SAMPLE PROBLEMS THAT MAY ARISE IN AN INTER-FAITH
To a degree, two people who are living together are certain to be in a mixed
relationship, whether they are married or not. In most countries, a marriage is
composed of two persons of different genders: one woman and one man. (In Canada,
the Netherlands and Belgium, where same-sex marriages are
permitted, gender may not be a factor. However society's lack of acceptance
of such marriages will introduce additional pressures.) The couple's may have
grown up under different economic conditions; there may be a difference in race,
age, political views, language, country of origin, education, goals, religion
and other factors.
Of these, the religious factor can be a particularly major stressor, because
the couple may well have conflicting views on morality, ethics, theology, world
view, family traditions, etc. These may influence many of their decisions,
wants, priorities, and needs.
I recall an personal incident in my early twenties. I had gone out on a first
date with a young woman, which we both seemed to enjoy. We had a lot in common
and had some unusually deep conversations. I was surprised after she turned me
down flat when I asked for a second date. She explained that she was a Roman
Catholic and never went out on a second date with a non-Catholic. She had a
policy of avoiding any possibility of ending up in a religiously mixed marriage.
On 2003-JUL-1, Beliefnet.com hosted a
Christian discussion board on the topic of inter-faith marriages. It was based
on the biblical text in 2 Corinthians 6:14: "Be ye not unequally yoked
together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with
unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?" Paul implies
that all Christians are righteous and symbolized by light, while all
non-Christians are unrighteous and symbolized by darkness. At first glance Paul
would seem to be making a religiously intolerant statement about non-Christians.
However, according to Webster, the word "unrighteous" has multiple
meanings, one of which is "Acting in accordance with divine or moral law."
1 From Paul's point of view, a Christian would probably be
acting according to the "divine or moral law" of the Hebrew Scriptures
(Old Testament) as enhanced by Jesus, Paul and other biblical writers. Roman
Pagans, Greek Pagans and other non-Christians would be following a different
system of religious laws which would not necessarily match those of
Christianity. So, perhaps Paul's comment was accurate as far as righteousness is
concerned. However, his analogies of Christians and non-Christians to light and
darkness does seem a trifle judgmental and perhaps bigoted.
A number of points were raised by the postings to this discussion board:
||Most of the contributors appeared to be conservative Christians who
were undecided about the specific role that God plays a major role in
arranging relationships. Most thought that God plays a very intrusive
and controlling role in people's life by urging everyone towards his
will when they make fundamental decisions in life: education, selection
of an occupation and employer, choosing a life partner, etc. Thus, they
expect God to engineer events so that the one person that God has chosen
as their marriage partner will appear in their life. But what is
happening if you meet a wonderful person with fine qualities, and fell
in love with them, even though they are of a different religion?
||Could God have selected this person for you? Perhaps God is using
you to draw your soulmate into the right religion.
||Did the person appear by random chance? i.e. did God have no role
in the meeting.
||Did Satan bring that person into your life with evil intent,
knowing that they were not a suitable partner, and that a future
marriage would be disastrous?
These appear to be unanswerable questions. One might try to assess the will
of God through prayer. However, a pilot study appears
to indicate that this is impossible.
||Another posting listed some typical situations that might arise during
an inter-faith marriage. These might present problems that would have to be
solved through careful communication:|
||One spouse gives a high priority to tithing to their church; the other
might object to supporting a church that they don't believe in.
||The couple may have as many children as they want. One spouse wants to
have a vasectomy or to have her fallopian tubes tied, thus assuring no
more pregnancies. The other is a Catholic whose church forbids this
action. How are they to resolve the conflict?
||The family pet dies and one parent consoles their young child by
saying that the animal went to heaven. The
other spouse does not believe in life after death -- at least for
non-human animals, and is unwilling to lie to the child. How can their
beliefs be respected?
||A child attends Sunday School at a church supported by one parent but
not the other. The child learns that all non-Christians -- or all unsaved
people -- will go to Hell when they die. This
includes their other parent. The child has nightmares and/or refused to go
to Sunday School because the church is so exclusionary.
||One could imagine other conflicts that could have their roots in
||What if one spouse is strongly pro-life and feels that they have an
obligation to picket abortion providers, while the other is pro-choice?
||What if one child in the family announces that they are gay or
lesbian. If one partner is a religious conservative, they will probably
want to have the child seek counseling and become a heterosexual. The
other spouse may believe that one's sexual orientation is unchosen and
fixed, and that reparative counseling can lead
to serious emotional problems.
||What if the couple finds themselves pregnant and don't want to be? One
spouse may feel that an abortion is the least worse choice, while the
other might feel that an abortion is a form of murder and thus not
acceptable under any circumstances.
||How does the couple handle the religious training of their children.
If the couple is sufficiently far apart in religious beliefs, then the
religious training in one spouse's religious institution will appear to be
blasphemy to the other spouse.
||What about the afterlife? If one spouse belongs to a
exclusive faith group that believes that only
its members will go to Heaven, or that only those individuals who have
been saved will avoid Hell, then how do they handle the belief that their
spouse will be tortured for eternity in Hell?
||One posting to the discussion board suggested that they could handle be
"unequally yoked" with a partner who was of a different religion, if
that religion were of prime importance in their partner's life, and if their
life reflected it.|
||Another suggested that Satan may be tempting a person in a mixed
relationship and will only allow the couple to see each other's good
qualities. Of course, after they are married, then the bad qualities emerge
and cause serious conflicts.|
Dictionary, Tenth Edition," Page 1008
Copyright © 2003 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2003-JUL-4
Latest update: 2003-JUL-4
Author: B.A. Robinson