Finding Spiritual Oneness in Interfaith Relationships

Marriage Trends 2

What are the implications? Social research has shown that marriages between people of different religious backgrounds are at greater risk for divorce. In fact, Jewish-Gentile couples are twice as likely to divorce as are Jewish-Jewish couples.  At the same time, a dramatic and rising intermarriage rate indicates a Jewish community undergoing culture change along with greater spiritual openness.

In 2004, I published findings from my own graduate research, “The Challenges of Jewish-Gentile Couples: A Pre-Evangelistic Qualitative Study.” I interviewed couples in various stages of their relationships, where one partner was Jewish. Some were dating, others cohabiting and many more with married. My goal was to better understand those couples so I could think about appropriate ways to minister the gospel among them.  I discovered different challenges were spread over four phases of relationships. I studied them starting from the dating period, to the wedding event, to marriage before children and then marriage with children. I also found out that specific tensions were generally present around five cultural challenges. They were:

Challenge one: confusion over identity differences

Couples reported difficulty understanding their cross-cultural differences. Just the differences in terminology produced confusion. For example, Jewish people do not distinguish between ethnicity and religion. So, they refer to non-Jews (Gentiles) as Christians even though many do not necessarily believe in Christ or identify as Christians.

Challenge two: religious differences

Gentile Christian partners were most concerned about the eternal state of their Jewish partners. Jews, on the other hand, were more focused on Jewish survival. Couples often did not understand the foundation for one another’s different yet deeply held core values. Further, by intermarrying, Jews and Gentiles tended to undermine the importance each placed on their own cultural core values in the eyes of the other partner.  Partners described feeling lonely and alienated from one another.

Challenge three: life-cycle celebrations

Every ritual, holiday and family gathering presented a gauntlet of choices and conflicting cultural signals. Planning a wedding could become a family feud. The “December dilemma” (how to navigate the Hanukkah and Christmas season) was a minefield of emotion-laden traditions and cultural symbols.

Challenge four: discord over raising children.

Troubles got stirred up over how religious tradition would be transmitted to children, either from one parent, a blend of both faiths, or by rejecting both? Children have to be trained. How can you resolve a situation where either the spiritual hope of one spouse or the ethnic survival of the other was at stake?

Challenge five: finding family harmony.

How could Jews and Gentiles find God together without violating core values of ethnic survival or eternal life? when they had to take on the spiritual training of their children the stakes were raised. Marital satisfaction and family peace were frequent casualties. This proved to be one of the most significant challenges.

All communication is cross-cultural. Therefore, couples become learners together about each others’ culture.. Beliefs about secular life, Judaism and Christian faith can be explored to create better understanding between partners.  Life-cycle celebrations become opportunities to recognize diversity and cross-cultural differences. They can lead to discovery of new spiritual meaning. Jews for Jesus presentations like “Christ in the Passover” or “Christ in the Feast of Tabernacles” help create new awareness.

According to couples that I interviewed, they often believe that Jews for Jesus can help lead them toward spiritual harmony. I believe that as each partner seeks God with a sincere heart, they will draw closer to one another as they draw closer to Him through the good news of Y’shua.

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admin • December 6, 2008


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