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
"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
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
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.
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.
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.
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:
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
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
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
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
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:
During the Reformation, Martin Luther
referred to his movement as the evangelische kirche (evangelical church).
Later, "Evangelical" became a synonym for "Protestant"
In North America, "evangelical" does not have a unique
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.
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:
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.
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
Hindu religion: Pundit Ram Lall, senior spiritual
leader of an Arya SamajHindu 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.
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."
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
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
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.
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."
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
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
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
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
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
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."