Chelsea’s Marriage as Interfaith Story of the Year: Top Five Reasons

After scouring the various lists of “top religion stories of the year,” I was frustrated, but not surprised, to find nary a mention of interfaith families, let alone Chelsea Clinton’s interfaith marriage last August.

About 100 reporters from the Religion Newswriters Association voted on their top 20 religion stories from 2010. Many of the top stories were not about religion, per se, but religious angles on major news events: the Haiti earthquake, the rise of the Tea Party, bullying of gay teens, immigration reform. Somehow, Julia Roberts got mentioned for converting to Hinduism after appearing in the movie version of “Eat, Pray, Love.” But strangely, the word “interfaith” does not even appear anywhere on this list. Too often, religion reporters seem to gravitate to the religion beat because of their own faith, whatever faith that may be. They do not seem to understand, or give much press to, those of us who cross religious boundaries.

Over at Huffington Post, crowd-sourcing produced what seemed to me to be a more thoughtful and savvy list of nominees for Religion Story of the Decade, including the growth of the “Interfaith Movement.” The Interfaith Movement is not synonymous with the Interfaith Families Movement: most clergy engaged in religious dialogue have yet to fully acknowledge the vast numbers of dual-belonging and intermarried folks, and fully include us in their parliaments and pow-wows. Nonetheless, HuffPo’s acknowledgement of religious bridging, if not literal religious cross-fertilization, provides a certain satisfaction.

Since no one else seems to be picking Chelsea’s wedding as religion story of the year, I will just have to go ahead and do it myself. Interfaith marriage has occurred since ancient times. So why was this celebrity wedding such a big deal to interfaith families? Here are five reasons:

1. This wedding brought all of the issues surrounding intermarriage to the national and international media and launched a thousand blogposts and editorials. While some of the Jewish bloggers were angsty and even negative about the marriage, the opportunity to post comments led to a thousand discussions on my favorite topic. And discussion is good.

2. This wedding normalized interfaith marriage in the American political elite and highlighted respected leaders (Bill and Hillary) as gracious in-laws who did not issue so much as a peep of protest or concern when their daughter married a Jewish man under a chuppah. Truly, times have changed.

3. This wedding stands in to signify what I think is the most important trend in American religion.  A year ago, the Pew Research Center released a report concluding that “Many Americans Mix Multiple Faiths.” This news did not come as a shock to anyone in an interfaith marriage, since intermarriage is one of the driving forces behind this trend.

4. This wedding created an opportunity for intermarried couples to relive a key moment in their own stories. Did you find a rabbi and a minister willing to perform your intermarriage? If not, how did that impact your choice of religious affiliation? A recent, poignant essay recounts the pain caused when “Chelsea’s rabbi” refused to marry another interfaith couple, years ago. After Chelsea’s wedding, Rabbi James Ponet wrote of how his thinking, and the thinking of many Reform rabbis, has evolved to allow him to perform interfaith ceremonies. He writes eloquently of the Jews as an “ever-evolving” people.

5. This wedding created a moment of festivity, of vindication, of positive energy for interfaith families around the globe. In a year when major media continue to twist the slim research and publish opinions to discourage interfaith marriage, I could not help but enjoy the chance for national celebration of the growing acceptance of interfaith unions.

So thank you to Chelsea and Marc, and to Bill and Hillary, and to Rabbi Ponet and Reverend William Shillady, for brightening my interfaith year.

4 Replies to “Chelsea’s Marriage as Interfaith Story of the Year: Top Five Reasons”

  1. What? Julia Roberts converted to Hinduism? Really?

    That aside, your blog makes me wonder where spirituality based in respect and awe for Nature fits into America’s religious conversations. In my own household, I prefer to get spiritual sustenance from “Mother Earth,” while others here are more conventional. Since most of us prefer a walk in the woods to a seat in a pew, it hasn’t presented a conflict. But could it, under other circumstances?

  2. Twenty-six years ago, folks in my Florida hometown referred to my interfaith wedding as “The Situation.” Thank you for this nice article.

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