but i think all of us need to be supportive of those in such a marriage.

  31. KLC says:

    Deborah, you’re right, my tone went awry but I think you also are mischaracterizing what I said.

    I didn’t mean to suggest that a child within an interfaith marriage must either face a spiritual crisis or be vapid and shallow. Most don’t face any kind of crisis, I didn’t, my friend didn’t. What we did face was real, deep pain that our eternal destiny as defined by the church we loved and believed in was limited by the non-member status of one of our parents.

    I agree that “vapid and shallow” were poor word choices, but I used them not to malign anyone but to emphasize that the most average child does not have to go to church for very long before she understands the doctrine of eternal families, the role of temples in making them, and the impossibility of a non-member participating there. And so, even though I know you disagree, I’m comfortable saying that any child in an interfaith marriage who believes, or wants to believe, what she hears in church will experience some of that pain.

    Rachel, in my home we were also taught that our family would someday be sealed, we had lots of hope and there was no visible despair, we were a pretty stoic bunch. If you had known us you might have come to the same conclusion you reached about you friends. But it was there, not on the surface, not close to the surface most of the time, but it was there.

    Thanks for letting me take part in the conversation.

  32. Deborah says:

    Thanks for the clarification KLC. Glad to have you here.

  33. Marie says:

    Deborah,
    Thank you for sharing this, I have actually been wondering about your marriage ever since I heard that you had gotten married. I married a catholic boy almost ten years ago and know very few people in interfaith relationships. I am also completely fine with the reality that my husband will never join the church although it took a few years for me to get there. Now I just wish that everyone would stop trying to convert him and just get to know the person he is and not treat him like a potential convert. Church is sometimes difficult with the constant focus on temple marriages (especially with kids) but I am happy with the community I have at church.

  34. Deborah says:

    P.S. I am certain that you are right that things will be said in church that will cause children in interfaith families pain. And I do not doubt yours. I was acutely aware of that when I was in Primary; I think I was primed to notice how comments might be interpreted by children in various family situations (especially since family was the theme for the ENTIRE YEAR).

    Most of the women who I have talked to who have (prayerfully) chosen to marry outside the church have undergone moments of sadness or pain, sometimes intense — from a change in personal expectation, from “disappointing” their families (I’ve heard some heart-breaking stories about parents’ reactions to their children), from members who aren’t sure whether they should congratulate you or mourn. I hope you have found peace in your family and your spiritual path (I know that could sound glib, but I mean it).

  35. EmilyCC says:

    KLC, thank you for talking about your experience here. I’m embarrassed to admit that I hadn’t really thought about the experience of children in an interfaith marriage. Were there things that ward members did that helped you in this struggle? We have some kids in our Primary who are in your situation, and I’m often wondering what I can do to help them.

  36. Deborah says:

    Is this Marie from college-days Marie?!

  37. Marie says:

    Yes, it’s me. I was so curious because you are one of the most awesome women I have ever known and you seem to be pulling off – so gracefully – a situation that I struggled with for quite a while.

  38. Deborah says:

    Ha! You didn’t see my angst six years ago!! But thanks for your kind words — you are pretty awesome yourself.

  39. ZD Eve says:

    What we did face was real, deep pain that our eternal destiny as defined by the church we loved and believed in was limited by the non-member status of one of our parents.

    Personally I find that one of the hardest things I have to face as a parent is that I cannot spare my children pain.

    I’m in a marriage between two RM descendants of the pioneers that went interfaith, so to speak, shortly after the temple ceremony. My husband describes himself as agnostic/atheist/humanist. After many discussions during our infertility years he finally decided he can accept my raising our children Mormon. As others have said on this thread, sometimes it’s overwhelming to realize that their entire religious education is up to me. But my husband is also a good man and an excellent father to our little girl. It is vital to the success of any marriage that each partner genuinely accept the things they wouldn’t have chosen in the other. For me, that means accepting my husband’s unbelief without living in any sort of imagined future in which it changes, much to my convenience.

    My daughter may very well experience the pain you have, KLC. I will, of course, do everything I can to comfort her and to intercept and neutralize problematic ideas she may encounter at church. But at the end of the day, I am only one of her parents. There’s only so much of her life I can control, and the control I have will diminish with each passing year. One way or another, she is going to encounter pain that I cannot kiss away.

    I don’t want to downplay the significance of a temple marriage or the significance of having a common religious background and beliefs. These things are real and vital considerations, as I think no one here would deny. On the other hand, it’s important to understand that a temple marriage is a guarantee of precisely nothing. It’s not a guarantee that your spouse will stay active or believing or faithful. It’s not a guarantee that you won’t have to go to church alone. It’s not a guarantee that your children will grow up in an ideal LDS family with a priesthood-exercising father.

    This is the reality in which my children will, in all likelihood, grow up. It isn’t ideal. It isn’t easy. But it’s simply not worth wringing my hands over, either. No one lives an ideal or easy life. No one. It’s folly to agonize over what I can’t change and can’t control.

    All of us make the best choices we can from an array of imperfect alternatives. Sometimes interfaith marriage, however it came to be, is the best choice.

  40. KLC says:

    ZD Eve, I think your comment about no guarantees is how I would answer EmilyCC’s question to me. I never felt out of place at church, I never felt singled out or ignored, it always felt like home to me. The feelings I described came from the things you ponder at age 12 or 13 that are very real but that you try not to think about. Things like the eventual death of your parents or of yourself. I think the best thing we can do for any child in the church is teach them there are no perfect families or perfect people and that we really are here on earth to learn how to live and love, members and non-members, friends and enemies.

  41. Deborah says:

    Amen to both of you. Okay, I really must go to bed now!

  42. A couple of thoughts on all this:

    js ~ I appreciate so much that you shared your experience and your pain. However, after reading the comment that you left on another blog under a different handle this morning, it really sounds like the interfaith factor was just one of many problems with your marriage. (I’m not going to link to the comment since you did use different handles.) I’m not saying that your concerns are unfounded, I’m just saying that the factors affecting your own interfaith marriage were rather atypical and troubled in their own right.

    KLC ~ I appreciate your perspective as the child of an interfaith union. I believe that the strain an interfaith marriage can put on the children is the #1 cause for caution when considering one, and LDS interfaith marriages add a unique factor with the emphasis on eternal families.

    However, I do need to point out that for children to lack sealings to their parents is hardly a unique challenge to interfaith couples. Virtually any adult convert to the church is going to lack sealing to his or her parents. Some children where Mom & Dad are both LDS still lack sealings to their parents, either because one or more parents aren’t “worthy” or because Mom is stuck with a sealing to a former husband due to death. I’m not saying the couple should not be cautious for this reason; they should. But it sounds like the church needs to do a better job of not rubbing the BIC thing in people’s faces.

    There’s a passage on this very topic in 1 Corinthians, offering encouragement to spouses with children in interfaith marriages:

    1 Corinthians 7:14 ~ For the unbelieving husband is made holy through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy through her husband. Otherwise, your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. (NRSV)

    I don’t know about the other interfaith couples here, but the Bible says my husband and daughter have been made holy through me, that even one believing spouse is a very powerful thing.

    I dare anyone to tell me otherwise.

  43. One more thought.

    Being a never-Mormon, I’ve never been through an LDS temple. But my LDS friends tell me that the story of the Fall there is a bit different from the biblical account. Us Protestants like to debate whether or not Adam was just standing their the whole time, doing nothing to stop things, while Eve was being tempted and eating the fruit. Mormons apparently know better. They know that Adam was nowhere near the scene of the crime, and subsequently he had a choice: stay in paradise, or fall to be with the woman he loved.

    My husband is a lot like the LDS Adam. He decided that life with the woman he loved was better than eternity without her.

    Maybe some of you are like the LDS Adam, too.

  44. Deborah says:

    To quote Mark Twain’s take on Adam and Eve: “Wherever she was, there was Eden.”

  45. rachel says:

    i’m definitely like the LDS adam!

    love your comments, ms jack meyers…. and your blog.

  46. Kelly Ann says:

    Deborah, Thank you for this post, the links, and opening this brilliant discussion! As evidenced by the response, interfaith relationships affect a lot of us. I am particularly pleased to see commentators like Jack present.

    As I have commented in some of the recent dating posts on various sites, I feel like dating outside of the church has been very beneficial for me. Although trying to explain some of the oddities of Mormondom was one of the hardest factors in my relationship. In some ways, the open discussion made me realize how much I didn’t believe some things. However, I guess it has taught me what friendship and romance really is.

    I actually had a lot of good models of interfaith relationships growing up. However, I was still hesitant to seriously date outside the church until a few years ago for all the reasons stated in this thread. Currently single, I now waver as to what I want as I increase my activity while maintaining my doubts. So I just focus on friendship and look in and outside the church.

    As for Jack’s comment regarding being like Adam, I like that notion. However, my take on it is that it wasn’t necessarily so much about love as it was about honoring a covenant that he had already made to cleave unto his wife and multiply and replenish the earth. He was being forced to choose to break one commandment (either eat the fruit or be separated from his wife) and therefore chose Eve. I don’t mean to be cynical about love as a motivator, I just think the comparison has it’s limitations in terms of someone choosing an interfaith marriage (perhaps being more applicable to staying with a partner afterwards). Just a thought …

  47. that1girl says:

    Kelly Ann, I can see your reasoning behind limiting the comparison to Adam, but aren’t we, too, commanded to multiply and replenish the earth? I have be taught since YW that the most important thing I can ever do to show my love for Christ and build His kingdom is to be a Mother.* If I am left with a choice of remaining single forever with no children in this life (with a chance of marrying on the other side) or marrying outside of the church and having a family (again, with the chance of being sealed to my spouse on the other side OR marrying someone else on the other side), can I really be faulted for choosing a spouse and a family? In both cases, I’ll have the opportunity to marry on the other side (and have any children sealed t me), but in the latter, I have the chance at a family in this life.

    * I don’t necessarily agree with that 100% anymore, but I did for a long time and many women do.

  48. Deborah says:

    I just want to thank everyone who responded on this thread — one of the best I have participated in, due to the thoughtful comments and sharing. Y’all made my week.

  49. D'Arcy says:

    Deborah. The courage of you and your husband on your combined journeys makes me very, very happy.

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  52. Kent says:

    The first and great commandment is to love the Lord. I encourage reading President Ezra Taft Benson’s General Conference address in April 1988 “The Great Commandment – Love the Lord.”

  53. C says:

    I happily agreed to interfaith marriage after a failed temple marriage with an unfaithful and abusive LDS marriage .
    All was well until we had a daughter together .
    I would hope anyone considering interfaith marriage would ask the hard questions that need answering before making a very serious choice .
    What faith will children be raised in ?
    What media will they be allowed to watch and listen to?
    Etc, etc,etc. We didn’t have this conversation because our daughter’s birth wasn’t planned .
    When our daughter was 5 , he began to dislike her church attendance ( and the free three hours it gave him every Sunday). He has been perpetually jealous and worried about any involvement with the gospel and the people within it . Daily there is friction as media choices we would make for our daughter conflict . Budget, schedule , everything literally can become a battleground, however silent and peaceful the battle .
    What sorrow and constant work and missing blessings await those who lightly decide , as I did , to enter in to an interfaith marriage without securing correct answers to vital questions . Love does not solve it nor comfort it .

  54. Kent says:

    Read President Benson’s General Conference address on The First Commandment (April 1986 or 1988).

  1. June 6, 2010

    […] A great article about the makings of a Catholic-Mormon marriage, and what it means to show respect for religion both directions. I have a vested interested in hearing people’s interfaith marriage stories. […]

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