Interfaith Marriages

How to Plan an Interfaith Wedding

Religion is a very personal thing. There’s no requirement that two people who fall in love with one another have to share the same religious beliefs. In fact, interfaith marriages are actually quite common now. Although politicians preaching a return to “family values” often talk about how families are stronger when they go to church together in their community, the truth of the matter is that the vast majority of brides and grooms choose their mate for qualities other than their religion.

For many interfaith marriages, religion is irrelevant until they have children and have to decide if they’re going to have a baptism or a bris, or neither. Although Jewish law, for example, actually dictates that in the case of interfaith marriages, the children resulting from the marriage should follow the faith of the mother (even if she’s not Jewish), most parents today choose to raise their children in the faith that is most comfortable and convenient for them, not what is dictated by the rules of any particular religion.

Don’t get me wrong — I have plenty of friends who have very strong faith, and are active in their churches and would NEVER have considered marrying someone who didn’t believe in Jesus Christ, or the Book of Mormon or whatever their particular religion embraces. With that said, very few brides and grooms who would qualify themselves as “religious” actually choose to have destination weddings (my specialty) because they want to get married in their home church. Their church family is very important to them and their wedding day would be incomplete if they weren’t married where they regularly worship, surrounded by their church family.

It used to be the case that if one half of a couple was deeply entrenched in their own religion (use Catholicism or Judaism as an example here) and their significant other was not, the partner would join the fiancé’s church or temple and begin religious education classes to become a member of that faith. This dates back to a time when, in some cases, a person couldn’t marry outside their faith and continue to be a part of their own religious community. As times have changed and traditions have relaxed, more religious entities have become more tolerant, and found ways to permit interfaith unions for their members. But still, that isn’t true of all religions.

Destination wedding ceremonies are usually performed by non-denominational officiants who can perform any wedding ceremony they’re given. I advise my clients to plan a ceremony that incorporates aspects of their own religions, if that’s important to them. I’ve seen plenty of interfaith weddings where there were prayers mentioning Jesus through the ceremony, and then ended with the groom doing the traditional Jewish stomping on the glass as everyone cheered “Mazel Tov!” It doesn’t even seem unusual to me anymore.

It is possible to have a mixture of religious traditions at the same wedding ceremony and reception, without having to label the wedding any specific faith. We see a lot of that — and it’s very interesting to watch how brides and grooms choose to incorporate the things that are important to them. Sometimes the only thing Jewish about a wedding, for example, is the glass breaking and traditional Horah dance at the reception. There might not be a yarmulke on site, and pork and shellfish may be featured on the wedding menu (along with other options for those who do observe dietary restrictions).

In one case, we did two completely separate wedding ceremonies — one right after the other — because the bride was Persian and her parents insisted they do the traditional ceremony where they taste a bunch of significant items and release doves at the end. The ceremony wasn’t in English, and the groom hadn’t the slightest idea what was going on, but he didn’t care about that because he and the bride had exchanged vows in a traditional American-style wedding ceremony 15 minutes earlier. It was time-consuming, to be sure, but I thought it was a really lovely way to incorporate traditions that were critically important to the bride’s parents who were, in this case, picking up the entire wedding tab.

For the reception, the menu was split pretty much in half with traditional Persian delicacies I’d never heard of, and that our caterers had to research carefully and import all kinds of unusual ingredients not commonly found in every grocery store to make, and more common foods that everybody else was sure to be familiar with. The guests loved it! And none of the parents involved felt shortchanged because all of their traditions from both sides had been honored.

Let me be clear — totally mixing religious traditions and observances isn’t just a destination wedding phenomenon — I’ve attended multiple weddings at synagogues stateside, followed by receptions at Jewish country clubs where there was a fantastic raw bar during the cocktail hour. It all depends on whether the couples’ families and the wedding venue are conservative or reformed, and which rules they insist on observing.

What I think is MOST IMPORTANT is that brides and grooms are celebrating their weddings in the manner that they choose, including God (or whomever they worship) as much or as little as they wish in their wedding ceremony. I strongly believe that decision should be based entirely on the wishes and feelings of the wedding couple themselves, not the desires of their families. And that’s when things get tricky.

Many interfaith couples choose to get married away from home for the sole purpose of avoiding the battle over whether the wedding will be held in their family’s church or synagogue. They spend a lot of time and money creating beautiful wedding weekends that reflect their own personal taste and style. They include religious traditions that mean something to them, and they skip the ones that don’t. And sometimes, that gets touchy on the actual wedding day if everybody attending the wedding has their own opinions. It gets even more complicated (and sometimes emotional) when the bride and groom haven’t warned their parents that they will not be celebrating their wedding in the religious tradition in which they were raised.

Several years ago, I planned a Wiccan wedding for a bride and groom who had been raised Jewish and Catholic, respectively. The groom’s parents were not in attendance because they objected to their son’s lifestyle choices, most specifically the fact that he’d left the Catholic Church to become a witch. The bride’s family was present and accounted for, but they didn’t know!!! In fact, the mother of the bride didn’t find out the celebrant was a Wiccan priest until she asked me where the rabbi was at the wedding rehearsal. Truly, that was the definition of awkward.

I have to give the bride’s elderly parents a lot of credit for keeping their composure, and not making any sort of stink, when they found out that instead of getting married under a traditional chuppah, we would be “casting a circle” and “calling the elements” and smudging all their 80-year-old friends from Cherry Hill, New Jersey, with sage. Because that is definitely something you see at every wedding, right? Not.

It occurred to me later that the bride had ambushed her parents intentionally to avoid fighting about it, but I still don’t think it was the right approach. While the bride and groom certainly have every right to exchange vows in whatever manner they choose, if the wedding is going to be something REALLY different from what the parents are expecting, it’s a good idea to let them know before they create their own guest lists. That was the one thing the Wiccan bride’s mother said that really got my attention: “I wish I’d known before I invited everyone from my neighborhood.” Oops.

Whether they celebrate a specific religion or are just spiritual, what’s most important is that the bride and groom have the option of being as religious — or as secular — as they wish for the wedding celebration. The decision to include specific religious observances and traditions should be solely that of the couple, and not overly influenced by their families or other outsiders.

A final thought on this matter: Make sure your wedding planner, officiant and/or Master of Ceremonies is aware of what exactly you want (and don’t want) at your wedding ceremony and reception. Sometimes, well-intentioned wedding guests will request specific dances (like the Horah for a Jewish wedding) because they simply expect the couple will want to do it, never thinking that an interfaith couple may have intentionally decided to skip that tradition. The best bet for avoiding any conflict around religion-based traditions is to make sure the people in charge of running the wedding know what the bride and groom’s wishes are, so they can head off any potential problems.

Article Courtesy – Huffington Post

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