Inter-Christian Couples' View of Religion
The majority of participants (92%) involved in the IRP identified themselves as having some degree of affiliation to Christianity. The comments in this section refer to these respondents.
Participants in the IRP generally accepted and viewed inter-Christian marriages in a positive light. Conversely, marriages involving non-Christians were generally viewed in pejorative terms.
When participants were asked if they might have considered a non-Christian spouse, most believed that the differences were "too great" and the potential problems related to the differences might be problematic to couple and family well-being. They also reasoned that such a decision might disturb their parents and negatively impact their children's perception of religion and culture.
The Value Inter-Christian Couples Place on Religion
Most intermarried spouses and couples who participated in the IRP seemed to place a moderate to high value on religion and spirituality. The following was typical of how respondents felt.
Participants' observations generally suggested that religion has a positive impact on their individual, couple and familial well-being. One respondent stated, "Yes, religion is important. I see how it has helped us and our kids." Another respondent remarked, "Religion kind of completes the family. It's wonderful to wake up every Sunday and go to church. It makes us feel like a family…. Call it old fashioned, but if you look at people and families who are succeeding, they seem to be religious. The people who give up on religion appear to have more problems."
They also remarked that religion assisted them in their efforts to understand and cope with the predictable and unpredictable day-to-day occurrences that they faced. "My religion has become part of me," said one participant, "and it gives meaning and purpose to all the difficult stuff that I have to deal with every day." Another respondent stated, "Recently I lost my father unexpectedly, and my faith really helped me with that loss. It brings me comfort to know that he is with God now."
Respondents' comments also inferred that religion provided each member of the family with a moral foundation, as well as providing the family with a collective moral grounding. "It helps teach right and wrong, and it gives the family a moral foundation in an otherwise crazy world," stated one person. In another instance, a member said, "What's wrong with family life today is that families have lost sight of the moral underpinnings that religion offers people."
Respondents also observed that organized religion provides a ready-made structure that family members can use to worship God as individuals, couples and as a family. "Religion provides my prayer life with needed structure," one person stated. Another commented, "It's a kind of foundation or structure that helps our marriage and the family worship God."
Participants alluded to the personal and private side of their religious experience with frequency, and suggested that in many instances it was this side of their religious experiences that promoted church attendance. The following excerpt from one respondent reinforces this statement. "When I'm in Church, I sometimes go to a ‘place’ where only God and I are. This place doesn't involve others around me, per se. It's just a place where I know He is, and I can feel His presence. It's like a private place where I can, sort of, sit in His lap and be His kid for a while."
Religion was also likened to "a glue" that keeps intermarried couples connected to each other, and to their extended family. "When we come to the Greek Church, we come together, and we meet my wife's family. This is good, because it's another way that helps us keep that family togetherness that so many families lack these days in our fast-paced world."
Religion was repeatedly observed to keep interfaith couples connected with other people of similar religious beliefs. One respondent offered, "You go downstairs on Sunday after liturgy and there are bagels and coffee and friendly faces and you can talk with people of like mind and feel as if you are speaking the same language." Another person remarked, "There's a common ground experience that I feel when I come to church. Out there in the world, it's all me… me… me… and take… take… take. But when I come here, I feel like the rules are different because everyone has just listened to a sermon and prayed…. It's a good feeling."
Religious affiliation also tended to meet some or all participants' social needs. "We know everyone here, and my wife's family is here, so it’s a good place to meet the people you know, and also meet new people." This seemed especially true of participants who lived in large urban areas such as New York and Chicago. In these focus groups, membership and participation in a church were paralleled to "belonging to a small town in a big city, where people could feel a greater social connection to one another, sort of like being a part of a small town I would imagine."
Religion was repeatedly viewed by most participants as playing a central role in forming their sense of self. Addressing this issue, one respondent said, "My religion has played a major role in forming me, and it's at the core of who I am." Another said, "I come here because it's a part of me, and I'm a part of it."
Most participants also placed a high value of religion and spirituality. They believed that religion and spirituality enriched their lives in numerous ways. As such, these participants sought to cultivate individual, couple and family religious and spiritual well-being.