I'm considering marrying an active Roman Catholic guy and I'm
Lutheran. I'm wondering if any of you in this group are experiencing
such a relationship and can offer any input or advice!
This has come up more than once over the years, in lots of newsgroups.
Here are some things to think about:
1) Religious differences *can be* a major problem.
If both parties are both very rigid in what they believe and how they
react to other religious traditions, it can go badly. In some cases,
people don't think something is a big issue, but get upset when their
spouse takes a different view on it.
My feeling on this was that while one often speaks of a "church family",
there's a failure to consider what that means. You and your husband
will be a new family -- but you'll both still be related to your old
families. To me, saying "you must break off from your old church
family" would be as unreasonable as saying "No, you may not go to your
mother's birthday party." or "We will spend every Christmas and
Thanksgiving with my family, and your parents can come if they want."
Hopefully no sane person would ever try to cut off a spouse's family
just because "we're a new family now"; but for some reason many people
feel free to do that same thing with church families.
In addition, I believe that using any kind of coercion in matters of
belief is immoral. That includes emotional pressure based on marriage.
Nobody, not even your husband, has any right to order you to believe
something for which you do not find compelling evidence.
2) Religions have varying requirements.
IIRC, he is only supposed to get married by an RC priest, who will only
perform the ceremony on the condition you agree the children will be
raised as Roman Catholics. Are you willing to do that? It seems bad to
start a marriage with an act of dishonesty, which is what you'd be doing
if you sign such an agreement while intending to break it.
As a Roman Catholic, he's not supposed to use birth control. Of course,
if you take contraceptive pills, then you'd be using the BC and he would
not -- but that's a mighty fine hair to split. Also, there are some
intimate activities which the Vatican opposes that other Christian
groups do not object to. If you're looking forward to them, and he
won't do them, you should work that out in advance.
Also, I believe RC kids are supposed to attend RC services every so
often, and possibly even attend parochial schools. Never been to either
one, myself, but I imagine that RC schools don't have many nice words
to say about Martin Luther. That may make it awkward when the kids ask
why you go to a Lutheran church.
You don't say what flavor of Lutheran you are, but I think there's an
anti-evolution Lutheran group kicking around. The Vatican, by contrast,
has little trouble with the mainstream scientific view of Earth history,
provided one recognises that it's limited only to science. Is that
going to be a problem?
3) What percentage are you "Lutheran" as opposed to "Christian"?
Many people equate "faith" with "what's printed on the sign in front of
the building". Some Christians have no trouble marrying other
Christians of different flavors; others find it horrible.
In my view, the history of Christianity serves as a perfect object
lesson for why one should not put one's faith in the administrations
that are supposed to keep the church organised. If that's where your
faith lies, then someone whose church has a different administration is
obviously of the wrong faith.
Is that how you identify yourself? Is that how he identifies himself?
4) How respectful are you to people who believe differently?
If both people are able to discuss religion without arguing, then
doctrinal differences, especially if they aren't about core doctrines,
may be an interesting area of exploration and growth. But if they argue
a lot -- if they NEED the other person to agree -- that can be a
problem. Arguing about religion is among the most useless of all human
activities. Generally, when it comes to religious ideas -- or even
ideas ABOUT religion -- people believe whatever they want. It doesn't
have to be true, be demonstrable, or even be a proposition to which a
truth value could be assigned. Asking "Why do you think that?" is a
perfectly respectful and sensible thing to do, but going back and forth
over the same point trying to convince each other is a complete waste.
If a couple is going to spend a lot of time arguing in an attempt to
convert each other, that is likely to mean years of frustration.
Similar thoughts apply to religious practice. If both people are able
to do things out of respect for each other, then differences in practice
may also be interesting. I don't mean doing something "to humor
her/him", which implies disrespect, but rather St Ambrose's advice about
fasting on Saturday: "When I am at Rome, I fast on a Saturday; when I am
at Milan, I do not. Follow the custom of the church where you are." If
you think "I respect the people of this religious community, and follow
their customs because it's what they do here", then that's great. If
you're thinking "This is stupid, but if I don't do it then I'll get
nagged", that's not so good.
5) Having kids can change how you feel about things.
It helps if you agree what to tell the kids, and what to do with them,
in advance. If one feels strongly boys should be circumcised, and the
other regards that as primitive tribal genital mutilation, then there
may be some friction. If one is a strict young-earth creationist, and
the other is a geologist/evolutionary biologist/&c, they may be able to
joke about it when it's just them -- and then be at loggerheads when
"You told our little girl WHAT?"
In point (4), I suggested that you might be willing to follow some RC
practices out of respect for your husband. But your willingness to make
such a compromise for yourself may change when you're expected to make
it for the kids too.
There are some potential benefits to your situation.
A) If your kids see that you believe slightly different things and
still treat each other with love and respect, they will learn that
one does not have to attack others just for being different. You
can say of disagreements that "Mommy thinks one thing and Daddy
thinks another; we don't know who's right but it's not worth
B) Some religious groups tend to encourage reading of particular
writers and focus on particular kinds of art. Your situation might
serve to motivate you to read books from each others' religious
traditions, and open you up to things you wouldn't have encountered
C) Many people go through life without ever even wondering why others
disagree with their religion, or at best asking rhetorically "How
can people believe that?" without caring for the answer. Couples of
different religions will probably be spared that fate.
Here are some suggestions for what you should do:
1) Assume, right now, that neither of you is ever going to convert and
you'll have to find workarounds that are going to last for 60 years.
If you assume "Well, he'll see the light in a little while and then
everything will be fine", you may well have a seriously unhappy
2) Each of you should figure out what you consider non-negotiable, and
then decide whether you can accomodate the other person's
requirements. This will help you discover whether you have any
3) If it's not completely unacceptable, you should try to attend
services together. Maybe alternating on Sundays, or going to the
8am service one place and the 10am service the other, or going to
Saturday services and then Sunday services if your groups have
services on different days, or whatever works out.
4) Find areas of agreement, and try to focus on them. Read books
by Christian authors (say, _God in the Dock_ by CS Lewis) together,
and talk about the relevant issues which come up.
5) Read each others' literature, insofar as there is any, so as to
learn more about each other. Remember Aristotle's dictum that
"It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a
thought without accepting it."
There are many books written by people explaining their religious
traditions without overly trying to convert their readers (there's a
"Why I Am A ______" series, for "Catholic" and "Lutheran", and
so on). You should each read the Lutheran and Catholic ones, and
talk about them while you're reading them.
Also, there are some humor books which might help lighten the
situation, with names such as _Growing Up Catholic_ and _Growing up
Lutheran_ (and _Growing Up Born Again_, &c.). You might both read
the relevant books here, too.
7) Neither person should use the marriage as a lever to modify the
religious ideas of the other. Even if it gets you the result you
want, you don't want it to come that way. The reason is that there
would be no way to tell if the other person was just going through
the motions to get you to stop nagging. No way to tell, that is,
until piled up resentment explodes in your face.
8) Develop a pattern of pleasant, sensible negotiation early on, and
you'll reap the benefits for decades to come. You'll be spending
Christmas and Thanksgiving as a married couple. Will you travel to
be with parents? Which set? A real tree or a fake tree? Giblets
in the stuffing, or not? (I wrote a post on this some years ago:
which you may like to see.)
To be clear, I don't suggest compromise if it will cost you anything
really important. Getting married isn't supposed to make you less
of the person you are; you shouldn't have to give up your hobbies,
or change your beliefs, or anything. But at the same time, being
married is about a big change in your life: you're not the only one
in it anymore. Making some changes is to be expected.
You might like to read _Getting to YES: Negotiating Agreement
Without Giving In_, by Roger Fisher and William Ury.
9) The best situation is for each spouse to assume that the other will
never convert religions, and that it would be totally pointless to
make efforts in that direction.
Yes, I know that (9) is just (1) repeated. But it's so terribly
important I felt I should say it twice. Maybe you're already planning
to convert, or he is. If so, it'll be a fabulous surprise. But neither
of you should be expecting it of the other one.
Devotion, in order for it to count, has to be voluntary, or it means
nothing. A commitment your spouse makes because you push them into it
isn't really a commitment they've made.
Darren Provine ! ***@elvis.rowan.edu ! http://www.rowan.edu/~kilroy
"That which is forced cannot be sincere, and that which is not voluntary
cannot please Christ." -- Desiderius Erasmus (ca. 1520)
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