Shared religious beliefs in marriage are still important to Americans according to a recent report by Pew Research Center, but emphasis on other factors may obscure the biblical significance of marriage.
Nearly half of all married adults (47 percent) said sharing religious beliefs with one’s spouse is “very important” for a successful marriage, according to the report released Oct. 27, 2016, by Pew’s Religious Landscape Study. Respondents who are married to someone from the same religious tradition were more than twice as likely to say that shared religious beliefs are important. Those married to someone of a different religious affiliation or in marriages where one spouse in unaffiliated with a religious tradition were much less likely to say shared religious beliefs are important.
Overall, Americans were more likely to rank factors like shared interests, a satisfying sexual relationship and sharing household chores as the most successful characteristics of a successful marriage, according to report author David Masci.
Rod Campbell, a licensed professional counselor for Pathways Professional Counseling, a ministry of Alabama Baptist Children’s Homes & Family Ministries, is not surprised by the report’s findings.
“The typical wisdom seems to indicate that a successful marriage is one in which both people feel safe and are getting their needs met. Given that most people evaluate their marriage this way, it’s easy to see why there would be such a wide range of answers about the importance of ‘faith’ or ‘shared religious beliefs’ among respondents,” Campbell said.
‘Important to God’
From a biblical standpoint, marriage is much more than simply sharing common interests, said Jeffrey B. Riley, chairman of the division of theological and historical Studies and professor of ethics at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
“For those who are informed by the Bible, we realize that sharing belief is not only important to us, it is important to God,” Riley said. “In the Old Testament, God’s people were instructed not to take wives or husbands that were outside the faith community. In the New Testament, Paul warns about being ‘unequally yoked.’ Those passages don’t tell us specifically why that’s important for marriages, only that it is important to the nature of what marriage is — a public acknowledgement of a new allegiance, a new loyalty between a man and a woman and God who joins them together.”
Priorities usually dictate actions, so an individual with a deeply held, strong need to share faith with his or her spouse probably makes that a priority before marriage and chooses a spouse accordingly, Campbell said. One who marries someone of a different faith or no faith affiliation is making the conscious decision that shared faith is not high on the list of priorities at the time of marriage, he added.
Priorities often change after marriage, but people often do not, which is why differences in faith can cause stress in the marriage over time. If the couple has children, the differences will have an impact on them especially, said David Eanes, minister of children and families at Meadow Brook Baptist Church, Birmingham, in North Shelby Baptist Association.
From a child’s perspective
“If mom and dad have very different faiths, or if one has faith and one does not, it sends a message to the kids that faith is a decision on the same level as, ‘What’s your favorite restaurant?’ or ‘What kind of movies do you like?’ In other words kids may see their individual parent’s faith reduced to only a matter of personal preference rather than something of life-changing and life-directing significance as it should be,” Eanes said.
Conflict also may arise as children seek to please their parents but are forced to choose which parent to emulate.
“As with so many things in life, kids are much more likely to follow their parents’ lead on something when they see that mom and dad not only present a united front on the matter but that they also lead by example,” Eanes said. “It certainly helps when mom and dad not only share deep religious beliefs on the inside but also are consistent and on the same page as to how they live those beliefs out on the outside.”
Bringing glory to God
Children are not the only ones who benefit when a married couple seeks to live a united, Christ-honoring life together, Campbell said.
“Biblically, the purpose of marriage is not meeting the needs of the two marriage partners. We were given marriage primarily to bring glory to God,” Campbell said.
Through marriage a man and woman reflect the nature of God in a way that is special, Campbell said.
“As individuals we are called to reflect Christ in living lives of surrender, sacrifice and service to those around us. In marriage we are called to do those things as well, but we also are called to live together as a representation of Christ and His Church, reflected in the roles of bride and bridegroom. Meeting needs of each other and being ‘happy’ are good, natural, positive consequences that constitute a blessing from God for His people when they successfully fulfill that call,” Campbell said.
Intuitively, agreement creates a stronger sense of purpose in any relationship, and that is certainly true in marriage, Riley said.
“When people grow in the same direction, they go in the same direction,” Riley said. “When spouses are following Jesus Christ together, the marriage itself will be stronger because both husband and wife are living toward the same goal, to reflect the character of Jesus Christ and to please God in the way they live, love and serve one another and others.”