Interfaith marriage is always a tricky endeavor; especially when the bride's father is a minister.
Faith is NOT the Problem! by Ann Gray “Gram, you know perfectly well it’s true !” My twenty-one year old granddaughter, Claire, insisted as she frowned at me over our morning coffee. We were still seated at the breakfast table following her father’s hasty exit. “Dad is so mulish, nobody can tell him anything. You know you spoiled him, royally, as he was growing up and Mom catered to him for their entire married life. Now that she's gone, he expects me to do the same...well, I’m of age, now, and I refuse to obey him in this! I can always move in with Jerry before we marry.” She stomped away to the window, angry tears escaping determined eyes, then turning back she asked, “Why should he say I mustn’t marry Jerry, Gram? Jerry is intelligent; he’s ambitious; he’s successful. What’s more, he’s thoughtful, generous, and a gentleman, which is more than I can say for most of the men I’ve had the misfortune to date.” I could see Barbara, Claire’s clever mother, reflected in my granddaughter’s earnest blue eyes. Never one to evade an issue, Barbara would have challenged the Devil, himself, if she believed her point was valid. Claire believed her point was valid. “I should think he would be proud to have Jerry for a son-in-law. The fact that Jerry’s family is of another faith doesn’t bother me at all. Dad is quite simply - and totally — bigoted!” “Oh, my dear, you mustn’t say that! Think of your father’s position! What would the Elders and the Deacons think if the Minister’s daughter should marry a - a Jew? ” “Oh, Gram! I see you totally agree with Dad! Yes, Jerry’s family is Jewish - but Gram - Christ was a Jew.” “That’s different, Claire.” I felt myself being placed in the undesirable position of either shielding the insubordination of my rebellious granddaughter or defending the stance of my irascibly stubborn son who, through the grace of God, stands before his congregation twice each Sunday and again on Wednesday, praising God’s name and leading His flock in worship and praise, just as my beloved husband, his father, had done before him. “Why is it different, Gram?” Claire asked, sitting again and focusing her full attention on me. “Claire, when you marry Jerry and have a child then there will be the matter of your child’s religious up-bringing. It will break your father’s heart if you allow the child to grow up following Jerry’s family’s religious faith instead of ... ours.” “Oh, Gram! Faith is not the problem! The problem is Dad’s non-acceptance of the fact that other religious faiths besides our own do exist. Whether or not our child should choose to follow Jerry’s family’s religion, ours, or even another faith, does it really matter? Are we not all children of God?” I was truly glad her father was not here to hear her express such obviously flawed, non-Christian opinions. Uncomfortably, I elaborated on my first observation. “I know you see your father as ‘bigoted,’ dear.” I looked deep into her critical eyes. “Claire, your grandfather was once what you describe as ‘bigoted,’ as well. More importantly, however, is the fact that he did not remain immovable in his beliefs. Even though he was an older man when he discovered that he could still live with himself if he did; ultimately, he changed his beliefs. He learned that we cannot set ourselves up as adjudicators over all the religions of the entire world. Your father still has that lesson to learn.” “Gram,” she said, “I agree with many of my friends in college who used to say they saw ‘religion’ as a giant wheel! Outside is the rim, the principle encompassing all the world’s religions — belief in the existence of a higher intelligence — a Supreme Being. Let’s say each spoke of that wheel is a different religious faith. Don’t they all lead straight to the hub of the wheel, Gram? Straight to God, regardless of how He is addressed? Isn’t that an acceptable way of thinking?” I looked away. After her mother’s struggle with cancer was lost to an untimely death ten years ago, I had come to live with them to care for Claire. With a great effort, her father had provided for her college education. So this was that thinking which her higher education had instilled in our Claire? It seemed to me, in listening to her, now, that such thoughts expressed to her father would surely tear our close-knit little family apart. “Gram?” She leaned forward, elbows on the kitchen table, her eyes burning into mine like hot coals, her unanswered question demanding my response. Sadly, I replied, “Your father and mother tried to teach you as they were taught. Obviously, along the way, your religious philosophy has been restructured -” Was I losing my granddaughter? Was her father losing his daughter? In her eyes, were our strict Christian religious beliefs outdated? I was brought up to believe as my husband and I had been taught and as we taught our only son, Charles to believe — that Christianity is the only true faith, promised by our Savior Jesus Christ to deliver us in the end to God. “Gram, we can always be married in a civil ceremony, you know. That way, it won’t matter what anybody believes!” Claire said as she slammed the kitchen door behind her. **** “Thank you for seeing us today,” Claire’s father said to Jerry’s father that afternoon when we met Jerry’s parents in the privacy of Mr. Steinberg’s office behind the counter of his uptown jewelry store. An attractive woman, Mrs. Steinberg smiled graciously, if silently, at me after hurried introductions and I immediately felt a warm connection. She appeared to be just the age that Claire’s mother, Barbara would have been. Getting to the point of our meeting my son Charles, peered out from beneath scowling brows and asked Jerry’s father Mister Steinberg firmly, “How do you feel about our children being joined in Holy Matrimony?” “God forbid!” Mr. Steinberg answered, rubbing his balding head in distress. “No offense intended, but did we raise our only son, a good Jewish boy then a successful lawyer, for this...to marry a Christian Minister’s Gentile daughter?” There it was — the problem succinctly stated. Mrs. Steinberg and I exchanged earnest glances. I could see that she was just as concerned as I was with the several directions this beginning dialogue might possibly take. “I’m glad you see the impracticality of our young people’s likely plans,” Claire’s father answered, cautiously prudent of his wording and graciously overlooking Mr. Steinberg’s earlier reference to his 'Gentile' daughter. Even earlier, my minister son had used a more descriptive phrase to me in describing their marriage plans as being ‘downright foolishness.’ “See the impracticality?” Mr. Steinberg answered, opening a locked glass display case and removing a tray of rings. “I’m caught in the middle of these two foolish young people’s 'impracticality!' Look at this -” He pointed to a particularly lovely solitaire diamond engagement ring. “This is the ring my son has selected for your daughter.” Gazing down at the tray in his hand, he announced, “Because of such lavish impracticality - you wouldn’t believe the profit I’m losing!” Also in the tray were matching platinum wedding bands; one for her and one for him. “Oh, it is lovely, isn’t it, Charles?” I commented, daring to smile at my worried son. Charles’ frown in return might have been taken as a suggestion that, perhaps, I should have remained at home. However, Mrs. Steinberg had quickly nodded her head in agreement. For a second, I even thought I saw a glimmer of approval creep into her expression. My son’s scowl deepened as he addressed Mr. Steinberg. “Then it’s only because of your loss of income in selling the rings to your son at a discount that causes you to disapprove?” “No, no, the loss of money’s not a problem!” Mr. Steinberg wiped his perspiring head with a neatly folded handkerchief. “It’s my Rabbi - what will I tell the Rabbi?” **** I looked up at Mrs. Steinberg over my cup of steaming decaffeinated coffee as she approached my table. I had ordered the coffee while awaiting her arrival at the corner diner. “Thank you for meeting me here. It was the only place I could think of where we wouldn’t be interrupted.” I explained. “Coffee?” “I’m really happy to see you again,” she said, nodding affirmatively to the pretty young waitress. “With the men in charge of our previous meeting,” I elaborated, “it seemed neither of us were afforded the opportunity to say hardly anything at all. But, truthfully, I must tell you that since then I have been wondering if we hadn’t met before.” She smiled. “My maiden name was Theresa Burdette. Eons ago, Charles and I were in the same high school home room. We shared several classes, too. It’s pretty obvious Charles doesn’t remember me. Why should he?” She laughed. “I’m quite a bit heavier than I used to be and I wasn’t gray then, either. I remember you used to be a room mother. You were actively involved in all of our school functions. I probably should have mentioned that at our previous meeting but I was afraid it wouldn’t have been appropriate at the time nor under those conditions.” “Of course! I knew your face was familiar.” Now I was thoroughly confused. The girl that I remembered wasn’t Jewish, at all. “I didn’t think — ” She smiled, interrupting, “You're right, I wasn't Jewish.” “Forgive me, but why did you marry a Jewish man knowing you would be required to bring up your children in the Jewish faith?” I asked. “Because I loved him.” she said, simply. “I converted to Judaism. It was my choice.” She grinned. “Please understand, my husband is a simple, uncomplicated man. ‘Don’t do as I do; do as I say do!’ has always been his maxim. Our son was brought up by that rule!” “And now that your son wishes to marry a Gentile girl, also, your husband objects?” I didn’t know exactly why but I felt a burden had just been lifted from my shoulders. “Our son has never truly embraced our religion. He calls himself a ‘free thinker.'" Oh, I knew all about that! I had only yesterday been re-educated about “free thinking,” so I answered, “My granddaughter - even though she was baptized when she was nine years old -has found cause to look beyond her own family’s religious teachings, too! Actually, her father is absolutely appalled.” “Personally,” Mrs. Steinberg continued, “I have no objection to our son’s and your granddaughter’s marriage. How could I? However, since he must deal with our Rabbi, it’s my husband, Abe, who suffers from this decision on our son’s part. You see, Jerry has told his father that in order to avoid hurt feelings on either side, he and Claire have mutually agreed to be married in a simple civil ceremony.” "I know,” I agreed. “Claire told me the same thing. Mrs. Steinberg, my son Charles has looked forward to performing Claire’s wedding ceremony all her life." Then, covertly, I smiled at Mrs. Steinberg! “We can’t let those young people do that, now, can we? That's the reason I asked you to meet me here today —” **** A month later in a perfect garden setting, a Jewish Rabbi and a Christian Minister stood, side by side, beneath a traditional Jewish wedding canopy. Solemnly sharing equally in the ceremony before families and close friends, together they joined in Holy Matrimony the beautiful bride, the minister’s daughter Claire, wearing traditional white, and Jerry Steinberg, handsomely turned out in tuxedo and Jewish yarmulke. The bride and groom repeated sacred vows, exchanged wedding rings, crushed the glass, kissed, and lit the candle while their proud families and friends watched. After the small reception, the bride and groom slipped quietly away, their honeymoon destination undisclosed. Finally, Abe's satisfied Rabbi and all the other invited guests departed and only the bridegroom’s happy parents and the bride’s proud father and grandmother remained in the garden. Theresa and I, equally elated, could not help overhearing the men’s first truly relaxed conversation as they strolled ahead of us along the garden path: My son, Charles wrapped his arm around Abe’s shoulders and confessed, “You know, Abe, it wasn’t the wedding I had always planned for Claire but it was altogether satisfying. Everything turned out just fine, after all.” Abe commented, “Actually, Charlie, the kids could have followed their own plans if they'd really wanted to. We may not have liked it, but it’s a whole new world, now, you know!” After a moment, Charles admitted, “I can see where I might have been somewhat narrow-minded in the beginning - but, after Claire's and Jerry's announced plans — naturally, Theresa's and Mama's innovative interfaith ceremony seemed the only sensible solution.” “Absolutely!" Abe agreed. Then waggling a finger between them, he warned, "But never admit that to the women. Where weddngs are concerned, fathers are always expected to be difficult!” Smiling, pleased, and misty-eyed, I returned Theresa’s red and puffy-eyed gaze and knew, somehow, that had Claire’s mother Barbara been there, her eyes would have been red and puffy, too. --Published in Mature Years Magazine, Spring, 2006