In the world of intercultural relationships, the dynamics of interfaith marriage is a commonly examined issue. Many have written[i] about how they work these relationships out in their lives and I respect their efforts to forge ahead together. It’s a bit easier to find explanations of why people marry across faith than why they don’t. Because I believe deeply that it’s important to consider many sides when making significant decisions, I thought I’d share more about why this was not my choice. Please know that my intent is NOT to condemn those who make the decision to marry across faith, but to provide a voice in the conversation for those contemplating interfaith marriage.
So, why did I not marry across faith? Here are some primary reasons:
Our faith is an integral part of our lives. By faith, I don’t mean a vague concept about trust in goodness or hope in mankind. I mean a specific faith embodied by a specific set of beliefs – for us, Christian ones as found in the Bible. We can’t separate who we are from what we believe – it affects every part of our lives from how we spend money to we raise children and beyond. Successful marriage requires a certain measure of unity, and it would be difficult for us to have this unity without sharing the same faith.
Our faith roots us in a common denominator outside of ourselves. Let’s face it: at some point, romantic love wears off and marriage grows hard. I don’t believe it has to stay gloom and doom once the lovey-dovey stuff subsides, but when we have hit tough times, we’ve clung to a shared hope in a reality outside of our own situation. This reality keeps us rooted enough to not be blown over by every storm that comes our way. As much as I hate to admit it, our love alone is not strong enough to withstand some of the winds that have blown between us.
Our faith gives us a shared ethic to (attempt to) follow. Little decisions stem from bigger philosophies, and bigger philosophies stem from fundamental perceptions of the world. While there’s a wide variety of perspectives within our faith (people can interpret scripture in very different ways), it’s not as wide as across religions. Even when we fail to follow our own ethic, we still have a similar place to return to reorient ourselves and continue on.
What’s your take? If you’ve married across faith, can you speak to what has helped you make it work over the long haul? If you’ve married within your faith, how has this worked for you? I’d love to see some honest dialogue here, but please refrain from bashing/dismissing/disrespectful language. While I recognize the sensitivity of this topic, I do believe it needs to be discussed without snarkiness for the sake of those in the decision making process (plus mean words make me feel bad).
3 thoughts on “Thinking through interfaith marriage: a piece in the puzzle”
This has got to be the thorniest part of my interfaith/intercultural marriage. The most difficult part lies just ahead. our daughter is 2 yrs old and I am exposing her to my Catholic faith and I hope I will be OK if and when he decides to share his faith Islam, with her. I think Sara said it very well, in my marriage, we focus on the shared values and immigrant experience we share. We shall see…God knows why He brought our paths together.
I think an important part of interfaith relationships is having shared beliefs at some point (kind of like the greatest common denominator). I perceive A and I to share a faith, but that faith is that there is no “one right way” that must be found to live a good life and avoid punishment after death, etc….with that outlook, the details of what we believe aren’t important for our religious compatibility.
I think that, instead of sharing a set of religious beliefs, we also share a set of values. I chose to share vegetarianism with him, and he chose to share participating regularly in a religious community with me. We also share values about things like ethical behavior, volunteering, donating, supporting businesses that behave ethically, and treating every human being as a person to be respected. There are places where our ethics/values don’t quite line up, and those spots are admittedly hard…but every person has a line, and that line will always vary somewhat from person to person (even within a religion, there are a variety of interpretations — you already specify how you see your Christianity, but even within that definition I’m sure there’s variety).
I think these shared values DO form common denominators outside of ourselves, and they help us define “us,” just maybe not in as easily defined way as a major religion would. I actually don’t feel very comfortable during Christian/Catholic weddings or other ceremonies, because things are often said that imply that my marriage is invalid or incomplete because we do not bring a Christian faith to it…perhaps that’s part of why I commented on this, to emphasize that we DO have things that we share that strengthen our marriage. For us, the actual religious stories and practices are like all other parts of our culture, so we are able to share them interchangeably — although I recognize that religion is not “interchangeable” to all people! For us, what really matters — and what brings joy and love and meaning from the outside world into our relationship — is our shared commitment to social justice and responsibility…it’s what my maid of honor talked about in her wedding toast, and it’s what we talked about the first time I thought I might be able to spend the rest of my life with this man. 🙂
Thanks for sharing your perspective! I especially appreciate how you shared about seeking common values across religious beliefs, a skill many people today could use more of…