A Place of Rest: Embracing Differences
What are some of the joys and challenges of an interfaith marriage?
Carol: Joys include learning from Chris about all of his thoughts and perspectives and the multitude of books he reads. Also, it's nice that Chris is so well schooled in Christianity so that he "gets" what I am talking about when I share my views/perspectives. I don't really find it challenging to have different faith perspectives since I don't have a strong need to have my partner/husband believe exactly as I do. It's just not a need I have.
Chris: Joys are hearing what each other is struggling with in terms of "spiritual work," sharing our readings, our writings, and speaking presentations. Challenges center more on hearing ongoing politics and petty personality issues related to religious work -- some reasons I left it all.
How do you make decisions about where and how to worship?
Carol: Chris is not very interested in worshipping in any tradition; yet, he will accompany me to special events, especially related to my work. I do not worship regularly anywhere at the moment; however, when I have to or want to, I simply go by myself, which is fine with me and something to which I am accustomed.
Chris: I gave up worship a number of years ago, even as a parish associate. I was more drawn to what the birds were singing than the choir, more interested in conversations with people than the sermon, more attracted by social work and current affairs than biblical quotation and ritual. I don't feel pushed by Carol to go to church and we enjoy spending Sundays hiking, reading the paper, watching films, and sharing a good dinner. I'm very fine with her attending if she chooses, though I don't see the experience uplifting her much -- we seem to have a much better time outdoors.
How have your respective faith communities embraced (or not) your decision?
Carol: Chris is well known in many faith communities in our county due to his twenty-plus years of interfaith ministry. Actually many people are not fully aware of his non-Christian stance; nevertheless, here in Marin County, where so many people are unchurched anyway, Chris' world-views are hardly unusual.
Chris: When I explain my current views (non-theistic, freethinking) to people outside faith traditions they seem very welcoming, though hard-line atheists probably get thrown by my marriage to a minister. Since people in congregations don't seem to pay much attention to non-believers (not a part of the spiritual social scene), I'm mostly left to expressing my views in writing in books and blogs. I don't think anyone ever misses me in churches, but there are no doubt some who would like to see Carol more frequently.
If you have children, how do you raise them within a multi-faith household? How have the kids responded? How do you approach disagreements over child rearing?
Carol: We do not have children together; Chris raised a daughter over twenty years ago.
Chris: My daughter is 28 and finishing college. She is not religious and for the most part a freethinker like her father. She is a deeply caring, thoughtful young woman who will do well in the social work vocation she has chosen. Our spirituality is not a concern to her and she loves Carol.
Deborah Arca joined the Patheos team after more than ten years managing programs for the Program in Christian Spirituality at the San Francisco Theological Seminary. Deborah has also been a youth minister, a director of Christian Education and music/theatre programs for young people and has served as a music director for worship and special retreats.