They say that if you want to have a pleasant and enjoyable meal, there are two topics you must never discuss: politics and religion. You never know whom you might offend.
But what if the person you have dinner with every night is of a different religion, and you happen to be raising a family together?
In the past, interfaith (between two people of two different religions) and intrafaith (between two people of different denominations within the same religion) marriages were practically taboo, and when they were pursued, one usually converted to the other faith.
But the last two decades have seen more and more couples getting married and choosing to retain their own individual religions.
I imagine that at the beginning of the marriage, it is relatively easier to navigate. Things may get a little more challenging once children enter the picture. (Look at what happened to Tom and Katie!) How do you decide whose faith is to be followed? Or in the case of parents who agree to expose the child to both, how do you keep them from getting confused?
For example, some believe that anyone outside their faith will go to hell. It must be traumatic for someone so young to imagine that one parent will spend eternity in flames, while the child and other parent spend it in paradise.
In the Philippine setting, family is so extended—your child is the apo of your parents and in-laws, niece/nephew of your aunts, siblings and the rest of your family, all of whom may have strong opinions on religion.
Or it’s possible that being exposed to two religions in the family, the child will grow up having no fundamental attachment to either one, and end up shuttling between the two.
Rather than having parents willing to “share” the child between religions, you may have a set of parents being so devoted to their respective religion that they may never agree on whose faith the children should follow.
It’s definitely not a walk in the park for any family.
Fortunately, I found folks who were able to overcome this issue.
Lawyers Adel and Rowena Tamano
The first person I thought of was lawyer Adel Tamano and his wife Rowena, a brilliant lawyer like her husband. Adel is Muslim. Almost always, when a Muslim man marries a non-Muslim, the wife is expected to convert.
In the case of the Tamanos, Rowena didn’t.
“Yes, my wife is a Catholic,” Adel tells me. “There are some who wonder if an interfaith marriage can work, but for us it does. It isn’t for everyone and requires deep mutual respect, tolerance and love to overcome religious differences. We’ve been happily married for over 13 years. And we’re still going strong.”
He says of their children, “Our kids are raised as Muslims. It’s something my wife and I agreed upon before we got married and it is a great sacrifice on her part. But it is necessary so as not to confuse a child and to allow him to grow strong in his faith. Additionally, while our kids are raised in the Islamic faith, they are taught to respect their mother’s Christian belief.
“An interfaith marriage might seem problematic to some but for us who are in one and are committed to having a healthy and happy marriage and family life, it can truly work. At the end of the day, the indispensable ingredient to any marriage is love.”
Jewish and Catholic
I promised this couple that I wouldn’t give their names so I’m calling them Mr. and Mrs. X. I spoke to Mrs. X about her childhood and plans for their beautiful new baby.
Mrs. X, who grew up Jewish with a Catholic mother, says, “While I was growing up, it didn’t seem out of the ordinary. It was just what I was used to. I grew up in a multiracial and multireligious home in New York City where that was more of the standard, as versus a one race/one religion home. I was exposed to all of the Catholic holidays and rites through my mom’s side, especially through my lola.
“On the flip side, I attended a private Jewish elementary school where half the day was taught in Hebrew, had a Bat Mitzvah (Jewish coming of age) and even a Jewish wedding (we had two—one in a Catholic church and a Jewish wedding). I guess it was a bit confusing at times since my parents each practiced his own religion. At my Bat Mitzvah, my lola wore a huge cross and it shocked some of my guests in the synagogue!
“I am not too big a fan of organized religion, and I consider myself more spiritual than religious. We have decided to raise our son with exposure to both religions and an understanding of other religions, as well. My husband was raised Catholic but embraces other beliefs. I think religion is more of a cultural thing and I would love for my son to be in touch with both sides. We want our son to make an informed decision when he is ready.
“There are lots of challenges in raising a child in an interfaith family. There are criticisms from outsiders who believe it’s not possible and lots of questions from your children, but I think that ultimately it’s a beautiful situation and a great experience. It takes time, patience and an open mind but it is well worth it. At the end of the day, we all answer to the same higher power.”
Stephanie Zubiri and Jonathan Crespi
My sister-in-law Steph is Catholic, her fiancé, Jonathan, is Protestant Lutheran. I was surprised to learn that Jonathan is Catholic, as well!
Steph corrected me, “He is Catholic-Protestant Lutheran, as he was brought up in both. His father, an Italian, was Catholic while his German mother is Lutheran. He attended Sunday school regularly and received all the Catholic sacraments but attended Lutheran services as well when he was in Germany.”
I asked about the faith of my future nephews and nieces and she admitted that they had discussed this at length. “They will be raised as Catholic and Christian. We don’t want to focus on the technicalities but rather on what we agree on; values, family, honesty, giving back in whatever way we can. We will raise them to be people who are close to God in everyday life, and who touch others by helping, being considerate and good-hearted.”
Look past the differences
Tita ABC and Tito XYZ are private people as well, so we’ll leave their names at that. Tita A comes from a Catholic family, while Tito X is Anglican. Catholicism and the Church of England are pretty similar in many ways, but not similar enough for Tita A.
Even before they got married, she made it very clear that her children would be raised Catholic.
Thirty years later, today, they are still happily married. The children are devout Catholics and the family goes to Mass together every Sunday, including Tito X, who remains an Anglican.
I asked him how he felt about this—“I’ve learned to look past the differences of the two faiths and to appreciate what they have in common instead.
“I knew early on that it would greatly benefit them to have a stable and deep foundation in one faith, rather than never knowing where they truly belong or what they believe in. I am glad to see that our decision was correct as they all turned out to be good kids with a deep faith in God that has served as an effective compass in their decisions and lives.”
I wanted to list steps on how families can navigate this forking road. But then I realized that each family is different, with a unique way of addressing its situation.
I am happy having grown up with only one religion at home and sharing it with my husband and kids, and those I write about here seem no less happy than I am.
In how these families overcame their differences, two things stood out.
The first is a complete and honest awareness and agreement on the future of the family before getting married. It’s important to communicate what you are willing to compromise on and what is nonnegotiable.
The second is deep mutual respect for each other’s faith. This seems to be the cornerstone upon which these families are built.
Imagine what a better world we would have if all children, regardless of religion, could be raised with this respect for the beliefs of others. Religion is one of the most beautiful gifts to humanity, bringing us closer to our Maker and one another.
Unfortunately, it has also been used to pit man against fellow man. Hopefully, the next generation, whether from one faith or interfaith families, will be able to set things right for the world.