Living together: What various denominations say

Actors do it. Rock stars do it. Even William and Kate do it. What about the rest of us?

That is, living together without being married. Some religious leaders cringe at the practice. Others are more accepting.

The Star asked various area religious leaders their faith's position. The following is taken from their answers.

Does your faith have a position on couples living together outside of marriage?

The Southern Baptist Convention does not have a hierarchy that gives official positions, but resolutions are provided on particular topics, said the Rev. Paul Brooks of First Baptist Church of Raytown, Mo.

Resolutions have been passed in support of conventional marriage, and his church strongly supports that, he said.

"We believe that if people are living together, they should be married," Brooks said. "But we welcome everyone. We don't judge them (those who are not married) or make them feel bad. We simply teach the Bible and what we believe to be true.

"Marriage is the foundation stone of any healthy society."

In contrast, the Rev. Lee Devoe, who functions as an interim Unitarian Universalist minister, said: "Whatever structure our relationship takes — marriage or living together, gay or straight couples — we hope that they will be embodiments of love and integrity."

She said the important thing is that people act in a way that affirms the dignity and integrity of others and themselves.

'More options'

"Isn't it wonderful that we have more options and more ways to be in a relationship and to experience life?" she asked. "At the same time, marriage is a public event. Of all life's passages, traditionally marriage has had the most impact on society."

She said that among the factors to keep in mind are that while living together might ensure the success of a future marriage, the social protections marriage offers aren't there, and not all couples (such as same-sex couples) have the choice to marry.

Buddhism doesn't consider an unmarried couple living together to be immoral, said Lama Chuck Stanford of Rime Buddhist Center.

"The key is avoiding harming others. For that reason, there is emphasis placed upon being faithful to one's partner, married or non-married, gay or straight."

Hindu social customs do not encourage living together without being married, and "it rarely happens," said Arvind Khetia, an active Hindu. "We do not follow the lifestyle of the larger society."

Likewise, living together is not allowed in Islam, said Ahmad Ghosheh, president of the Islamic Society of Greater Kansas City.

"Marriage is the most important part of family life," he said. "Anyone who is of age should get married. Technically, anyone past the age of puberty can get married, but normally it would be 18, 19 or 20."

Even Muslims who are not from religious families know certain things are not proper, so interactions between males and females are strictly observed, whether among very religious or very liberal Muslims, Ghosheh said.

Like a common-law marriage

Rabbi Scott White of Congregation Ohev Sholom in Prairie Village, Kan., said Judaism takes a different approach.

"Jewish law would say that when a couple is living together, that in effect that is a consummation of marriage, and it becomes like a common-law marriage, whether the couple realizes it or not," he said.

"So if William and Kate were Jewish, they would be considered married in the context of Jewish law."

In the Catholic Church, couples who want to be married in the church should not live together or engage in premarital sex, said Ken Greene, director of the Family Life Office of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.

"Some tend not to marry in the Catholic Church because of this policy," he said. "Some people take offense to it."

The African Methodist Episcopal Church does not officially condone couples living together without being married, said the Rev. Stacy Evans, pastor of Allen Chapel A.M.E. Church in Kansas City, Kan.

She said some couples in her congregation are not married. Some low-income parents don't get married because they will lose benefits, especially if the father doesn't have family health benefits.

The Rev. Patricia Bass, senior minister at Unity Church of Overland Park, Kan., said she is not aware that Unity has ever taken a position on couples living together.

"Unity honors the expression of love in many forms," she said. "Unity is more concerned with the healthy expression of love and finding ways to nurture and support loving relationships."

Addressing the issue

Is the topic of living together one that many clergy tend to avoid?

"If you are a pastor who takes a fairly traditional or conservative stance on this issue, then you probably have some strong biblical convictions on male-female relationships and what God desires," said the Rev. Paul Rock of Second Presbyterian Church. "Such a pastor would most likely address this issue and hold it up as a sign of society's falling away from what God intended.

"If you're more moderate to liberal in your approach to Scripture and society, you probably don't talk about it much. But either way, cohabitating is so ubiquitous in today's world, you'd have to work fairly hard to avoid it as a pastor."

In most evangelical churches, pastors would encourage people living together to get married, Brooks said. The subject would be addressed from the pulpit, "not as a way to degrade people but as a matter of teaching."

"Some pastors may avoid this topic, but not me," Evans said. "You can't talk candidly about this if you are afraid. Some pastors are afraid that by telling people their position, the people will start looking at them.

"But people have to know that nothing can separate you from the love of God, and God can change you and fix whatever it is."

Evans said fornication is a sin, and, "We hate the sin, not the sinner. We should not condone their lifestyle, but not condemn the people."

After building a relationship with a couple living together, the pastor has a better opportunity of explaining to them the word of God, she said.

"But if we chase them off, they could wind up somewhere that could be damaging to them," Evans said.

In the Catholic Church, the issue would most likely come up during counseling between the priest and the couple or with the lead couple assigned to the couple contemplating marriage, Greene said.

In Jewish circles, the topic often is a part of young-adult education programs, White said.

"My 19-year-old son recently went to a weeklong program at a New York seminary, and the question of the propriety of non-marital intimacy was the topic," he said.

Among Muslims, the topic is left mainly to families and usually not discussed in the mosque, Ghosheh said.

Devoe said she would think ministers would welcome opportunities to be relevant to people's everyday lives and to talk with couples and families about this and related topics.

Do you think examples in society, such as the entertainment world, are influencing this practice among young people?

"Society is a heavy influence," Greene said. "What happens in the entertainment world impacts everyone else. It impacts our moral behavior."

Other religious leaders agreed.

"Most young people know what the right thing is to do, but we do have younger couples who live together, and I think society is an influence," Brooks said. "Many of their friends live together, sometimes for several years, and then decide if they want to get married.

"The entertainment industry influences our country much in the negative, not only in the area of sexual morality but also violence. We have become almost inoculated against traditional morality."

Ghosheh said clergy in the mosque counsel people, and when major figures are carrying out this practice, "What do you say? It makes a wrong impression, especially among impressionable young people."

But he said that among Muslims, it is uncommon to find girlfriends and boyfriends living together.

"It is not a trend for us as it is in the larger society."

Most certainly, society has an influence on young people, Rock said.

"We pray, we study Scripture, we try to discern God's voice, and we seek to affect and infect our world with our understanding of God's will."