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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, 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:

bullet 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?
bullet Could God have selected this person for you? Perhaps God is using you to draw your soulmate into the right religion.
bullet Did the person appear by random chance? i.e. did God have no role in the meeting.
bullet 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.

bullet 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:
bullet 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.
bullet 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?
bullet 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?
bullet 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.
bullet One could imagine other conflicts that could have their roots in different faiths:
bullet 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?
bullet 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.
bullet 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.
bullet 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.
bullet 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?
bullet 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.
bullet 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.

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  1. "Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition," Page 1008

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Copyright 2003 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2003-JUL-4
Latest update: 2003-JUL-4
Author: B.A. Robinson

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