Friday, September 16, 2011

Should Mormons Marry Non-Mormons?

In any relationship or organization, all differences compound difficulties. One of the hardest parts of community ("unity of more than one person") is working out differences. With that foundation, every major difference that exists in a marriage compounds the potential for future difficulty - and religious difference is a major difference.

Can it be overcome? Absolutely. Is it easy? Absolutely not! (especially the stronger the beliefs and difference are) It is the #1 breaker of marriage I know for those whose religious beliefs differ in significant ways.

Having said that, the following are multiple sides of the issue:

1) Based on the most recent LDS divorce stats of which I am aware (and, to be totally honest, I have not researched this in over a year), the temple marriage divorce rate is about 6%-10% - the lowest rate of all religion-based rates in the US, by far. The divorce rate for LDS non-temple marriages (when both people are Mormon) is about 18%-21% - dead average for all Christian denominations. The divorce rate for an LDS/non-LDS marriage is about 41%. That's a HUGE difference, and it's the highest rate among all of the religion-based categories.

Basically, a Mormon who marries "outside the faith" is 4-7 times more likely to get divorced than someone who marries in the temple and over twice as likely as someone who marries another member outside the temple. That's significant, to put it mildly. Finally, a 41% divorce rate means a 59% non-divorce rate - but there is no indication of how many of those "successful" marriages only stay intact because the Mormon spouse gives up attending for the sake of the marriage. If you add those two aspects (divorce from the marriage AND divorce from the Church combined), my guess is that the actual "failure rate" (from a strictly religious activity standpoint) probably is as high as 70%. That's frightening.

2) My own "courtship" was not perfectly in line with the Church's general standard - on the other extreme. I never dated anyone other than my wife after she turned 16. I proposed to her (and she wore an actual engagement ring, with the wedding band in her room at home) before my mission - and before her senior year in high school. She was 17 at the time. We got married 6 weeks after I returned from my mission, a few days after she turned 20. We had all kinds of pressure from disbelieving friends and family to slow down and not make that commitment at that age. We understood the concerns as well as we could, and we understand them much better now that we have kids who are past those ages, but we were convinced we were doing what we were supposed to do - and we were right.

3) Inter-faith marriage, when both spouses have strong beliefs that differ, can be and usually is VERY hard, and it is something I believe should NEVER be done with the idea that "s/he will convert after our marriage". That belief leads to actions that lead to pressure that leads to hard feelings that lead to divorce, in my opinion. If you really love someone, you love them not only for who they might become but also for who they are - regardless of who they might become.

4) Having said all that, in the end, I also believe that if two people truly can become one in this life, God will not split them up in the hereafter - since "joining the Church" is not the ultimate goal, and since we symbolically seal them regardless of their denominational affiliation in mortality. Becoming one with each other and with God is the ultimate goal - and that happens outside the LDS Church and outside Christianity all the time. It's just much harder when religious beliefs differ.

Summary: I have no answers for individual circumstances, but, as a general rule, I believe strongly that it is MUCH easier to make a marriage work when foundational religious beliefs are shared. If they aren't, based on real statistics, it becomes a total crap shoot. Some win; at least as many lose.


Peter LLC said...

As someone who happily married a Catholic, I couldn't agree more with: "[An inter-faith marriage] is something I believe should NEVER be done with the idea that "s/he will convert after our marriage".

Also, even the most active members of the Church ought to cross-stitch this and hang it up somewhere: "If you really love someone, you love them not only for who they might become but also for who they are - regardless of who they might become."

Anonymous said...

From Elder Robert D. Hales, discussing the question, "How do I find the right person to marry?":

"Measure the spiritual level of your potential future companions. First, if they are members of the Church, are they active and fully committed, or are they passive or antagonistic? Second, if they are not members, are they receptive to the gospel and its teachings, or are they noncommittal or antagonistic?

"... But if you marry somebody who is antagonistic to the Church or passive toward the gospel, you are placing yourself in a position where you will find someday that you may have to choose between that individual and the Church. That is a very heavy resonsibility." (Ensign, Sep 2011, 46, citing his BYU devotional address of Nov 9, 1976)

Anonymous said...

You are dead on. I know of only a handful of people who have stayed active after marrying a non-member. I have served in leadership positions that where I have constant review of membership records and situations for the past 20 years. If I had to venture a guess, I would say 95% of members who marry a non-member go inactive. Like Elder Hales says, eventually a choice has to be made, and sadly, the choice of church, or any religious activity, usually loses.

Anonymous said...

What the survey doesn't say when talking about "the temple marriage divorce rate is about 6%-10% - the lowest rate of all religion-based rates in the US, by far." is that I know numerous of couple staying together because of their "eternal covenant" but they don't love each other anymore. But the eternal family ideal pressure is so strong among the church that they prefer to stay unhappy together rather to be divorced... Or women stay because they don't have the money or the job to leave as the church teaches us to be a mom at home. And they are in a trap without any financial ressources... I stood in that trap with a violent husband almost all my life because of that. But I know many around me who told me they will stay because kids, because finances... Is not there a huge hidden problem in those statistics?

Papa D said...

Yes, Anonymous, the most recent, that is a problem (a serious problem) - but it is not a uniquely Mormon problem. There are lots of women AND men who stay in unhappy, unhealthy marriages "because kids, because finances, because self-esteem caused by abuse, because familiarity, because fear of being alone, because, because, because . . ."

I absolutely am not trying to diminish the seriousness of the issue, but it is a societal one, not a uniquely Mormon one.

Papa D said...

Also, as a follow-up to my last comment, if you come back and read this, I would suggest you look at another post I wrote:

"When Divorce Is the Best Option"

Sulanne G. said...

I dated both members and non. Talked seriously about marriage with only members, though.
I was engaged to a missionary and was allowed to date while he was gone (proved to be the demise of our relationship, of course).
I met a non-member and we dated for a short time before he asked me to marry him.
(note sarcasm)
I told him that I simply couldn't marry him unless he could take me to the temple. I was a TBM, having just gone through a few disciplinary councils and was on that "high" and "holier than thou" mentality. lol.
Anyway - he was eventually baptized and I agreed to marry him.
He is the stronger of the two of us in faith (I'm so glad).
I have watched many of my friends choose to marry non-members...great people, but when it came down to "how" to live life, their relationships were fraught with tension and were, subsequently, terrible marriages.
All but one has ended in divorce so far and we are just waiting for that one to crumble.

I'd put a plug in for marrying INSIDE of one's faith, no matter what the faith is.


Anonymous said...

Hindus in the US have lower divorce rate than the Mormons. Hindus divorce rate is only 5%. Get your facts right, before posting stuff publicly.

Papa D said...

Anonymous, the most recent, you are correct. I should have been more precise and limited the numerical statement to inter-Christian rates of divorce.

Mea culpa.