Five years ago, my routine for going to church was kind of like a scene from Captain America.
First, I would set my alarm and place it under my pillow. That way it was loud enough for me to hear but muffled enough that nobody else in my house could hear.
Then I would tiptoe to the bathroom to get ready. Within 20 minutes, I would have thrown on my clothes, slipped a pair of shoes into my purse, and planned my escape route. Typically, this meant I would slip down the staircase barefoot and creep along the shadows in the hallway. I would then pause and listen for footsteps before quietly dashing across the kitchen floor and out the back door.
Once safely outside, there was only one thing left to do—jump over the back fence and borrow the car so I could go to church without anybody seeing me.
This was my routine almost every Sunday. All because my parents don’t share the same religion.
Some people say that love is the most important thing in a marriage. If you have love, the logic goes, you can work through anything, including a difference of religion. Maybe that’s true for some really special people but, based on my experience, it’s not the case for most.
Love is, of course, important, but sharing the same worldview and faith is a very big deal. Perhaps these three misconceptions that many believe about interfaith marriage help us to see why.
1. Any Children We Have Will Be Able to Easily Choose What to Believe
My whole Captain America going to church routine was designed around my dad—who is a Muslim.
I have a great relationship with my dad, so it wasn’t a secret that I am Christian. What was a secret was that I was going to church on my own by choice under his nose. What was also a secret was the amount of time I spent feeling guilty about choosing my mom’s religion over my dad’s.
Identifying with one parent’s faith more than the other’s always felt like picking sides. Even though my parents stayed married, I could never buy into my parent’s attempts to make us feel like a “normal family.”
Love between parents can’t protect children from everything. When it comes to guilt about choosing one parent’s religion over the other, the fact that your parents love each other doesn’t really help you feel better.
2. My Spouse’s Faith Will Have No Effect on the Family’s Unity
My parents attempted to adopt the live and let live philosophy. They would each follow their respective faiths. They would also give us, the children, the freedom to choose our own beliefs.
This sounded awesome in theory. The practical application, though? Not so much.
Our family ended up going through a phase where we would go to mosque on Friday and then church on Sunday.
This had some unintended side effects.
The more often my parents went to church and mosque, the more serious they became about their individual faiths.
The more serious my mom became about Christianity, the more she wanted to do the things the Bible said. And the more serious my dad became about Islam, the more he wanted to do the things the Quran said.
Sure, Islam and Christianity are similar in some respects, but they are drastically different in other core beliefs, so this was a problem.
The definition of marriage is to live life together with somebody else—in unity. It becomes tricky to live in unity when the individuals in the marriage are getting their ideas about how to live life from different sources.
When the Quran says to do one thing and the Bible says to do another, what’s a married couple to do?
This situation typically means having to choose between happiness in their marriage and fulfillment in their faith. It’s never pretty.
3. My Partner Will Definitely Change One Day
Obviously, people can and do change. It’s a testament to my mom’s die-hard optimism about life in general that, when my mom and dad got married, there was a small glimmer of hope in her mind that he would become a Christian one day.
Thirty-one years into their marriage, I think my mom still has that glimmer of hope that one day my dad will become a Christian. I’m hoping and praying right along with her because I love both my parents.
But you have to ask to ask yourself if you’re willing to go on hoping for something for over 30 years.
I’m not saying it can’t happen. We’ve all heard powerful testimonies of it happening. I’m just saying that’s not an expectation to build a happy marriage on.
It’s one thing to marry a Christian that decides to stop following Christ—there’s not much you could have done about that. It’s quite another thing to marry a non-Christian, grow spiritually, and then have to pray the same prayer every day for three decades.
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The point of this article is not to say that non-Christians are bad, or even that you can’t possibly have a good marriage with someone who doesn’t share your faith. The point is: Especially if you want to unreservedly follow Jesus and use your life to further the Kingdom, the other person’s faith is just as (if not more) important than being in love.
Saying “I do” is a commitment unlike any other commitment in life. It requires compromise on a lot of issues, both big and small: How should we load the dishwasher? Where should we live? How many kids should we have?
Basically, marriage is difficult enough as is. Do you want to complicate it further with different worldviews?