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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Ask the Matriarch - Interfaith Marriage and Parenting

It’s wedding season…and our first wedding question of the season!

I have my very first couple to walk through the premarital requirements of the Episcopal church.  They are a thoughtful late-20s couple, both professional.  One is Christian, one is Hindu.  Both sets of parents are still married and both are very supportive.  I will perform the Christian marriage on a Saturday.  There will be a Hindu marriage on Sunday.  All bodes well, I think.

The couple would like to talk about strategies for raising future children in a household with two religions.  They each see religion as a way to God, neither sees their way as the only way.  I have no idea what ideas to offer them as I get ready for another meeting with them.  Any hints or tips or potholes??  I believe they will navigate it all just fine, and I think they are looking more for assurance than nitty gritty details.

Thanks for your thoughts - I love having the Matriarchs as a resource!

Crimson Rambler offers these thoughts in response:

Prayers for your wedding couple and their families!  And felicitations to you as well, with this joyful occasion before you.

The quickest and simplest response to their request for child-raising strategies would be to refer them to a couple or a family who have been living in this inter-faith reality and doing so ACTIVELY.  There are inevitably surprises along the way that are hard to imagine for those of us who haven't been so living!  But I would not hesitate to reassure them that it can be done, and has been done -- and it will help them to know, now, at least in theory, that they can't foresee and plan everything, so that they can begin to develop a strategy for how they will respond in the future.

It is wonderful that both the parental families appear to be supportive and solid.  Not everyone in both faith communities will be so.  Have they a strategy for response to the inevitable ignorant or hostile remarks they and their children will encounter?

But again -- a couple who have "been there" are your best possible resource.

All blessings to you and upon these young people!

And Muthah+ , blogging at Stone of Witness, these thoughts:  

In my understanding of the Christian walk in the Episcopal Church, I would ask them how they plan to raise their children.  I would not necessarily expect them to raise their children Christian.  I would ask how they plan to help their children to learn the values they have from their faiths.  They need to find a way for their children to live out the way of the Holy given their disparate customs.  

Ask what the expectations of the grandparents will be?  How do they want their children to live reverencing both of their traditions and yet helping them to find their own pathways.  The discussion is more for them than it is for providing you with answers.  It begins them thinking about parenting, how they will honor the rites and rituals of both families.

  It is VERY important that they are clear about this with each other so that the children are respectful of both of their grandparents' traditions. The  couple needs to know that there will be places in their marriage when one or the other will in some way insult the traditions of the other without ever meaning to.  They need to know how they are going to handle it and how they will be able to keep conversation going.  This will apply to much more than faith.  But they might be able to start with their faiths and go farther into their relationship discussing how they are going to communicate.

Come share in the joy…add your toast, your blessing, your word of encouragement for the preside!

Oh, and by the way, the queue is nearly empty.  We welcome your questions at

May you live in God’s amazing grace+


  1. One pitfall to watch out for: in some interfaith families, they concentrate on making sure the kids respect all faiths, and don't focus on really teaching the content of either. This generally leads to children who are respectful of all faiths, but don't have one of their own. The parents and grandparents involved assume that when the kids get old enough, they'll pick one or the other, and instead they pick nothing. Instead of experiencing and growing in either faith, they were on the outside of both, and so don't connect. I have no answers for how to solve this one, but it's an issue they should be considering. I know some very successful Christian/Jewish mixed marriages, but what seems to be the most successful approach I've seen in that context (raise the kids mostly-Jewish, because after all, Jesus was a Jew and if it's good enough for God's Son it's good enough for my kids, too) would obviously not work in this case.

  2. We haven't been much help!

    I encourage couples to talk about the basic tenets of their respective faiths: What defines a Christian? What defines a Hindu? Where is the overlap?

    And then, because discussing overlap seems to be a tilt toward universalism, I remind them that they can emphasize how those tenets intertwine with the rest of their faith. "For a Christian, this means we ...." Being a Christian alongside a member of another faith, and vice versa, in daily living is a powerful witness. Presuming that the Christian half of this couple doesn't believe his/her partner is going to hell, and presuming that neither is observant in a way that the other finds abhorrent, there's no reason for religion to be a contentious issue. There's also no reason they cannot be deeply religious while being fully respectful of one another.

    I remind them that their children cannot make informed decisions about their own faith without information. Children see and absorb everything. Hold that in mind.

    I began to learn this lesson in a very prosaic way. We had a part-time foster child who had no hygiene skills whatsoever, having never been exposed to them. At the same time, we were being very careful not to undermine her relationship with her biological family, nor to criticize them to her. I struggled with how to teach her the importance of handwashing, toothbrushing, etc., without seeming judgmental. A wonderful social worker said, "Just tell her, 'We Joneses (not our name) do X.' You don't have to discuss why the Smiths don't." That works for a lot of situations, for a lot of years until kids develop a more sophisticated understanding of religious practice.

  3. As an adult interfaith child myself, I advocate for the rights of interfaith families to teach children both religions. My parents chose one religion for me: that path had benefits, but also drawbacks. Interfaith children will feel like "outsiders" at times, no matter which religious education and label you give them. This is not necessarily a bad thing. My teenagers (raised in an intentional interfaith community) are not confused, and understand the benefits of religious community, and the positive aspects of being an interfaith child, including their role as bridge-builders. I write a blog on this topic at


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