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Lost faith and marital infidelity

September 25, 2010

Today at the FAIR Blog, there is a post addressing the recent Mormon Stories podcast featuring Richard Packham. John’s framing of the interview, I think, was to show how the church needlessly creates enemies in areas that it doesn’t have to. Richard Packham’s experiences were supposed to be instructive as to how the church and its members ought not to treat ex-members.

One part of this multi-part podcast is devoted to how the church needlessly breaks up families…but is it really the church’s fault if a member/ex-member couple separates or divorces?

Allen at FAIR looks to the wikipedia definition of infidelity to shift culpability:

Infidelity is a violation of the mutually agreed-upon rules or boundaries of an intimate relationship, which constitutes a significant to extreme breach, or outright default, on the implicit good faith contract of a relationship, or a betrayal of core shared values with which the integrity and nature of the relationship is defined.

This doesn’t seem like an unreasonable definition of infidelity to me. But the application of this definition has grave and terrible consequences for marriage.

For example, what specifically are the “mutually agreed-upon rules” that two Mormons might establish, either implicitly or explicitly? Considering that when they get married, both are well within the Gospel (and neither can anticipate ever falling out, of course!) What kind of violation counts as a “significant to extreme breach”?

If two members marry under the idea that they both want a worthy (in the Mormon sense) partner, then if one of those partners loses his or her faith, then intellectual infidelity, as Allen puts it, is bound to happen. The very loss of faith is the infidelity!

I didn’t really listen to the Packham podcasts, so I don’t know all of what he did (after losing faith), but it seems to me that his actions muddy the playing field. For example, we can’t establish that intellectual infidelity — a violation of ideas, of beliefs, of values — was the final straw if instead it was concrete actions (e.g., no longer practicing the Word of Wisdom, etc.)

But it’s just scary to think that someone can be considered unfaithful to their spouse as a result of changing beliefs and changing worldviews.

Marriage becomes a liability in such a view. How much of the status quo do you expect to remain constant? What level of change is required to reason that someone is not playing according to the rules?

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10 Comments
  1. Rene Krywult permalink

    I think that both Allen’s entry at the FAIR blog and Andrew’s blog here miss a few key facts.

    First of all, Mormon marriage is not just a contract between two people that is binding in mortality. It is a covenant in which two parties promise to be faithful to each other for time and eternity. And a third party, God, promises that as long as they will keep the faith, He will ensure that the promises will be valid.

    Let’s assume that Bill and Jane marry “till death us do part”. But after some years, Jane says: “Bill, I still love you, but I want you to know that in 10 years, I will surely divorce you. I will not, cannot keep up with the promise I made, and I do not believe that it would even be possible to keep it. See, in exactly 10 years from now, I will surely divorce you.” Would anybody expect Bill to keep up with such an anouncement? Would there be any doubt that Jane intends to be infidel to the marriage vows?

    Likewise, by utterly rejecting the sealing Richard had received, he made it totally clear that he fully intended to divorce his wife. Now she could wait for him to actually do it, or she could take her own steps. And that’s what she did.

    But this is not all. Richard did not say that he just changed his beliefs, he changed his way of life. He started to drink. Now, of course, a drink now and then does not make a bad person. But together with the proclamation of divorce, every beer he drowned may well be an attack his wife felt. She didn’t marry someone who drank. In fact, she made it very clear that she would not have considered someone as a husband who drank.

    And that’s not all. Richard would go to parties. But not just “parties”, but especially parties that he and his wife would not have attended, while being faithful members of the church. Since Mormons very much are good party people (as long as the way of partying is compatible with Mormon belief, i.e. no alcohol, no drugs, no sex), we probably could guess at the kind of party Richard’s talking about. And though his wife made clear that she would not go to such parties, he decided to go there alone! Going to parties, drinking, throwing away the principles that were the foundation of their marriage!

    My parents often quarreled about religion. My father was an intellectual agnostic, my mother a religious woman without ANY intellectual relationship to faith. Both wanted the other to accept their world view. It was not nice to see that.

    I assume (and I don’t assume to much, I think), that Richard and his exwife had many a “discussion” about the gospel, wherein each of them would fight to get the other to see “reason”.

    What influence for the children!

    And then he blames the church forhis divorce?

    Well, he is right: If his wife one day found him (and I do not say that she did!) in bed with anoter woman, OF COURSE the Church is to blame for the end of his marriage, since the church taught such nonsense as “marital fidelity”!

    I fear it is clear that Richard wants to be a law unto himself, and an institution that teaches laws that are different from those Richard accepts, must be evil.

    My heart goes out to the ex wife and the children.

  2. The problem is that it creates an enormous umbrella to accuse someone of infidelity.

    According to my ex-wife I left her. I never cheated. I even fought to stay together. Even after she filed for divorce I slept in our bed. I did not leave her or the kids or the home.

    She filed for divorce. She arranged for the physical separation, but because of our differences were that I had changed since the day we had knelt over the altar…I LEFT HER? I did change. That part part is true.

    But to say I left is misleading. It’s another thought-stopping phrase that makes the person who asserts it feel good about themselves and nothing more. At the core it is dishonest because it implies a whole lot more than a change in belief.

  3. From what I understand, in a Mormon temple marriage, the two people make covenants to God (and not to each other). So, yes, it makes sense to say that unbelief is breaking the contract that you made in the temple.

    This is another reason why it’s obvious that the religious marriage ceremony should be held separately from the civil marriage ceremony, the way it’s done in reasonable countries. Making a covenant with God has nothing to do with your civil marriage contract to each other (which is based on the law of the land).

    Since it’s possible to break the religious contract without breaking the civil contract and vice-versa, we should avoid the legal confusion of conflating the two contracts, as though they were one and the same.

  4. Chanson, that was a very astute comment. You nailed it. The problem is conflating the marriage contract with the ecclesiastical one.

    In my research for my blog entry which led me to conclude that Joseph Smith vigorously opposed polygamy…

    http://puremormonism.blogspot.com/2010/06/why-im-abandoning-polygamy.html

    …I came across Joseph Smith’s Rules for Marriage, which specifically prohibited any weddings held in secret or conducted in the way that have come to be considered mandatory in the church today. It’s becoming obvious to me that the temple marriage was an insidious construction of Joseph’s successors who had been unduly influenced by the Cochranites and insisted on the temple as a way to keep polygamy a secret for the time being.

    “All marriages in this church of Christ of Latter Day Saints,” Joseph declared, “should be solemnized in a PUBLIC meeting, or feast, prepared for this purpose…”

    Neither did he prescribe kneeling at an altar, as “…The persons to be married,” are to be “ standing together, the man on the right, and the woman on the left…”

    I only blog once or twice a month, but In the near future I intend to advocate that LDS marriages return to the form our founder insisted on. I hope you won’t mind my quoting you there.

  5. I don’t know what’s promised over the altar at an LDS temple marriage. I don’t know if Allen Wyatt is correct when he says “intellectual/spiritual infidelity” can constitute grounds for divorce (I’ve heard this argument from MADB/FAIRites before) as per the marriage covenant that is made there.

    All I know is that I as an evangelical Christian woman am happily married to a Mormon man, that we believe radically different things, and that we are happy. We find ways to make it work. And I know that for my husband to change his beliefs would not be good enough grounds for me to want to leave him. So long as he is an ethical, moral person who is not neglecting nor abusing his family, I will stay with him. And if we can make it work, I don’t see why an LDS / ex-LDS couple can’t find a way to make it work.

    If Wyatt is correct and a glorious “for-eternity” temple sealing really does grant a person the right to ditch their spouse upon apostasy while my meager little “for-time” civil marriage demands that I love my husband as he is and stand by his side unless something more serious happens, if my marriage which I fully expect to end at my death has more tenacity than something that’s supposed to last forever, then what can I say. The more I learn about them, the more these “temple sealing” things sound not-all-that-great. Way to improve on the marriages “of the world” there, LDS church.

    However, please don’t read my post as an endorsement of Richard Packham’s claims on the Podcast. I don’t know enough to judge, but it sounds to me like there was blame to go around in his divorce.

  6. Maybe I’m the odd person out here, but yes, I think that a change in religious faith can be a deal breaker in a marriage. I think there can be a host of “dealbreakers” in any relationship. I think people should be free to investigate those.

    I haven’t heard the podcast, but I think if a couple has tried to work out some of these types of issues and isn’t able to, there should be a way to part amicably (particularly if there are children involved).

    Granted, someone questioning or losing their faith should be treated differently than someone gambling their life savings away. Yet both are losses of trust, of sorts.

    I guess what I’m saying is, I believe that the knife cuts both ways. Either marriage is a contract that either person can get out of at any time for any reason, or it really is permanent no matter what. It can’t be both ways.

    Lamenting the “shameful” incidence of divorce, attacks on the institution of family (on the one hand) and then encouraging people with religious differences to call it quits…it seems hypocritical (to me). It suggests that people are supported only if they fit a narrow definition.

  7. The third message from heaven…

    If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name.

  8. Jeff Spector permalink

    I guess there must not be too many temple going members commenting here. Because anyone who would say that the sealing ordinance is not between the man and the women as well as God is very mistaken.

    Also, like any other values, religious values are important and while it is possible to overlook a change in those values and that love might conquer all for some, it is a a broken promise if that was a premise of the marriage.

    So, I do agree with Allen and his post. And I also realize it is difficult to discuss things in the abstract and reactions might be very different when they actually happen. but, clearly, Richard Packham is the one responsible for the breakup of his family. maybe, not so much by the change of his beliefs as much by his change in lifestyle that had him seem to forget he was married.

  9. I agree with the comments that hold if indeed the covenant is between the couple individually and God, then, acting in an unbelieving way is a violation of that covenant.

    Sam

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