This blog was written by Sandra Haslem based on an interview with Pastor Ron at Hillside Community Church.
Our great country is made up of many different cultures from nearly every corner of the earth. It’s probably safe to say that we are the most culturally diverse country in the world. That being the case, it is inevitable that marriages between people of different races, nationalities, and faiths will occur. The human heart doesn’t care about differences; it cares about love, and often draws together two people from very different backgrounds.
In the first rush of emotion that comes when we find that special someone with whom we want to spend the rest of our lives, any differences in beliefs are sometimes pushed off to the side to be dealt with later, if at all. But, that’s not a good thing to do. A couple’s spirituality and religious beliefs, or one partner’s lack thereof, should be looked at before they tie the knot. A plan for dealing with differences should be agreed upon. But, that plan needs to be kept flexible because maintaining unity and harmony in a marriage are ongoing jobs.
The simplest situation to deal with is that of a husband and wife who are of two different Christian traditions.
The goal is always to strive for unity. To achieve this, they need to focus on the commonality in their faiths rather than the differences. If there are no children, a couple may decide that they will each attend the church of their choice, or even to alternate between his church and her church. This is a very workable solution for some couples. However, if there are kids in the home, it is usually better if they aren’t taken to a different place of worship every other Sunday all the time, because kids need consistency. And it’s a lot less confusing for them if they get their religious education at one church. There is certainly room for flexibility here; parents can decide how often the kids will attend Mom’s or Dad’s church.
The main thing to keep in mind is that kids need to know Mom and Dad are united in their Christian faith. Of course, the ideal solution is for the whole family to worship together at one church, and this calls for a decision on whose church it will be. It also means one or the other parent must be willing to compromise, but that’s what a good marriage is all about. And, most parents want to do what’s best for their kids.
Another situation that may arise regarding faith, is when one partner has no religion.
How can this be remedied? Not by nagging and negativity! Invite and encourage the non-believing spouse to attend worship services. Make sure you provide them with a good example of a Christian life style by your actions; show them the joy and peace God gives to those who come to Him. And, pray that it works, that they have a change of heart.
There is one other situation that a couple can face, and it is often the most challenging to deal with. When a Christian marries someone who is a fervent believer in a non-Christian faith, there are many issues that may arise. Will there be pressure from the families for one or the other to convert? If neither is willing to convert, will it cause a rift in their families? Which faith will the children be brought up in? How will Christian and non-Christian holidays be handled? Again, these are things that need to be worked out before the couple marries. If differences can’t be worked out beforehand, things will only get worse after they marry.
Of course, there are successful marriages between Christians and non-Christians. It depends on how committed the couple is to God and to each other. Success in the marriage means respecting the other person’s faith, while being true to your own. It means no negativism, no nagging, no pressuring the other person to convert. Instead, the Christian spouse can always rely on prayer and being a good example. A “mixed marriage” can work out if the couple respects the faith of the other and build upon that respect to present a united front to their children.
What about the children when Mom is Christian and Dad isn’t?
We, as Christians, would insist that our children, or grandchildren, be raised in the Christian faith! And, that’s certainly what we should strive for. But, it’s okay to be a bit flexible here. Part of respecting a person’s faith may include the Christian parent and kids learning about the non-Christian faith, and perhaps even attending the services occasionally. Doing so can help foster understanding, respect, and unity within the family.
With any marriage, there can be a number of problems to be worked out. Whether or not those differences can be resolved depends on the couple’s faith in God, their love and respect for each other, and their willingness to do what is best for their spouse and children. We all know that there can be a good many difficulties even in marriages where two people were raised in the same culture. So, why would two people from vastly different backgrounds want to marry? The answer must be that God had a special purpose for drawing them together.
"Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother, and be joined with his wife, and they shall become one flesh." Genesis 2:24