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.


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