Dr. Paula Brody, Ed.D., LICSW, is director of Outreach Programs and Training for the Northeast Council of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (the Reform movement), where she develops and coordinates a wide range of programs and services to welcome interfaith families into Reform congregations.
Dear Dr. Paula: My Boyfriend Is Uncomfortable that I Want My Children to Have a Personal Relationship with God
InterfaithFamily.com was pleased to offer "Dear Dr. Paula," written by Dr. Paula Brody, the nationally prominent specialist on interfaith family issues. Dr. Brody's monthly advice column responded to email letters submitted by our readers.
Dear Dr. Paula,
I have been seriously dating a Jewish man for nearly six years. I come from a family with strong ties to our Methodist church. My personal relationship with God gives me direction and strength in my life. My partner feels connected to his Judaism, strongly wants his children to be Jewish, and wants to "pass on" his heritage. However, he is uncomfortable when I say that I want my children, were they to be raised Jewish, to have a personal relationship with God. Whenever we talk about God, especially relating to what our children would believe, we "hit a wall" and cannot make decisions regarding our future. We really are stuck. Can you help?
Your dilemma is a common one for interfaith relationships where one partner has a clear sense of God's presence in his or her life. In my experience, it is often the Christian partner who has a personal relationship with God. In Judaism, God is an invisible presence, not taking a human form, so the concept of God is often harder for Jews to imagine.
You wrote about having "strong ties" to your Methodist church. Jews often feel those strong ties, not necessarily to their synagogue, but to their Jewish heritage. The connection to a religious heritage that has been passed from generation to generation is often very significant to Jews. Christian partners are often more focused on passing the belief aspects of their faith to future children.
So, where does this leave you? Talking about one's belief in God isn't the easiest discussion, even for people of the same faith. Ultimately, you must be able to share your feelings and knowledge about the belief aspects of your different religious backgrounds in order to resolve your issues and get "over the wall."
I would suggest beginning to open up your communication with each other by reading and discussing Bruce Kadden's article, "What Jews and Christians Should Know about Each Other," which was published in this magazine.
Then, together, read basic theology in each religion, such as Finding God (by Sonsino and Syme) for the Jewish perspective, and a comparable book for a Methodist perspective. You can also seek out courses in both religions. The Reform Movement offers "A Taste of Judaism: Are You Curious?" in many areas of the country, and you can seek out a comparable course in Methodism.
Keep in mind that as a Jewish/Methodist couple your belief systems will differ greatly. A personal relationship with Jesus is not compatible with Judaism. Respecting each other's differences and understanding the connection you each have with your heritage will be critical to your communication. Focusing on yourselves rather than on your future children will help you to begin this discussion. The article that I wrote for this magazine on "Opening up Communication in an Interfaith Relationship" may help you.
I hope these suggestions will help, and that you do get unstuck.