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Dating And Different Religions?


We asked a roundtable of spirituality experts how best to handle this potentially tricky situation…

By Margot Carmichael Lester

n Amos 3:3, it’s asked “Can two people walk together without agreeing on the direction?” We asked a few faithful folks to answer this question for daters who ascribe to different doctrine. Our commenters are:
  • Rabbi Lev Baesh, director, Resource Center for Jewish Clergy, www.InterfaithFamily.com
  • There are wise teachings and doggone dumb teachings in every major religion.
  • Rev. Laurie Sue Brockway, an interfaith minister
  • Alana Klein, director of communications and publications, Marymount Manhattan College; she and her fiancé are of different faiths
  • Stephen Miller, Christian expert/writer, ONE: The Digital Dialog
  • Pastor Bob Moeller, host, For Better, For Worse, For Keeps
  • Dorette Saunders, senior editor, education unit, Nida Institute for Biblical Scholarship at the American Bible Society
And here’s what they said:

When we start dating someone of a different faith, what’s the first thing a person should do?

Sanders: Open up and educate each other as to your faith practices. Does an Episcopalian really know what a Mormon believes? Does a Jew understand Catholic teachings? Can an unbeliever uphold the values of a Christian? In order to coexist harmoniously, couples may either agree not to bring up religion or agree to respectfully disagree. The problem with the latter is that such a response will eventually put a strain on their relationship as it becomes more solidified. Or in other cases, one party compromises to the point where his or her “faith” no longer looks the same. It is for this reason that the Bible, in its wisdom, knowing the stresses of everyday life, cautions that we should not be yoked unequally.

Miller: Listen to each other with an open mind. There are wise teachings and doggone dumb teachings in every major religion. As you talk, it’s OK to disagree. You can count on disagreeing. A lot. But there’s no need to be judgmental. That’s God’s job, not ours.

What if we’re afraid that dating someone outside our faith will diminish it?

Brockway: My philosophy is that love between two people adds a dimension of holiness to our world that cannot be categorized by religion or culture, and that a temple can be created wherever there is love. I believe in soul mates, and I feel that the couples who are meant to be together have the ability to see each other through the eyes of the soul. That allows many feelings about differences to melt away. Or at least allows them to walk together without having to agree on all things spiritual.

And what if friends and family object? How can a couple handle that?

Baesh: “When trapped, be gracious.” I just learned this from a rabbinic colleague. The best way to show that your faith is of value in the world
Religion didn’t bring the couple together; other forces did.
and that you support your partner’s faith is to be the person your faith calls you to be. People will always judge and evaluate from their personal place and sometimes from fear. Often people who object are worried about other things. Listen and ask deeper questions, or sit back and let them vent—and love them. Continue your relationship by answering questions they have and asking questions you have. Invite them to join you in celebrations. It’s the best way to see it’s not as scary as they imagined it to be.

Klein: Have faith in each other. Religion didn’t bring the couple together; other forces did. During difficult times it’s important to remember that special connection you and your partner have, what brought you two together, and why you love each other.

And what if two people find that they just can’t walk together?

Moeller: Say something like this: “I have truly benefited from getting know you. However, because my spiritual beliefs are such a meaningful part of my core identity, as I trust they are to you, and because we differ substantially on those beliefs, I don’t think we should pursue this dating relationship any further. It is because of this mutual genuine respect for each other that we should give each other the freedom to pursue someone who more closely shares our core beliefs. Thank you for the opportunity to meet you and be enriched by your life. But we have different destinations in mind, and we need to give each other the space to pursue those spiritual goals with all that we are.”

Baesh: [Early on,] know where faith fits in your life and rate it on its relative importance to other aspects of life, so that when entering the dating world you know where you are coming from. Learn about other faith traditions when you find they are important to the other person. But if it’s a deal-breaker, don’t head down a path that will bring about regret when the relationship will have to be severed after years of trying to make it work.


Freelance writer Margot Carmichael Lester also writes the Ask Margot advice column. Send your faith-based dating queries to her at AskMargot@match.com.
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