Religious Differences: the ultimate dating deal breaker?

back in the dating / scruff look days...

“Are you Catholic?”  We’d only been in the soup kitchen of The Basilica of San José de Flores five minutes and the question had already come up.

“Um, no.”  I replied hesitantly.

“So, what are you then?”  The middle-aged woman looked us up and down.  “Nothing?”

“Christian”, I said, hoping that the wide-cast term would satisfy her curiosity.  It didn’t.

“I like Catholics!”  I stammered.  Not much better.

“Everybody ready?  We are about to open to let everyone in!”  Luckily, the fast-pace of the soup kitchen allowed for the subject to switch to more pragmatic things.  This was our first week at our new service project in the Flores district of Buenos Aires and there was a huge line of people lined up in the street beside the basilica, waiting to come in and eat.   Denominational differences don’t mean a lot when there are mouths to feed.  Some things are simply more important.

I don’t enjoy sectarian labels.  In most matters they come across as artificial and divisive.  Often, denominational chatter distracts from what truly matters.

Religious differences don’t matter… until they do

One big, hairy exception to the above rule slaps a lot of would-be happy people in the face though:  The dating world.  Try to seriously date across religions divisions and you are often asking for trouble.  They might seem petty at first but religious differences can be a deal breaker relationally.

I consider myself open-minded and often say that I am a religious tourist.  I was raised and am still a devout Seventh-day Adventist Christian.  I find my faith to be the greatest source of meaning in my life.  It is super important to me. But I don’t think my faith has all the answers or that the answers I’ve grown up with are perfect.  Far from it.  I see a lot of value in learning from others and borrowing ideas from other faiths…  in deliberately growing.

But when it comes to dating and marriage, I basically stuck to my own.  I dated and married Jammie, an Adventist girl.  I am happy to announce that we just happily passed the two-year mark in our marriage and I could not be happier!

Some of the reasons I decided to date and marry within my faith were cultural:

Dating someone of your religion is less hassle – There are things about every subculture that are a little special.  I’ve had many a good conversation with Muslim, Jewish, Baha’i and Hindu friends and they all have funny stories about the things their families and faith communities do that seem absurd to everyone else.

Adventists, for example, wash each other’s feet at communion, have a charming obsession with vegetarian potlucks (although more than half of them will gladly eat meat at home) don’t drink (unless they are “liberal” European or Californian) and until recently had three socially acceptable career paths for their kids: teacher, pastor or anything medical.

Understanding all the rules, ideas and stories that condition Adventists to behave like this takes a while.  Dating another Adventist saves you having to explain everything.  It makes sense.  Similarly, I don’t blame my Muslim friends for marrying other Muslims or think that sites like JDate.com don’t have a valuable place in Jewish communities.

Dating someone outside of your religion can be an unnecessary fight starter – Jovial debates about cultural peculiarities are just the beginning.  The classic “serious” scenario is child rearing.  Religious differences can be overlooked until kids enter the picture and you can’t agree on a tradition in which to raise a child.  All of a sudden things get tense.  Fights break out.  Kids are confused and predisposed to hating on something as potentially divisive as faith when really faith should be a source of strength.

And then the caveat…

Having said the above, I know plenty of exceptions to my self-imposed dating rules.  I know happy couples and families that seem to successfully transcend religious differences.  They have developed a hybrid culture where both traditions are respected and celebrated. I have often wondered how they do it.  Am I too entrenched in my religious ideas?  Did I grow up in a weirder subculture than they did?  Was it the veggie meat?  What happened?

Rather than going around asking themselves how to find someone to date that believes all the same things or trying to convert romantic partners through some form of ‘dating evangelism”, they have decided to focus on other common ground and let the religious differences simply be.

Instead of scouring denominational online dating sites or paying faith-based dating services (big biz by the way…), they have connected with their partners as they have met them through life circumstances.  Their list of dating tips doesn’t start with “Go Adventist/Baptist/Buddhist”.

Where do you stand on all this?

How important should religion be in dating?  Should you hold out and try to find a date that believes the same way as you or is it not that important?  I would love to hear your views in the comment section.  CultureMutt is a place to discuss and understand cultural issues in order to make this world a better place.  We are not going to vote you up or down based on your view.  But do add to the conversation… there are epiphanies waiting to happen…

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21 thoughts on “Religious Differences: the ultimate dating deal breaker?”

  1. I’m marrying a girl who was raised outside my religious tradition. She’s been to church with me, but I don’t go particularly often. Mostly I go as part of time I spend with parents and their friends. She’s sort of the all-of-the-above kind of girl. One of the things I really love about her is our differences. I looked outside the church intentionally. I don’t think I have very much in common with those kind of girls. I have nothing against Adventist girls, they’re nice. For me going outside my own culture is important, but it takes a certain amount of flexibility. I know that my parents encouraged me when I was young not to date outside the church precisely because they wanted a certain amount of rigidity. They wanted me to be a mainstream adventist, but that’s not who I wanted to be so it made no sense to date someone like that.

  2. Good question. I guess that whoever we date/marry needs to share those values that are most important to us, be they religious or not. In my case (I’m an Adventist) it meant that not even any “Adventist” made the cut. It’s more about what role our religious principles and beliefs play in our lives, what their place is, and finding someone who shares that same focus. In my view, religious differences in marriage are way more complicated to overcome than cultural or racial differences.

    1. I totally agree… simply being of the same denomination says very little… even a church like Adventism has incredible range… and some of them drive me crazy:)

  3. Well written and reasoned Bjorn. I think it is really a matter of how much your religion defines who you are and how you live your life. Sometimes circumstances or new conversion makes an unevenly yoked marriage necessary and couples negotiate an amicable yet precarious fence straddling balance. But when same faith opportunities abound choosing to mary an unbeliever will demonstrate to your future children that beliefs can and should be compromised.

    1. Interesting comment, Glenn! How does the LDS church look at the unevenly yoked question? The “amicable yet precarious fence straddling balance” is a tough one to negotiate…

  4. You bring up some very good points – as an adventist I have perhaps slightly differing views to the adventist norm and maybe feel a little more strongly about this due to my personal experience. I dated and married interdenominationally. I don’t think it’s a make or break deal in all cases but I recognize each individual situation can vary greatly. In my situation I was very impressed early on with my husband’s faith. When we first met, he was a non-denominational Christian. We hit it off on many aspects and had several things in common – he had taken several semesters in college and during summers to do over-seas mission work, spoke a second language (Spanish) as did I. With a similar missions background and faith a very important part of each our lives most of our early conversations revolved around doctrinal discussions. Anyway, I won’t lie and say religious differences were not a source of conflict over the first
    year, but I did learn that acting like your beliefs are superior or angry arguments and really arguments in general didn’t get anyone anywhere. We got to the point where we respected eachother’s beliefs without trying to push them on the other. When we finished college, I started grad school and my husband (who was my boyfriend back then) came along with me. He respected that I took Saturday’s as my Sabbath, and did not work or study then – he refused to take a job that made him work Saturday’s in order to respect my beliefs and spend time with me. Overtime he became a non-denominational Sabbath keeper – arguments had not convinced him, it was the lifestyle and blessings he had gotten out of it that did. Anyway, we came to a point where we agreed with alot of the same doctrines (not all), and agreed on how to raise our kids (in the future). We decided to get married and we went through SDA bible studies along with the pre-marital counseling with our pastor (who seemed much more interested in the bible study part than the counseling) but we dealt with the adventist taboo of marrying “outside” the church. Even though we agreed on the big things, went to church on the same day, were serious about our faith (because I dated adventists who were not – they just went through the motions) it seemed very hard for certain figures in the church including the pastor to be on-board with our upcoming marriage. Sincerity was more important to me – and we both had that. We had agreed on our children being raised in the adventist church. We had dated for 2 years and been through all of this and come to the conclusion that it was not a make or break it deal if he had trouble accepting the spirit of prophecy doctrine (ie. mainly EGW). Anyway, the pastor put us on hold until just 2 weeks before our wedding before he agreed to perform the ceremony. We lived out or first year of marriage quite happily. Incidentally Ben decided to join the church a year in. We’ve been hapilly married 3 years and religion was NEVER an issue in our marriage so far. I respect other people’s choices and views on the matter but I also think many pass too much judgement on what is “socially acceptable or not”. There are young couples in our church who are living long distance marriages due to work/school and yet sparked no red-flags to the leadership of our church. There are many things to consider when using the term, “unequally yoked”, and while caution is prudent, a little understanding also goes along way. Sorry this was such a long post!

    1. Wow, Claudia, this was a super insightful comment! I am so encouraged that you spent the time to articulate your experience. I think it will be of significant help to people facing tough dating and marriage decisions:) This was an excellent treatment of what is typically seen as a very gray area…

  5. I have no knowledge whatsoever on this topic so naturally, will leave a long and lengthy comment. haha kidding.

    I think as others have mentioned that values matter more than religion. But to some individuals, religion matters. a lot. in my case, well, let me not use my case. ummm…

    A “friend” I know was married for several years to someone of the same religion but one of them did not practice their faith at all. it was challenging and difficult. the values shared by one’s religion and one’s faith can be a very strong component of a marriage. Especially if one of them is on the nutso side of religious.

    I think for most other couples, religion has become like politics. Just something to talk about when watching the cable news shows. Or when Easter or Christmas rolls around, in the case of religion.

    If one is serious about practicing their faith, however, they should find someone who has that same level of commitment. Otherwise, like in my friend’s case, the marriage did not work out.

    1. Vishnu, I totally hear you. I remember being a teenager when I first heard someone say, “you’ve got to find someone that is the same “level of Adventist” as you.”… I remember thinking… “what kind of a comment is that??” But now I very much agree… there are all kinds of levels of religious fervor and different factions within every faith… The fringes of my own faith are part comedy part freak show and I would never recommend anyone go there unless, they too have a thing for … I was going to give an example but fear offending:)

  6. i dont normally comment on your posts, but this one is close to home for me. i’ve been adventist all my life, but never could find an adventist who shared my worldview. wound up marrying a neo-pagan, of all things, and while i wont pretend it doesnt require a lot of careful navigation for both of us, we’ve found more in common with each other than with others of our own faiths. we hope to have children soon and we spend a lot of time talking about how we’re going to approach religion with them, so that they dont get caught in the middle or feel like they’re being forced to choose. i want them to have everything i had growing up in the church, and of course as an adventist i feel compelled to try to bring them to Jesus…but i dont want my husband to feel disenfranchised. it’s a difficult compromise, and i wouldnt encourage someone to marry outside their faith hastily. i cant really say i’m sorry i did, tho.

    1. What an intriguing comment, Carli! Thanks for the thoughts… What would you say is the main source of common ground that you have sought to build upon?

  7. I am an Adventist who is about to marry a Catholic girl. The important thing to us is our faith and belief in Christ. We both study and believe the bible, and our spiritual connection is strong and growing. The details are not as important to us as is centering our relationship in Christ, and loving each other as He loves us.

    1. Well put, Josh. I think you are right to focus on the common ground… we need to have a Skype convo about the news:) Congratulations!!

  8. The spirit of prophecy clearly teaches to unite ourselves with unbelievers (and she tells us who unbelievers are, people who have not accepted present truth, which is anyone outside the practices of our faith as a church) when we unite with them in marriage we forfeit Gods spirit of protection and grieve away the Holy Spirit. Paul told us not to be unequally yoked. Two can’t walk together if they don’t agree. God has given us light. We cannot marry someone in darkness for they will lead us to darkness. That’s why God told the Israelites not to mingle with with neighboring nations for He said they will turn you hearts against me. A great sermon on this can be found on YouTube entitled the great controversy by randy Skeete. He touches on this issue from a biblical perspective I believe half way through te sermon. Although I would say watch the whole thing. :) these are my thoughts.

  9. I recently started dating this guy that’s not SDA. Ive never dated within my religion because Ive always felt they were players. We have spoken about having kids in the future and he believes that adventism is the correct way. For the most part he follows a lot of doctrines but he does eat pork and work on Saturday. Im not an extremist when it comes to my religion, I actually think of myself as a liberal SDA.

  10. Its as easy as that:

    If God is Nr. 1 in your life, you can’t just compromise certain believes.

    If you put your partner above God you have broken the first commandment (Christian and Jewish) anyways and there is no further purpose in clinging to your belief.

    There is NO middle way to salvation.

    “Whether therefore you eat, or drink, or whatsoever you do, do all to the glory of God.” – 1 Corinthians 10:31

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