Those of us living over here in the parallel universe of happy interfaith families continue to sigh and shake our heads at the persistence of the myth that interfaith marriage is, by definition, fraught with peril. In fact, there are no robust statistics on the current rate or incidence of success or divorce in interfaith marriages.
At the moment, we have only anecdotes. And so, I plan to continue to profile the many interfaith couples happily balancing two religions. For intermarried Jews and Catholics raising children with both religions, Cokie and Steve Roberts have served as inspiration ever since at least 2000, when they published From This Day Forward, a memoir of their own intermarriage. Last year, they followed up with Our Haggadah: Uniting Traditions for Interfaith Families. Together, these books build a portrait of a marriage marked by deep love and mutual respect, even as it approaches the 50-year mark.
Yesterday, our interfaith families community welcomed Steve and Cokie to a regular Sunday morning at the Interfaith Families Project of Greater Washington (IFFP). Our rabbi and our minister reflected on the theme of compassion on the first Sunday of Lent, Steve led us in our interfaith responsive reading, we all shared bagels and coffee, and then Cokie and Steve spoke during our adult group about their interfaith journey.
Cokie described her love of Catholic liturgy and ritual, her faithful attendance at mass. Steve described his secular Jewish family roots, and his own shift towards deeper Jewish practice, prompted by his Catholic wife. For many of us, this story is more familiar than exceptional: in choosing partners of another religion, we are forced to contemplate our own religion, and to be very purposeful about our own religious intentions. Could this lead to tension? Or course. Could it be creative tension? For some of us, yes. Could another result of religious difference in marriage be improved communication and mutual appreciation, as well as more profound connection to our own religion? Many of us think so.
I had heard Steve and Cokie speak several times before about their marriage, and I even appeared last spring on a public radio show on intermarriage, following an interview with Cokie. But somehow, welcoming this couple into the midst of our community of interfaith families, hearing them speak to an audience of hundreds of people who share their delight in partnering across religious boundaries, gave their stories new resonance.
While acknowledging that choosing both religions is not the right path for every family, Steve and Cokie explained why they chose to celebrate both religions with their children. Each partner had a strong identity, and neither partner ever considered conversion. “I must say it would have helped to have had a community like this when we were raising them,” Steve told us, yesterday. “Because there was an absence of encouragement and support for families like us, and like you, at that time.” Today, interfaith families are encouraging and supporting each other, as we educate our children in both religions, in DC, New York, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, and beyond. And our families, and marriages, are strengthened by these grassroots communities.
Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family by Susan Katz Miller, available now in hardcover and eBook from Beacon Press.