With a third of Hindus in America getting married to Christians, it becomes imperative that the individuals from both religions make fully informed decisions for their planned Hindu-Christian marriage.
Mixes and matches in Hindu-Christian marriages
A good number of Hindu youths in the West take pride in their religious traditions and insist on going through Hindu vivaha (marriage). Fortunately, their significant others hailing sometimes from a Christian background are mostly delighted by the prospects of a Hindu wedding, not merely out of curiosity, fascination for colorful rituals, and respect for the intended spouse, but also because they find it spiritually more fulfilling.
In Hindu vivaha, you are not seeking blessings from one God alone, but from the Divine Ultimate represented by many, including the stars and other planets. There is no expectation of religious conversion to Hinduism. This all-inclusive pluralistic aspect of Hinduism in which no human activity is perceived in isolation, but as part of the universal whole, which the Christian counterpart might find very compelling and meaningful.
If the bride happens to be a Hindu, while she would be excited to don on elaborately embroidered red saree and wear exotic ornaments, yet the very idea of dressing up in a white gown and throwing a bouquet after the Christian wedding might also be irresistible. A new look, a new feel is bound to add to the thrill of stepping into a new life with your loved one, as wife and husband.
Interestingly, in some cases, the Hindu and Christian ceremonies are performed on the same day, sometimes in the same wedding hall.
Good and not so good matches
On one occasion, the Christian spouse requested the Hindu priest to include a picture of Lord Jesus in the Hindu ceremony and the request was applauded by all the attendees.
In another case, a Hindu youth fiancé interviewed a Hindu priest and requested on behalf of her Christian fiancée that the Hindu wedding be performed without putting a forehead dot (kum kum) on the Christian, without the Christian praying to Hindu Gods, and without taking any prasad (offering from God). The proud Hindu priest simply declined to be part of such a wedding.
The author has guided 1200 youths in interfaith love relationships. It is observed that Western Christians are much more open-minded in incorporating Hindu rituals and traditions in the wedding and married life compared to Christians from India. Read Tejas and many other experiences as examples.
Expectation of religious conversion for marriage
While there are Christians who marry Hindus and are prepared for a marital life where equality of both the faiths is the norm, there are some Christians who are not ready to tolerate Dharmic traditions and expect the Hindu spouse and children by this marriage to accept “unintended” religious conversion by baptism.
Sometimes, even after the Hindu partner has undergone baptism and thus has officially converted to Christianity, the couple might still undergo the Hindu vivaha, so that the Hindu parents can save face within the community. After the conversion, a Hindu marriage is really a Christian-Christian marriage performed by a Hindu priest in the presence of the Hindu Gods.
In most such cases, the Hindu priest and the celebrating Hindu attendees have no clue about the conversion. Such Hindu weddings are shams; lies which perpetuate the inherent intolerance of such a relationship.
The same can be said for a follow up church wedding of a Hindu-Christian couple after being already married by Hindu vivaha.
Hindu and Christian Scriptures
In general, Hinduism is a pluralistic faith and there is no practice of religious conversion of the non-Hindu party for the Hindu vivaha. However, Christians may find some Hindu practices and statements in Hindu scriptures (read Geeta) objectionable.
Two themes found throughout the Bible are religious exclusivity and religious intolerance to others.
Christianity’s core belief is that salvation exists only through faith in Jesus Christ.
Jesus said: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father (God) except through me.” (John 14:6)
The Gospel of John and Peter gave frequent messages that the followers of other religions held invalid beliefs, which were wrong, deluded, immoral, and/or heretical.
Some of the acts of intolerance cited were actually ordered by God, i.e.
- “When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drive out before you many nations… then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them and show them no mercy” (Deuteronomy 7:1-3) and
- “Do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy them… as the Lord your God has commanded you.” (Deuteronomy 20:16-17)
Even today, no major Christian church holds a pluralist theology that each person is “saved” through his or her own religion. Does this mean that Mahatma Gandhi will not achieve salvation because he was never baptized?
Role of Churches in Hindu-Christian marriages
Many churches will expect a religious conversion of a Hindu before marriage, a sign that Hindus are heathen and they do not approve a marriage between a Christian and a Hindu.
Some other churches will ask the Hindu spouse to sign a prenuptial that the children from this marriage will be raised only as Christians.
After divorce, any fake-conversion or one-sided child rearing affidavit will have serious legal consequences. For this reason, a request for a wedding in a church, which involves a Hindu partner, should be considered as a very serious matter for the Hindu party.
Baptism is the act to cleanse former (Hindu?) sins and practices, and later live with Jesus Christ forever. A Hindu youth should not have the wrong impression that baptism is a hollow ritual devoid of meaning.
The most critical test to identify an intolerant intended-spouse of Christian faith, who does not believe in equality of two faiths, is to ask, “What if I decline baptism/christening of our children?”
If ultimately one is expected to abide solely by Christian principles and dogmas, then the Hindu should wonder why he/she is willing to tolerate someone’s intolerance in exchange for one’s own identity and culture.
Potential solutions for Hindu-Christian couples
If Christian intended spouse (or in-law) is expecting the Hindu party or children by this Hindu-Christian marriage to undergo baptism, then the Hindu party has one of two choices:
- accept his or her Christian faith and be prepared to give up Hindu heritage and culture completely or
- clarify that you have pride in your birth religion and ask for equality by denying the baptism-based religious labelling, especially for your interfaith children.
If the couple harbors true love for each other and does not believe in imposing his/her religious intolerant ideologies on the other spouse, the best solution is to find truly pluralistic religious institutes or pandit/priest/pastor to conduct the marriage ceremony. Alternatively, one can seek a semi-religious or secular civil wedding.
Get to know the “real” him or her
As per several surveys, it is estimated that more than half of interfaith marriages end in divorce.
A frequent reason given for divorce is that “the person changed” after the marriage. It is not that anyone really changes, but that the other person, blinded by youthful love, fails to recognise the actuality, hoping that things would resolve themselves in time.
It is critical that the couple considering interfaith relationships get to know the “real” him or her sooner rather than later.
Fundamental religious differences can bring unexpected complexities to a marriage. Ideally both faiths and traditions should be respected and followed without imposing one’s intolerant religious beliefs on their spouse.
Increased awareness of these complexities and better foresight and preparation will increase the odds of a long and happy interfaith marriage.
FAQ: Christian-Hindu Marriage
- Does the Christian intended spouse believe that “salvation” is possible only through Jesus?
- Are your Hindu parents not going to be “saved” on Judgment Day?
- Does he or she believe that Lord Ganesh and Goddess Kali are not incarnations of the same Lord your God described in the Bible?
- Does the Christian intended-spouse have any reservations about coming to a Hindu temple, bowing to Hindu Gods and taking offerings (prasad) from the Gods? Is the Christian going to be afraid of the “jealous” God if he or she has to take part in a prayer (puja) to a God in the form of Goddess Durga? Will the Hindu intended-spouse have the same spiritual meaning for Jesus as it was taught in your church?
- Do you have to get married in a church? Do you have to have a Hindu vivaha where multiple Gods will be invoked?
- Do you have to change your religion by baptism before marriage?
- Do your children have to have baptism/christening to announce the child as a Christian? Do your children have to have namasanskara and other Hindu rituals? What are the consequences if you decline it?
- The American Academy of Pediatrics stated benefits are not compelling enough to recommend universal newborn circumcision. Do your sons have to be circumcised in accordance with your spouse’s religious belief?
- Name is everything, as it reflects the tradition and culture the parents are proud of and would like the child to continue. Are the children going to have Dharmic or Christian first names and your current last name?
- A membership in a church may cost from 3-12% of your gross family income. Are you planning to be a member of a church, especially after children are born? Are you planning to spend the same amount of money supporting Hindu religious institutions?
- In case of your demise or one of your children’s, will there be a Christian burial or a cremation according to the Hindu final rites?
If you (readers) believe that the practice of expectations of religious conversion for marriage is wrong and should end now, share your views below. Note we are not against an individual’s religious freedom (to change faith), but against the mandate by religious institutions and faith leaders to link the (fake)conversion with an interfaith marriage. We would love to debate more below on this topic.