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The challenges of inter-religious marriages

The challenges of inter-religious marriages

Journalist Naomi Schaefer Riley criss-crossed the country asking about what it is like for married couples of different faiths and describes what she found in a new book ’Til Faith Do Us Part.”

Gustav Niebuhr reviews the book in the New York Times:

Riley, a former editor at The Wall Street Journal, is neither a cheerleader nor a scold. Her book functions more as a flashing yellow light at an intersection: slow down, be alert — pay attention to what serious differences may mean to a close relationship. She brings a careful, nuanced and thoughtful approach to an often contentious subject. And she adds considerable value by including results of a poll she commissioned to survey 2,450 Americans on the subject of interfaith marriage. Thus we learn that same-faith couples report somewhat higher rates of “marital satisfaction” (8.4 on a scale of 10) than do their interfaith counterparts (7.9). But the responses by specific groups vary. For example, mainline Protestants seem happy in their interfaith unions, at 8.2 on Riley’s scale. So, too, do Roman Catholics, at 8.1. Evangelical Protestants (those who describe themselves as “born-again”) are further down the scale at 7.7. Still, given the various challenges marriage itself can pose, none of these numbers are bad.

Riley’s initial interest in the subject is personal. A Jew who married a lapsed Jehovah’s Witness, she reassured her future husband — on their first date — that her family would like him as long as he agreed their children should be raised as Jews. Years on, it’s a happy marriage. (Her sister, by the way, is married to an Orthodox rabbi.) But this is no memoir. Riley rigorously sticks to her role as inquiring journalist, crossing the nation to interview people in interfaith marriages, as well as clergymen and -women who think a great deal about these unions. She covers a broad waterfront, even including mention of niche products that cater to interfaith couples (for example, holiday cards with elves spinning dreidels).

Unsurprisingly, the couples she interviews prove most interesting for the stories they tell. Amy, an evangelical Christian married to Farid, a Muslim, have a relaxed, gently humorous way of relating to each other. David, a Jew married to a Catholic, finds his wife emphatic that their family be observant, transposing her childhood experience in church onto her new family’s Jewish practice. As her husband says, that has “forced me to be much more active and engaged and involved” as a Jew. But such success stories have their unhappy counterparts; Riley’s chapter on divorce makes for painful reading. One woman, a lapsed Christian who married a Jew and rediscovered a powerful faith after her father died, bluntly tells Riley that she would “recommend against” marrying someone of a different faith. “Marriage is hard enough to not add the added dimension of such a fundamental disagreement,” she said. “Both faiths warn against marrying outside the faith for good reasons.”


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