“Partners in Everything but the Church,” Tambuli, Mar. 1989, 33
When Marie married Tony, a nonmember, she was sure that he would not long resist the beauty and grace of the church that contained the full gospel of Jesus Christ. She loved the gospel, she loved him—surely the two would naturally come together. But, as the years went by, and even after six children, Tony was no closer to becoming a member of the Church.
All this time, Marie suffered the dilemma that many active Latter-day Saint members married to less-active or nonmember spouses share. She had two loves that she couldn’t bring together.
The gospel grew to be more precious as Marie became a wife and then a mother. More than anything, she wanted to share the gospel message with her husband. At times, she wanted to shake the earth with her testimony so that he, her best friend and confidant, would suddenly understand. Her existence, as well as that of her children and husband, had been enriched by the Church’s teachings and standards. Couldn’t he see that?
Although she wanted Tony to understand her regard for the Church, she recognized that using the Church as a wedge would split, rather than solidify, her marriage. She had seen it happen before when husbands and wives tried to force the Church into their relationships, only to have anger and rebellion result.
Marie determined not to have to force a choice between the Church and her husband, making the Church her husband’s enemy. If anything, the gospel was an ally, teaching her how to love, and understand, and forgive.
She felt that, aside from one’s own personal relationship with God, a good marriage relationship was the most sacred concern of a husband and wife. She decided that converting Tony to the Church ought not be her primary goal, nor should the marriage be sacrificed to that end. “After ten years of disappointment,” she says, “I decided to stop putting pressure on Tony to join the Church. Before we were married, my parents were upset about our engagement. They tried hard to discourage us, but, from the moment we married, they ceased their opposition and gave us 100 percent of their love and support. I should have followed their good example years earlier.
“So one day I said to Tony, ‘You are more important to me than anything else, regardless of whether you join the Church.’ Since then, we have been happier, and I have felt more peaceful.
“Tony treats me well; he has good values, and he is honest. But I had been feeling sorry for myself because he wasn’t a Church member. I decided to stop complaining and start being grateful. The Church doesn’t make marriage work—love, acceptance, and trust do that. The Church is a guide, not a guarantee.”
Church leaders have consistently counseled young people to marry within the Church. As President Spencer W. Kimball pointed out, “Religious differences imply wider areas of conflict. Church loyalties and family loyalties clash. Children’s lives are often frustrated. … Without a common faith, trouble lies ahead for the marriage.” (The Miracle of Forgiveness, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1969, page 240.) For these and similar reasons, marriage within the Church should be a goal for every single member. But sometimes, for one reason or another, members find themselves united with a nonmember or a less-active member. In such circumstances, the choices a person can make where the Church is concerned are more limited, but there are still some decisions one can make. Among those choices is the decision to be patient, loving, and devoted.
President Kimball has written about the proper focus in marriage:
“The Lord says in no uncertain terms: ‘Thou shalt love thy wife with all thy heart, and shalt cleave unto her and none else.’ (D&C 42:22.) …
“The words none else eliminate everyone and everything. …
“Marriage presupposes total allegiance and total fidelity. Each spouse takes the partner with the understanding that he or she gives totally to the spouse all the heart, strength, loyalty, honor, and affection, with all dignity. … As we should have ‘an eye single to the glory of God,’ so should we have an eye, an ear, a heart single to the marriage and the spouse and family.” (Faith Precedes the Miracle, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1972, pages 142–43.)
Joanne, a young Church member, married a man who everyone thought was unworthy of her. He was addicted to alcohol and reckless with money. Almost immediately, the marriage had difficulties. But Joanne seemed to possess the magic of being happy.
As the years passed, instead of becoming bitter and defensive, Joanne became even more patient. Her children were reared tenderly, and she taught them to be loving and kind with each other, with her, and with their father. Five of the eight went on missions and all were married in the temple. Miraculously, the year before her husband’s unexpected death, he accepted the gospel and was baptized.
What caused such a marvelous change?
Joanne’s sister says, “Joanne never allowed her children or anyone else to talk negatively about their father. Sometimes he would come home at two or three in the morning, and my sister would wake all the kids and say, ‘Your daddy is home! Come, kiss him, love him!’
“When the children grew older and questioned their father’s actions, she would say, ‘Honey, don’t judge your dad. He doesn’t have the gospel yet. All we can do is love him and forgive him. He is a good man, and he is head of this family.’”
But was she happy?
“To her family, to us, to everyone,” says Joanne’s sister, “she radiated happiness. But I’m sure she suffered. I also know how badly she wanted her husband to join the Church.”
Joanne talks about staying with a man many women would abandon:
“I never considered turning away from my love for and loyalty to my husband. He was a very good man, even though he did foolish things. He loved people. He helped others in need. We sometimes had a person, even whole families, live with us because my husband knew that they were out of work and needed someplace to go.
“We had great, genuine love in our family. I know that he loved me and the children and that he was proud of us. The good example of our children brought him into the Church. It was the happiest day of my life when he was baptized.” They were married twenty-eight years before that happened.
Like Joanne, my mother was married to a nonmember. Our bishop counseled her to put her love for my nonmember father above all else, and my brothers and I grew up watching her devote herself to that advice. The bishop further counseled her not to fret or feel guilty when she had to limit some of her Church activity when my father objected to the amount of time it took her away from home.
My parents were committed to our family. Our home was peaceful and nonjudgmental. My father, though he never joined the Church, respected it and had no bad feelings about it. He even proudly supported me financially on my mission to Venezuela and Colombia.
There were still difficult and painful times for us. I remember the day my parents sadly waited outside the temple while I was married there. Still, they respected my decision and stood joyfully by my husband and me later during the wedding reception with which they honored me. I have often felt sad that my father was not a member, and I have prayed all my life that he would someday join the Church. On the positive side, however, I am grateful that my mother never belittled him and showed me a wonderful example of tolerance and love.
For the less active or nonmember, the leap from where they are to full Church activity often seems too great. But some are willing to take small steps.
John, an enthusiastic member who joined the Church in his later years, nearly lost his wife to divorce because of his enthusiasm for the Church. The more he tried to convince her, the more stubbornly she resisted. Finally, John’s bishop counseled him to “back away” and let the gentle beauties of the Church programs persuade her of their own merits.
Over the years that followed, John continued to faithfully attend his meetings alone, and his wife slowly softened toward the Church. She was impressed with the Relief Society homemaking program in particular, and taught many minicourses on cooking and gardening. Still, she never joined the Church.
In talking about his wife, John praises their marriage. He cautions others in a similar situation:
“Never, never use the gospel teachings to belittle the one you love. I believe that my love for my wife will last forever. Eternity is plenty of time for love, example, and patience to win out. In the meantime, let love and acceptance work its own special magic.”
The gospel should be a blessing to any marriage. The Apostle Paul holds up Jesus Christ as an example:
“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it. …
“And the wife see that she reverence her husband.” (Eph. 5:25, 33.)
Paul also counseled Church members married to nonbelievers to be patient in their loyalty:
“The unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband. …
“For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? Or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?” (1 Cor. 7:14, 16.)
“Look inside for special guidance,” advises one Latter-day Saint wife who has struggled through times of bitterness in her marriage to a less-active spouse. “If one is committed to God and to the Lord, and if that relationship is secure, then peace of mind will prevail. Too many active Church members feel terrible guilt when their marriages are less than ideal, even though they feel they have faithfully done all they can.”
Dr. Carlfred Broderick affirms that “the Lord has promised again and again that if we do our part, nothing … has the power to deprive us of the blessings of the kingdom. … My faith is that God not only will provide for us, but that he will provide for us in ways that bring us great joy. … Whatever our final assignment, it will be not only just and merciful, but it will be beyond imagination, for ‘eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.’ (1 Cor. 2:9.)” (One Flesh, One Heart: Putting Celestial Love into Your Temple Marriage, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1986, page 57.)