is one of a series on Conflict Resolution in the Faith Community published
by the Conflict Resolution Center International. For more information
about conflict resolution contact:
Resolution Center International
204 37th Street
Pittsburgh PA 15206-1859
Tel: 412-687-6210 Fax:412 687-6232
E-mail: [email protected]
Conflicts in Interfaith and Interchurch Marriages
some clergy denounce interfaith and interchurch marriages as a scourge,
citing them as the leading cause of marital discord and divorce, it
need not be so. While marriage across religions is clearly not for every
person, or every church, there are viable methods to resolve conflictseven
to the complete satisfaction of all parties. Here are a half-dozen examplesand
conflict resolution techniques which can help ameliorate problems.
Church told Satara, "Wait, you're not ready." Was she?
When Catholic Satara and Baptist Jerome decided to wed, they agreed
on a wedding massjust like her eight siblings. While Jerome understood
that he did not have to convert to Catholicism, he did have to make
a commitment to his future wife's faith. Yet as he was taking classes,
the couple pushed up the date to accommodate her terminally ill father.
Satara's priest felt that Jerome was not significantly advanced to make
a sincere affirmation of Catholicism and refused to marry them. What
did she do?
converted to marry outside her faith. Did everyone live happily ever
Patty, like Jerome, was born a Baptist. When she married Dave, raised
in a traditional Jewish home, she converted. She and her husband are
now happily Jewish, as are their two children. But does all sit well
with her family?
thought a marriage across religions was fine. Mom didn't. Who won?
Faye and Leo, of different religious backgrounds, decided to wed and
called their families for a get-together. At one point, Leo's mom sat
next to her opposite number and casually inquired as to how many of
her brood had married outside the faith. "Every damn one of them," Faye's
mother snapped. After that frosty greeting, where did the nuptials occur?
wanted to marry a Baptist. His mother thought it would cost him his
soul. Now what?
Richard, a Jehovah's Witness, found a bride among the Baptists. However,
his mother objected fiercely, citing Witness doctrine that even entering
a Christian church would defile her son's souland cause him to
lose his place in heaven. What did James do?
Kathy married Unitarian. Who gave the bride away?
Kathy wanted to be married in the Church to please her parents. But
when her non-Catholic fiance refused to affirm the faith, they were
married by a Unitarian minister in a nondenominational chapel. Her parents
at first were horrified. But did they attend?
considered marrying his nurse. Then he considered his heritage. Who
Cindy had saved Bill from the despair that had nearly taken his life.
But when he experienced a reconciliation with his traditional familyand
a religious renaissanceCindy couldn't and wouldn't share it. Which
did he chose?
give you a minute to think about how things might have turned outand
how you might have resolved each conflict.
Happened? Satara's Choice.
followed 80 percent of Christians, by some accounts, 60 percent of Jews,
and more than 40 percent of Hindus, Muslims, and Buddhists, opting for
a marriage across religions, in her case a home-style Baptist ceremony.
"It was a hard, heart-wrenching conflict," she says. "I'm still a Catholicbut
in the Church's eyes I'm not married.
Find common groundand build on it.
For people like Satara, says the Reverend Larry Homitsky, a Methodist
minister who regularly performs interfaith and interchurch marriages,
"It's what we don't know that creates conflict. I counsel people to
research the other's position and seize it as a learning experience.
I also invite other spiritual leaders into the church and work to blend
their traditions into the couple's bond and their expression of love.
Whenever another minister and I sit with the couple and their parents
to answer questions, the parents leave with a wholly different understandingin
part because their spiritual leader was present. I have performed many
such services," he adds, "and I've not had a bad experience."
Happened? Patty's Family Feud.
Patty's old friends still refuse to accept her Judaism, repeatedly insisting
that in her heart she's still a Baptist. Her sister routinely asks about
Christmas, knowing Patty does not celebrate it. And when Patty went
to her niece's Christening, and her former ministerwho abjectly
refuses to speak to herpointedly preached about the eternal hellfire
awaiting those who don't accept Jesus, Patty walked out.
one religionand stick to it.
If her family has problems, Patty doesn't. She continues to be happy
with her decision, in part because she knows that her children cannot
be raised both ways. "I use the Biblical analogy of creatures having
to be evenly yoked," says Reverend James Simms, a Baptist pastor. "In
marriage, people should try to pursue similar spiritual goals, to create
a family that goes forward. How can they do that if they're not pulling
in the same direction? I'm very strong on encouraging couples to worship
together, even if one of the members has to leave my church. Because
I want to see the faith issue resolved, not tearing people apart." Adds
Father Robert Ahlin, the Pittsburgh Diocese's Judicial Vicar, "Children
are often used to resolve people's religious relations. To be given
a solid faith directionand taught to respect other people's beliefs
and practicesis much more important than being in a tug of war."
Happened? Faye flies in the face of religion.
After her mother's rejection, Faye decided not to have a religious wedding
of any kind, instead waiting until their parents were out of town and
opting for a civil ceremony.
what you're fighting about.
Faye, like many, faced what Rabbi Yisroel Miller calls "the major
issue that people have no argument why the young person should not have
a marriage across religions. The child is not rebelling against theology.
More often than not, he or she has been raised without it. On the other
hand, parents and clergy often act out of deep tribal needs. That may
be an excellent motive, but to the child it makes no sense.
deal with the conflict," Rabbi Miller continues, "everyone has to ask:
how much do principles count? Do I say that love conquers all? Or do
I take a stand for what I believe is right? In any event, endless bickering
doesn't help. As a parent or clergyman, make your point once, clearly,
and let it go. The child will either accept it and act accordingly,
or not. But endless whining or pressure to compromise doesn't help anyone."
Happened? Richard's marriage defies his mother.
Despite his mother's strong theological objections, Richard was married
in a Baptist ceremonybut only after his Baptist bride-to-be got
her minister to mediate.
with a neutral third party who can calm things down.
"You see marriages across religions more in an urban ministry,"
Reverend James Simms says, "where there are more people with varied
backgrounds. My technique is to be open; hopefully, we can spread the
canopy of faith wide enough to embrace many different positions and
beliefs. In this case, the mother-in-law came to my office to talkdespite
the fact that many Jehovah's Witnesses believe that if they enter a
Christian church they are defiled and lose their place in heaven. She
was very cordialin fact, she even brought breakfast. We talked
for an hour and a half, and while her own beliefs remained unchanged,
there was far less hostility."
What Happened? Kathy's parents relent.
Her Catholic parents, who at first objected, turned the other cheek,
accepted their new son-in-law, and joined in the celebration.
the participants' decisionsand support them.
As the Revered Larry Homitsky says, by the time a couple agrees
to have a marriage across religions, there is probably very little that
can be done to stop them. In the final act, it may be necessary to call
a halt to the hostilities, accept what a couple wants to do, and try
to succor them in every way possible. For example, many ceremonies include
passages from Ruth, with its thematic acceptance of people of other
faiths, and focus on love as the salve that heals all wounds.
Happened? Bill calls the whole thing off.
by the beauty of his tradition, Bill broke off with Cindy and began
living a more traditionally religious life.
best defense is a good offense.
Innumerable parents and ministers say the same thing: to have children
or congregants stay in your church, keep your religion strong in their
lives. Show them the beauty of your way of lifeso that they could
not conceive of living or choosing a life partner without it, or a partner
who would not become an active participant. Perhaps your congregants'
children will marry out, but at least you'll know you've done your best
to keep them.
1999 Conflict Resolution Center International, Inc.