The Time is Now: Interfaith Activists from Interfaith Families by Susan Katz Miller

On October 22, Beacon Press published Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family by former Newsweek reporter and popular interfaith blogger Susan Katz Miller (www.OnBeingBoth.com). In Being Both, Miller uniquely chronicles the steady rise in interfaith marriages and the subsequent (and sometimes controversial) decisions to raise children in both religions. Being Both has been praised by Reza Aslan as “A gorgeous and inspiring testament to the power of love to not only transcend the divides of faith and tradition, but to bring faiths together and create wholly new traditions,” and has also received praise in Kirkus Reviews and Booklist. We are pleased to share this blog post Susan Miller wrote especially for State of Formation:

When I search the internet for mentions of “interfaith,” I get news from two separate worlds. One is the world of interfaith “dialogue” and activism, in which people from different religions (or no religion) meet to share their stories, or engage in community service together. This movement has flourished since 9/11, through the important work of groups such as the Interfaith Youth Core.

But for me, the more intimate interfaith world is the world of interfaith families. I was born into this world. As families, we are intertwined, interwoven, and interconnected through intercourse in all of its definitions. We aren’t about to relinquish the interfaith label.

Now, the moment has come for these two interfaith worlds to collide and merge, as if at a giant, well, interfaith wedding. In other words, it is time for interfaith activists to welcome those from interfaith families, not only as allies, but as full partners, and even as leaders.

Interfaith families live and breathe interfaith engagement. Many of us in interfaith marriages or partnerships wrestle with theology together, share religious celebrations, study each other’s foundational texts, and work together on healing the world through social justice. Interfaith is not an activity we go to once a month, or a profession we choose, it’s an inherent feature of our daily lives.

My father is Jewish, my mother Episcopalian, and they are still happily married after more than 50 years. I grew up Jewish, but as an adult, I claim my complex interfaith identity as well as my Judaism. And I have insisted on raising my children with both Judaism and Christianity. At the moment, both of my teenagers like to describe themselves as “Jewish/Christian swirl, interested in Buddhism.” I am proud of their thoughtful and playful DIY identities.

And it turns out, my children are no longer alone. Earlier this month, the Pew Research Forum released a “Portrait of Jewish Americans,” in which they found that 25% of Jews in interfaith marriages are raising children “partly Jewish and partly in another religion.” In my book Being Both, I draw on the stories of hundreds of parents raising dual-faith kids, and provide a first glimpse of the rising generation of young adults educated in two religions.

As an interfaith child, spouse, and parent, I have an aversion to dualism, to false binaries, and to litmus tests for membership. I revel in my complex Jewish-and-interfaith identity, in creativity born of ambiguity, in the right to self-definition, in the jazz of the dissonant chord. I celebrate radical inclusivity as a vehicle for radical amazement.

In the 20th century, official interfaith dialogue occurred mainly between Christian and Jewish religious authorities–theologians and clergy safely grounded in their own religions and presumably immune to conversion. Interfaith families were ignored or excluded as threats to this model. The late interfaith families pioneer Ned Rosenbaum, co-author of the book Celebrating Our Differences, once told me that the speakers at these interfaith dialogue events reminded him of “parallel lines in Euclidean geometry, never meeting.” He proposed to the organizers of one conference that they invite him and his wife to speak “if they ever wanted to see what happens when interfaith paths cross like strands of DNA.”

Now, an entire generation of young leaders is bringing that intricate double helix of recombined DNA to interfaith engagement. And some of them are being schooled, from birth, in both common ground and essential differences. Would you rather attend a conference with one Christian, one Jewish, one Muslim and one Hindu speaker? Or with speakers from the new wave of Christian/Muslim, Jewish/Hindu, and Buddhist/humanist families?

Religion scholar Karla Suomala has noted that if those with complex religious identities are not invited to the interfaith dialogue table, soon “there won’t be anyone left at the table.” As interfaith families become more common, religious institutions may mourn the loss of precise boundaries. Yet we are gaining a new generation with lived experience in creating love that transcends ancestral strife.

I urge interfaith activists, religion scholars, seminarians and progressive clergy to show your interfaith family colors. Out yourself as a child of interfaith marriage, or as a partner who loves across lines of faith. We can learn from each other, and support each other, and transform official interfaith engagement, but only if we begin to share the true stories of our own families.

(Photo credit: used with permission by author.)

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