On a blustery weekend this past February, 26 people met at the Cenacle Retreat House in Chicago to reflect on the religious dimensions of marriage. Nothing unusual about that. What was unusual about this gathering was that it brought together Christians and Muslims who are married, engaged or seriously considering marriage. Attendees hailed mostly from the Chicago area, but also from Valparaiso, Minneapolis, Rochester, Minn., and Seattle. One man even cut short a trip abroad, at his wife’s behest, to be present.
Mixed marriage, the canonical term for marriage between a Catholic and a member of another Christian church, is a fact of life in America’s religiously plural society. But many may not realize how prevalent it is among Catholics. A study by Creighton University’s Center for Marriage and Family in 1999 indicates that today roughly 40 percent of all Catholics marry non-Catholics. Most of these unions involve Catholics and other Christians (a more ecumenically sensitive term is interchurch marriage rather than mixed, which has some negative connotations).
However, increasing numbers of Catholics are marrying Jews, Muslims and adherents of other religions (the canonical term here is disparity of cult, but interfaith or interreligious marriage are more user-friendly terms). Catholic-Jewish couples, because of their greater number and longer history in American society, have a growing list of resources, including books, Web sites and support groups like the national Dovetail Institute and the Chicago-based Jewish Catholic Couples Group. But there are practically no pastoral resources for Christian-Muslim couples in the United States, despite the fact that according to many estimates, there are now more Muslims in this country than Jews. The few print resources available to pastors and couples are either outdated or written for a non-American context. (The Canadian Centre for Ecumenism has just published an exellent document, Pastoral Guidelines for Muslim-Christian Marriages. )
The dearth of resources, combined with the reluctance of many imams and pastors even to broach the subject, has left Christian-Muslim couples at a loss. To whom can they turn for advice about the unique issues they face? Where can priests and campus ministers go when called upon to counsel the small but growing number of such couples?