According to Naomi Schaefer Riley’s new book Till Faith Do Us Part, 36% of American marriages are now interfaith (when all brands of Protestantism are lumped together).This is up from 15 percent in 1988 and 25 percent in 2006.
Here are seven reasons Riley gives for the low rates of interfaith marriages among Mormons.The first is obvious; a few others make good sense when you stop to think about them; and the last one is surprising but likely all too true.This statement is going to seem obvious to Latter-day Saints, who are schooled from diaperhood that their families can be together forever—if their parents are married in the temple.But while Mormonism is hardly unique in its theological belief that families can be eternal, it makes that belief concretely contingent upon a particular wedding ceremony in an LDS temple, to which only orthodox Mormons are admitted.Mormons, Riley says, don’t countenance the notion of a prolonged adolescence for twentysomethings.
Even as the general culture makes more allowances than ever before for “emerging adults” to find themselves, possibly experiment with other faiths, change geographical locations frequently, and date (and maybe even cohabit with) multiple partners, Mormonism sends its college-age people on missions to learn responsibility and take personal ownership of their faith.And when they return, they are encouraged to marry as soon as possible—to other active members of the Church.Moreover, the Church makes meeting other eligible Saints easier with singles wards, which aren’t perfect but certainly contribute to the formation of endogamous unions.Marriage ages for Mormons, while creeping up slightly, are still well below the national average.Since people who marry later in life are significantly more likely to marry someone of another religion or no religion, the Mormon prohibition of premarital sex—and the lower marriage ages that tend to result from it—have protected Mormonism against interfaith marriage. Mormons, Riley says, are expected to have high levels of religious commitment, which may be offputting to prospective non-Mormon spouses (though this theory undermines the book’s overall argument that most young interfaith couples blithely assume early on that love will conquer all and don’t plan in advance for possible areas of conflict).Looking past the important twenty-something years of dating, Riley explores how interfaith families respond to the later challenges and complexities of raising children when the partners don’t agree on religion. This seems on the surface to be a counterintuitive argument—if Mormons are kind and accepting of interfaith marriages and the people in them, as Riley claims from her interviews and research (and as our family has experienced firsthand, with only a few exceptions in two decades), wouldn’t the opposite be true?