Harmony in Intermarriage
The Relationship That Is
More Than Jewish and Gentile People Getting Along
Scott Brown and
Todd Peterson, Ph.D.
Scott: Intermarriage is more than the issue of Jewish and Gentile people getting along with each other. This really deals with issues concerning convergence! More than the convergence of cultures, it’s also the outworking of a redemptive plan that requires the convergence of peoples.
Todd: When I think of convergence, I think of an intersection into which a number of things are converging. What avenues or elements of an intermarriage converge at the intersection?
Scott: The obvious avenues that converge are made of Jewish and the Gentile people, but if you could picture this in multiple layers, the foundation on which all avenues rest is the Abrahamic Covenant. People are traveling the avenue of marriage over the super highway of this Abrahamic Covenant which is invisible to both the Jewish and Gentile peoples, but it’s essentially the driving force for the convergence.
Todd: But can’t we be talking about this in either a spiritual perspective or in terms of an everyday way. From the spiritual side we have Abraham who is really the first man who comes to a faith in God and then this gives us the Hebrew peoples. Here is an example of searching for relationships in life. So the intermarried couple can perhaps wrestle with the topic of faith. But from the everyday side there are events like the holidays and the differences in holidays… what can an intermarried couple do to overcome what they find as different?
Scott: Actually there is a presumption here that an intermarried couple needs to wed these differences. It’s even a presumption that there are differences.
If I were to promote one strategy, it would be to abandon the misbeliefs that are represented in most of the struggles. For example, many identify the problem as two people from vastly different backgrounds needing somehow to blend those heritages.
A marriage is, in reality, a joining of two families. For the intermarried couple, there is a marrying of two heritages. Suddenly we have two unforeseen, mammoth influences showing up at the dining room table in a state of conflict.
There are other classic conflicts that intermarrieds face. Children are very spiritual beings, and they have this uncomfortable habit of asking really good questions. Take the question, for example: "Mommy, Daddy, what am I?" Suddenly the question of the child’s identity becomes a point of crisis.
Then there’s the issue you alluded to by the holidays. You have two different people with two distinct sets of holidays and traditions which appear dissonant and which fuel remarkable conflict and controversy in the marriage.
Then there is the huge but less obvious issue of religious rekindling. When a Jew and Gentile marry, they typically have in their backgrounds some very strong religious roots. But in the foreground, in their daily realities these roots aren’t very evident until they come together. Whatever it is that digs up these roots, be it guilt or pressure from the in-laws… whatever it is, these roots begin to surface and there is a rekindling of a personhood and an identity that’s related to that distant religious past. This religious "awakening" often serves to form walls and pressures in the marriage.
These are all categories of problems that seem to be the problems. In truth there is a greater problem underlying these superficial conflicts.
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Todd: It looks like the marriage forms an interface that is potentially broadened by the presence of other family members. Looks like the interface can be permeable or a wall where nothing is getting through. What helps the intermarried couple to make for a more permeable interface?
Scott: But I’d hope the interface would never become permeable. By being impermeable these walls might force the couple to a crisis that would lead them to a more significant truth.
When that interface is manipulated by human hands it can become permeable, but only at a superficial level. For instance when December shows up, we can hang dreidels on Christmas trees. When March/April shows up, we can slap ham on matzoh. So, we can somehow manipulate our contrasting heritages into some acceptable compromise. I would say that’s the most dangerous and least compelling solution to the problem. In my opinion, it is healthier when the couple finds no way to blend the traditions, because without a crisis they won’t discover what the real problem is.
So, I suppose you want to know what the real problem is!
Todd: You took the question right out of my mouth!
Scott: Let me illustrate it this way. Two people come together, as husband and wife, and each has a checking account. They believe the problem that needs solving is that they want the two checking accounts to be one. But neither of them wants to give up their account. Each has their own account number, check book, separate banks, each has separate habits as to how to deal with the bank, and they are trying really hard because they love each other and they really believe there is something about this union… and they are trying to blend the two accounts, but it’s impossible without one or the other consenting to a radical compromise.
Two numbers, two checkbooks, two sets of habits… it’s just not going to happen. So, while they are struggling with the idea of two accounts they think must come together… if you look a little deeper you discover there is actually no money in either account!
All the bickering and all the striving is for nothing because there is nothing in either account. And this is the real problem within the Jewish/Gentile intermarriage. There’s a lot of bickering and striving as the couple focuses on "fruit" problems while the "root" problem remains unexposed and, therefore, unsolved.
The root problem is that there is often nothing in the account; that this Jewish account and this Gentile account (religiously and, more importantly, spiritually) is bankrupt. There’s nothing there.
So, the first question isn’t "How do we find a permeable interface between these two accounts?" The first question is "HOW do we get something of value in our accounts?!"
Todd: There has to be something for the intermarried couple if they find themselves between their two families. They need to be able to communicate with their families.
Interestingly, there is another aspect to this example. It’s more than just a Jewish and a Gentile person coming together in marriage, but in a broader aspect we are talking about societies and the perceptions of differences and this runs to differences in religions and other cultural differences. So your example not only applies to two individuals, but it really could be applied to larger groups who have to come together or they'll be in conflict.
If they can build bridges and close a gap, then the interface becomes a place of communication. And by this communication, like your example, both sides have to make deposits into the accounts to achieve a harmony.
So, let’s say that deposits are being made. What can they do with the accounts? Will they save the money or spend it? What will happen spiritually and religiously here?
Scott: We must first figure out what the "money" is. The money that is the substance of these accounts is a spiritual reality; a knowledge of God. The money is a connection, not just with a heritage, but with the God of those heritages and the God of those traditions. In Him is the ultimate interface.
This is opposed to the useless strategy of finding some way to open a 50:50 account, or some arrangement where we can blend our heritages and perspectives in a way that is equitable. These old strategies are impotent in light of the fact that the substance, the money, of these accounts is a knowledge of God and a spiritual reality… a living, breathing, moment-by-moment relationship with God. Now we are operating on a whole new plane! It’s much deeper and more fulfilling than merely blending traditions and figuring out ways to have our kids understand our diverse heritages.
We are talking about a legacy for our children; a legacy that entwines the traditions honestly and naturally, with no striving or compromising.
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Todd: Entwining… is like two grape vines wrapping around each other, but in a botanical sense once these two entwine they may fuse and grow together. At some point they look as one but eventually you can’t distinguish the two halves that grew together.
So, isn’t it more like at some point the interface dissolves away or fades away? This truth of God isn’t two different currencies, but in fact it’s the same currency, same money in the two accounts.
Scott: Yes! We aren’t looking to develop a unity between Jew and Gentile. We are acknowledging the fact that there is already a unity! A unity that has become dis-unified by false paradigms, prejudices and lies. Judaism and Christianity are already a single organism that somehow, by human manipulation, has become two. That’s the issue!
We aren’t creating something, we are discovering something. We are discovering that there is already a unity. There is, in fact, only one bank account but we’ve been acting as if there were two.
Getting practical. The reason I said there needs to be a crisis is that when the crisis comes, some of the pillars crumble. And pillars need to fall down. Pillars of misbelief, pride , and prejudice. Bias about our spouses are and who we think we are. We need to discover there is already a shared account between Jew and Gentile. The super highway that we call the Abrahamic covenant is actually a compelling plea from the God of Jews and Gentiles to come together as one. Because they are already as one.
Marriage itself is a perfect example of this pre-existent unity. God reveals in the Torah that mankind is created in the image of God, and that image is best reflected in the union of a man and woman in marriage. So, just as the union of a husband and wife is designed to reflect the image of God, the union of a Jew and Gentile is designed to reflect the redemption of God. God is calling us together as one people.
He is calling them his special people, His chosen people, a priestly people, a people who know Him. All say: "I know the Lord," and they happen to be one people created as Jew and Gentile. And the intermarriage has the best opportunity of demonstrating that redemptive picture. The intermarriage may well be the most powerful demonstration of the redemptive picture.
Todd: So, going back to the crisis you referred to earlier. When it comes to that point, what does the intermarried couple do to pull this picture together?
Scott: If experience means anything, then the critical link is the Scriptures. Of course, I’m speaking presumptuously. I’m presuming the Scriptures actually have something to say to modern man; that the Scriptures have a dynamic that is unique and distinct from every other written document.
Todd: How does one then dig into what’s in the Scriptures without slanting the experience one way or the other? How does that integrate differences that stem from one being Catholic or a Baptist and the other coming from an Orthodox or Conservative Jewish background? And then there is the issue of one partner converting to another faith system.
Scott: Yes, and I’d go back to the bankruptcy illustration which represents the crisis. That is, when you suddenly discover you are bankrupt, then suddenly there are new priorities and new issues. The issues aren’t, for example, "How are we going to blend Hanukah and Christmas?" (i.e.; "How are we going to bring these two accounts together?"). The issue becomes, "Oh my God!" And that’s a critical phrase. "Oh my God!" And that’s why the crisis is so important. New questions must emerge which never surfaced before. "Who am I?" "Why do I exist?"
I’m actually getting practical here. When a husband and wife begin to ask those questions, it is the beginning of a perfect convergence. They are now united in weakness. They discover their bankruptcy. Suddenly all the things that seemingly separated them now no longer exist. They are one in their weakness. Now they discover that their unity already exists. They are surrendered, broken, hurting, in need. Now they are together and more ready to receive the message that God has for them, more ready than they ever were in their counterfeit religious confidences.
Todd: So, in that weakness as a couple, they might find themselves yielding to the truth of God. I’m thinking of a couple now that celebrates Hanukah and next goes to join in Christmas festivities, but all to the end of seeing a truth that resides in the middle of all the celebrations. Interestingly, apart from the marriage issues, and as a Gentile, I’ve come to appreciate the meanings and significance of all the holidays be they labeled Jewish or Christian. And the significance resides in a working together, not just a diplomatic or politically correct accommodation of differences, but in themes that belong together in the first place. And all of this brings out the meaning and intent of the Scriptures.
But gong back to the marriage. Now we have a couple that’s put some money into the bank. Now this couple is talking to one another about who God is… but now I wonder if they aren’t faced with being the odd couple. I’m thinking there are still family members around who aren’t going to give much ground. How does the married couple in that weakness go forward with their God? To build a resiliency in their marriage to deal with what they may yet encounter.
Scott: If their objective is to fit in or to be accepted by loved ones … they probably haven’t yet discovered their bankruptcy. They need to return to that interface you mentioned at the start.
The reason I say the Bible is the critical link between the Jewish and Gentile portions of the intermarriage, is because the Bible is the revelator. The Bible reveals the existing harmony between the Jewish and Gentile heritages. For example, suppose I’m a Jew and my wife is a Gentile. We discover our bankruptcy and we begin to seek the Scriptures for answers. The thing I call Passover and the thing she calls communion don’t just have a common root; they are one! They are completely unified in the biblical context. What I call Yom Kippur and what she calls Christ on the cross are perfectly unified in the Scriptures.
We’d never know this without a revelator; someone or something to disclose this hidden root, this truth. Again, we are not trying to blend two heritages, but we are discovering that we have an amazing unity already! Neither partner has to abandon their ethnic or religious heritages. Indeed we can celebrate these heritages as an intermarried couple with one faith in one God.
Todd: So, we might ask people to set aside the historical messages that create divisions and tensions, but just look at the Scriptures as a source, to take stock of what is there, and if this is a source of answers then let’s see where that takes us. If I play the role of doubter, I might ask how peoples from two distinct heritages can read this source and come to the same answers. One answer not two different answers. That becomes not only the strength of the intermarriage, but also the strength to living life.
Scott: That’s it, because when you distill it all down to what the Scriptures have to say… the problem isn’t that you are a Jew married to a Gentile, or a Gentile married to a Jew. The problem is, you are bankrupt. Bankrupt of life. You must lay hold of life. We travel countless dead-end avenues in a desperate attempt to fill that empty tank with life, and all we find are artificial forms of life.
So, enter Jesus, a Jew existing in a completely Jewish context religiously, historically, culturally, linguistically, and He calls Himself the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Jesus said, "I have come that you might have life, and more abundantly." Another Jew would come to say about Him, "He who has the Son has the life. He who does not have the Son of God does not have the life."
Suddenly everything falls into place. What we need is not a mere strategy for coexisting as Jew and Gentile. What we need is the Life! And out of that Life comes a convergence of perspectives and heritages in a unified marriage bound by a shared faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; the God of the Bible.
Todd: I’m thinking in all this there is a process of discovery. There is a time to pull together a lot of information, perhaps from many sources. And part of this is digging into places were we’ve never been before. So, you almost casually mention Jesus. You are Jewish. And I as a Gentile go back in my mind to Sunday school as a kid. We Gentile kids could hear about Jesus as the Way and the Life. That’s New Testament stuff. But I don’t recall ever being told that, if we looked, we could find Jesus in the Hebrew Scriptures or what we called the Old Testament. Here is a case of digging into the Scriptures written in the Hebrew Tanach linking with what is stated in the New Covenant. Jesus or Yeshua as the Hebrew Messiah is actually found in both places, but you have to dig to find this reality! This is a fact apart from whoever you are!
I see a knitting together here. A knitting together of biblical truths and this in turn knits together the husband and wife in an intermarried context [or in any context actually]! And I think this is the message of the Harmony Area of WindowView. When you go to pull together the larger picture… instead of there being separate window panes… the parts are all in one big frame.
I’m aware that many people know of the Bible, but reading the Scriptures can sometimes be a bit confusing to those who are new to the text. Perhaps for the intermarried couple they may see that reading the Bible offers them a way to come to a convergence point and some discovery. Maybe they’ll dig in and look at this anew. Are there any resources that intermarried couples find to help get started here?
Scott: One resource that helps with respect to looking at shared roots is a book entitled Abraham Our Father. But a couple that is in the throes of discovering its spiritual bankruptcy may need more than a book. Jewish people (I can speak with some experience as a Jew) crave authentic community. It seems to be something that God has planted deep in the Jewish soul. But, of course, the need for community is a human experience, especially for couples who may be feeling alone in their struggles.
So, I would suggest that couple seek and find a Messianic community locally, where Jewish and Gentile people are struggling just like they are… and finding solutions. They’ll find a community that not only accepts them, but also celebrates their diversity and their unity in God Himself.
Todd: This sounds remarkably different from what the couple has ever encountered before, even very distant from the accepted mainstream. Actually, if they can walk into and visit that community (a.k.a. Messianic congregation) without feeling pressured, then they have a resource for their process of discovery. They may even get to the point of joining in on a home study group and hear others describe what discoveries they’ve made and how they came to this same experience.
There is great potential for people who can understand this process to then entertain the questions and provide personal answers that ring true and have a relevant application to finding the harmony mentioned a moment ago.
Scott: Definitely. But even before the practical step of seeking out a community, the first thing to do is something the couple may have never done before as a couple, and that is, simply, for a moment, believe there is a God of Jews and Gentiles who is one God and to appeal to Him to solve the problem; to "fill their accounts." They might sit down on the couch and hold hands or sit across from one another at the coffee table or in bed before going to sleep; simply call out and say, in their own words, "God please show us Your solution to the problem of our disunity."
This is a prayerful appeal. And if God is God, and if He does hear the prayers of those who call upon His name, He is going to answer.
Director’s Note: While this dialog was unfolding, I was struck by the simple notion that our example speaks directly to intermarried couples, but it also speaks to finding the roots of a Jewish faith that has spilled out onto the broad human plane. If Messiah is today celebrated by Jew and Gentile alike, then here is the source of that Jewish root.
And it’s not just husbands and wives of mixed marriages, but all husbands and wives who need to find the spiritual root to being. Who better to share this opportunity of discovery than with a spouse. Or if that is not possible, to seek out others with whom to communicate, because each of us has questions, married, single, whatever. Communication leads to discovery. Even from the very start of calling out, for the very first time, to an unseen God.
And within the larger picture still, there is the bringing together of people groups, both Jewish and Gentile in the WindowView context. Further still, peoples of all walks of life could benefit by seeking the same harmony that is the focus of this dialog. We can think we have assets in the bank when we are actually bankrupt. Marrying the peoples of the world within the harmony set from the foundations of the universe can only be the work of God.
We hope you have been blessed by reading our dialog.