By: Marion L. Usher, Ph.D
This post is the third in a series about how couples can navigate questions related to their interfaith marriages. Click here for the first post on choosing a ‘lead religion.’ Click here for the second post on where to go for help.
In a chance meeting on the street I heard from Barry the following; “I am so happy to bump into you today. Mary and I had twin boys three months ago and we decided to do a Brit Milah [a ritual circumcision] for them. You might remember that we had not yet decided in what religion we would raise the children, but when Mary became pregnant we realized that we needed to deal with the situation. I have to tell you how happy I was when Mary said that it was fine with her to raise the boys Jewish. Thank you again for all your help.” Barry and Mary
Couples decide on how they will construct their religious lives out of their family-of-origin practices, their belief systems, and their own values. All these complex topics need to be explored and examined. Within a framework of mutual acknowledgement and respect, each of the partners is encouraged to express their own thoughts, feelings and beliefs. For the couples that have attended my workshops, they find this session on religious identity to be among the most helpful.
For example, in one class, one of the participants was able to share with his girlfriend why it was so important for him to have Jewish children. Before coming to this workshop he had been reluctant to tell her how the basic tenets of Judaism informed his daily life and how important it was for him to continue this tradition. Because of how he was raised, and the fact that his grandparents were both Holocaust survivors, he wanted to raise his children as Jews. The safety he experienced in the group allowed him to reveal his innermost thoughts and emotions. It was then that she heard and understood how strongly he felt about having Jewish children. Clearing the emotional pathways helped them make decisions that were comfortable for both.
Couples often come together through shared values, such as constructing a life based on social justice. In my classes, I so enjoy listening to the couples reveal their yearnings to have the world be a better place and how they can become involved in the process. This often segues into the complicated topic of how to give their children a religious life.
Interfaith couples will explore different scenarios. If they do it by themselves or in a workshop, the areas to be discussed are the same. Will we practice both religions equally or will we establish a “lead religion?” When asked, “What do I think?” I tell them that this is all very complicated. The exciting thing is that being an interfaith couple, they can create something that is unique for them. The question they have to address is if a religious identity is important to them then they need to think about establishing a “lead religion” in the home. When the children are raised with one religion they then can identify with that group and participate fully in the institutional life of that religion.
I hope that Chelsea and Mark will take the opportunity to have these discussions and to do this work.
Marion L. Usher, Ph.D.