The Messianic Intermarriage Series
Update: December 6, 2010: As promised, Judah Gabriel Himango published his entry into this series today on this blog: Sweet Forbidden Jew-Gentile Love Makin'. Give it a read. Now, continue reading my original missive.
That's a terrible thing to say about a married couple! OK, I know Paul wasn't writing about married couples but rather issuing a warning against idolatry, but listen. He was cautioning members of the body of believers; the body of Messiah, to avoid going into partnerships or entering into relationships with unbelievers out of fear that such associations would lead the believers away from God and into idolatry (or back into idolatry, if applied to his Gentile audience). He wasn't wrong, either. Look at this:
While Israel was staying in Shittim, the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods. The people ate the sacrificial meal and bowed down before these gods. So Israel yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor. And the LORD’s anger burned against them. -Numbers 25:1-3We see a very clear picture of how unequal interrelationship (and probably intermarriage) can lead the Jewish people away from God and into idol worship. This is why there is a such a strong prohibition against intermarriage in Judaism and why it's such a devastating tragedy that intermarriage and assimilation among the Jewish people today is so high. Consider this:
Rates of interreligious marriage vary widely: In the United States, they are just under 50%, in the United Kingdom, around 53%, in France, around 30%, and in Australia and Mexico, as low as 10%. In the United States, only about a third of children from intermarriages affiliate themselves with Jewish religious practice. The result is that most countries in the Diaspora have steady or slightly declining religiously Jewish populations as Jews continue to assimilate into the countries in which they live.That's really terrible. What Hitler failed to do in the Holocaust could well be accomplished through Jewish intermarriage with Christians or secular Gentiles. It seems like unequal yoking is really dangerous in marriage. I'm a Gentile and my wife is Jewish! Should I divorce her for the sake of her Judaism?
To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. -1 Corinthians 7:12-14Of course Paul goes out of his way to make sure we know this is his personal opinion and not a revelation from the Messiah, so we have to accept his words with that in mind. However, they are particularly applicable to my situation since I am a Gentile Christian (I consider myself "Messianic" but my wife thinks of me as a "Christian") and my wife is genetically, ethnically, and religiously (non-Messianic) Jewish. Here's some background.
When my wife and I were married, we were both secular with no faith basis between us at all. My parents raised me Lutheran (I left the church the first chance I got) while my wife's mother was Jewish and her father Christian Scientist. Both of my wife's parents walked away from their faiths before they were married, so my wife had no conscious connection to either faith group growing up. Only in adulthood did she discover her Judaism.
After we had children and moved to Idaho, we were lead to Christianity by the Spirit of God (through a highly unlikely series of events) and started attending a church. Neither of us felt like we really fit in and we kept asking questions (What happened to the Sabbath? How was the Law done away with? Why did God abandon the Jews?) no one could answer.
Through a fluke (or the Spirit of God), my wife discovered a local Messianic congregation (pretty much One Law, especially at that point) and she was hooked. While I eventually became attached to the Messianic congregation, my wife took all she could from the experience but remained unsatisfied. She still longed to establish a real relationship with the Jewish community and to live as a Jew. She started attending the Reform synagogue and for awhile, I attended with her and the kids. When the Chabad arrived in Boise, she began spending an increasing amount of time with them.
I'm not sure when she put aside her faith in Yeshua but it has become an accomplished fact. My children, who are all now in their early 20s, have varying degrees of a Jewish identity and none of them currently affiliate themselves with Christianity or the Messianic movement.
So here I am floating on a sea in a one-person raft.
But rather than intermarriage resulting in my Jewish wife and children being assimilated into Christianity or secular (non-Jewish) humanity, the reverse has happened. In spite of what Paul suggests in 1 Corinthians 7:12-14, do I still have a shot at "saving" my wife and bringing her back to an understanding of Yeshua as the Messiah? That's up to God. When I talk to her, my wife's acceptance of the Chabad Rabbi's teachings seems absolute. She has entered into Judaism wholeheartedly and, out of her four siblings, she is the only one to truly be Jewish. Whatever her original connection to Christianity once was, faith in Christ has gone the way of the Dodo bird.
As I consider our circumstances, I recall something else Paul said; something he said was from the Lord:
To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife. -1 Corinthians 7:10-11I previously wrote on the topic of intermarriage on my congregation's blog in Mixed and Does God Love Gentiles Too. Particularly in the latter blog post, some BE/MJ (Bilateral Ecclesiology/Messianic Judaism) folks had some pretty rough comments to make about me having the nerve to marry a Jew, as if I should divorce her for her own sake or even "take a long walk off a short pier". The comments in that latter blog post also were a large part of the reason why I started this personal blog, beginning with this post.
It's been just five months since I created this blog, and in one sense, I feel like I've covered a lot of territory. In another sense though, I feel like I'm still spinning my wheels. This is a blog, not only in search of a bridge between Gentiles and Jews in the Messianic world, but also a personal exploration of whether I, as a Gentile and an individual, have any place among Messianics or even in any faith community. My wife and I discovered we didn't fit into a traditional Christian church setting, but while she has found her place in the world, have I found mine?
This isn't generally known (until now), but a few people visiting my congregation have raised an eyebrow or two because my wife is worshiping in a Jewish synagogue while I'm teaching and assuming a leadership role in a Messianic congregation. Right before the High Holidays, I presented my concerns to the board. I offered them the opportunity to ask for my resignation if they felt that my position was not appropriate in terms of Paul's lessons in the Bible and the congregations' requirements (I should mention at this point that two of the board members, one Jewish and one Gentile, are widowed, while the other Jewish board member has a wife who attends a Christian church). The board's conclusion was that, while it would be very desirable and even required for a person in leadership to be unified with his or her wife in the faith, given our circumstances as a small congregation with limited resources, they affirmed that I had a significant and constructive role in the congregation's leadership.
So here I am...for now.
This all leads me to an unusual but possibly encouraging place:
Pharaoh said to Joseph, "I am Pharaoh; yet without you, no one shall lift up hand or foot in all the land of Egypt." Pharaoh then gave Joseph the name Zaphenath-paneah; and he gave him for a wife Asenath daughter of Poti-phera, priest of On. -Genesis 41:44-45
Before the years of famine came, Joseph became the father of two sons, whom Asenath daughter of Poti-phera, priest of On, bore to him. Joseph named the first-born Manasseh, meaning, "God has made me forget completely my hardship and my parental home." And the second he named Ephraim, meaning, "God has made me fertile in the land of my affliction." -Genesis 41:50-52Joseph not only is given a completely Egyptian identity by Pharaoh as Viceroy over the land, but he marries an Egyptian noblewoman and has two children by his wife in Egypt. From all outward appearances, Joseph becomes the Egyptian "Zaphenath-paneah" and is second only to Pharaoh, King of Egypt, in power and authority.
If any guy had every reason in the world to assimilate after intermarriage, it was Joseph...but he didn't.
On the third day Joseph said to them, "Do this and you shall live, for I am a God-fearing man. -Genesis 42:18Of course, the word Joseph uses for "God" is the "generic" God, but I don't believe there's a scholar on earth, Jewish or Christian, who would think that Joseph had given up his Jewish identity or abandoned his devotion to the God of the Hebrews to become an Egyptian idolater. In fact, it was God who continually blessed Joseph and all that he did for the sake of the Children of Israel and the world. Joseph, despite what must have been enormous temptations to do otherwise, remained faithful to God and lived a life dedicated to God's purpose...
...even though he married a non-Jew in a foreign land, had children with his non-Jewish wife, raised his children in a non-Jewish land, and lived the outward lifestyle of an Egyptian nobleman.
I'm not saying that every Jew should marry a non-Jew, even when both are Messianic, but I am saying that when such marriages exist among you, the Gentile involved is not automatically trying to take the Judaism out of the Jew. We Gentiles in intermarriages are not evil, horrible, anti-Semitic monsters, and we are not trying to eliminate the Jewish presence on the earth (not that God would allow it, even if we had such a goal).
Judah Gabriel Himango and I have agreed to post a series of blogs on the topic of Jewish-Gentile intermarriage within the Messianic community. This is my opening article as part of the project and over the next few weeks, we'll be blogging back and forth and linking our blog posts to each other in the hope that opening such a dialogue will serve to shed some light on a particular reality. There is intermarriage in the Messianic world and in fact, intermarriage may be especially unavoidable and inevitable within the Messianic community, much more so than in the general world population. This is because, by definition, you have Jews and Gentiles worshiping the same God and the same Messiah within the same context and often, within the same congregation.
What are we going to do about it?
Addendum: I'm posting a link to a document written by David Rudolph, Ph.D. called Intermarriage Statistics. It contains some very illuminating information about the details and results of intermarriage between Jews and Gentiles. Worth the read.