Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Interfaith Dating 

A friend of mine and I got into a very interesting discussion over the weekend about interfaith dating and I've found myself thinking about it some more. For the faithful, the very idea seems fraught with missteps, pitfalls, challenges, and generally far more work than would normally be worth it. But, based on the discussion I had, I want to unpack some of that and see what you have to think. I'll begin with personal anecdote. (Oh boy, I can sense a long posting coming on...) When I was in high school there was a young lady with whom I was friends that I, at one point, really wanted to date. However, because she came from a different faith than me (Judaism) I could not bring myself to ask her out. Let me assure you, this was no trivial decision; I remember many nights when I lay awake fretting over what I should do. My line of thinking at that time went something like this. I did not see the point in dating someone (and to this day really still don't) if I could not at least in my wildest dreams envisage my marriage to them one day. Now this led me to think about what it would be like to be in a serious relationship with someone who not only did not share my faith, but professed a different one altogether. I thought about how I would be very concerned about this person's ultimate salvation, because, at that time, I did not have a theology that would allow me to believe salvation was a possibility for those who did not confess the name of Christ. I knew that it was a generally bad idea to enter a relationship under the premise, somewhat deceitfully I might add, that you would change them, could change them, and/or should change them. So, for me at that time, the buck stopped there. I would not be able to bring myself to enter a relationship where I could not see the possibility of that person's ultimate salvation at least somewhere on the horizon.

My friend inquired how I felt about the issue now. My feelings have changed somewhat, primarily due to an evolving theology of religions. Because I have an understanding of how it would be possible for someone professing another faith (at least as far as the Abrahamic faiths are concerned) to be saved, the issue of their ultimate salvation would not be a primary stumbling block to me. (I realize there is a lot in that statement alone that could be dealt with, but I ask that you resist temptation and stick with me on the main subject here.) This does not settle the matter however. Just as my theology of religions has evolved and continues to do so, so too does my understanding of human relationship. If I were to date someone who professed another faith, I would not be able to fully worship with them, nor they with me and that is a big deal for me. This is not to mention that I am not just a pew sitter, but one who is training to become a priest in the Christian religion. To a certain extent, that raises the bar. Carrying the idea a bit further, were I to marry a person who professed another faith, and were we to have children, this begs the question of how to raise them. It would not be easy for me to not raise my children to have an understanding of faith at the least, and a deep appreciation for Anglican/Episcopal liturgy at the most. However, all that aside, I now know that not all dating relationships result in marriage (whoa - big shocker there) and to a certain extent some bridges are better crossed when you arrive at them. Therefore, I think that it would be theoretically possible for me to date someone who professed another faith (easier if they were Jewish or Muslim than other faiths).

My friend found this interesting and I asked them to share how she felt. At first, she laughed about my personal anecdote. She thought it was funny that I was so concerned over this young Jewish girl's salvation, because, as she put it, Jews aren't interested in salvation. She then went on to explain what she thought about the issue. She shared in my belief that you should not enter a serious dating relationship with someone whom you cannot see yourself one day marrying. To that end, she said that when you marry someone, you are marrying more than one person; you are marrying their whole family and extended family, their traditions, their customs, their culture. That is a lot to handle. She said that even if you don't confess your faith loudly, that someone somewhere down the line does and that will make family gatherings awkward because "Grandma's gonna want the holidays to be like it was in the old country and how can that be if this Gentile is sitting here at the table with us?" So, for her, it seemed there were broader implications than just the one interpersonal relationship. She concluded that she did not think it was a good idea at all.

This discussion left me with much mental fodder. I was somewhat surprised by how I discovered I felt about the issue given the mental trials I put myself through over the girl from high school. Funny how people change and in what ways. What do you think? Anyone out there ever have or are currently in an interfaith relationship? Or know someone who is? How's that going? What are their challenges and their joys pertinent to this topic?



I think another facet to this issue would be something akin to the devoutness (piety doesn't seem like the right word and I don't want to label anyone as "conservative" or "liberal") of both parties in a relationship where a common faith is shared on some level. Even if all the "big questions" are solved between the two, little issues still prick up and cause problems. Whether something as minor as a boyfriend who likes to tell fart jokes during boring sermons or something as major as a refusal to tithe, these differences can add up and ultimately lead to the sort of fights we know can only come from that ultimate four letter word - love. I guess that's what dating is for, two people getting to know each other and themselves by studying their reactions to the other, but of course this is only theoretical. Lab work has proved, eh, inconclusive ;)

Anyway, to put more of a position on this post and not just raise a question, I see religion as something nearly completely private. I have a very hard time staying interested in a woman who is very vocal about her faith, regardless of its leaning (liberal or conservative), simply because I see religion as something that defines us and is best expressed through our behavior and attitudes towards others and ourselves. I'm not the sort of person who feels bound to any particular tradition, as I grew up an atheist, albeit a pretty ignorant one, and so when it comes to marriage I'm not picky. As long as it's not so weird I can't invite my friends to the wedding, I'm not picky at all, and after all since she is paying for the whole damned thing her say should count more than mine.

As for kids - there's a tricky one... Part of me is very grateful that I was brought up outside of any real religious traditions (aside from that basic American Christianity that probably every American defaults to unless there's some other influence). I've been able to approach religion as an outsider, and I have a good idea of my own personal baseline - that is, what I think and feel normally, without religious influence. I think that's what saved me from my fundamentalist phase, and I find that it helps me avoid alot of stumbling blocks that many faith journeys different from mine seem to have. That said, I feel, in a sense, that I am a perpetual outsider to my own faith. I am an Episcopalian in the sense that I have attended an Episcopal eucharist, taken Communion, spoken at length with very knowledgeable people and learned quite a bit. In some of those senses, I am also a Buddhist. However, before that I was a Baptist. Before that, and in several of the interstices I have been an atheist or agnostic. In the future, I expect to change labels and churches at least once more as my situation changes. Remaining in a tradition I have a limited history with has no real interest to me, and I feel a disconnect with many friends, perhaps most deeply with you, because I see myself as less entrenched in the faith. That said, when I raise children, I suspect I'll have to simply do what I imagine most parents do with most of their kids and take things as they come. Raising children in a religious environment will not always produce mature adults such as you or your colleagues at Seabury, Ryan - nor will raising my children in a nonreligious house necessarily produce people as tolerant as I have striven to be.

Didn't expect that to turn into such a novella - apologies to everyone out there who's gotta scan through this to get to the post your comment link.

ZAX out,

By Blogger BrotherBeal, at 2:41 AM  

Well Ryan, I think you need to develop more your theology of dating and then from that a theology of marriage will be more defined.

Let's be clear, you are dating a person, not their faith. Differing faiths is one of the many joys and tribulations of working out what makes you two compatible in the whole dating process.

As for me, I have no requirement that "he" (whoever that is) profess the same faith (although an Episcopalian would be nice). I already assume that as a person, he has faith in something. In other words, there is something inherent in personhood that makes one a part of faith. In short, I look for the image of God that is there and thus this increases my faith.

I hope this helps. I am back blogging again and I would appreciate your thoughts on my most recent post...

By Blogger K, at 10:21 AM  

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By Blogger K, at 10:22 AM  

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By Blogger K, at 10:22 AM  


This is an interesting post. I am glad you shared your thoughts. I think that what makes marriage a challenge is that you are never really ever on the same page as your spouse.

Let's pretend I find someone of my faith tradition...a Baptist. Let's say she's a professional Baptist, a minister or missionary. Maybe we even went to the same schools. This all may mean a great deal of common ideas and modes of engaging faith. It may mean nothing at all. One of the most deeply spiritual relationships I ever had was with a Catholic woman. This was when I was functioning as an agnostic. It was an amazing relationship.

I am now the "professional Christian" married to someone who vacilates for very credible resons on whether or not she will participate in organized religion at all. Does this reality play a role in my relationship with her? You bet!

I married her anyway. I may have actually married her because of it.

One of the questions you may need to answer for yourself is what you wish for your marriage to embody. What interests or beliefs about anything must she have. What if she is Christian but dislikes your brother? Or worse, Wake Forest?! Holy cow! Can you marry someone from Duke?!

Silly, I know. But it is important. It may be that you will find spiritual fulfillment with those outside your marriage. And that reality may be a wonderful demonstration to your children about how to function lovvingly in a multi-cultural/multi-religious world.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:41 PM  

Dear All,

Thank you for your comments. I want to make a few responses and see what you have to say. Let me be more clear on one point - when I say "different faith", I am not referring to a non-Episcopalian Christian. I am referring to someone who is not Christian. I don't know if that point was confused by anyone, but I saw it as a potential ambiguity.

K - I think what I am saying is that, for me, a person's faith is an integral part of who they are, in so far as me showing interest in them as a dating partner goes. To me, I am not just dating a person. But I am dating a person who has a ideas on what faith looks like, has traditions of their own, their own schedules, their own joys and tribulations, and their own preferences on whether they shower in the evening or the morning. What I'm saying is I don't think you can simplify something as complex as the human person. What I am trying to work out is whether differing faiths (not differing denominations of Christianity) is compatible for me. I can see the image of God in many people; I strive to see it in all. This does not mean anyone at all is a potential dating partner. I also think that it would be hard to have a "theology of dating". Dating isn't a sacrament. Marriage is, so in that context, a "theology of marriage" makes sense. What the anonymous author contributed hits that point a little better - what you want a dating relationship, and perhaps consequently a marriage, to embody.

BrotherBeal - I think what you say about piousness or devoutness is also very important, both within Christianity and outside it. I think I would have less theological qualms about dating a Conservative Jew than a member of Campus Crusade. I also think that it would be hard for me to date someone, who while a Christian, cannot understand my piety and the level of my committment to God. Good things to consider.

Anonymous - "never really ever on the same page as your spouse" - wow, that's a daunting thought, but also an interesting one. I'll have to ponder that more once I'm married, God willing. I really liked what you had to say, especially that piece of your own story. Thank you for that. As to what I wish for my marriage to embody, I'm not sure. I've not given that specific question any formal thought, though I think I have a number of ideas about it that could stand fleshing out. The points you make towards the end of your comment remind us that we are not discussing this question in a vacuum, and that there are a host of other things to consider. I know that, but I wanted to focus on this question of faith. Nevertheless, good things to think about. And if my future spouse went to Duke, well, she'd have to be something pretty darn special! I also especially liked what you had to say about witnessing to my future children (again, God willing) about how to act lovingly in a pluralistic society. Raising clergy kids is something most people usually say right before spitting, and that frightens me somewhat. We'll see how it all works out. I invite all of you and more to comment back. Thanks for speaking up!


By Blogger Ryan, at 12:26 AM  

"I think what I am saying is that, for me, a person's faith is an integral part of who they are, in so far as me showing interest in them as a dating partner goes."

I guess I wasn't clear about what I said or meant (mea culpa). The person's faith is whatever it is TO THEM (instead of TO YOU). Your faith is an integral part to who YOU are. Be clear that you can control

All of their habits, ideas, thoughts, and beliefs make up the person that they are. Of course you will not find everyone worth dating.

It is good to have a purpose in dating. AND it is not inherently wrong for dating to be its own purpose.

By Blogger K, at 2:16 PM  

Anonymous - "never really ever on the same page as your spouse"

I'll vouch from my experience that this is true. And Rebecca and I have a lot in common. It's one of the best parts (er...and worst, too) of marriage...that you can't ever fully know your partner, and she can always surprise you.

As for interfaith dating...I've never thought about it much. Course...my dating career was never particularly long or storied, so it's never been something I've needed to think about. I'm gonna have to agree with Beal...a huge part of it will be how devout the partners are.

And for dating someone that doesn't understand your commitment to the Church...honestly, with that being so important a part of your life...I don't see why anyone would date you if they didn't understand. Er...put another way...if they didn't appreciate your faith, they wouldn't appreciate you. And why would you two be dating at that point?

By Blogger Hudd, at 11:41 AM  

Hudd! You're alive!!!

By Blogger BrotherBeal, at 1:41 PM  

In reading my homework for New Testament class, I discovered that St. Paul would like to weigh in on this issue. From the first letter that we have of his to the congregation at Corinth:

"To the married I give this command — not I but the Lord — that the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does separate, let her remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife. To the rest I say — I and not the Lord — that if any believer has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. And if any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is made holy through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy through her husband. Otherwise, your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so; in such a case the brother or sister is not bound. It is to peace that God has called you. Wife, for all you know, you might save your husband. Husband, for all you know, you might save your wife." (1 Cor 7:10-16)


By Blogger Ryan, at 11:57 AM  

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