Marriage, Faith, & Testimonies

I have been thinking about marriage lately.  I recently had the privilege of attending my Brother-in-Law’s wedding.  Not that it’s any of my business, but I am very pleased with their decision to marry.  My wife and I are also rapidly approaching our one year anniversary (am I supposed to buy jewelry or something?)  But I have also recently learned that another friend called off her wedding plans because she was uncomfortable with her potential spouse’s level of commitment to the church.  It’s caused me to ponder which we prefer in a spouse: orthodoxy or orthopraxy.  My friend would say they broke up because of his unorthodoxy (i.e. – she doesn’t think he has a testimony), but I suspect it has far more to do with his unorthopraxy (i.e. he doesn’t keep one or more LDS standard).

An orthodox spouse is one that believes the right things.  An orthoprax spouse is one that does the right things.  [EDIT 2/17/2009: To oversimplify it a little bit, it means having a testimony – whether or not the testimony leads to action vs. keeping measurable standards of conduct for non-religious reasons.]  An orthodox spouse will say they have a testimony, but may not meet all the measurable benchmarks the church sets for its members (word of wisdom, tithing, law of chastity, church attendance, fulfilling callings, etc.).  An orthoprax spouse may not claim to have a testimony, but (for any number of reasons) meets all the measurable LDS benchmarks.  So which is more important in a potential spouse?
I suspect that most Mormons would say that both are (equally?) important when selecting a spouse.  But I also suspect that (for better or for worse…) when someone is considering a marriage partner, orthopraxy becomes far more important than orthodoxy.  When considering a partner, we want to know that they have a commitment to the church – regardless of what the believe about the church.  For example, a spouse’s commitment to keeping the Word of Wisdom is more important than believing the Word of Wisdom is inspired.  Having a commitment to paying tithing is more important than believing the law of tithing.  Fulfilling your calling is more important than liking your calling. Keeping the law of chastity is more important than believing the law of chastity.
I have never heard of a marriage ending because one partner agreed to keep the word of wisdom without believing the claims of it’s divine inspiration, but I’ve heard of plenty of LDS marriages ending because one partner fails to keep the word of wisdom while still believing in a divine origin.  Marriages don’t end because one partner stops believing the law of chastity – but they might end if one partner stops practicing the law of chastity.
So what do you think?  Have I oversimplified this to the point that it’s no longer valid?  Which do you think is more important, orthodoxy or orthopraxy?  How do you think most Mormons would answer?  Do you think that when selecting a spouse Mormons place greater emphasis on orthopraxy than orthodoxy?  In my opinion, having an active Temple Recommend is far more about orthopraxy than orthodoxy – do you agree?

6 comments to Marriage, Faith, & Testimonies

  • Interesting post. While I can easly see someone doing something such as keeping the WoW without really believing in it. It is harder for me to see someone doing something against what they really believe. Such as breaking the WoW when they really belive in it (maybe they feel really bad about what you did?). I guess it depends on the nature of that belief. It sounds like you might be talking about having a general belief in the church and the prophet, but not believing in some of the specific principles. Such as not serving a mission although you have a testimony of the church.

    One thing I thought of while reading the post was that the orthopraxy of a potential spouse might seem more important because it is more visible to you and is more likely to be seen and commented on by others. You may suffer some negative social reactions by trying to explain your spouse's behavior to family and ward members. Beliefs on the other hand, are usually more private.

  • wow, good question Reuben! I think when it came to my hubby it's all about Orthodoxy! There is a milestone in the LDS world that my hubby could not meet because church leaders told him he could not … this was going on a mission. This left him a little bitter, but has made strides to get over that. This is one thing a lot of Utah girls would not be able to see past (the non-mission thing) which REALLY pisses me off. Sometimes both of us struggle and struggle more specifically with our testimonies, but we still strive to strengthen them. I think that what one desires in a potential spouse varies greatly based on where they grew up and was exposed to. All I care about is that he tries. 🙂

  • I think Casey is right that its going to be different for everyone. There are lots of members who decide to marry non-LDS partners because they value orthodoxy and would rather wait for someone to gain their own testimony than simply go through the motions because it will get them into the temple. I admire that because there is that level of stigma associated with not going through all the motions. I suppose everyone has their own standards for what levels of orthodoxy and orthopraxy they want in a spouse. I think I fall somewhere in the middle- I want to see a testimony but know that can be so changing and hard to define that, like Katie said, I look for the outward actions to verify that the commitment is there.
    ps- you are supposed to buy jewelry or something.

  • I guess there's a bit of a problem with measurablity (is that an English word?) – It's relatively easy to see if someone goes through the motions. The whole thing of belief is so difficult to define and understand that I finally decided not to let that really be the concluding thing in my choosing of spouse. What does it really mean to someone when they say they have a testimony? Or, what does it mean when someone says they don't have a testimony in the normal sense? Do they still believe in the important degree? I'm not sure.

    I know I turned down a relationship where the offer was orthopraxy but no orthodoxy (how heavy would that become to the guy in question in time, really?) but ended up with another one that's also clearly more orthopraxy… so yes Reuben you're simplifying a lot. There's a lot of picking and choosing to which beliefs are important and which practices.

    But as to what could really tear a marriage down, that really depends on the belief and practice you're talking about. Many would just cause heartache, but I'm pretty sure if someone stopped practicing marital fidelity, that would cause a serious breakdown of the relationship.

  • Everyone, thanks for the thoughtful comments.
    Katie, yea, I think Word of Wisdom is an easy example. Every day as a missionary I heard people say things like "I know I'm breaking the WOW and that God wants me to quit drinking, but I just keep struggling with it…." They believe the right thing, but they don't do the right thing.

    I think you're dead on that orthopraxy is much easier to identify than orthodoxy.

    Casey, your husband is very lucky to have snagged you.

    Mel, I'm not gonna respond here because you're laying on the couch 10 feet from me and we just chatted about it in real life.

    Tuulikki (& Melanie), I'm worried my use of the phrase "going through the motions" didn't adequately express what I intended. I didn't want to imply any of the negative connotations that phrase usually brings. You've both suggested the situation where one spouse is perhaps willing to comply with LDS standards when they would otherwise choose not to. You're right that over time this could cause tensions and be a weight on the shoulders of the complying spouse.

    But what about the situation where the potential spouse already meets the LDS standards and is firmly committed to living the standards, just not because of an LDS testimony? Plenty of people choose to impose standards regarding drinking, chastity, and charitable giving because they see value in it without believing it's inspired.

  • This is a hard one to me, I hope that the person I'm with is doing what he's doing BECAUSE of his beliefs and not just to do them. I do think that thoughts and believes generally (but certianly not always) lead to actions. For example, if we believe the word of wisdom to be inspired of God, we will abide by it. This, of course, does not always hold true.

    Elder Boyd K. Packer said that, "True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior. The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior" (Boyd K. Packer, “Do Not Fear,” Liahona, May 2004, 77–80).

    This is how this applies to my life… My hope is that if my boyfriend loves God, he will want to continue to improve himself. Sure he is not perfect, but I would rather be with someone who makes mistakes but knows the gospel is true and wants to change, than be with someone who is just "going through the motions" and may not have a testimony of the gospel truthfulness.

    Reuben, to answer your final question: If I were in a situation where the person was already keeping LDS standards but not because of a testimony in our church, if I felt good about it, I would stay with that person and potentially marry that person. I had a friend in this situation a few years ago. She met someone, fell in love with him and knew she should marry him, even though it meant that she may never have the opportunity to marry in the temple. She did and is still happy. He lives his life as if he were LDS, although he still is not. I think she's very happy with this decision, which was founded in prayer.