What Will The Children Be?
For the participants of intermarriage, the experience can be a world of confusion. I recently received an email from one of my daughter’s high school teachers. He wrote, “My wife and children are Jewish as is my stepmother. My dad’s family members are Methodist and Baptist born-again Christians. My mother is a Catholic who converted to Buddhism. My sister is Lutheran, and my brother-in-law is Muslim.”
How can we make sense of such a complex mixture of ethnicities and religions? How can any of that help us provide clarity and identity for Jewish-Gentile couples?
First, I separate ethnicity from religion. Ethnicity is derived from blood lineage, family DNA, and is sometimes called nationality. It has nothing to do with passports or legal citizenship. It is to be part of a people, and it comes from the bloodline of our parents.
Religion, on the other hand, is a component of culture. That is, it is learned from our family, social authorities, community and expressed through traditional practices. In an individual, ethnicity doesn’t change. Religion can.
There are actually four relational stages through which a Jewish-Gentile couple will experience tensions and challenges as a result of their two different ethnicities and the many possibilities of religious cultural expressions in their lives. It all starts when they are dating.
During the romantic, courting phase of infatuation and intense feelings, a Jewish-Gentile couple will likely discover a variety of cultural differences that at first can appear humorous. “Do you really eat that stuff?” But it can get serious quickly upon discovering a difference in core values, “You just can’t say that name in my parents’ home! We are Jews and we speak about Jesus differently.”
The next relational stage is when the couple plans their wedding. Will it take place in a synagogue, a church, a park, a country club, a catering hall, or…? Every symbol incorporated into the wedding ceremony becomes a potential cultural landmine.
And once the wedding ceremony is navigated, a Jewish-Gentile couple begins to discover their own household identity. “Are we intermarried or a mixed marriage?” “Are we both religions, neither, just yours or my alone?”
It can be challenging to preserve mutual respect, let alone romantic affection, when the ethnic heritage and possibly the religion of one partner is threatened. It is easier to tolerate spiritual differences during the romantic dating phase of a relationship than it is when that partnership is permanentized in matrimony. Differences in core values, that were so easily passed over during infatuation, now threaten to separate or alienate partners. Ethnicity is not necessarily a barrier to spiritual harmony, but the cultural component of religious beliefs can pose a significant threat.
Two people in a marriage can fend other influences, or compartmentalize and accommodate their differences of spiritual outlook. However, when children come along, everything changes.
The arrival of children raises the question of their future identity with what people and which belief system. The question, “What will the children be?” takes on deadly seriousness as conflicting core values come to the fore.
Children bear the genetic makeup of both parents. How they will spiritually identify may be determined by the way that they choose their religious cultural components.
Spiritual harmony in a family is possible. Family identity can incorporate the preservation and survival of Jewish ethnic identity, even when only one partner is Jewish. It is made easier when both partners each seek and know the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. In Him is the source of all life, the meaning of life and life as it was designed to be experienced. The key to a relationship with that God is through knowing His anointed Messiah of the Jewish people.
How might we serve you to find spiritual harmony as a Jewish-Gentile couple?