“WHEN the LORD thy God shall bring thee into the land whither thou goest to possess it, and hath cast out many nations before thee… thou shalt make no covenant with them… Neither shalt thou make marriages with them; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son… For thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God: the LORD thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth. “ – Deuteronomy 7:1-3, 6
“Therefore, if a man marry him a wife in the world, and he marry her not by me nor by my word, and he covenant with her so long as he is in the world and she with him, their covenant and marriage are not of force when they are dead, and when they are out of the world; therefore, they are not bound by any law when they are out of the world. Therefore, when they are out of the world they neither marry nor are given in marriage; but are appointed angels in heaven, which angels are ministering servants, to minister for those who are worthy of a far more, and an exceeding, and an eternal weight of glory…f ye enter not into my law ye cannot receive the promise of my Father, which he made unto Abraham.”—Doctrine and Covenants 132:15-16, 33
I’ll never forget the first Orthodox rabbi I met in the LA Jewish community. I approached him at a reception and started making small talk with him in Hebrew. When he discovered I was Mormon, he immediately switched to English and became much more animated. It seems that the daughter of a non-Orthodox Jewish friend was contemplating marriage to a Mormon, and this was definitely not kosher with the rabbi. “I don’t get it,” he exclaimed. “Isn’t marriage outside the faith forbidden to Mormons too? Why don’t we work together to prevent this from happening?” We spent the next 30 minutes comparing notes on our faiths’ embrace of endogamy, a distinguishing feature of covenant peoples throughout history. I’m glad that I had my first conversation about this sensitive topic with an Orthodox Jew; although intermarriage is strongly discouraged in both the LDS and Jewish communities, the theological implications of a Mormon marrying outside the faith can only be understood when compared to those surrounding the marriage of an observant Orthodox Jew to a Gentile.
An Orthodox Jew who selects a non-Jew as a life partner almost always has to abandon the Orthodox community, at least on a spiritual level, since it is difficult if not impossible to keep many of the mitzvoth (commandments) that are required of observant Jews (e.g., maintaining a kosher home). The Jewish spouse is rendered unable to live a full Jewish life. While I know many Jewish couples with differing levels of observance, I have yet to meet an observant Orthodox Jew with a non-Jewish spouse (though I am not denying that such couples exist).
As we move to the more liberal Jewish spectrum, the theological implications of intermarriage become much less dire as long as the children are raised Jewish. Regardless of whether a rabbi will officiate at an interfaith wedding (Conservative rabbis will not, while some Reform and other liberal rabbis will), children born to a Jewish mother are considered to be Jewish. As long as the husband will allow the children to be raised Jewish (i.e., celebration of Jewish holidays, no Christmas trees), I do not see how a serious theological objection can be raised to these relationships from a Reform or Conservative point of view. The Jewish mother and her Jewish children get to practice (non-Orthodox) Judaism to their hearts’ content with the support of their non-Jewish husband and father, who can choose whether and how to participate in synagogue life. If a Jewish man espouses a non-Jew, his children can undergo a conversion ceremony and be recognized as Jews. [If he is a Reform Jewish man, his children will be considered Jews without a conversion ceremony as long as they are raised Jewish]. Once again the Jewish spouse and kids get to practice their religion with the support of the non-Jewish parent. I am not arguing that intermarriage for Reform and Conservative Jews is the ideal. I am merely arguing that there is no major theological objection to such unions as long as the children are raised Jewishly (which is obviously not the case in many homes). Judaism has not engaged in active proselytizing efforts for 16 centuries, and has no expectation that non-Jews should become Jews.
For Latter-day Saints, on the other hand, intermarriage cuts to the heart of our relationship as a people and as individuals to God. We have an expanded understanding of the Abrahamic covenant outlined in Genesis, and that covenant is the source of spiritual protection in this life and salvation in the next. It is also the central theme of LDS temple worship. A Mormon man is expected to marry another Mormon woman who is worthy to be married in a temple, where the couple is “sealed” to each other and to any children they may have for eternity (that is, for this life and the next). The temple sealing ceremony is the highest expression of our faith on earth, and is the goal of every believing Mormon. Children born to a sealed couple are said to be born in the covenant of Abraham, and the couple is promised that if they honor their marriage they will continue to have children in the eternities just as Abraham was promised that his seed would be as the “dust of the earth (Gen. 13:16).” We believe that God has a similar marriage, and that only sealed couples will reach the highest heaven and dwell in God’s presence forever with their family.
The promise of being sealed to one’s children forever is particularly comforting to LDS couples whose children predecease them. They strongly believe that they will be reunited with them in the next life thanks to the sealing power of the temple ceremony. Mormon parents who are not sealed to each other do not have the promise of being with their departed children in the next life, though like grieving parents of all faiths they hope for such a reunion.
Given the importance of a “celestial” marriage to the eternal spiritual development of the individual and the family, Mormons are actively discouraged from marrying both non-Mormons and Mormons who are not worthy to enter our temples (while we worship in chapels on Sundays, temples are reserved for members who meet certain standards of moral worthiness). Temple sealings cannot be performed for interfaith couples, no matter how wonderful the non-Mormon spouse may be. However, deceased couples (including interfaith couples) who were not sealed on earth and who are relatives of living members can be sealed to each other using live proxies in temples. The hope on the members’ part is that their dead ancestors will accept the sealing ordinance in the next life and remain a couple in the eternities if they so choose.
A growing number of Mormons are marrying outside the church, and each active Mormon who does so must come to terms with the theological implications of his or her choice. There is no question that the fullest expression of our faith is a celestial marriage, and Mormons like me who have not yet been sealed to a spouse are reminded of this every time we participate in temple worship or sit in the pews during Sunday services and observe a family with two active LDS spouses seated with their children. As with intermarried Orthodox Jews, unless you are sealed to a spouse in a temple, you are not fully practicing the Mormon faith.
Mormons do not shun or excommunicate members who marry outside the faith. In fact, every effort is usually made to welcome the non-member spouse and include him or her in the activities of the congregation. It is not uncommon to have non-members hold callings in the church (e.g., scoutmaster) that allow them to share their talents with members. My favorite example of this acceptance is an LDS woman’s Jewish husband who sings in our congregation’s Christmas choir every year. This inclusivity is also evident in the increased efforts by synagogues in recent years to welcome interfaith couples and invite non-Jewish spouses to explore Judaism.
Although a marriage “until death do you part” holds no eternal promise for believing Latter-day Saints, I share the hope of those members who do enter such marriages that their non-member spouses will eventually convert and live in such a way that they can be sealed in a temple. If they don’t convert, I have no doubt that a merciful and just God will richly reward in the next life those of all faiths who were loving spouses and parents in this one. Finally, I share the hope of countless other single Mormons that I will someday find myself kneeling across an altar in a temple gazing into the eyes of a beautiful eternal companion. A Mormon one.