Ministers who provide premarital pastoral counseling to interfaith couples should help them think seriously about their faith and the faith of a future spouse, a Baptist pastor with experience in interfaith dialogue suggests.
“I’ve found it best for couples to work out ahead of time how they intend to practice their individual tradition and respect the other’s tradition in the context of their early marriage,” said Michael Smith, pastor of Central Baptist Church of Fountain City in Knoxville, Tenn. “We’ve largely come to admit that couples do well to discuss money, decision-making and sex. Religion, too, must be placed on the table for conversation.”
Smith is the co-author of Mount and Mountain, a two-volume series that records his conversations with Rabbi Rami Shapiro regarding the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount.
When he counsels couples preparing to enter an interfaith marriage, Smith urges them to take several steps:
• Chart the journey. “Identify what has brought you together, brought you to this point, and will keep you together in the first five years of your marriage,” he said.
• Discuss what matters. “Talk through your religious journey in my presence, and let’s keep talking and reflecting until we’ve identified what about your tradition is vital to you, what you enjoy but could do without, and what each of you may choose to go ahead and lay aside now,” he tells couples.
• Consider the in-laws. “Talk through how your family feels about this marriage and role-play how you might respond to them in various situations.”
• Think about the children. “Pretend your first child has been born, and the two of you are talking through how to involve him in your respective traditions.”
• Nurture the relationship. “What do you need to say and do for each other now and on an ongoing basis in order for each to feel blessed by one another?” he asks.
Ken Camp is managing editor of the (Texas) Baptist Standard.