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Interfaith marriages:

Beliefs and policies of different faith groups 

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Conflicting quotations:

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"... we believe that unity within diversity adds a richness and beauty to marriage and to life." The Rev. Tom Chulak, Unitarian-Universalist Congregation of the Palisades in Englewood NJ.

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"Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness, and what communion hath light with darkness? " St. Paul in 2 Corinthians 6:14-15

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Overview:

The attitude of faith groups towards interfaith marriage is largely derived from their belief about other religious traditions. There are three main options: exclusivity, inclusivity and pluralism:

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Exclusive faith groups are those who believe that they alone have the full truth and that all other religions are devoid of truth. They tend to oppose interfaith marriages.

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Inclusive faith groups -- those who believe that they alone have the full truth but that some truth is present in other religions -- usually permit them.

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Pluralistic faith groups -- those who feel that all religions are true when interpreted within their own cultural setting -- usually welcome them.

A second factor is the degree of vulnerability that a faith group experiences. For example, some Jews and some Zoroastrians are concerned that interfaith marriage may cause a long-term reduction in their total membership. Eventually, this could cause their extinction.

A third factor are the instructions found in the faith group's religious texts. Many conservative Christian denominations discourage interfaith marriages because of Bible condemnations of such marriages, they teach that their members should not be "unequally yoked" with individuals who are not born-again believers.

Religious liberals see the potential for an extra level of conflict within interfaith marriages, but are generally willing to marry such couples. Non-Christian religions vary: Hindus welcome interfaith marriages; Muslims place restrictions on them; many Jews and Zoroastrians actively discourage them.

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Views of faith groups towards other traditions:

The source of many interfaith marriage conflicts is found in the teachings of exclusiveness by the spouses' own faith groups:

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Many denominations relegate other faith traditions to "second best" status. One denomination within Christianity might regard itself as the only true, catholic and apostolic church; other denominations are then viewed as pale imitations of the one "true" church. 

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Some Christian denominations teach that other groups which consider themselves Christian are in fact outside of the faith. Many conservative Protestant groups consider the term "liberal Christian" to be an oxymoron. They consider Mormons, Roman Catholics, United Church members and others to be non-Christian. They are seen as following Pagan, Gnostic, Humanistic beliefs that are divorced from "true Christianity."

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Some view other religions as being separated from God, and even evil in nature. Some conservative Christians view non-Judeo Christian religions as being inspired by Satan. Some even view Judaism as being beyond the pale. For example, a former head of the Southern Baptist Convention said that God does not hear the prayers of a Jew. 1

Many members accept the teachings of their church. The potential of conflict between two spouses is obvious, if each feels that theirs is the only "God-approved" faith tradition. They have little room for compromise. If one spouse is a Christian Fundamentalist, then this conflict may be even more serious. Many Fundamentalists literally interpret various biblical passages which say that followers of other religions actually worship demons or Satan himself.

On the other hand, many couples are far more inclusive and tolerant of religious diversity than are their own faith groups. They describe:

"their world from a multicultural perspective...They reject perceptions of the world that are ethnocentric and nationalistic in form...these paradigms were not useful because they spread intolerance, bigotry and division in our multicultural society...they often stated that the church must strive to acknowledge this phenomena and catch up to this reality by learning how to operate more effectively in an increasingly inclusive society and in a more global world." 2

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The Westminster Confession:

The Reformed-Presbyterian family of Christian denominations include the Reformed, Presbyterian, Congregational, and United Church of Christ faith groups, in addition to a number of small denominations. They follow the Westminster Confession, which was presented to the British parliament on 1646-DEC-3 CE and approved by the British parliament in 1648 CE. 3 It contains a statement on Divorce and Remarriage. 4

Section [6.135] discourages interfaith marriages:

"3. ... no marriage can be fully and securely Christian in spirit or in purpose unless both partners are committed to a common Christian faith and to a deeply shared intention of building a Christian home. Evangelical Christians should seek as partners in marriage only persons who hold in common a sound basis of evangelical faith."

The term "Evangelical" has a variety of meanings:

bullet During the Reformation, Martin Luther referred to his movement as the evangelische kirche (evangelical church).

bullet Later, "Evangelical" became a synonym for "Protestant" in Europe.

bullet In North America, "evangelical" does not have a unique meaning that is acceptable to all. Various individuals define it in as a specific conservative Christian system of beliefs, or a religious experience, or a commitment to a proselytizing activity, or as a style of religious service, or as a "walk with God," or as a group of denominations.

The term "Evangelical" in the Westminster Confession refers specifically to the reform wing of Protestant Christianity.

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Responses from nine U.S. clergy members:

In 1999, Vera Lawlor of the Bergen Recorder in Hackensack, NJ conducted a religion roundtable among 9 clergy representing a wide range of religions and faith traditions. She "asked members of the clergy what they would do if asked to officiate at a wedding of a longtime congregant who is marrying someone of another religion." They responded with their own opinions. However, they would have been strongly influenced by the teachings and traditions of their particular faith tradition:

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Assembly of God church - Pentecostal Christian: The Rev. Bruce Pajot, associate pastor at Calvary Temple, in Wayne felt "It's very, very unlikely for a longtime congregant to come to me with such a request. .... People in our congregation tend to be very clear on what it is to be a Christian"  He would counsel them in an effort to convert the non-Christian to a belief in Christianity. If this could not be achieved, he would "be reluctant to marry them," rather than set themselves up for serious problems in the future. In this case, conversion would probably have to be to a conservative Protestant denomination.

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Baptist Church - Christian: The Rev. Edwin M. Brown, pastor of First Baptist Church of Ridgefield Park would only marry an interfaith couple if both parties agreed with certain beliefs: e.g. the deity of Jesus, salvation through faith, resurrection, intercession of Jesus on their behalf, etc. He would hold "several counseling sessions to ensure compatibility before performing the ceremony." By implication, he would not marry an interfaith couple, or even a conservative-liberal Christian couple.

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Hindu religion: Pundit Ram Lall, senior spiritual leader of an Arya Samaj Hindu temple in Briarwood, N.Y. commented: "Hinduism does not preach race or religion. It's very broad. The Vedas are for all men and there should be no distinction between human and human." He would have no problems marrying an interfaith couple; however, he would wish to speak with them first.

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Interfaith: The Rev. June Schreiber, co-pastor and co-founder of SpiritWorks Interfaith Congregation, Oakland, NJ takes a positive approach. She commented: "The first thing I would do with any couple is find out why they want to commit and what they love about each other. Why have they chosen to be together? I think that's the foundation for any marriage. The second thing is to talk about the respect they have for each other as individuals. This would lead into a discussion of their different religions. Communication is the key to a successful relationship, so I would want to know if they had talked about the differences in their religions...If there's love, understanding, respect, and a willingness to bend, I think an interfaith relationship could be magic."

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Islam: Mohammad Abbasi, Khatib is a lay minister at the Dar-Ul-Islah mosque in Teaneck. He commented: "A Muslim male is permitted to marry a person of the Book -- in other words, a Jew or Christian. The only objection to this would be if the woman he was marrying wasn't living up to the requirements of her own religion. To preserve the Muslim faith, a Muslim girl is not allowed to marry outside the religion." However, a non-Muslim male who wishes to marry a Muslim woman could proceed if he first sincerely converted to Islam. He added: "What's important to us is that...someone believes in God and can always be held accountable to something." This would imply that an Agnostic, Atheist, Buddhist or some Unitarian Universalist women might not be eligible to marry a Muslim man.

One traditional Muslim authority writes that "Islam considers the husband [to be the] head-of-the-family and therefore requires that a Muslim [woman] cannot marry a non-Muslim because she will [then] be under the authority of a non-Muslim husband." A Muslim man may marry a Christian, Jew or Muslim. But the woman must actively practice her religion. Otherwise, the marriage will be considered invalid. If a Muslim man agrees to allow some of his children to be raised as non-Muslims then he will be regarded as having abandoned Islam. If a [Muslim] man married to a Muslim woman converts to another religion, then the marriage is dissolved. 5 Additional material is available on the Internet: 6,7


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Judaism: Rabbi David Feldman of The Jewish Center of Teaneck, NJ is opposed to interfaith marriages if one party is Jewish. He commented that "the future of the Jewish people is realized through in-marriage and not through out-marriage. This does indeed ask individuals to place Judaism's survival and viability above one's own romantic or personal considerations." He added that a Jew should marry someone "with whom a new [Jewish] household can be established on shared...values and tenets. This begins with a religious marriage ceremony that itself has sense and validity only if both partners share these religious assumptions."

Another source notes that "Judaism, so often described as a 'way of life,' is intimately bound up with domestic rituals...Many Jewish festivals take place as much in the home as they do in synagogue. It can be very difficult to maintain such Jewish practices when only one partner is of the faith. 8

One commonly circulated figure is that 50% of all American Jews marry non-Jews. This is a matter of great concern to many in the faith.


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Reform Church - Christian: The Rev. Dr. Katherine Ellison is part-time pastor at the Lakeview Heights Reformed Church in Clifton, NJ and Protestant chaplain at Montclair State University. She requires her marriage services to be Christian: "It couldn't be in my church, for instance, if they wanted the cross removed or if I couldn't say in 'Jesus' name' during the service." She comments that personality factors "will likely cause more problems than the couple's faith traditions."

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Roman Catholic - Christian: Bishop Charles McDonnell of Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church in Hackensack, NJ commented that the Church would have no difficulty marrying an eligible interfaith couple, as long as the marriage was performed by a Catholic priest. Dispensation can usually be granted to hold the marriage ritual in another church, temple, mosque, etc. The priest usually asks "the Catholic party if they are willing to raise their children in the Catholic faith. If they are unsure about that, we discuss it further, and talk about what exactly they are planning to do."

Before the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), church rules for interfaith couples were quite onerous. If they wished to be married in the Roman Catholic church, the non-Catholic partner had to agree in writing that they would have all of their children baptized and educated in the church. The non-Catholic's clergy could attend the wedding, but only as one of the wedding guests, not in any religious capacity. If the couple married outside the church, then their marriage was not recognized by the church. Also, the Catholic partner had to work for the religious conversion of their partner. 9

One series of estimates, of unknown accuracy, is that 18 million (25%) of the Roman Catholics in the U.S. marry non-Catholics. The figure for Manitoba, Canada is 40%; for Britain it is 75%. 10

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Unitarian Universalist Association: The Rev. Tom Chulak, minister at the Unitarian-Universalist Congregation of the Palisades in Englewood, NJ commented: "I would be excited for the congregant, and set up a time to meet with the couple to discern if their relationship was strong enough for me to officiate at their wedding. I would want to know about the faith tradition that nurtured each of the partners... and how these differences would impact their marriage." The UUA is a religious organization without a creed; its members are expected to develop their own spiritual path, with the help of fellow U-Us and the minister. The Association and its members embrace many sources of religious expression, including Christianity, Judaism, Neopaganism, Eastern religions, Aboriginal religions, etc. Rev. Chulak said: "...we regularly perform interfaith marriages as celebrations of love, freedom, and commitment. We believe that diversity does not preclude unity. In fact, we believe that unity within diversity adds a richness and beauty to marriage and to life. Interfaith marriages can be challenging, but if love is present, the couple will find a way through."

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The Bergen Recorder did not include a representative from one of the Orthodox churches in their sampling of religious opinion. However, the Orthodox position is discussed on the Internet. 11

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Zoroastrianism:

Zoroastrianism was once the religion of Persia. It had a profound influence on Judaism and Christianity. Religious historians and religious liberals believe that such concepts as Satan, Heaven, Hell, the day of judgment, and other beliefs originated in Zoroastrianism and later spread to Judaism and thence to Christianity. Most Zarthosthis -- followers of Zoroastrainism -- have left the Middle East due to persecution from Muslims. There are concentrations of members in India and North America. However, their numbers now total only about 140,000 worldwide, of which a third are over the age of 60. In India, where most Zarthosthis live, the population is dropping about 10% per decade. 14

One of their traditional beliefs is that one must be born to two Zarthosthi parents in order to be a a member of the faith. Converts from other religions are not allowed to join the religion. They do not recognize as Zarthosthi those children of interfaith couples where only one spouse is a Zoroastrian. These policies are changing, particularly in the West.

A group of High Priests of traditional Zoroastrianism issued a resolution which stated that they:

"... are pained to observe the potential threat to the very survival of the Parsi Zoroastrian community due to increasing number of intermarriages within the community and the so-called initiation of the progeny of such intermarried couples into the Parsi Zoroastrian faith. This is against the tenets of the religion. If this trend continues, the day is not far when the unique 'Parsi Zoroastrian' identity which the community has zealously preserved since centuries will be diluted and subsequently wiped out." 12

They issued a seven point declaration, stating that do not recognize interfaith marriages as being religiously valid. Such couples may be married under civil law, but their status is not recognized from a religious viewpoint. Their children are to be excluded from the Zoroastrian faith.

Conflict exists within the faith as some followers in North America have relaxed rules concerning interfaith marriages and the initiation of their children. One source states that a third to a half of Zarthosthi youth in the West are marrying outside of their faith. 13

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References:

  1. Rev. Bailey Smith, at the 1980 Religious Roundtable national affairs briefing in Dallas TX. The quote was: "God Almighty does not hear the prayer of a Jew." He received thunderous applause from the audience after he said this. Smith later enlarged on this comment by saying:  "I am pro-Jew…I believe they are God's special people, but without Jesus Christ, they are lost."
  2. Rev. Fr. Charles Joanides, "The Interfaith Marriage Challenge" at: http://www.interfaith.goarch.org/
  3. "The origin and formation of the Westminster Confession of Faith," Presbyterian Church in America, at: http://www.pcanet.org/
  4. "Of Marriage and Divorce," Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 26, Section 6.135, at: http://www.ccel.org/ or http://www.sacred-texts.com
  5. "Marriage between Muslims and non-Muslims," at: http://syed.afternet.com/
  6. "Marriage to a non-Muslim," at: http://www.islamicvoice.com/
  7. "Marriage: interfaith marriages," various titles, at: http://www.islamicity.org/
  8. J. Romain, "Mixing love and faith, a Jewish perspective," at: http://www.aifw.org/
  9. "Interchurch families: hope for the churches," Interchurch Families Journal, 1997-JAN, at: http://www.aifw.org/aif/journal/nicola.htm
  10. Fenella Temmerman, "Letter to 'Columbia,' " at: http://www.aifw.org/
  11. Emmanuel Clapsis, "The challenge posed by mixed marriages," an Orthodox Christian position at: http://www.voithia.org/
  12. Dasturji Dr. Hormazdyar K. Mirza et al., "Historic resolution by high priests prohibiting inter-marriage," at: http://tenets.zoroastrianism.com/
  13. Shahpur F. Captain, "Necessary changes for the new millennium," at: http://www.w-z-o.org/
  14. Deena Guzder, "Can Zoroastrians save their faith?," Faith Street, 2010-JAN-04, at: http://www.faithstreet.com/

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Copyright © 1999 to 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance.
Originally published: 1999-MAR-16
Latest update: 2014-DEC-09
Author: B.A. Robinson

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