WASHINGTON — Below is an excerpt from On Faith, a daily online religion section sponsored by The Washington Post and Newsweek. Each week, figures from the world of faith engage in a conversation about an aspect of religion. This week, the panel members discussed intermarriage between couples of different religions.
Chelsea Clinton, raised Methodist, and Marc Mezvinsky, Jewish, will wed this weekend. Statistics show 37 percent of Americans have a spouse of a different faith. Statistics also show that couples in interfaith marriages are three times as likely to be divorced or separated as those in same-religion marriages. Is interfaith marriage good for American society?
Deepak Chopra, author:
“The more productive topic is how to avoid such divorces. To do that, a young couple must find common ground in spiritual matters. This is happening already to some extent. The ties of dogma and orthodoxy have been weakening for decades. Yet there is something deep that needs to be solved: the paradox of faith. I would venture that faith itself can put strains on a marriage (I’m not working from pure instinct here: statistics show that the Bible Belt, where church attendance is highest, also enjoys the country’s highest divorce rate whereas the Northeast, which is much less religious — and also more educated, an important factor — enjoys the lowest). Faith becomes negative when it binds the mind into set, inflexible beliefs.
“Sadly, this is the only type of faith that most religious people know, the type that prevents them from thinking about God or the soul on their own. The paradox, in simplest terms, is that having been told the right answers, people of faith feel less motivated to undertake their own spiritual journey. They aren’t troubled enough by doubt or be spurred by curiosity. Their chief dilemma is lapsed faith; they feel guilty for being less strict than generations which came before. … A faith composed of right answers sounds appealing, but marriages are about negotiation. That’s the bottom line, and when your spouse asks you to negotiate about religion, a small voice in the back of your mind is likely to guilt trip you. Religious practice feels literally like sacred ground.”
Susan Jacoby, author, most recently of “The Age of American Unreason”:
“In a society where people don’t get legally penalized or killed for marrying outside of their religion, young men and women (gay and straight) will get to know each other, fool around, and marry. Just look at the Sunday “Celebrations” pages in The New York Times. Buddhists marrying Jews. Jews marrying Catholics. Hindus marrying Protestants. What is the world coming to? I’ll bet Chelsea and Mark are going to have a rabbi and a minister at their ceremony. But not an Orthdox rabbi, and not a fundamentalist Christian minister. Presumably, they’ve worked out the Jesus problem and can both agree that Jesus was a really, really good man. And so was his contemporary Hillel. …
“And oh yes. Mixed marriages of all kinds are good for the gene pool. Religious intermarriage tends to mean ethnic intermarriage as well. Unless, of course, you believe that other ethnic groups are inferior to yours. In which case, you won’t be intermarrying, but you might want to be screened for certain genetic diseases that occur only in groups where people have married their own for centuries.”
Janet Edwards: co-moderator, More Light Presbyterians:
“For society, the most important thing is to support an interfaith couple — just as we would any other couple — as they make the promise to love and cherish one another. An interfaith marriage can only thrive in a society that values tolerance. And by the same token, the bonds of interfaith marriage strengthen the tolerant fabric of American life.”
Debra W. Haffner, executive director, Religious Institute:
“Good marriages are based on responsibility, equality and love. … It’s not interfaith marriage, same-sex marriage or interracial marriage. It’s just marriage.”
David Gushee, professor of Christian ethics, Mercer University:
“Religious intermarriage, or one might say moral intermarriage (marriage to someone who fundamentally does not share one’s moral values), can be deeply problematic.”
David Wolpe, rabbi, Sinai Temple, Los Angeles:
“Religious traditions are complex, ramified cultures. They are not checklists. To adopt a tradition is to orient one’s soul toward the universe. That is far easier to accomplish if both parents represent the same tradition.”
Chester Gillis, Amaturo chair in Catholic studies, Georgetown University:
“Religion provides a rich dimension of commonality for couples and thus accords a legitimate priority when seeking a spouse. Shared dimensions lay the foundation for harmony in a marriage. Differences bring novelty and often expand the horizons of each partner, but they also present obstacles.”
Albert Mohler, president, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary:
“Statistics indicate that a growing number of Americans are marrying someone from outside their own religious commitments. Is this a trend we should encourage? Not if you are committed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. …
“It is clear that theological differences really do matter. These belief systems develop into worldviews that do have real consequences. It is not primarily a matter of which holidays the family observes, but how the children are raised, how the major decisions of life are framed, how the priorities of the couple are aligned.
“The sociological evidence points in one clear direction — toward the inherent instability of true mixed-faith marriages. Even among the more liberally minded, the tensions remain.
“For Christians, the issue is not settled by sociological data, however. In 2 Corinthians 6:14, the Apostle Paul commands that Christians must ‘not be unequally yoked with unbelievers.’ This command reaches far beyond marriage, but it certainly includes the covenant of marriage within its span. Paul’s principle is clear: The Christian’s commitment to Christ is determinative of his or her other commitments. A believer must not marry an unbeliever, for this violates the very logic of the Gospel and the believer’s union with Christ.”