Interfaith marriage: A reality check

Some of the most well-attended events held at Duke Chapel when I was chaplain there were on the topic of interfaith dating and marriage. Most of the couples who attended arrived holding on tightly to one another, terrified by the possibility they might hear unpleasant truths. We sometimes used experts who had studied interfaith marriage, but our most successful evenings were those in which we simply drew on the experience of faculty members who were part of interfaith marriages.

I recall two moments from those discussions. One was when our resident rabbi stormed out, complaining, “I’m sick of always coming across as the bad guy while you liberal Christians sit back smiling and saying, ‘Interfaith marriage? No problem. We can bless anything you do as long as you did it for love.’ You guys can be so damned affirming of interfaith marriage because you know that in the end you will get another Jew who is a helluva lot less Jewish.”

The other moment was when a faculty spouse warned the students, “Go ahead and get into an interfaith marriage. But know this: it will be the toughest thing you have ever done. My husband told me at 20, ‘Hey, my family is sorta Jewish, but it doesn’t mean much to me.’ Then I find him at age 30 watching a documentary on the Holocaust: he’s weeping and saying, ‘I want to be a Jew again.’ So now I’m at the synagogue every Friday, Sabbath school—the works. I’m doing the best I can with the kids, but it’s so, so hard.” This was not what the students wanted to hear.