Can Atheists Marry Christians… and Make It Last?

Christianity Today asked a panel of experts whether interfaith marriage was ever okay, especially given the Biblical dictate about not being “unequally yoked.”

For the most part, the panel accepted interfaith marriages as a natural consequence of our society, but they had some limitations.

Here’s discredited sociologist Mark Regnerus:

… I will, of course, prefer that my children marry fellow Catholics, but the distance between some traditions is further than between others.

What I don’t recommend is a marriage to an unbelieving spouse, to one who professes an altogether different religion, or to an obstructionist who systematically places barriers in the way of your Christian development.

Shun the non-believers. Shuuuuuuuuun.

A strike against the atheists, who want nothing more than to suppress God!

Then we have Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission:

Marriage is not a merely social or biological construct, but an icon of the union between Christ and the church. Both husband and wife are held accountable to the community for the marriage itself.

But in a marriage of a believer to an unbeliever, the church has authority and discipling capacity over only one party. Without the indwelling Holy Spirit and the reign of Christ through his Word, only one party is able to live out explicitly the picture of the gospel embedded in the marriage.

I guess that means the other party wants to booze up and become violent? I’m not sure where Moore’s going with that, but his disdain for non-Christians comes out very clearly.

Finally, there’s Naomi Schaefer Riley, author of ‘Til Faith Do Us Part: How Interfaith Marriage Is Transforming America, who at least has some statistics to back up what she says:

When I looked at the religious tradition of [survey] respondents, I found that the biggest gap in marital satisfaction was for evangelicals married to nonevangelicals. About 30 percent of evangelical Christians are married to someone of another faith. Roughly one third of all evangelicals’ marriages end in divorce, and that climbs to nearly half for marriages between evangelicals and nonevangelicals.

Religion informs how we spend our time, how we spend our money, where we decide to live, and how we raise our children. Disagreements over such issues can lead to unhappiness and divorce.

This is key. It’s not so much about religious beliefs as it is about the values the couple reflects. I suspect Riley would’ve encountered the same results if she surveyed passionate Republicans married to passionate Democrats. For people who don’t really care much about politics, those labels may not mean much, but those who value Republican ideals will inevitably butt heads with those who don’t. Same with religion. A serious evangelical Christian’s going to have a tough time being married to a hard-core atheist (and vice versa).

Or so it seems.

Just to offer a rebuttal to what everyone else was saying, I asked my Christian friend Alise Wright (who’s written about her atheist husband before) what her thoughts were and, as usual, she phrased things beautifully:

While our situation is different in that my husband and I shared a faith when we first married, and that changed 13 years into our marriage, I believe that Christian prohibitions against being “unequally yoked” can add to the burden that is placed on interfaith marriages.

There will be difficulties in any relationship. Difference of opinions about how you load the dishwasher or how clean “clean” really is. You’ll have arguments about politics or how you spend money. Through all of those situations, couples are rightly encouraged to find common ground and love one another beyond their differences. Yet when it comes to differences of faith, we immediately advise against it, rather than helping couples find ways to work through those differences as well.

Due to our differences in faith, my husband and I have had to work on our ability to communicate a bit more. It requires us to find the areas where our common ethos meet and build on that. It requires us to be more generous and more forgiving with one another because we are determined not to be another statistic in the broken marriage category.

Interfaith marriages are happening. Rather than simply saying, “Don’t do that,” the Church needs to look for ways to encourage couples who are in these marriages instead of leaving them to their own devices. If we truly want to recognize marriage as something beautiful and sacred, then we need to provide tools to help those who have married someone outside of the Christian faith find that in their spouse and in their marriage.

I can’t add anything to that — she’s absolutely right. As with all marriages, you have to work through your differences. Religion is a big one, no doubt, but it, too, can be overcome.

(image via Shutterstock)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.