Q & R:Interfaith Marriages

Here’s the Q:

I am White British and am married to a British Nigerian. We are both Christians but faced a lot of hostility from one of our families when we got married. The relationships damaged at that time have still not healed although some of the opposition to our decision to marry has reduced. Due to this experience, I have always been very welcoming and accepting to others who are facing similar situations. A friend of ours is engaged to somebody from another racial and religious community. My husband and I have accepted this without any questions. For us, although we can’t find scripture to back up our stance, feel in our hearts that to do anything but support them and love them wholeheartedly would be wrong. We would be really interested to find out what you think about interfaith relationships. I have only ever heard totally condemning biblical approaches to these sorts of relationships. I was wondering if you felt there was another way of looking at it? Thanks for taking the time to read my email.

Here’s the R:
First, thanks for raising this important issue. Whenever an interfaith marriage happens, the widespread inter-religious hostilities that I wrote about in my most recent book become localized in one couple and two extended families. The same goes whenever an inter-racial marriage happens. In your case, the fact that both of your families were Christian didn’t overcome the racial issues in the minds of some family members.
The fact that religion and race are often overlapping “identity tents” (an image I use in the book) reminds us how our identities are complex and multi-layered – and conflicted. That makes for drama, tension, and pain, as you well know, but it also makes possible a concrete expression of healing and love. Every time previously prejudiced parents learn to love a son-in-law or daughter-in-law of another race or religion, and every time they become passionate lovers and defenders of their grandchildren, I believe we take a step forward as humanity … into a greater recognition that we are all, in fact, related – whatever our race, nationality, religion, class, etc. And every time a couple whose parents don’t fully accept them manage to continue to show love and patience to their parents – trusting in time that they will come around – that’s a step forward too.
When it comes to marriage – surely one of life’s most monumental decisions – there are risks, costs, benefits, and surprises implicit in every proposal and acceptance. My many friends in interfaith marriages – including several friends who are pastors – can speak about all the risks and costs as well as the benefits and surprises. I just read the manuscript of an excellent book written by a Christian author and a rabbi who are married to one another – it’s called Mixed-Up Love and will be available in October. Here’s a quote about the book:

Dating, commitment, kids, and family-it’s all hard work, and it’s not made any easier when you come from different religious backgrounds. Jon M. Sweeney, a Catholic spiritual writer, and Michal Woll, a Reconstructionist rabbi, live out the challenges of an interfaith relationship everyday as husband and wife and parents to their daughter, Sima, who is being raised Jewish. In MIXED-UP LOVE, the couple explores how interfaith relationships can affect dating, family functions, proposals, weddings, raising children, and rituals of birth, life, and death.

To me, when you and your husband show love and support to another couple who is being rejected by their families, you are living out your Christian commitment to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Perhaps God will enable you to be peacemakers in a conflicted situation. At the very least, you will be friends to a couple who needs some friends now more than ever.
One more thought. At the end of the day, it’s essential to remember that acceptance doesn’t depend on approval. Whether or not you approve of someone’s decisions, you can still accept them as a person. I think we will become more Christ-like people when we learn to extend full and deep acceptance of others regardless of our approval of their behavior.