Faith has always played an important role in the lives of Mary Beth Cisneros and Michael Rosenman of Chevy Chase.
For Cisneros, who was raised Catholic, and her husband, Rosenman, who is Jewish, their different religious backgrounds were never an issue — that is until they decided to raise a family.
When it came time to raise their three children, neither wanted to compromise and give up their religion. But it was hard to combine the two faiths together.
“We didn’t want to not do anything with the kids. But we also didn’t want to say your faith has to take a backseat to my faith,” said Cisneros, a nonprofit lawyer with 10-year-old twins and an 8-year-old son.
As a solution the family of five attends an Interfaith Families Project of the Greater Washington, D.C. Area service held at Albert Einstein High School in Kensington, where couples and families can practice both Christianity and Judaism.
“I went to Catholic church every weekend, but I never thought about it. I never wondered. I never had to think: Is this what I believe in?” she said. “With our kids now they say: Well, what do I really believe in? What do I think?”
Nearly four out of every 10 Americans are married to someone of a different religion. As a greater number of people marry outside their own faiths, more families are left figuring out how to manage two religions in one household.
In Montgomery County, more than 100 couples meet three times a month to celebrate and understand Christianity and Judaism. Buddhists, atheists, and some without any religious beliefs belong to the group, too.
The Interfaith Families Project of the Greater Washington, D.C. Area, the largest organization of its kind, established itself over 15 years ago when four Takoma Park moms met at a prenatal class at the YMCA, Rev. Julia Jarvis, Spiritual Director of the Interfaith Families Project of the Greater Washington, D.C. Area, said.
The four families, exhausted from time spent practicing two religions, rented a church and found a Christian and a Jewish teacher to give their kids Sunday school lessons, Jarvis said.
Cisneros says being part of the group is fulfilling spiritually and intellectually because she’s constantly questioning her beliefs.
“I used to say I’m Catholic. ... I don’t know what I really believe,” she said.
She’ll give her kids the opportunity to understand both religions and decide their beliefs, rather than telling them what to think, she said.
And while her kids are in Sunday school, she’s with other adults nearby exchanging religious views and ideas in a discussion group.
The organization’s unconventional service led by Jarvis and Rabbi Harold White is spiritual but not religious, they say.
“We’re entering into a new realm of religion,” White, who has taught religion at Georgetown University for 45 years, said. “The important thing is giving people positive values in a community setting.”
People are moving away from practicing religion in traditional ways, Dr. Erika Seamon, a Georgetown University professor who wrote a book on interfaith marriages, said while giving a talk to the group on a recent Sunday morning.
Seamon argues that interfaith marriages are not less religious because they’re less traditional, and in her research she’s found they’re living much more religious spiritual lives.
“People in regular marriages can learn something from those in interfaith marriages,” she said.