Interfaith Marriage: Building Bridges in a Divided World
How time-tripping across religious tradition can help heal a fractured society
Picture the type of person you think represents society’s worst enemy today. Is it a Wall Street hedge fund manager? Proud Boy Q-Anon follower? Third-world refugee? A communist? Then fast-forward a few generations to the end of this century and picture your descendants falling in love and getting married to the great-grandchildren of your envisioned worst enemy. Are you rolling over in your proverbial future grave?
In the case of my husband and me, I’m sure our ancestors were rolling in their graves (and in their very separate cemeteries) based on our marrying “the enemy.” In fact, a mere 100 years ago, his family would have considered him dead when he married me. And my ancestors would’ve plotted how to secretly baptize our children to ensure their souls wouldn’t burn in hell. But we didn’t let rigid traditions get in the way of our union. Instead of falling in line, we fell in love and made our ̶m̶i̶x̶e̶d̶ marriage work.
That he was Jewish and I was Catholic didn’t matter to us, although it certainly complicated our wedding planning. Still, we wanted to honor both of our traditions and respect the family members who were, shall we say, more “entrenched.” That’s when things got a little challenging.
Finding a rabbi willing to co-officiate was the first test of our resolve. Those we met with were warm and welcoming at the beginning, but shifted as soon as we mentioned I wasn’t planning to convert and that we were lining up a priest to co-officiate. Through family connections, we’d found a priest who had co-officiated a few Catholic-Jewish weddings, although he wouldn’t agree to the outdoor ceremony we wanted. The “rules” mandated that we must be married under a physical structure, even if it wasn’t an actual church. Our Jewish wedding chuppah wouldn’t count.
Still, we pushed on. We found a rabbi with inclusive views on marriage. We booked a beautiful venue. We did, however, commit a transgression by getting married on a Friday evening, which is the Jewish Sabbath. (Hey, the date was available and more affordable!) But we managed to hold the ceremony just before sundown, to keep my husband’s aunt happy. She had preferred we use a Justice of the Peace to officiate — so as not to muddy tradition — but settled for a 5:30 pm ceremony. Refreshingly, my side of the family had no problem with our blended wedding, though they still harbored concerns. For many years following, my parents would not-so-subtly share stories they’d hear on the radio about Catholics converting from Judaism. (Let’s just say I continue to question their media choices…).
Bridging Division via Time Travel
While we endured many wedding-related challenges, our experience was nothing compared to what might have been even a few decades earlier. Had we been born a generation before, elopement would’ve been the only choice. A generation or two before that, our families would’ve disowned us. (And I can only imagine the suffering if we weren’t in a cis-gendered, heteronormative category.) We knew we had little to complain about as we faced our “mixed” marriage. Love is thicker than blood, after all.
Our Jewish-Catholic wedding journey is just one small example of merging with the forbidden “other” — one that helps me better understand what’s happening right now in our divided, ostensibly unbridgeable country. Large swaths of the population are holding on to tradition, while others push for inclusivity. Can anything help us break through the rigid barriers to form welcome alliances?
It may sound trite to say that some combination of “imagination with a little love” has the power to get us past “the way things have always been done” and onto something better. But when I reflect on the historic journey of interfaith marriages like mine, I see a pathway to a more unified future. It’s not that hard to imagine ourselves, our “enemies,” or our progeny evolving beyond current labels to become something very different over time:
The Wall Street hedge fund manager loses their fortune;
the Proud Boy’s children denounce his extremism and prompt a reckoning; the refugee’s grandchild starts a successful company;
the communist’s great-grandchild grows up in a society where the word communism is as obsolete as feudalism is today.
We might easily embrace a union with a version of our “enemy” who has grown from their circumstances. And if we can envision ourselves blessing the union of our descendants in 80 years, can’t we use our imaginations today to shorten the arduous bridge of time?
When I think of my husband’s and my ancestors being opposed to our marriage, I realize they never could’ve imagined the world we grew up in. One that includes access to education, information at our fingertips, affordable ways to see the world, and multi-cultural media available like water from a spigot. If they had a glimpse into our world, it might have scared the bejeezus out of them. But it just as easily could have opened their eyes, and perhaps even their hearts. I take this as a reminder that our imagination is a powerful tool that sets the course for how our future* unfolds: from painfully rigid to marvelously fluid.
If Love is thicker than blood, it’s certainly thicker than the labels we use and the ideas we have about “how things should be.” Our ancestors may not have gotten past an archaic notion that we dishonor our tribes by marrying out. But I like to imagine them mingling together now in another dimension, applauding us for pushing beyond the Jewish and Catholic labels responsible for so much historic harm. Maybe we can get to a similar place regarding all the division we face today, without waiting an entire lifetime (or more).
Because in the end, the labels, borders and systems we impose upon our world are just ideas. And when we add a little love into the mix, we level up to see a profound truth: we’re all members of a single tribe called “human”.
That’s a statement of fact, but it’s up to us to grasp it, even if it means doing a little time travel with our imaginations.
*If it’s hard to get past the notion of a war-torn earth in 80 years, maybe I can help you reframe.
A version of this article was originally published at BecomingBetterPeople.us, where I share stories to actively build a better Us.