Religious Traditions And Challenges For Interfaith Families with Implications for Interchurch Families

Religious Traditions And Challenges For Interfaith Families ; The Diane Rheem Show on NPR

The ARK, A Publication of the American Association of Interchurch Families;                    Volume 24; Edition 4;                                                                                                         October, November and December 2013

Pages 28 and 29

Tuesday, November 26, 2013 –

The Diane Rheem Show on NPR ~

Religious Traditions And Challenges For Interfaith Families with Implications for Interchurch Families

Nearly a quarter of Americans attend religious services of more than one faith or denomination. More than one-third are now married to a person of a different religion. As American society becomes more open and tolerant of diversity, a growing number of interfaith couples are raising children in both religions. They say this encourages open-mindedness and gives extended family equal weight. But others caution that these mixed-marriages can be strained by conflict over religious practices and are more prone to divorce. As the holiday season approaches, a look at the growing trend of interfaith marriage and what it means for family life.


      • Alan Cooperman deputy director, Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project.
      • Susan Katz Miller journalist, former reporter for Newsweek and author of “Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family.”
      • Naomi Schafer Riley former editor, The Wall Street Journal and author of “‘Til Faith Do Us Part: How Interfaith Marriage is Transforming America.”

Related Links                                 

 “Interfaith Unions: A Mixed Blessing” by Naomi Schaefer Riley (NYTimes Op-Ed)

“The Case for Raising Your Child with Two Religions” by Susan Katz Miller (TIME)

Pew Research Center on Religion and Public Life

Related Items

Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family

‘Til Faith Do Us Part: How Interfaith Marriage is Transforming America

Source                  (Please listen to this program on line. ARK readers would like to hear your stories about your own lived experience of being interchurch.)

Implications for Interchurch Families and Ecumenists:

In this segment from the Diane Rheem radio program, we are cautioned not to generalize, but to ask people what their actual beliefs may be. I would encourage you to listen to this segment online now and to read the comments, some of which are helpful and others which show the complete unawareness that some people still have regarding what it is like to marry across traditional religious divides. We see great potential in interchurch families and the need for their proper pastoral care especially at this point in history.

Raising interfaith children is compared to raising bi-lingual children. Will those children be confused? Callers who have been raised in an interfaith family see themselves as peace makers and bridge builders. We have observed that the children raised in two church traditions can flow from one to the other and explain the customs and rules with greater understanding and clarity than many clergy simply because they have lived as interchurch.

Callers to the radio program indicate that religious beliefs didn’t factor into being problematic for their families. How money is spent did factor in as a problem? We have discussed this in the past. Tithing to two church denominations can be a real problem. This becomes especially highlighted when the mother may be staying at home with children and has no income of her own, but who wishes to continue to be faithful in her religious tradition of her family of origin.

One of the guests noted that our religious beliefs are maliable and that they evolve over our life time.

Learning about the religious tradition and beliefs of the spouse’s religion seems to be an essential component for the success of interfaith families/couples.

The challenges facing interfaith families is a bit different from those that interchurch families must face.

It is acknowledged that when couples marry across historic religious divisions that the couples usually first get to know each other before the topic of religion is even addressed.  Often the couple is already attached and committed to each other before their personal faith traditions even enter into their own discussions; this was pointed out on the radio program.

It would seem then that remote marriage preparation is imperative; the fact  that interchurch/interfaith marriages happen and are happening at what may be an increasing rate in the USA should be a topic that is considered by faith communities so that those communities may be pastorally supportive of interchurch/interfaith couples. On the radio program, it was pointed out that interfaith/interchurch couples can manage their own domestic church and personal spirituality within their home quite well. The problems may arise when the interchurch/interfaith couple tries to become part of their denomination of origin, but as an interchurch/interfaith couple in this newly formed interchurch/interfaith marriage. They have found that the churches haven’t yet caught up so that they can be pastorally helpful to them at one of the most crucial and important phases of their lives.

When the couple encounters two non-supportive communities, what realistic choices do potential interchurch couples face at that point? Have the churches failed them at the point in their lives when they most need pastoral care?

The choices that we have observed is that some couples simply drop out  from being affiliated to any denomination at all because it just seems so much simpler for them. This may seem to be the preferred option at this time.  Others may choose a neutral church or what may seem to be a neutral church for them as a couple so that they can worship together as a family.

Some couples choose to convert. The conversion rates seem to be 50-50 as to which denomination will be the choice for conversion.

We have also observed that in some cases these conversions are in name only to please a spouse and their family who believe that the conversion is essential.

Some couples try to become what is known as interchurch. Each spouse remains active in their own tradition. Many couples indicate the pain they feel when their spouse is rejected  by their own church. This mostly occurs around the sharing of communion. Not all churches allow non-members to have communion; it feels like a rejection and to be an act that is inhospitable. It seems to affect the member spouse the most when they see their spouse being rejected by their own church.

Some interchurch couples have observed that because the religious practices are different in the other spouse’s family that this may give the impression that the other family isn’t as religious. Being different doesn’t mean being less. This is a topic that needs to be explored further. One Protestant pastor told us that she simply tells the young couple who is coming in for marriage preparation that they should select the religion of the more devout parent in which to raise their future children; this is horrible advice because it then sets up a great debate where none should exist and prevents the couple from exploring the potential of being interchurch. Couples, all couples, need to be equal partners if the marriage is to be a healthy relationship.

In the radio program, it was brought up that interfaith/interchurch marriages are on the rise and will continue to be a predominant factor in the religious landscape in the USA well into the future. It would seem then that it would be in the best interest of our American religious institutions that they seek the best practices for the proper pastoral care of interchurch/interfaith families.

As  a spouse in an interchurch marriage of 40 years, I can assure you that the pastoral care of interchurch families has yet to be considered adequately. Any difficulties that we may have encountered 40 years ago when we chose to marry seem to still exist or to have increased which seems strange to us. Remote marriage preparation, for the church community, is needed that takes into consideration how the community should support the married couple.

The churches shouldn’t become the thorn in the side of the interchurch couple but the pastoral care givers and support for the gifts that these couples may have so that their gifts as peacemakers and bridge builders can be nurtured by both denominations of origin. The problem isn’t that two people love each other across what has been a great historic division, but that the churches haven’t reached out to support these interchurch couples so that the newly formed family can reach their full potential as the peace makers and bridge builders which we believe that God has required of us by God’s role in bringing us together to become one interchurch family.

~ M.J. Glauber






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Ecumenical Realities by Martin E. Marty

Ecumenical Realities

— Martin E. Marty

“Hopes for an ‘Ecumenical Spring’” was a Christian Century headline above a report by Adelle M. Banks of the Religion News Service. Her report spelled out why such hopes are wan, if not desperate. Three samples: The National Council of Churches has shrunk from 400 staffers in its prime to fewer than twenty today. Churches Uniting in Christ closed its office doors in 2010 and has lost one of its major denominations. Christian Churches Together has “struggled.” Monitor and assess the news of the separate church bodies and you will find few folks mourning or, indeed, “planting” so there can be some sprouts in an “ecumenical spring.” Do people in parishes know of the declines and demises? Would they care, if they did know? If so, what should they do?

The modern ecumenical organizing began just over a century ago, in a very different world. The councils and federations and conferences served well for decades. Ecumenism was “the great new fact of the era,” according to wise Archbishop William Temple, half an era ago. Let me touch on various assessments of why so much has changed, beginning with the denominations or church bodies which made and make up the ecumenical bodies (whose smaller staffs usually include able and faithful people.)

For me, a central reason was illustrated in the press room at the Faith and Order (sub-WCC) meeting at Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1960, when I first got up close to ecumenical doings. I tell the story often: The participants were defining Christian unity: “all in each place who confess Christ Jesus as Lord. . . [should come to] a fully committed fellowship.” The errant typist gave us in the press a draft-release that said we were “to come to a full committee fellowship.” Ecumenism seemed to be the task of bureaus, task forces, commissions, but it was grasped heartily by most of the faithful.

The offense caused by denominational hostility is less relevant today, when denominations get along fairly well; the destructive conflict today is within the communions. Catholics do not fight Methodists any more; Catholics are in conflict with Catholics, [“United”] Methodists fight Methodists. Homework is needed desperately.

The drama of separation, suspicion, and conflict shifted when energies were transferred from within Christianity to Christianity in its relation to other faiths. Many Christians yawn when [if?] they hear of tensions among South Asian or South African Christian churches, while the urgent scene now faces Muslims against Christians, Christians against Jews. “Interfaith” ventures are more promising than “Ecumenical” ones.

Note: much has been achieved, as ecumenical programs are on a new plateau and are taken for granted. Some leaders in the ecumenical church bodies, scorned now for their moderation when their cutting edges are dulled, urge members to look again. A friend asks “What are Christians in mainline and moderate and (gulp!) liberal styles griping about. They won!” Christians to their right often came out of their isolation in ways influenced by ecumenical experiments. As those who stood off adapt to “modernity,” they adopt approaches practiced by ecumenical pioneers through a century.

Sociological analysis and historical reviews should not soothe anyone, say the profoundly committed ecumenists. The Gospel and other New Testament scenarios consistently keep promises of Christian unity and commands to realize those promises in the minds and programs of Christians of all sorts. They simply cannot pretend their way back into cultures of 1910 or 1960 and proceed from there. Who’s “planting” for spring?


Frank Newport, “Mississippi Is Most Religious U.S. State: Vermont and New Hampshire are the least religious states,” Gallup, March 27, 2012.©

Adelle M. Banks, “Hopes for an ‘Ecumenical Spring’,” Christian Century, March 15, 2012.

© 2012 The Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago; reprinted with permission       

Featured in The ARK, A Publication of the American Association of Interchurch Families May 2012, Volume 23, Edition 5