Interfaith Relationships in the Mainstream Press: A Roundup

It’s always interesting to see how mainstream publications report on interfaith families, especially during December. For many of the papers, December is the only time they focus on people in interfaith relationships and often, the reporters’ ignorance of the issues at stake is readily apparent. Here’s a rundown of some recent pieces on interfaith couples:

  • The Burlington Free Press, of Vermont, has a thinkpiece from Melissa Pasanane, a self-described “non-observant Jew who is married to someone of generic Christian background with no religious affiliation” on the “the true meaning of Chrismukkah.” While she was initially amused by a new book on Chrismukkah, it eventually led her to an uneasy investigation of her own feelings about the holidays. Pasanane insightfully describes how she and her husband compensate for their lack of religion by overdoing it on presents: “Our sons’ friends are envious that they receive gifts on Hanukkah and Christmas, but I just cringe thinking about the present pile I build to ensure that one holiday (or heritage) doesn’t seem less appealing than the other.” She says she assuages her guilt by inviting friends over for latkes and menorah-lighting, “but I’m looking for something more.”
  • The Republican, of Springfield, Mass., has a more basic news article on a program at a Reform temple for interfaith couples called “Knishes and Crumpets.” There’s an interesting quote from an interfaith couple that first went to an interfaith discussion group before they were married:

    “We were the only couple who weren’t already married and didn’t already have children. We were amazed and the number of people who hadn’t discussed what they were going to do with their relationships with regards to religion and spirituality.”

  • Maryland’s Gazette has a story on the December dilemma through the lens of families who are involved with the Interfaith Families Project of Greater Washington, an organization for interfaith families that is led by a Christian minister. The story itself is good, but the subhead is misleading: “Mixed Jewish, Christian families weigh blending the religions for ‘Christmakuh’ (sic) of keeping them separate.” One thing I find is that secular journalists hunger for stories of Chrismukkah in action, of ways that families are blending the holidays, but as I told Rachel Pomerance of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution yesterday, while many families are doing both, few are actually mixing the holidays. Occasionally you hear about a Star of David on the top of the Christmas tree, but nobody is plucking Hanukkah gelt from an Advent calendar. A major reason that people in interfaith families celebrate two holidays is because those holidays give them warm nostalgic feelings about their own upbringing, usually in a single-religion, unblended home. Why would they corrupt their memories by doing something blended now? Aren’t they far more likely to try to do things that recreate the idyllic memories they have of their childhood? Don’t believe the hype; Chrismukkah isn’t over, because it never started.
  • The most thoughtful, best-researched piece on intermarriage I’ve seen in the secular press in some time was in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Titled “When religion is a hot button,” it goes through the potential obstacles facing a mixed-faith couple (be they Jewish-Christian, Muslim-Catholic, whatever) and includes smart, expert advice from a series of academics. Among the highlights are the recomendations not to wait until a child is on the way, and to get counseling before there’s conflict. There’s also a link to a program I’d never heard of before called “Two Churches, One Marriage,” which purports to offer a free step-by-step way to manage and prepare for interfaith or interchurch differences in a relationship. Interesting. I’ll let you know more about it in a future post.
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