According to Naomi Schaefer Riley, author of ‘Til Faith Do Us Part, 42 percent of us are married to a partner of another denomination, faith tradition, or someone who practices no faith at all.
From Mormon to Methodist, Jewish to Jehovah’s Witness, Buddhist to Lutheran, our modern day interfaith combinations are as unique as we are. But when Fred and I disclose that we are a Southern Baptist minister and a devout Gaudiya Vaishnava, our confession is met with raised eyebrows.
“How does that work?” is a frequent response. A minister ordained in one of Christianity’s most conservative denominations paired with Hinduism’s most devout sects seems paradoxical at best.
But it may surprise you how well our Christian-Hindu marriage does work–and how beautifully your own interfaith friendships and relationships can work, too.
Here are three things we do to keep the peace and grow together.
1. We always worship together. In August, Fred and I worshiped at a formal liturgical United Methodist Church, attended a Catholic mass, participated in Hindu food offering rituals, and launched the worship and Church School year with our Binkley Baptist Church community. At any even given month in our interfaith marriage, we practice various configurations of Christian-Hindu worship, but always with one common denominator: we attend services together. There is no separation in our sabbath; we find ways to honor both the Christian and Hindu sides of our lives.
Books like ‘Til Faith Do Us Part remind us of the cautionary tales of mixed-faith households, and the somber reality that the likelihood of interfaith marriages failing is greater than our same-faith counterparts. We’ve discovered that shared worship is an integral part of staying together. It’s not so much about Fred and I having the same faith, as it is about having deep faith—and that faith is nurtured by sabbath-keeping.
2. We find common theological views among Christians and Hindus. In our recent visit to the Edenton Street United Methodist Church Foundry Fellowship Class, we shared the many universal principles among Baptist and Gaudiya-Vaishnava theology. We discussed shared Scripture concepts, holy objects that act as windows to God, and love of God. As we drew east-meets-west bridges, light bulbs went off. Participants nodded in agreement as they drew connections for themselves between Jesus and Lord Krishna, prasad (consecrated food) and communion, and principles of scripture.
In their book American Grace, Robert D. Putnam David E. Campbell discovered that the more Americans got to know people of another faith, the more they liked them. When we spend time with people of a different faith persuasion, whether these folks are strangers, neighbors, friends, spouses, or extended family, we discover that there is more that unites us than separates us.
In some instances, Christians have never had the chance to dialogue with a Hindu and connect the theological dots. In our three weeks teaching at Edenton Street United Methodist Church, Fred did the heavy theological lifting, drawing ties from his tradition’s views to Protestant Christianity. As a result, students of the class took away a friendlier view towards their eastern brothers and sisters.
3. Jesus matters to both of us. As a Christian, Jesus is central to my faith. As a Hindu, Fred believes in the divinity of Jesus, and, of equal importance—Jesus’ significance for our modern world. Most evangelical Christians will point to 2 Corinthians 6:14 as a case against interfaith marriage.
“Wouldn’t marrying Fred make you unequally yoked?” voices of concern ask.
The opposite is true. St. Paul’s words of “unequally yoked” applied to spreading the “good news” and doing the work of the Gospel. Paul didn’t want Christians to be partnered with those who would impede the early Christian community’s mission. My ability to live out the Gospel (and spreading the good news) has been enhanced by living with a devout Hindu. Fred’s interest in Jesus, his pushing me toward the life of sacrifice Christ has called me to, has fostered my return to Gospel-centered days.
You may be surprised to learn that Fred and I worship together, we share common theological beliefs, and that Jesus is important to both of us. Our hope is that by learning how a Christian-Hindu couple makes it work, you will be encouraged to get to know your Muslim neighbors, Buddhist co-workers, and even members of your own family for whom God may look a little different.
I’ll leave you with this nugget, a Sanskrit version of the Lord’s Prayer. Christians can read this prayer and see the Eastern influences; Hindus can read this prayer in a context that indicates Christ’s relevance in Eastern culture. It’s a sacred blending of both worlds.
May the lines be messy, and may we always come to the table with open hearts.
देव भोः पितरस्माकं परस्मिन् व्योम्नि तिष्ठसि।
त्वदीयं कीर्त्यतां नाम तस्मिन् प्रीतिः सदास्तु नः॥
स्थाप्यतां तव सम्राज्यमत्रैव पृथिवीतले।
भवेह सिद्धसंकल्पो यथासि स्वस्य धामनि॥
अन्नं दैनन्दिनं दत्त्वा पालयास्मान् दिने दिने।
क्षमस्व चापराधान् नो ज्ञात्वाज्ञात्वा तु वा कृतान्॥
यथास्माभिर्हि चान्येषाम् अपराधा हि मर्जिताः।
हे प्रभो न तथैवास्मान् गमयाधर्मवर्त्मनि॥
लोभात्पापप्रवृत्तिश्च दौरात्म्याच्चैव मोचय।
युक्तमेतत् यतस्तेऽस्ति राज्यं प्रभाववैभवं।
अत्र परत्र सर्वत्र अद्य श्वश्च युगे युगे॥
deva bhoḥ pitarasmākaṁ parasmin vyomni tiṣṭhasi|
tvadīyaṁ kīrtyatāṁ nāma tasmin prītiḥ sadāstu naḥ||
sthāpyatāṁ tava samrājyam atraiva pṛthivī-tale|
bhaveha siddha-saṁkalpo yathāsi svasya dhāmani||
annaṁ dainandinaṁ dattvā pālayāsmān dine dine|
kṣamasva cāparādhān no jñātvājñātvā tu vā kṛtān||
yathāsmābhir hi cānyeṣām aparādhā hi marjitāḥ|
he prabho na tathaivāsmān gamayādharma-vartmani||
lobhāt pāpa-pravṛtteś ca daurātmyāc caiva mocaya|
yuktam etat yatas te’sti rājyaṁ prabhāva-vaibhavaṁ|
atra paratra sarvatra adya śvaś ca yuge yuge||
A literal translation:
Lord, you are our father who lives in heaven;
Let your name be sung, and may we have love for it.
May your reign also be established here on earth.
May your will be fulfilled here, as it is in your own abode.
Giving us our daily bread, maintain us day after day.
Forgive us our offenses, which we have knowingly or unknowingly committed,
just as we forgive the offenses of others.
O Lord, do not lead us on the path of irreligion,
and save us from greed, the propensity for sin and evil.
This is all proper, for yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory
in this world and in the next, everywhere, today, tomorrow and for all the ages.
Saffron Cross: The Unlikely Story of How a Christian Minister Married a Hindu Monk hits shelves October 1st. Pre-order today!