Part III: Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky: How to raise the children?

By: Marion L. Usher, Ph.DThis post is the third in a series about how couples can navigate questions related to … Continued

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.

  • t2k20001

    It disturbs me, the tone taken when two peoples hearts become one. Let’s be happy for this young couple, and pray God is in it, so the marriage can be Blessed. I’m an Black Male, and reading some of these comments, is sad. Mark and Chelsea, may God Bless You, and Your Marriage.Sterling

  • davidmswyahoocom

    The sad part of your stated example was that only within the group (ran by a Jewish counselor for Jewish inter faith couples, could only speak with his fiance’ openly and honestly in that environment. Evidently they had known one another long enough to fall into love and decide upon marriage so either she is not a listener or he was not comfortable in the relationship to be expressive and open as he was. But in sharing what he did, re his grandparents, Holocaust survivors, his need to have [Jewish] children, etc, was he overwhelming her and thus forcing his choice with perhaps your assistance on he. Where was her religious belief, Church hx, wants to be heard? I, as does my wife believe that our children need to follow as children our religious/Catholic values as children – although we are not in total agreement with the Church. However, now that our children are into their later 20’s and early 30’s they are free to choose or not to on their own – self choice was our believe re religious freedom for them to hopefully adhere to what they learned in earlier days. Something does not feel normal within your example and perhaps group for interdenominational couples.

  • ThishowIseeit


  • JJK33

    I’m very much in favor of a family life that includes a religious element. The tenents of virtually all major religions are very altruistic and promote behavior that is in the best interests of humankind. Having said that, I’m afraid many interfaith marriages I’m familiar with devolve into the lowest common denominator leaving the children with little or no faith life.

  • schnauzer2

    All these comments about “hoping they will find god together” or ” and pray God is in it, so the marriage can be Blessed”. If the two people involved wish to involeve religion (of any kind) in their relationship, then its up to them to take care of that before they sign the papers. But there is absolutely no need for religion to make a happy marriage. There are many many marriages around the world that l;ast long and happy withoit any religion what so ever. People have been getting together and creating families long beofre there was religion (especially organized religion). People can be good and moral with out any god figure. One of the top 10 reason for divorce is religious differences.

  • dennis7

    A couple should know by the time of their engagement what the role of religion is in each of their lives. There should be no surprises during wedding planning or when the first child comes along. The question for anyone is how important is their personal faith? Is it something to pass on to their children? From the example you give, Mary’s faith (if she has one) isn’t as important to her as Brad’s is to him, at least not when it comes to passing it on to her children. Perhaps she will eventually convert to Judaism. Speaking specifically about Chelsea Clinton, we know that she was baptized and raised in the United Methodist Church, and that her parents are professing Christians. Being a Christian means professing faith in Jesus Christ as Lord, Savior and Messiah. If Chelsea truly believes this and patterns her life on this Christian faith, it seems improbable that she would raise her children Jewish. On the other hand, if she really isn’t committed to Christ and the Christian faith, perhaps she would allow them to be raised Jewish or convert herself. If one is raised as a Christian there is no need to specifically deny the essential elements of Judaism and one can pariticpate in all Jewish festivals, etc., but if one is raised as a Jew then there must be a specific denial of the essential doctrines of Christianity. It would seem to me that children raised as Christians in an interfaith household can share more in both traditions than if they are raised Jewish. To be raised in faith means so much more than celebrating Christmas or Passover or other high holidays. It is truly understanding the teachings and beliefs of that faith and living by them. There is more to working out an interfaith marriage than whether or not to put a Christmas tree.

  • hello2012

    I think it would be more illuminating if any couple together would have sought out other forms of belief systems and/or none at all before they get married. This whole issue of “just because” your parents were “this or that” is not a valid reason for you to remain cloaked in beliefs that you may not fully embrace. Religion is not the answer to everything; it is there as a road to perpetual discord.

  • TooManyPeople

    If Chelsea and Marc were smart, they’d throw it all out with the rest of the wedding trash. Just sayin.’

  • skr321

    I would imagine that Mary is not Jewish, therefore the children having a Brit Milah does not in itself make them Jewish, a Brit is an obligation on a Male Jewish child, a child is Jewish or Non-Jewish by virtue of their mother, in order to become a Jew the child must undergo a conversion before he or she can call themselves a Jew.

  • forgetthis

    Once again, how can this be called an interfaith marriage when it has been iterated repeatedly that they are both Democrats? Sheesh, people!

  • Afraid4USA

    Sometimes the inlaws are the biggest problem. I am the product of a mixed marriage-Catholic and old line Unitarian. My lapsed Catholic father didn’t care how I was raised, so long as it was “Christian.” His family however were strict Irish Catholics and none of them attended my parents’ wedding.They were seriously convinced I was going to burn in hell. Nulla sanctus extra ecclesia as they say. They spent my entire childhood trying to “convert” me to Catholicism. One good outcome was that I learned a lot more about Catholicism than most Catholics. It enriched my life to be exposed to another religion.

  • StanKlein

    For an excellent book on the subject, see