Mixed faiths a mixed blessing
Chelsea Clinton, raised Methodist, and Marc Mezvinsky, Jewish, will wed this weekend.
Statistics show that 37 percent of Americans have a spouse of a different faith.
Statistics also show that couples in interfaith marriages are "three times more likely to be divorced or separated than those who were in same-religion marriages."
Is interfaith marriage good for American society? Is it good for religion? What is lost -and gained -when religious people intermarry?
In an ideal world, all rabbis would prefer members of their flock not to marry outside the faith. But many of us would also prefer not to live in a ghetto, where the only possibility of meeting anyone is from your immediate group. Jews- and all of us- have benefited hugely from a more open society. Part of the result of that open society is that people will meet people from other faith groups (and nationalities, and social groups etc.) and will fall in love. It is a small price to pay for the open society. What matters is what happens then.
On the whole, it is better for the couple to decide in advance how they wish to bring up any children, rather than 'leaving the children to make up their own minds'. Children need stability and security, and having a clear faith in which they are brought up helps give that, even if only one parent is that faith's adherent. Equally, one of the pair can choose to convert. I very much disapprove of people converting just to keep the parents happy- but if it is done out of love, and to give the children a stable background, and is sincere and heartfelt, then conversion for the purposes of marriage is perfectly acceptable.
Lastly, the question of mixed faith blessings. It was- until very recently-against the rules of our rabbinic conference in the UK to officiate in any way at a mixed faith blessing. I regarded that as a huge mistake. If you want people to feel even the possibility of having an association with their faith, the last thing you should do is close them out of any celebration. No mixed faith blessing is a proper marriage- marriage means different things and is differently celebrated in different religions. But a mixed faith blessing can ask for God's blessing on the couple, it can wish them well in the name of the faith of one of the partners, and it can give them the opportunity to play a part in that faith community if they wish to do so.
The statistics showing divorce is three times more likely in mixed faith couples is, I suspect, not adding in all the factors. More conservative religious people are more likely to marry in the faith- and to be less inclined to divorce more generally. So the figures may say more about who the people are who are marrying people from other faith groups, beyond their faith alone. So, in short, we'd all prefer people not to marry outside the faith- but if they do, we must make them welcome, ask for God's blessing on their union, and encourage them not to break away from the faith of their ancestors entirely.
Posted by: lepidopteryx | July 29, 2010 8:34 AM
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