Love, Sex, and Marriage: Interfaith Relationships

I Corinthians 9: 19-23 Even though I am free of the demands and expectations of everyone, I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people: religious, nonreligious, meticulous moralists, loose-living immoralists, the defeated, the demoralized—whoever. I didn’t take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ—but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view. I’ve become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life. I did all this because of the Message. I didn’t just want to talk about it; I wanted to be in on it!

We have been reading through Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians since Easter, and let me remind you of the three themes of this letter. He starts out talking about holiness and God’s call on each of our lives. Secondly Paul talks a lot about the conflict in the church of Corinth and how he expects them to deal with their differences. Finally, as we will see in the next few weeks, Paul moves to talking about love. These three themes interact through the whole letter.

Interfaith Relationships

I did a wedding for a couple recently who came to me, as people often do, because they liked our beautiful sanctuary as a place to have their wedding. After I get over my offense that they did not come because they heard what a great job I do at weddings, I asked them to tell me about themselves. One of the first things they told me was that she came from an evangelical family; while she was growing up her family had been involved in missionary work. He, on the other hand, had grown up in a Catholic family in which religion was not important, so he was basically an atheist.

“This is a recipe for disaster,” I thought. If the couple had not been together for a fairly long time and shown me that they really loved each other, I would not have given this couple much of a chance. As it is, I had to wonder. It is hard enough for relationships to survive when we have our basic values in common, when we have a sense of common purpose. When those start to diverge, especially in this age of growing equality, relationships can become quite strained. It used to be that the man’s sense of purpose in the world would set the tone of the relationship and the woman’s sense of purpose at home would win out. Today, all that has to be negotiated and worked out.

I had lunch with Zoe and Bharath Vallabha yesterday to say goodbye to them, as they prepare to go to Washington DC. They have sold most of their worldly goods, quit their jobs as teachers in prestigious institutions, and they are giving their lives to their spiritual dreams. They said their families think they are crazy. But they found that their interfaith relationship (she grew up Christian, he Hindu) was suffering from the differences between them. The attitude at Bryn Mawr College where Bharath was a professor of philosophy was that you learn everything you need to know in school, but Zoe found spiritual sustenance in the church and in the temple. Slowly they decided they needed to go on a common spiritual journey, and they are taking the risk to do that – selling all that they have and committing themselves to their spiritual quest. We might think they were crazy too, if that wasn’t exactly what Jesus tells us to do.

If you were here at the beginning of the service, you might have noticed the reflective preparation on screen: Thich Nhat Hanh “When you touch someone who authentically represents a tradition, you not only touch his or her tradition, you also touch your own.” We have had many interfaith couples here at St. Luke who are doing very well because they authentically represent their faith tradition. Kay Reed and Sid Waldman, Marilyn Arnott and Judith Katz represent interfaith Jewish couples – and just about half of all the younger couples here are interfaith Protestant and Catholic – John and Eva Kay Noone, John and Kathy Douglas, John and Chrisnie Pagana, Lauren and Keith Nunnelee, Lauri and Jon Cumming, and on and on.

So it’s important to know that it is possible to have successful, strong interfaith relationships. They are strong because the partners care for each other’s history, family, and tradition, recognizing that as part of who they are. Sometimes the couple has to choose one tradition or the other; sometimes they find a way to authentically participate in both. That takes more energy, of course. Sometimes the couple just finds itself living at times in different worlds.

Obviously couples in interfaith relationships have to figure out if they are going to follow one or the other or both of their faith traditions. They have to think most importantly about what their children will become. The couple I mentioned at the top of the sermon had decided not to decide – that they would allow their children to decide for themselves what religion they would be. I think that’s a cop-out. If it’s hard for you to figure out what faith tradition you want to be, how much harder is it going to be for your children? Help them out. Think about it, and decide consciously what your hopes are for the next generation.

And one way or the other, you have to think a little about how Grandma or Grandpa is going to react to the information that their grandkid is going to be Hindu or Muslim or Christian when their hearts were set on a good faithful child of their own religion. Each person in the couple has to think about how they will handle that family disappointment and grief.

All of this is to say that despite the prevailing winds and lack of caring of society today, it matters! It matters what your faith is and what your child’s faith it. It matters whether you take it seriously or not. It matters how you act in your life, whether you act morally or immorally, thinking about your neighbor or not, giving to something besides your own selfish needs or not. It matters. And what Paul tells us, is that beyond that, even though it matters, even though it is very important how you act, how you give, and how you treat other people – God always accept people as they are, so we do too. We live with them the way they are. We live as faithfully as we can in our own tradition and understanding and that might be the best enticement to the other to join us in that, but in the meantime, we help them to live as faithfully as they can in their own faith tradition and we support them to be their own authentic self, true to their own purpose, living out their own meaning in life. And if they are not doing that, we love them anyway. We love them anyway.

And even if we can’t do that, God loves us anyway. So let’s recall the three points Paul is making in his letter. 1. Holiness. In every relationship we can find God calling us – to love and to purpose. 2. Conflict. In every relationship there will be discord and difference that challenges us. 3. Love. We always move toward deeper and stronger ways to love, ways to become one.

This is God’s good news.

Responsive Hymn: 2224 Make Us One