Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Interfaith Parenting?

Religion driven conflict and culture wars seem to dominate the news cycle these days. What you may not be aware of is the counter-cultural movement of interfaith dialogue and social action. This movement is increasingly being led by a new generation. One example is Eboo Patel's Interfaith Youth Core, based in Chicago. Another is the work of Joshua Stanton, a founder of the Journal of Interreligious Dialogue. Even the process of theological education and training is embracing the principles of interfaith dialogue and pluralism, giving rise to a generation of 'New Interfaith Theologians'.

I believe that interfaith families are also a part of this movement. The Pew Forum on Religion in Public Life has data on the prevalence and patterns of 'mixed faith' couples in the United States:

The U.S. Religious Landscape Survey finds that more than one-in-four (27%) American adults who are married or living with a partner are in religiously mixed relationships. If people from different Protestant denominational families are included - for example, a marriage between a Methodist and a Lutheran - nearly four-in-ten (37%) couples are religiously mixed.

The survey, conducted by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life, finds that people who are unaffiliated with a particular religion are the most likely (65%) to have a spouse or partner with a different religious background. Buddhists (55%) also are likely to be married or living with a partner with a religious background different from their own.

In contrast, the individuals least likely to marry or live with a partner outside their faith include Hindus (only 10% are married to or live with someone of a different religion), Mormons (17%) and Catholics (22%).

Fig. 1
Source: Pew Forum U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, conducted in 2007 and released in 2008.

Among all religiously mixed marriages and partnerships, the most common combinations are Protestant-Protestant, where each partner is from a different denominational family (25%); Protestant-Catholic (23%); and Protestant-Unaffiliated (20%).Fig. 2
Source: Pew Forum U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, conducted in 2007 and released in 2008.

I read an interesting piece recently about a program in New York for children of marriages between Jews and Christians that got me thinking. Check it out:

"Last year, I taught for an organization called Interfaith Community, based in Manhattan. Interfaith Community, or IFC, aims to educate children of Jewish/Christian interfaith households in both of their traditions. It offers an alternative to the familiar "just pick one" route that most of these families are presented with. The couples who sign their children up for classes with IFC are almost always breathless with relief at having found this resource. Religion is important to them. They love each other because of their differences, not in spite of them, and they aren't willing to sacrifice one tradition for the other." (Read the whole thing here)

The implications of interfaith marriage and partnering for how children are raised is something I'm really curious about. As I've said before, if interfaith marriages have a positive contribution to make to our society, then we all have a stake in seeing that they succeed (sadly many of them do not). This is equally true for parenting across faith traditions. We need to understand what works and what doesn't.

I'd love to hear from readers who are in interfaith marriages and have kids. How are you raising your children? In one tradition, both traditions, neither tradition? What have you learned works and does not work as far as interfaith parenting goes?