Religious Differences Between Spouses

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Religious conflict in our home(5 responses)
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Questions

How to handle kids' religion when parents don't agree

April 2009

My husband and I were both raised Catholic. I am still a devout Catholic, he is not. He believes in God, but not necessarily the Christian God and he does not believe in Jesus. We have 2 young kids and are struggling with how to raise them with regards to religious beliefs. Both kids are baptized Catholic and we were married in the Catholic church. We celebrate all the Christian holidays but, especially after Easter this year, we're feeling like we need to come up with something because they are completely unfamiliar with God. I would love to raise my kids Catholic but my husband doesn't believe in the core beliefs and doesn't want our kids to be introduced to the concept of Jesus and he doesn't want me to take them to mass. I was wondering if anyone else that has a marriage of mixed beliefs would share how they handle religion with their kids. It would be a little more clear if my husband was just another flavor of Christian but the leaving Jesus out of it thing makes it more difficult to come up with solutions to because that really is the foundation of my faith. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences with us! anonymous


Our situation isn't just like yours, but the underlying issue is similar. I come from a large catholic family, all of whom are still fairly active, including sending their kids to catholic schools. My 8 year old son is currently the only one of his many cousins who goes to public school. My partner grew up in an atheist family, but she considers herself agnostic, and is tolerant of my attempts to teach our son about religion, spirituality, faith and god(s). I'm still very conflicted about my own faith. While I'm sad that our son won't be growing up in the culture I was was raised in [and have a great deal of appreciation for], I'm fervently opposed to so many current catholic teachings, that I don't actually want to support them. When it comes to the Jesus discussion [and I think it's an important one to have in our society], we pretty much focus on his humanity and what he meant to people then and through history. He knows that many people [including family members] believe in the story of Jesus' godliness, and he knows what his parents believe. He also knows he's free to develop his own beliefs. Since he's being raised as the only non-catholic among my entire family, we feel that it's important he is at least moderately well-informed about what the rest of them believe and why they do. -anon


I have always been in situations where two members of a couple have different beliefs: my parents, my ex-husband and myself, my present partner and myself -- I wonder how common it is for couples to have the SAME belief? I mean, really the same belief(s)? I think probably it is most common among atheist/agnostic couples. OK, how to deal. What is it that offends your husband about Jesus? The rising-from-the-dead part? The sacrifice-for-our-sins part? The bloody crucifixion part? The miracles part? All of the above? It might help to have a constructive conversation about the aspects of Christianity that your husband finds unacceptable to teach to your kids. And what aspects you think are so valuable that you would not want your kids to miss them? I am assuming from your post that you are not the kind of Christian who thinks that you risk damnation for your kids if they don't get all their sacraments. So what is it about belief in Jesus that you find indispensable? His teachings about love and justice? Would your husband object to those? My solution would be to try to find that middle ground where you and your husband can agree about what to teach your kids, not only about Jesus, but about spirituality in general, its relation to science and other aspects of life (sexuality, politics, etc.) and see if you can find a faith community that will allow the two of you to stay in that middle ground. A lot of people would probably suggest Unitarianism -- I think the Unitarians can provide a wonderful faith community, though for me I found them to be not sufficiently oriented to Christianity. Perhaps the Quakers would be a possibility, though Quakerism would not satisfy a Catholic who hungered for the physical signs of the sacraments. A church like the one I attend, Epworth United Methodist, where Jesus is certainly present in the sermons and songs, etc. but the emphasis is on a pretty ecumenical teaching of justice and love, might work for you. The first step would be to see if you and your husband can find some common ground -- it sounds to me as if this is an important and profound issue around which you could learn to understand each other better. radical progressive Christian


I think that if you are concerned about educating your children so that they are knowledgeable about different religious beliefs and cultures around the world, you should look for a liberal unitarian or universalist sunday school type program that focuses on acceptance, tolerance, and learning, without attempting to teach the children that any specific belief is ''right''. If you are feeling that you want your children to believe the same thing you believe, I think you should hold back - if you start indoctrinating your children into the catholic faith, they will undoubtedly come to believe what you believe because developmentally they want to please you. I think your husband's reluctance is well founded. If they want to follow your beliefs, they will, when they are older and capable of making that decision for themselves.


You guys are Baptized Catholics, married in the Church. You have both agreed to raise your kids in the Church--and this is pretty serious business. Find a good parish where your husband would feel comfortable going for Christmas/Easter... there are so many liberal Catholic Churches in the bay area that they aren't even really all that ''Catholic'' except in name. This might be a good transition, find a place where there are a lot of kids and a good faith formation program. Find a place where your husband feels comfortable, if even begrudgingly. I would talk with your husband about why he doesn't want the Jesus ... did something happen to him when he was a teenager to turn him off to his faith? Talk, talk, talk... read read read. Go on a couples retreat if you can. Allow him to see that he is an adult and can make his faith his own. I am Catholic, my husband is not. Honestly, it is hard to be the only one at mass every Sunday, the one with all the responsibility. But, to do nothing would be even worse. A Catholic parent is responsible for education of their child--and this includes learning about the faith. Plus, maybe your kids will love it and who is your husband to make his experience theirs? Shouldn't they be allowed to form their own opinion? My kids don't always love going to mass, but they love being Catholic--they love that they can go to any country in the world and their Church is there... they love the history and the rituals... they love having a real culture. Catholic Mom


You might want to start by talking to your pastor or another priest about the issue. They have probably encountered this same issue at least a few times. My friend also counsels: This husband made vows and part of those was a promise to raise the kids Catholic. Ditto when he baptized them and made that promise. I have been listening to a wonderful radio program from Ave Maria radio. I listen to it streaming on the internet and subscribe to the podcast. It's an advice program with psychotherapist Greg Popcak--same guy who wrote Beyond the Birds and the Bees. And his wife. GREAT advice, great books, all of his. The program is called Heart, Mind & Strength and comes on every weekday 9-10 a.m. I would suggest she start listening to this and call in for initial advice. He also does telephone counseling for individuals and couples. His website is www.exceptionalmarriages.com Hope this helps. Best of luck, and we will keep you in our prayers. a Catholic friend


My parents were of different faiths. Mother was raised Catholic (but started to lose faith in the Church for particular reasons, but still believed in God) My Father raised Christian Science. They decided to let me and my brother decide for ourselves. I had a children's bible that a relative gave to me and my father would read it to me, I would visit my best friends Protestant church and Sunday School occasionally, and also attended Mass with my grandmother when I stayed over at her house. So I was exposed to Christianity some and my father's beliefs as well. Personally I think this is an ideal approach to religion. I learned to think for myself, ask questions, and form my own opinions w/o indoctrination. I felt respected by my parent's for granting me the space to form my beliefs about religion, God and spirituality. I went through different phases growing up in how I felt about religion. Now as an adult, I think I am highly ethical, compassionate, and unlike some believers, tolerant and accepting of all people.


Husband & wife disagree about kids' exposure to both religions

Oct 2006 

Hi- My husband and I are having a real hard time coming up with a working vision of how we are going to raise our kids with exposure to both religions. We are fine with celebrating the recognized holidays of both the jewish faith and the christian faith. Our children our only 3 and 4 mos. I have a much more relaxed approach to the whole idea of a working interfaith family whereas my husband who is jewish feels that we cant teach our kids both because the basic idealogy repels the other. Are there any book recommendations or other sources we can turn to that can help guide us through this stressful time? j


Hi J, I smiled when I read your post because I could use it as a blurb for one of my brochures! I run a program called Building Jewish Bridges: Outreach to Interfaith Couples and one of my workshops is an eight week Interfaith Couples Discussion group about sorting out life in an interfaith home. I think it's the best thing you can do for yourselves. But don't take my word for it. If you like, I can give you names and emails of people who have been thru the workshop. You should ask them. Feel free to contact me: 510-839-2900 x247 or email dawn [at] jfed.org or look at my website www.jfed.org/interfaith.htm Dawn Kepler


I don't know about books but I bet that Dawn Kepler at the Jewish Federation might. She organizes an interfaith program described here: http://www.jfed.org/interfaith2.htm Good luck - I'm in a similar situation anon


There are inter-faith workshops at various Jewish institutions (you can call the JCC to get some recommendations) where you both can work on these issues in a safe group environment. I was raised Catholic and my husband is Jewish so I completely understand. I think my biggest issue was his resistence to my traditions since I was open to his. After some interfaith exploration, we have it all figured out and are really enjoying all of the holidays together. Good luck! anon


I am Jewish and my husband was brought up in a liberal Christian (Congregational) church. We raised 2 boys (now adults) with both traditions. Though we were raised in different religious faiths, we shared similar beliefs which made the interfaith issues easier. We celebrated both Jewish and Christian holidays at home. These celebrations were of a more secular and cultural nature, but were still meaningful. We also joined a Unitarian church where these holidays (and more) were celebrated with respect. In Sunday School, the boys learned about various world religions and were encouraged to develop their own belief systems. In college, my older son developed a real love for Judaism and now belongs to a Synagogue. He shares his joy in Judaism with his Jewish and non-Jewish friends (and Unitarian wife) through holiday celebrations (building a Sukkot and having a service in it; an annual Seder dinner for a throng, e.g.). My younger son describes himself as Jewish and Unitarian.

I strongly disagree with your husband that the two religions ''repel'' each other. Look at the moral and ethical teachings of both and try not to get bogged down in details. Bringing up children to honor, respect, and enjoy different faiths is a gift -- and a powerful way to change the world. I wish you both good luck.

You asked about books. I highly recommend ''Mrs. Katz and Tush'' (and others) by Patricia Polacco. She does a wonderful job of exploring common themes in various religions and cultures.

By the way, there are 16 Unitarian churches in the Bay area (www.uuba.org). We love the one in Oakland. Experience Interfaith Mom


To the family struggling with a vision for interfaith family life, I understand your dilemma. We have an interfaith family (Christian/Buddhist), and it is a discussion that continues and evolves as your children get older. It is understandably more difficult for the Jewish partner to envision a ''dual-faith'' scenario - Christianity essentially incorporates both the holy text and many of the traditions of Judaism, so it is not a conflict from the Christian point of view. On the flip side, Christianity has a long history of persecuting Jews and others who refuse to accept Jesus Christ as the Saviour, etc., making it difficult for a Jewish person to be comfortable with that set of beliefs.

One of the most important things you can do is find leaders and congregations, both Jewish and Christian, who will support your journey as an interfaith family. This requires respect for other traditions, and an ability to remain flexible rather than dogmatic about beliefs. I know there are many congregations in the area that might fit this bill, and I would suggest on the Christian end of things that you check out First Congregational Church of Berkeley. There are many interfaith families there, and they are held and supported by the community. The church has no ''creed'' or required set of beliefs, and indeed you will find a wide range of beliefs within the congregation. The emphasis is on tending to our spiritual side, creating community, and doing justice in the world. It is a place where you could comfortably celebrate the Christian holidays, attend the wonderful youth programs if your children want to, and not feel like anything was being shoved down anyone's throat. It is also a place that would support and celebrate your family's membership in another faith community as an equally important place in your family's spiritual life.

Wherever you wind up, best of luck with your journey. It requires lots of listening, enormous respect, and thoughtful participation in other traditions, and in the end your family will be the richer for it. Know that whatever path you choose, a faith community or communities(of whatever sort) will be essential to making it work - it isn't something you can do alone! Interfaith Mom


What a timely question with the holidays coming up.

We have an interfaith family (dad Jewish, mom lapsed Catholic, raising our girls Jewish but celebrating Christmas and Easter). There are no easy answers to the question, and we had to find our own path. Most of the people out there will tell you that you need to pick one or the other, lest you confuse your kids to much. We did an interfaith group through the Jewish Federation of the East Bay, and liked the other families we met. The downside was that the non-Jewish half of us felt that the whole program was designed to make the entire family Jewish rather than to find a way to navigate the issues.

You don't say how religious either of you are. If either/both of you are firm adherents to your religion, then the doctrinal issues can get in the way. Neither of us is in our case, so we're able to let the doctrinal issues slide and focus on the cultural aspects of it. hope this helps. Been there...


My husband and I are interfaith and, yes, there are many resources out there for interfaith families. Here are some connecting points: In Oakland Building Jewish Bridges: Outreach to Interfaith Couples (510) 839-2900 x347 or see the website www.jfed.org/interfaith.htm. In San Francisco The Interfaith Connection (415) 292-1252 or see the website www.intfaith.org

There is also a national group, which puts out a monthly newsletter, called Dovetail: http://www.dovetailinstitute.org/ It is a wonderful institution solely devoted to interfaith families and helping them find the choice that's right for them. It is the only organization I know of for interfaith issues not connected to a religious organization.

I hope that helps you start off on the right foot!

In our family, I am Jewish and my husband is Catholic. What we are doing, after much discussion about what was important to us and what we felt was the most consistent way to be respectful of each other's traditions, is to raise the children Jewish but also celebrate Christmas in a non-religious, winter solstice kind of way. We agreed that raising the kids in both traditions was (a) confusing to them and (b) incompatible with each other. But everyone finds their own comfort zone with this big issue and I wish you luck in finding yours! Jennifer


My wife and I attended Dawn Kepler's interfaith couples group a few years ago. Pam is Methodist and I am Jewish. The course helped provide a lot of clarity on issues. While we knew we wanted to raise our yet-to-be-born children Jewish, there still were many areas to work out. And it was really helpful to hear how other couples were struggling with these issues. Dawn runs Building Jewish Bridges, a program sponsored by the Jewish Community Federation of the Greater East Bay. For more information about her programs, please see http://www.jfed.org/interfaith2.htm Joel


You ask a very heartfelt question... I don't know of any books about the subject, but I do care about it. The single best bit of advice I can offer is to find a support group of parents who are working through the same question. Maybe other couples will respond to your question.

I wanted to address your husband's concern that Judaism and Christianity are theologically at odds with each other. Certainly some forms of conservative or even traditional Christianity are at odds with Judaism; orthodox Christianity makes truth claims about the identity of Jesus of Nazareth that conflict with Jewish sensibilities. Those truth claims also conflict, I believe, with how Jesus would have thought of himself.

The good news is, there are some progressive Christians (and congregations) that have a much more inclusive view of Jesus. I understand Jesus as a first century rabbi who interpreted the Torah in a way that eventually found expression in rabbinic Judaism. In my view, the early church turned ''the religion of Jesus'' into ''a religion about Jesus.'' The key, I think, is to focus on Jesus' ethics as found in the Sermon on the Mount and the spirituality that emerges from his parables. It's all very Jewish.

You might find Epworth United Methodist Church in Berkeley to be very supportive in your family's spiritual journey. If you'd like to talk further, please feel free to contact me by email. David


I am Jewish and my husband is not. I was raised with very little cultural or religious traditions, so I don't have a particular attachment to specific holidays. However, once I decided to have children, I felt it important to raise them with a sence of Jewish identity- whether that was religious or not was to be determined. What I have found is that it has been an evolution- a process that gets refined each winter season and one that my husband and I discuss when needed. Originally, I was afraid that if we had a tree, I would not be seen as ''Jewish enough.'' I have had to let go of what I perceive other's might think of me and do what feels right. I have found though, that if I don't plan a bit, the holidays will be around the corner and I won't know what I am doing ''this year'' and feel overwhelmed. It has taken about 5-6 years, but I think I am at peace. We have a christmas tree and will go to an occasional Easter-egg party, but my husband's parents know that we identify the children as Jewish, so they don't push any specific agenda re: the role of Jesus.

My advice is to talk to your husband about what he feels is important and look to how you would like to celebrate your heritage/tradition. I am finding you can create it in any fashion you like, and there will always be some folks who dissaprove or judge. Just so long as you and your husband reach a common understanding. I have had great support and info from Dawn Kepler at Building Jewish Bridges: Outreach to Interfaith Couples. www.jfed.org/interfaith.htm anon


You will find a lot of resources for interfaith families on an email newsletter put out by Dawn Kepler of Building Jewish Bridges: Outreach to Interfaith Couples. For more info, contact her at (510) 839-2900 x347 or (925) 943-1484. Good luck Lisa


Get in touch with Dawn Kepler at Building Jewish Bridges, Outreach to Interfaith Couples (510-839-2900, ext. 347)! She can direct you to all kinds of wonderful programs and discussion groups. I attended several before my husband and I got married (he's Jewish, I was raised as a Catholic) and it was a tremendous support and help to me. You'll meet so many people grappling with the same issues that you are. Good luck! anon


I am Catholic. My husband is quasi Jewish in that his dad was Jewish and his mother was not Jewish. He went to Jewish school but he never had a bah mitzvah. I was not into my religion when I met my husband. We actually attended a synagogue for awhile and it drew me back to my faith. While I love the beauty of the Jewish faith, I just didn't feel comfortable converting. I'm a doubting thomas kind and there was no way I could fully state a belief in another faith. Plus, there were things I missed about my own faith. I found a very liberal Catholic Church and started attending services. My husband was interested in his Judaism in theory but not really committed enough to go regularly, join a community, etc.

Because I was participating in my faith more than he was that we'd raise them in my faith. Our kids have been baptized and we plan to take them through their first communion. Confirmation will be up to them.

Because my husband's side has very loose attachment to tradition (Jewish or otherwise), it's kind of up to us to carry on any and all relgious or cultural traditions. My family is Catholic and Cajun and are very close-knit and tradition oriented. I really like the food, the rituals and the closeness that my family holds dear. I am not local so I can only provide a mere shadow of this.

My husband's father, who was Jewish, basically rejected all of that, so his upbringing didn't have all the family traditions that mine did. His mother rejected her side (Irish) as well. They made their own way. I don't condemn it at all, but I really want my kids to have some traditions to grab hold of or reject if they choose to.

I think this is a very personal decision that you and your husband need to agree on and work toward and I don't think there is any right or wrong answer. I do think though, that whatever you do has to be sincere and supportive. While I don't think Christianity and Judaism ''repel'' each other, I do believe that it's less confusing to pick one. Faith questions are complicated. I do think teaching them about the similarities and differences of both are important to help them make their own choices in the future.

Good luck anon


Help managing different religious views within a marriage

May 2005

Can anyone recommend a therapist/counselor who works with intermarried couples? My spouse and I are not actually intermarried -- we're both Jewish -- but we observe at very different levels, and that directly affects our lifestyle and the way we raise children. We'd like to work with someone who can respect our individual religious values and help us manage those differences in day-to-day life. Thank you for any recommendations or advice you can offer.


While he isn't a therapist by trade, I would highly recommend Rabbi Burt Jacobson, the founder of Kehilla Synangogue. He guided my husband and I (I'm jewish and he's not) through inspiring and refreshing pre-marriage counseling sessions. We both found him to be incredibly helpful, a good listener; and we felt much closer as a result of meeting with him. His insight and wisdom is profound. He does meet with individuals and couples for various forms of counseling and guidance.


Dealing with family holidays when parents have different religious views

Jan 2003

We are a generally-very-compatible couple seeking advise/guidance/formal mediation? in dealing with the immense and perennial conflicts surrounding observance of any kind of religious/seasonal rituals in our house. One parent is fairly observant Jewish and likes to do seders, celebrate Hannukah, etc.; the other is a Jewish atheist who grew up with (and feels very fondly towards) Christmas trees, gingerbread houses, and painted Easter eggs (but no church, crucifixes, etc.). The observant parent is not comfortable with the ''let's just celebrate it all'' approach, and the non-observant parent is resentful at having to jettison all childhood traditions. The conflict has - predictably - gotten even more intense with the arrival of kids. We are not looking for folks to weigh in as to what we ''should'' do, but rather, looking for a recommendation as to a sympathetic third party with some experience in these thorny matters who could help facilitate a calm discussion that would lead to a long-term plan for dealing with holidays in our family. Thanks for any help! anon


I have a few recommendations for you:
1) Since you mentioned mediation as an option you are interested
in.  Please go to http://www.bdrs.org, the Berkeley Dispute
Resolution Service.  They provide low cost mediations on a wide
range of issues.

2)  Interfaith connections in the east bay at: 
http://interfaithfamily.com/iffconnections/bayarea-greatereastbay.phtml
They have many workshops, and provide
counceling services as well.  There are events that involve
extended family as well.  

3)While you asked for no advice, having been through it myself,
I strongly suggest you remember this is YOUR family and you
(both) should set the rules.  They do as they like in their
home, they do as you do in your home!
peter


Since despite your different perspectives, both of you are Jewish, I would suggest you find a rabbi or other Jewish professional who might provide both counsel and education toward framework for deciding what practices meet your joint values. You might want to start looking for a referral by contacting the East Bay Council of Rabbis (chair: Rabbi Harry Manhoff; 510-357-1375). I write this as a Jewish educator of many years, who has worked with a very diverse group of families. In my experience, including my own marriage, every family is an 'interfaith' family because every partner brings his or her own spiritual attachments to it. It may not make it less painful, but you should know your conflicts are not unique. Keep talking! Carol


Several places to go for some free help have been listed here
before, but here they are:
Building Jewish Bridges in Oakland  510-839-2900 x347
Jewish Family & Children's Services 510-704-7475
One that hasn't been mentioned is the East Bay's Community Rabbi
Program.  You can call Rabbi Muriam Senturia at 510-839-2900
x212.  She is very kind.  She can also refer you to rabbis from
all the movements if you want one that fits your background.
Good luck and don't dispair.
anon


Interfaith marriage counselor/support

August 2002

We are looking for a marriage counselor who specializes in interfaith marriages. Also, are there support groups out there or good books?  We need help coping with the strains of having two different faiths in our marriage. We'd greatly appreciate any leads.


I don't know what the religious mix in your marriage is, but for marriages in which one partner is Jewish here's what I know.

The best book out there is:

Mixed Matches: How to Create Successful Interracial, Interethnic, and Interfaith Relationships. Joel Crohn, PhD Excellent book with exercises couples can do to explore their own cultural and familial styles and assumptions.

As for support etc. in the east bay:

Jewish Family and Children's Services - offices in Berkeley and Walnut Creek \xad in Berkeley ask for Cathy Diamond, 510-7475 x225 and in Walnut Creek ask for Carla Haimowitz, 925-927-2000. If you are having marital issues you probably want to start with a therapist as they can help with communication style and such.

Joel Crohn, author of the above book is in private practice here in the east bay with an office in Kensington. He is truly expert at interfaith therapy. He can be reached at 510-524-1707.

Building Jewish Bridges: Outreach to Interfaith Couples -- out of the Jewish Federation (Oakland office, but for both Alameda and Contra Costa counties) offers workshops and couples groups. The groups are not therapy, rather they are about clarifying values and deciding how to handle holidays, in-laws and kids. (510) 839-2900 x347

Individual synagogues have programs aimed at integrating and supporting interfaith couples as well as teaching about Jewish tradition. But I'm guessing that is not what you're looking for.

Finally, what about going to clergy that represent each of your faiths? They will be invested in helping you, supporting your marriage and easing the pain you are suffering.

Good luck, just know that you are not alone. Dckepler


You may want to check out the Unitarian Universalist ministers and congregations in the area. Many interfaith couples are married by UU ministers and attend UU congregations because there is a lot of celebration of diverse beliefs. Julie