In Theory: Chelsea Clinton's interfaith engagement

On Saturday, Chelsea Clinton, the daughter of former President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, is to marry Marc Mezvinsky, an investment banker, at a ceremony in Rhinebeck, N.Y., according to press reports. The couple's wedding will represent an interfaith union between Chelsea Clinton, who was raised a Methodist, and Mezvinsky, who was raised a Jew. As a religious and/or spiritual leader or commentator in the community, what advice would you give to young people on how to make marriage work with spouses or prospective spouses who practice other religions, or even those who are non-believers?

Intermarriage constitutes the greatest single threat to Jewish continuity. Yes, anecdotal evidence attests to successful transmission of Judaism where one spouse is not Jewish, but it generally requires two Jewish parents, living a commonly cherished way of life, to accomplish this task. The resolute expression of a single belief system, world view, and sacred practice bequeaths a vibrant Jewish identity. The possibility that Jewish children and grandchildren will arise is severely compromised when one of the partners is not ultimately committed to Judaism. Intermarriage does not preclude Jewish commitment, but when one partner wears the uniform, while the other remains a spectator, a unified message cannot be expressed.

As a recent study concludes: "Group identity cannot but weaken when Jews increasingly find themselves on both sides of ethnic boundaries."

Two-hundred generations of Jews marrying Jews has preserved our heritage. Deviation from this four-millennia norm of endogamous Jewish marriage imperils the future.

Rabbi Mark S. Miller

Temple Bat Yahm

Newport Beach

The best advice I can give is do not, under any circumstances, compromise your faith. Compromise, by definition, is a decision that is mutually unacceptable to both persons. Compromising on the basic tenets of their faith will lead to a bland mess that neither inspires nor comforts. If each of them lives out their faith with strength and confidence, they will enrich and inspire each other. There will be places each cannot take the other. There will traditions and theologies that cannot be shared. Couples simply do not have to share everything or believe everything the same in order to be together. Their marriage will be learning to dance with both traditions alive and strong.

Pastor Mark Wiley

Mesa Verde United Methodist Church

Costa Mesa

Couples entering an interfaith marriage are commonly asked, "Won't your religious differences present a challenge?"

A frequent response is, "There's no problem."

Of course, such a response might suggest that there is a major problem lurking.

Young people are in the process of redefining the faith and practices handed down to them from family and community in a process of personal appropriation toward an adult faith. In the best of situations a couple that comes from diverse traditions will enrich each other; but this is a formidable task. Too often they relegate their religious beliefs and practices into the dark background of childhood memories that are only occasionally brought actively forward. But no relationship is more important than the one that we have with God.

Couples need to know the faith, values and practices of each other. And they need to grow in their own. Their relationship will be greatly strengthened if they support each other in living their faith. And they need a clear consensus on the religious upbringing of their children so that this serious responsibility is not neglected.

A marriage that is mutually understood as being a covenant with God and community, as well as with each other, is a marriage that is rooted in good soil.

Msgr. Wilbur Davis

Our Lady Queen of Angels Church

Newport Beach

While interfaith couples may have challenges, I think that, in a post-modern world, an interfaith marriage is much less of an issue than it may have been before. Particularly because practicing one's faith does not necessitate conversion of the other.

What's most important in a marriage is being able to communicate. Couples need to have shared values and respect each other's beliefs even if they are not entirely the same.

When I do pre-marital counseling, I am less interested in whether the couples agree on everything, and more interested in if they agree on the importance of communicating and how they do it. My advice is to practice discussing simple matters so that when more complicated situations arise the couple is already used to talking without letting reactive emotions carry the conversation.

The Rev. Sarah Halverson

Fairview Community Church

Costa Mesa

Who am I to give advice on "how to make marriage work"? How can one person tell two other human beings how to keep a life-long and covenantal relationship healthy and holy?

Dare we look to a very unlikely counselor?

Saint Paul writes in Ephesians 4:4-6, "There is... one God of all, who is above all and through all and in all."

So, as a "spiritual leader," I might well say, "Beloved Methodist and Jew, ... Mormon and Muslim, ...atheist and Episcopalian: We are one; be one!"

(The Very Rev'd Canon) Peter D. Haynes

Saint Michael & All Angels Episcopal Church

Corona del Mar

Before they marry, the couple should discuss faith-related issues: How they will worship as a couple, in what faith the children will be reared, how much they will give to the church, the traditions they will follow, and the like. They should be encouraged to learn about what each other believes and come to an appreciation for what different faith traditions have to offer.

That being said, it is important that the children not be placed in the middle of a religious conflict or simply be encouraged to "make their own decision" as regards what religion (if any) they will follow. (For mixed-religion couples marrying in the Roman Catholic Church, the Catholic party must do all in his or her power to raise the children Catholic, while the non-Catholic party is notified of the Catholic spouse's responsibility). I

f the couple cannot come to some sort of agreement in areas of faith, this could be an indicator of difficulties to come in the not too distant future.

Fr. Stephen Doktorczyk

St. Joachim Church

Costa Mesa

The Christian scriptures are clear: Married people are urged to be "equally yoked" in their walk through life together. This allows the couples to be able to make decisions based on common training, experiences and religious commitment.

An interfaith marriage will bring challenges, not just in religion and child-rearing, but in areas from food to finances, housing to health, and politics to pollution. Major issues need to be carefully worked out prior to the marriage, preferably with professional counseling.

Once the decision to marry is made, a wide support network including families, friends, and religious institutions can combine as a beautiful blend to facilitate a stable marriage with well-adjusted children. A strong safety net needs to be in the wings with positive reinforcement and without judgment or condemnation.

Tom Thorkelson

Director of Interfaith Relations

Orange County Council

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

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