Downton Abbey Portrays Reality of Interfaith RelationshipsBy Gerri Miller
Go inside Season 5 Episode 9 where the story line of Atticus and Rose's interfaith relationship comes to a head.Go To Pop Culture
For our wedding in 2004 my husband Chris and I asked a rabbi and Chris' uncle, a priest, to co-officiate. We met with them months before the wedding, and both were willing to work together to ensure our ceremony was balanced.
When we met with them before the ceremony, each clergy member asked us how we planned to raise our children. We answered Jewish, and they both seemed pleased that we chose one faith for our children as opposed to both.
|Julie and her husband Chris in a photo from their wedding.|
At the time, we had no idea what was about to come.
The evening before the wedding, something very peculiar happened. At the rehearsal, we saw Chris' parents across the room, reading our wedding program, and appearing visibly shaken by it. My husband opted not to ask them about it, saying they could bring their concerns to us. But they never did.
The next night at the ceremony, Catholic and Jewish prayers and traditions mingled together beautifully and, afterwards, compliments came in from both sides of the family regarding the blending of the two faiths.
Crisis averted, right? Wrong.
Fast-forward a couple years. Chris and I began to talk about having kids. Because he was hesitant to tell his parents about our decision to raise them Jewish, we reached out to his uncle, the priest, for advice.
But instead of advice, we received an e-mail diatribe that showed he disapproved not only of our child-rearing decision but of our wedding as well. "The service showed no Christian respect, except for my presence," he wrote. "Your statement that the children are going to be raised Jewish is a perfect example of your inability to be balanced, to dialogue, or to respect your partner's Catholic heritage."
He continued on for an entire page, accusing me of trying to convert my husband (which we never even considered!) and suggesting that we see a counselor because our marriage was in dire trouble. "You are clearly in control, and that is what rightly upsets almost everybody," the priest wrote. "Chris appears totally castrated."
I cried for three days straight.
How could anyone say, let alone think, such awful things? We talk to Chris' uncle maybe once a year. Where was he getting these ideas? Hadn't he acted pleased when we discussed our chosen faith for our kids years ago? And if the service wasn't Christian enough, why did he blame me, and me alone? He was one of the people we'd trusted to make our marriage service fair.
And if the rest of the family felt the same way, why on earth hadn't anyone said anything?
Looking back, there had been some clues. For instance, when we'd visit Chris' parents, we noticed the four-sided frame (that was to host a picture of each of their four kids and significant others) was never turned to our side. When we'd jokingly turn it to our picture, it was always turned back before we left.
We did enter counseling not in an effort to save our marriage, because that was fine, but to try to make family relations better, starting with Chris' parents. We tried everything our counselor and several self-help books suggested. But every single effort was met with resistance.
We tried sending my mother-in-law a long letter. We tried email. My mother-in-law responded by telling us that our wedding was "quite a challenging, life-altering event that [she] hope[s] [she] never, ever go[es] through again." We tried a sit-down conversation, but that turned hostile. Apparently they had a lot of unexpressed feelings left over from our wedding.
During that conversation, we told them that we planned to raise our children as Jews, but we said that our children's religion was a moot point because we weren't sure whether we wanted kids. Two years later, we began trying to have a baby … but miscarried. When Chris shared the news with his parents, they were "very surprised" because they remembered us telling them that we'd never have kids.
How does "not sure" turn into absolutely never? And why would we even share with them our chosen faith for our children if we would never be having any?
Even though we'd shared that Chris was on board with all of the decisions concerning our wedding and our children, they accused me of being controlling and castrating. We began to wonder why my in-laws blamed me for any decision we made that they didn't like.
Finally, Chris asked his uncle to show us the e-mail where I said he'd be converting. We knew he couldn't provide any proof of his assertions, and we'd left an electronic trail. Chris has continued to request facts, not perceptions, from his uncle to back up his other accusations, but his uncle doesn't answer.
Why was it that all the research we'd done, the interfaith classes we'd taken, and the many discussions we'd had weren't being considered? Why were his family members quick to jump to conclusions, make false assumptions and cast stones?
At one point, we began to wonder if our feelings were justified. But then our counselor asked if she could share our experiences with our interfaith class as, "People often learn the most from the most challenging situations--and yours is right up there!"
After trying so hard and not making much headway, she suggested we stop to see what would happen. Years have passed, and not much has changed.
However, Chris and I have kept our relationship strong. We're grateful that my family has been accepting of our marriage and supportive of our decisions. We realize his family is missing out on so much but know we can't make things better by ourselves. It takes two to tango. So we continue on our own path, happy with each other and hoping that one day, they'll want to join us.