How to Find the Light in an Interfaith Marriage

Filed under: Religion & Spirituality, Relatives, Relationships

interfaith marriage

Christmas lights or a menorah? Different religions don't have to be a big deal in a family. Credit: Corbis

You're an Irish Catholic school teacher who falls in love with a Jewish cab driver/aspiring novelist at a New York City bus stop.

Naturally, complications ensue.

This is the premise of "Bridget Loves Bernie," a sitcom that appeared briefly on CBS in 1972. It appeared briefly, network executives say, because of a flood of letters from people upset about a Catholic-Jewish romance.

Like that's anything new. A Catholic girl falling for a Jewish boy was the subject of the Broadway play "Abie's Irish Rose" in 1922. It became a radio show in 1942, with Bud Collyer (who was also the voice of Superman) as the Jewish title character, Abie Levy.

People just assume interfaith marriages will result in conflict, drama and sometimes even hijinks and hilarity. If nothing else, goes the age-old question, how will they raise the children?

It's really not a big deal in most families.

Francine Shetterly of Polk County, Ore., is Jewish. Her husband Lane, a former Oregon state representative, is Lutheran.

You might think Christmas would present a problem in the Shetterly house. Hardly. The family celebrates Hannukah and Christmas equally.

"The entire month seems like one big holiday," Francine Shetterly said in a 2004 interview for her hometown newspaper, the Polk County Itemizer-Observer.

People naturally tend to marry partners with whom they have a lot in common, including shared religious and spiritual beliefs. And if you rarely stray beyond the comfort of your own social circle, you are more likely to find such a person.

When people from different religious traditions get together, their chances of staying together are bleak. Reliable statistics are hard to find, but most say at least half of interfaith marriages end in divorce.

Hold the phone. Don't 50 percent of all marriages end in divorce?

Maybe people in interfaith marriages roll the dice and take their chances along with everyone else. In fact, there are statistics to suggest your chances of staying in a marriage are even grimmer if you marry within your faith -- especially if you happen to be a fundamentalist Christian.

Forget all that talk about family values. The family that prays together doesn't necessarily stay together. A study by the religious Barna Research Group concluded divorces among Christians describing themselves "born again" were 27 percent higher than they were in other Christian churches.

Agnostics and atheists had the lowest overall divorce rate at 21 percent.

Tips for working through conflicts of an interfaith marriage can be found religioustolerance.org. Some suggestions from the website include:

  • Be realistic. Almost no one in the throes of falling in love thinks the relationship will end, but half of them do. Be realistic and get a lot of premarital counseling.
  • Tackle interfaith problems directly. Love doesn't conquer all. Neither does direct, blunt and honest communication. Between the two, however, the latter stands the best shot. Remember that the person you need to be honest with the most is yourself. Truly assess how important the differences are to you -- or will be once the passions of falling in love have subsided.
  • Consider the in-laws. Parents often have valuable life experiences that can inform your decisions. Of course, they can also be gigantic pains in the you-know-what. Just remember it's up to you to make the final determination.
  • Plan in advance. Don't wait until the baby is born to decide whether he or she should be raised Muslim or Wiccan.
  • Take an interfaith tour. "Interfaith tours are becoming increasingly popular, particularly in Israel," travel writer Judi Dash notes. "Jewish, Christian and sometimes Muslim participants get a taste of each others' religious traditions by exploring holy and historically significant sites."
Related: Raising children without religion

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