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Sunday, October 26, 2003

From the Suggestion Box: Interfaith marriages.

Here's the first Philocrites discussion topic for Unitarian Universalists, suggested by John B. (Thanks, John!) Is your spouse or partner Roman Catholic? What works and what doesn't work in your interfaith marriage? What resources have helped? What resources would you love to find? And what about the kids: How are you raising — or how do you plan to raise — your children? Click the "Comments" link below and share your stories and insights.

If you have another sort of interfaith marriage, feel free to join the conversation — but we'll probably come back to this topic for UU-Protestant, UU-Jewish, and other sorts of interfaith marriages later.

And feel free to leave other suggestions for topics in the Suggestion Box.

Update: Let's just go ahead and talk about interfaith marriages of all sorts — no Unitarian Universalism need be involved! — since that broader conversation has already started and is so interesting!

Copyright © 2003 by Philocrites | Posted 26 October 2003 at 10:05 AM

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November 6, 2003 11:52 AM | Permalink for this comment

This may be off-topic as you have defined it, but it is pertinent to the overarching theme of marriage between persons of differing faiths. And, as I prepare for ordination as an interfaith minister, it's a topic I have been compelled to think about. A fellow student related last week that she asked her (Reformed) rabbi for some ideas for conducting an interfaith (Jewish/Christian) wedding. His response was, "Thank you for contributing to the assimilation and eventual obliteration of our people." Needless to say, she was pierced to the quick, and so was I when I heard the story. My point is that before an interfaith couple talks about how to raise their future children, there may be more fundamental issues to consider. (And Hi, Chris!)

Elizabeth S:

November 7, 2003 09:20 AM | Permalink for this comment

This is my first visit to your web page and I LOVE IT!!!

Okay, now onto your question at hand. I practice an Earth Based Religion and married... don't ask me how this happened... a baptist. Luckilly for me, I was able to get out before the bruises from being knocked in the head too many times with a heavy black book became obvious. Because of his inability to accept my spirituality (not that I expected him to be "saved," or convert or anything like that mind you, I did, however, expect him to respect my views -- he didn't have to agree with them) our mariage didn't last. There were other factors that figured in here though. He was jealous of our child, mysgynistic (sufacing after our son was born) and abusive (again, surfacing after our son was born). I do have friends who intermarried and it didn't affect them.

In short, I feel that a difference in religion should be discussed and both parties should feel that their views are respected. This is not the make or break point of a mariage in most sane people's way of behaving. It can cause a little stress, but talk it out.


November 7, 2003 10:48 AM | Permalink for this comment

It's great to see the conversation finally underway! Welcome, Medora and Elizabeth!

I know from meeting with the couples whose weddings I've performed that many people really do need help talking about the differences in their religious perspectives and basic values. They need help figuring out what's a big deal and what's just a difference of personality or style. But a lot of times, not even the officiant at the wedding takes the time to help these conversations happen.

Even knowing this, I was amazed and grateful when the priest who performed my wedding this summer -- an Episcopal-Unitarian wedding -- did such a great job pushing my fiance and me to talk some of this through. My wife and I are both candidates for ordination in our respective traditions, so you'd think we'd be great at talking about our perspectives and listening sympathetically on our own. Most of the time, I think we do. But the priest was candid with us: He reminded us that it would be harder than we thought; he told us that his interfaith marriage was both a blessing and a challenge. I needed to hear that!

Elizabeth, do you think anything might have helped you and your ex-husband to have seen some of the warning signs more clearly? What do you watch for now? Do you think you'd try an interfaith relationship again? How would you counsel a friend in one?

Elizabeth S:

November 7, 2003 12:11 PM | Permalink for this comment

"Elizabeth, do you think anything might have helped you and your ex-husband to have seen some of the warning signs more clearly? What do you watch for now? Do you think you'd try an interfaith relationship again? How would you counsel a friend in one?"

Hind sight is always 20/20 Looking back, I saw the potential right from the beginning. Out of respect for my mother (who was paying for the wedding) we were married in the Episcopal Church that I grew up in. In order to do so, we had to undertake 6 weeks of marital counceling. He was reluctant to do so, but eventually agreed. When asked questions, I can remember feeling not so good about his answers and seeing some subtle power plays happening. I would councel my friends to stay away from.. and this is ugly .. baptists in any form. Practicing, not practicing what have you. RUN LIKE THE WIND from the baptists. As for what I look for now, I look for more open minded people and more tollerance. Definately for some one who is closer in spiritual practice. I don't see a problem with inter marrying, but I won't do it again.

Now, my case was a lot more extreme than most. I was in an abusive situation. Had the abuse not been there, I don't know if we could have worked it out or not. I don't know if his bible thumping behavior was due to his need to control, or due to his religion and the teachings of the southern baptist coalition, or even a combination of the 2.

I would and have counceled friends by simply asking if they are able to work together. Do their differences enhance their relationship by providing conversation, or do they create arguments that leave at least one of them walking off in a huff. The ability to agree to disagree is the most important thing anyone could ever have in a relationship, reguardless of religion.


November 8, 2003 09:33 PM | Permalink for this comment

Chris, I'd love to hear more about your connection with the priest's (the one who performed your wedding ceremony) comment that interfaith marriage is both blessing and challenge.

I'm a Unitarian Universalist married to a United Methodist. We met in seminary and she is now an ordained and practicing minister. Though our denominations are different, I feel that our underlying beliefs are much the same -- we use different words to express them when leading worship, yet come from a similar place in our one-on-one conversations. Our roots differ; our fruits go well together.

My wife has just entered the second trimester of her first pregnancy, and I don't think we've talked through the religious upbringing part enough yet.

At present, I attend a Unitarian Universalist church in town, then attend services at my wife's United Methodist church. While I enjoy her services, I feel that my presence there is more as a clergy spouse than as a parishioner. My wife is not my minister, except in the most private sense of that word -- in the sense that I am hers.

I imagine raising our child in an atmosphere open to both Christian and Unitarian Universalist perspectives and worship. As to our marriage, I feel that our shared background of theological education and ministerial training helps me to understand and support her work better and gives us both tools to share our faith with one another. Having been raised a Unitarian Universalist, then attended a Christian theological school, and now being married to a Christian minister, my respect for and understanding of Christianity continues to grow, while my commitment to Unitarian Universalism has deepened dramatically.

Ted K:

November 8, 2003 11:20 PM | Permalink for this comment

I am in an interfaith marriage that, so far, has worked well. The keys for us have been that, despite coming from very different religious traditions we have fairly similar religious world-views and that, we are both able to talk about our religion. J was raised Reform Jewish, prefers the worship practices of Conservative Jews, but lives a theology and level of kashrut that is closer to Reform. I was raised Roman Catholic, drifted away from the dogmatism, and seriously contemplated conversion to Reform Jewish before settling down in the "Courtyard of the temple." On those tests of religious constellations, I come down as Reform Jewish or liberal Christian; for my work I read 19th century evangelical Christians.

The odd thing is that two of J's cousins married a pair of Catholic brothers, and all three households have their own solution to the intermarriage. J and I agreed to raise the kids Jewish; we are handling the Christmas problem by having no Christmas tree in the house until the youngest is 7 - at that point they should be old enough to understand the differences. Christmas is a holiday that happens at Grandpa's house.

Our marriage ceremony was interesting. Both Rabbis in the town we lived in at the time would have been glad to supervise a conversion but would not, as a matter of principle, conduct an interfaith marriage. A Catholic marriage was out of the question; neither of us could have made those promises. We looked into having a Virginia lay officiant marry us; we looked into having our of our friends licensed as a lay officiant; we ended up going to the local U-U church and working with them. The minister was on sabbatical that month, so our marriage was performed by a very nice U-U divinity student. We designed the ceremony, and the celebrant was the legal figure as we stood up before God, family and friends: Protestant ceremony structure, all readings from the Hebrew Bible, vows tweaked for equality.

What works and does not work? You really have to pre-plan. It does not matter how you handle the interfaith question. What matters is that both partners have an honest discussion, in detail, about how they intend to approach it. You can not put the hard questions aside for "later" - you have to figure them out before you tie the knot.

Our intermarriage has made congregation-shopping difficult. Some reform temples trumpeted their interfaith accommodations so loudly that we wondered if they had a Jewish quorum. Others gave us the cold shoulder once they heard about the interfaith marriage. Where we currently live we found a Conservative temple that accepted us, but J worries that I do not have ritual space available to me. If we are still here when our son becomes Bar Mitsvah, I will not be allowed to come up and bless him, and that bothers J a lot.

But, odds are we will have moved by then. That is one decision we will defer. Or rather, we know that while J prefers the worship practice at most Conservative temples, before eldest son starts Hebrew school we will have to go congregation shopping again and will most likely change to a Reform temple.

This is longer than I thought it would be.
Ted K.

Ted K:

November 8, 2003 11:22 PM | Permalink for this comment

Hmm, I misread the starting topic. This is a Jewish-lapsed RC marriage. The only U-U connection is that we were married by a U-U minister and, as we were talking about how to handle the mixed marriage, one of the things we looked into was both converting to U-U. As you can see from the above, we decided that Reform Jewish fit us better.

Ted K.


November 9, 2003 03:40 PM | Permalink for this comment

Ted: Thanks for your comments — and please disregard my initial attempt to make this a Unitarian Universalists-focused conversation! That didn't get off the ground, and this broader conversation is really very interesting.

John-Eric: The blessing I'm finding in my interfaith relationship is the opportunity to see (almost every day) ways that my own perspective is limited. (That's marriage for you!) Because we're both "religious professionals," we have lots to talk about — and I think we each learn a lot from each other.

The challenge that I'm aware of right now is that sometimes my own fascination with Mrs Philocrites' tradition — which is new to me — can lead to the "grass is greener" syndrome. I'm a curious fellow, and her tradition has a lot to offer a curious person, whereas I know a lot about my own tradition, sometimes more than I want to know. I imagine that there may be times when this dynamic might go the other way. And the other challenge is that we go to church together only when I go with her; a UU service just doesn't cut it for Mrs Philocrites.

And we haven't figured out how we'll raise children. Our current plan: Episcopal Sunday school — and Unitarian Universalist sex ed! ;)

Ted K:

November 9, 2003 10:55 PM | Permalink for this comment

A question for both Chris and John-Eric, especially Chris.

Church is more than Sunday morning.

Whose religious practices do you find yourselves following at home. i.e. Do you grace meals? Who says grace at meals? Is it free-form or structured?

What we do is that on friday J lights candles and says the Sabbath blessings. During the week we only grace at dinner, not breakfast lunch or snacks, and we use my preferred grace - a brief moment of silence while holding hands around the table.

Ted K.


November 9, 2003 11:20 PM | Permalink for this comment

Ted asked: Whose religious practices do you find yourselves following at home. i.e. Do you grace meals? Who says grace at meals? Is it free-form or structured?

We begin dinner with a moment of silence just as you do. We have talked about observing "morning prayer" -- an Anglican liturgy that happens to be the service used on most Sundays at the Unitarian Universalist King's Chapel as well as daily in Episcopal churches -- but we haven't started this yet.

Since both of us were raised in low-church traditions -- Mrs Philocrites in the Evangelical Free Church, Mr Philocrites in the Mormon church -- we're both used to spontaneous spoken prayer and don't find it awkward. We frequently are called on to say grace when we visit relatives!


November 10, 2003 01:04 AM | Permalink for this comment

Part of interfaith marriage is that beyond the differences in belief are the differences in culture. I was raised blue collar Irish Catholic and started attending UU, where I am more or less content. My wife was from a wealthy Jewish family. Surprisingly, our religous life is the least of our problems. We both practice Buddhist meditation. Yeah, that's mixing a lot of religious metaphors but it works.

The class thing is a sore spot though. I'm pretty content to just have a decent job and live within my means. She still expects some of the luxury with which she grew up. She is conscious of her expectations and works on her beliefs and our relationship, but we drag our past behind us like a sack of rocks that weighs us down but which we don't know how to let go of.


November 11, 2003 11:14 PM | Permalink for this comment

this is such a great chat!!!

i'm an apostate catholic who joined a UU congregation three years ago, and married to a catholic for 24 yrs.

our 24 years together have not been w/out the occasional faith tensions w/ me being the antagonist and her being the unshakeable yet simple devotee to the faith of her upbringing (french canadian) and understanding. but, for most of the time i was the aimless rebel searching for a connection and answers while she had this simple certainty in a grace that has managed to get her thru life's difficulties. in a word, i was jealous of her serenity and would mock her simplicity as dellusion (but never to her face).

as time progressed and i continued to suffer the searchers life and she of unshakeable simplicity, i gave up being the antagonist, shut my mouth, canceled my pride and started to attend UU services.

at long last the battle was over, universal truths and an exchange of spiritual commonalities w/ my beloved wife began to unfold thru an acceptance of her inherant worth as a person and a respect and deeper understanding of her faith as she practiced it. w/out the antagonism we've been able share w/ each other and teach each other. for about 2 years now we pick one sunday a month where we go to each others services followed by conversation at home, some of them real rippers.

in the future my congregation will be running a small group ministry where our non UU friends/family may attend. my wife plans to attend a few.

her primary concern w/ UU isnt so much one of a lack of dogma but a missed sense of 'worship' or a thankfullness to god.

i have no magic recipie for how this is working for us except perhaps one word: 'humility'.

be well,



November 12, 2003 09:50 AM | Permalink for this comment

Michael: The class issue is fascinating. I hope others will comment on it, too. My wife and I are both from what I'd call the just-arrived, still-aspiring middle class -- our grandparents didn't go to college; I went to a giant state university -- and that does give us a lot of common ground in spite of the cultural gap between her New Jersey Catholic/Evangelical roots and my Utah Mormon roots. It also gives us a shared experience of unfamiliarity with some of the class issues in each of our chosen faiths. (She's Episcopalian, I'm Unitarian, and we're part of upper-middle class congregations now even though we really don't live that life!)

JohnB: You wrote: "in the future my congregation will be running a small group ministry where our non UU friends/family may attend."

What a great idea! I would love to hear more about how this group will be organized and facilitated. And your story about finding humility with regard to your wife's faith is extraordinary. I'd love to hear more about that, too. It often seems to me that the hardest thing a UU church has to do is to help people put down their baggage -- we don't just need greeters at the door, we need porters!

Chris T.:

November 12, 2003 02:53 PM | Permalink for this comment

I responded in my blog a couple of days ago to Chris's question, but I only just now found the time to come over to the comments section. I hope people won't mind if I butt in with my observations. :-)

I'm Lutheran/Anglican, and my fiancée is Buddhist/animist. We've been talking a lot about the kids-raising issue lately, and that's what I'm most worried about. What have people's experiences been?

We definitely don't want to simply divide up the kids among our faith traditions or raise them in a void until they're older. We have pretty similar moral convictions, but totally different ideas about who God is, whether he exists, etc. One thing I worry about is that I will be a religious professional (hopefully an Episcopalian priest), while her tradition is much less organized, without weekly meetings and all that. How does one find a balance? Especially if we're not going to be attending meetings/services of the other's faith group often?

As for the class issue, I've found this to cause much more tension than religion, sometimes in terms of expectations, sometimes in terms of relations with the SO's parents and so forth. My previous two relationships were with Catholic girls from fairly wealthy families; since I was coming from a Missouri Synod background, we had pretty similar religious beliefs, but the differences in expectations for the future, ideas about lifestyle, and so forth were always a source of contention. My fiancée and I are from pretty similar economic backgrounds, though, and we're pretty much in agreement on what we want out of life in material terms.


November 12, 2003 05:33 PM | Permalink for this comment

heres a nice backgrounder site on Small Group Ministry:

we're still in our planning stage but hope to launch our first small group early next year...


November 18, 2003 06:17 PM | Permalink for this comment

an interesting topic. well, i live in a family where my mother is a roman catholic and my father is unitarian. its an interesting but for the most part peaceful combonation. they get into their occasional debates and discussions on their beliefs and mostly talk about interpreting the bible. the discussions are pretty good because i can chime in and its mostly peaceful with no arguements. all in all its a pretty good mix and nothing bad really comes of it.


March 30, 2004 05:01 PM | Permalink for this comment

I would want my wife to know Jesus as her Lord and Savior, because “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” [Acts 4:12] And if that isn't clear enough, Jesus told us, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” [John 14:6]

Considering I would love her very much and want to see her again when I get to the New Eden with all other believers, I would definitely want her to be saved!


January 18, 2006 12:56 AM | Permalink for this comment

I have been in a relationship with my girlfriend for almost three years now. I am about to finish college and she has at least another year. I am a member of St. Pauls United Church of Christ, and she is Roman Catholic. We haven't had much problem with our relationship, but that is because we don't bring the topic up much. When we do we both think that each others religion is right.

I do not understand the Catholic religion. As far as I know they are closely the same, however for me to be Catholic I need to go through classes, whereas if she would become a member of my church it would be a short blessing in church.

I want our relationship to work but I feel that our religions are not working. What can I do?

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