I think you, and everyone you know, should marry outside* your faith tradition.
Last week, the Religion News Service tweeted a Quartz article on Facebook’s analysis of self-identified religious labels and the likelihood of interfaith dating or marriage. According to the study conducted by Facebook data scientist Mike Develin, those who self-identify their religion on the leading social media site are more likely to be devout—and therefore less likely to marry outside their faith tradition.
Why does our supposed devotion to a religious framework correspond with our hesitancy to establish serious relationships with those who practice another faith?
One would assume that the more “devout” we are, the more secure we’d be in our faith tenets. So why not date outside our faiths?
What is it about dating that would presume something different than a casual acquaintance or friendship? Surely spending intensive amounts of time with someone who practices another faith would not disrupt our spiritual groove. Would it?
But that may be our deep-seated fear. It’s one of the reasons why we’ve become so exclusive in our denominations and religions. This exclusivity translates into our hesitancy—and sometimes our downright obstinacy—of being open to what others have to say about God.
But what if I told you that you’d benefit spiritually from being in close relationship with someone who views God differently?
Would you believe me?
Here are three reasons you should partner outside your denomination or religion.
Reason #1: Interfaith is Deeper Faith
When Fred and I took Saffron Cross on book tour, we faced this question at nearly every venue: “What did your parents have to say about your dating and marriage?”
Our typical response included the story about Fred’s Texan Granny saying she’d “whoop his a** if he didn’t marry that Baptist minister.” Then we shared my steel magnolia mother’s relief at having her 29-year-old daughter finally find someone she could share her life—and faith—with.
And we said this at least 300 hundred times: “it’s not so much about having the same faith, as it is about having deep faith.”
No matter the faith or religious framework, the goal of spirituality should be substance: going deeper within ourselves, with God, and with others.
And we’re more likely to dig deep when we’re confronted with tough questions.
Think about a recent challenge you’ve faced. When it confronted you, was it time to give up? No. It was time to rally—and rally hard. You had to condition yourself to face it. It took practice, critical thinking, and a strategy. The same exercise applies to faith: when we are presented with the challenging questions that arise in ecumenical or interfaith circumstances, we are more likely to hunker down to find the answers. This fosters growth.
By virtue of what they are, interfaith relationships immerse us into contexts where we’re surrounded by questions we would not otherwise entertain in our isolated faith communities.
But there is a prerequisite for this exercise: openness. You must be willing to be open enough to consider questions that may challenge everything you thought to be true about your faith. But, the reward is great: a deeper, more meaningful walk.
Reason #2: Faith Should Be Dynamic, Not Static
Digging deep keeps us from being complacent.
Imagine this: you’re warming the same pew of the same Baptist Church you’ve known all your life. Each Sunday, you look around, confident that nearly everyone in the Lord’s House believes all the same things you do, including the old lady next to you who hoards Kleenex.
But, you’re likely not asking her, or even the young adults in your small group, “Why do we baptize adults?” or “Why do we pass the oyster crackers down the aisle, instead of going up front to receive it like other Christians?” Or, what about the bigger questions: “Why did Jesus have to die a horrible death?” “If God loves us, why is there cancer and suffering in our world?”
You’ve been living the Baptist life, taking for granted that you know your tradition’s theology in-and-out simply for having lived it three decades. There’s a risk here—for you, for me, and for every practitioner of every faith: complacency. When we know enough to get by, we’re not necessarily thinking about growth toward God.
But when your new Methodist boyfriend invites you for coffee and a heartfelt chat, he may ask: “What’s the harm in baptizing infants?”
Interdenominational and interfaith conversations force us to consider: “Why do we believe what we believe?”
Reason #3: It’s About Radical Love
Nearly everyone thinks they’ve cornered the market on God.
How often do we say in public and in private, “Oh, he’s a [insert religious/denominational label here]; I can’t understand why anyone would believe in that.”
Even under the Christian umbrella, we engage and name-calling and bickering: “Oh, they’re not really Christians.”
But we don’t have an exclusive take on God. No one does.
For Christians, belief in Christ is central to our faith. But what does it mean to “believe”? Remember one of Christ’s key teachings: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12, NRSV)
Belief should mean more than our typical salvation formula of accepting Jesus Christ as our personal savior—it should mean following radical examples of love like the one in John 15:12. Believing incorporates an all-inclusive love–even when it’s hard and folks think differently from you. Partnering with someone outside of your tradition means accepting another person as a beloved child of the Divine; it means acting just as Christ wanted you to: humbly and lovingly.
Imagine what a peaceful world we’d live in if we embodied love, not hate?
Ready to Jump In?
Devotion should not equate to exclusivity. In fact, if devotion is our aim, and we long for a lifetime of deepening our faith walks, we should open ourselves to sharing our lives with someone who views God through another lens.
Do this because:
1. Interfaith is deeper faith.
2. Spirituality should not be complacent.
3. Radical love is deep love.
So, are you planning your interfaith Jewish-Christian wedding yet? Praying on your Protestant Prayer Beads with your Catholic partner? Still single and thinking about opening up your world to dating outside your parish? Bravo!
Get ready for a life filled with growth and love.
Remember: it’s not so much about having the same faith, as it is about having deep faith.
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*Note: my definition of “outside” includes those couples dating outside their Christian denominational (e.g., a Baptist and a Methodist; a Presbyterian and a Pentecostal) as well as those dating outside their religion and/or moral traditions (e.g. a Muslim and a Jews; a Humanist and a Hindu).