Interfaith Marriage: Then and Now
When Fred and I were engaged in November of 2009, our families didn’t balk.
It was no matter that we were two ordained persons in intrinsically different religions, and that ahead of us would be the difficult task of forming a single spiritual household from these faith traditions. They simply knew that we were committed, devout, and determined. And, it was 2009, not 1969.
America’s growing diversity and trends of adults marrying later in life have resulted in a dramatic increase in interfaith marriage since the 1960s, when only 20 percent of couples were interfaith. Today, that number has more than doubled to 45 percent.
With nearly one in two marriages composed of persons in different religious, spiritual, moral, or no traditions, we’ve become more accustomed to such combinations. Many welcome the changing tide, others find it troubling. Scripture, religious preservation, and child-rearing are often the defenses against such partnerships.
2013 has been the year of the interfaith marriage book, with journalistic heroes Naomi Schaefer Riley and Susan Katz Miller shedding light on the inner workings of these families from their extensive research.
Adding to the community of interfaith voices is Bette Isacoff, whose memoir, Star Crossed offers readers an opportunity to learn about a time when interfaith relationships weren’t as prevalent or accepted as they are today. Star Crossed chronicles the late 1960s courtship of Bette, a Roman Catholic college student, and Richard, a Jewish high schooler.
Bette meets Richard during her final year of college, when she is assigned to student teach at his high school. They get to know one another, secretly date, and are engaged seven weeks later.
As their courtship becomes more difficult to hide, their parents discover the relationship and are perplexed by their age gap, religious differences, and seemingly incompatible paths. They brush it off as first-crushes and temporary love, until they realize that Bette and Richard are in it for the long haul.
“Marriage is hard enough between two people of similar backgrounds,” their parents pleaded.
The stakes higher, it wasn’t long before Richard wasn’t welcomed in Bette’s home, and Bette was merely “tolerated” in his. So the young couple went the way of hiding engagement rings, renting post office boxes, and cherishing secret drives for pizzas and sundaes.
Bette shares her initial naivete with the reader: she had hoped that their families “to blend seamlessly” and “looked forward to holidays together: an opportunity to learn about new beliefs and customs and to enhance our understanding of each others’ cultures.”
Faced with the backlash of their families and their odds of their actually growing slim, Bette begins to question: how were she and Richard are “honestly, truly going to handle an interfaith marriage?”
Richard offers a faithful response:
“Do you think we met by chance?” Or do you believe that it is in God’s plan for us to be together? Then let’s put our trust in Him, and let Him work His miracles.”
In an effort to trust in a high source and understand one another’s faiths, Bette and Richard committed to attending Jewish services on Friday and Sunday Mass at the Catholic Church. They also agreed on a prayer, “The Lord’s Prayer,” which they chose because it makes no mention of Jesus’ Christology as perceived by Christians.
Impressions and Recommendation
Isacoff’s memoir has arrived to compliment this year’s intensive interfaith work.
Susan Katz Miller has offered a positive perspective of Jewish-Christian interfaith marriage and child-rearing (her children are now teenagers) at the helm of interfaith communities that offer dual religious education, such as the Interfaith Families Project of Greater Washington, DC.
Isacoff has now provided a harsh-but-real view of what interfaith courtship in a different era, when families were disapproving and interfaith worshiping communities weren’t yet established. Despite a four-year age gap, disapproving families, and a circus of events leading up to their nuptials, Bette and Richard embarked on an interfaith marriage, pioneering the way of future generations of blended families.
I especially recommend this book for interfaith couples at the beginning of their courtship and/or marriage, particularly those whose families are disapproving of their match. Isacoff will be a voice of courage among those couples, proving that despite the odds, as the Catholic priest who married the Isacoffs offered, “Above all else … there is love.”
While Star Crossed is a snapshot of her tumultuous courtship, I look forward to Bette’s future work, including what I hope will be a follow-up piece on how their interfaith marriage and spiritual practices evolved through the decades, as well as how she and Richard raised their only child, Kira.
Star Crossed is published by Head Winds Publishing and is available on Amazon.