The unfortunate case of the Chicago interfaith couple embroiled in a messy divorce has needlessly put interfaith support organizations on the defensive. This should be unnecessary, as the Chicago case is only one extreme example. But when we see an article in the Washington Post titled “Interfaith Marriages are Rising Fast, but they’re Failing Fast, too,” we feel it’s important to reiterate that to date there has been no study to confirm higher divorce rates among interfaith couples. We think the real story should be that despite negative press, the acceptance and integration of interfaith families and children of intermarriage into the Jewish community is gaining more widespread support.
The Post article seems to make its argument by looking at two factors. One is an unattributed “calculation” based on the 2001 American Religious Identification Survey, drawing a conclusion that “people who had been in mixed-religion marriages were three times more likely to be divorced or separated than those who were in same-religion marriages.” The other is from a 1993 study, which can be discounted because that study was done long before the proliferations of interfaith outreach organizations that exist today.
In looking at the way the article uses the “calculations” from the 2001 study, it appears the Post is somewhat forcing its own conclusions. Along with the Post’s thesis, we also know that more second and third marriages end in divorce, and more second and third marriages are intermarriage, so you can spin the data to make highly selective points. The Post could also spin the data to show that people of different educational backgrounds or a large age different have higher divorce rates. But what these “calculations” seem to ignore – as does the article – are the thousands upon thousands of happy intermarried couples who have found ways to navigate the challenges of interfaith marriage. To make the statement that interfaith marriages are failing faster than any other marriages is simply unfounded.
Times have changed from both 1993 and 2001. Today’s generation is both more comfortable with the idea of interfaith marriage and they have many more tools to help navigate the challenges. They also have more places to turn that are open and welcoming to families of mixed-religious backgrounds. We deal with issues frankly, and we are not afraid to deal with the challenges that many couples face when they decide to intermarry. But instead of honing in on one extreme case of interfaith divorce, we should be celebrating all the interfaith unions that do work while continuing to promote a more welcoming and inclusive Jewish community.