I grew up in an interfaith family.
I have immediate family members who are Jewish, Christian and Muslim. Because of my upbringing, December has become a time of intense reflection for me. It is a time for me to think about the religious beliefs of my family, my own beliefs and what I want for my son. While I no longer practice the faith I was raised in, I see the value of making sure my son has knowledge of religious traditions other than the one we practice. Why? Why not? We do not live in a world where everyone practices the same religion. I think many of the conflicts that exist among people are because we don’t take the time to learn about one another. Some of us like to stay in our bubbles and surround ourselves with people who look and think like us. I personally believe that is not what God intended. I believe that he made us different so that we would come to know each other and marvel in that diversity.
So how does a parent do this? How do you raise your child to be firm in their religious beliefs and have a healthy respect for religious beliefs that may be in opposition?
What are your beliefs?
Have a conversation with your child about what your family believes. How does your family live out those values? I think it’s so important for parents to talk to their children about why they celebrate certain holidays, abstain from certain foods, pray a certain way or wear certain clothes. This helps them see it as more than something they just do, but as being connected to their relationship with their higher power.
Head to the library
Our library’s children’s section will often have a display about various religious holidays and traditions. There’s a nice collection of fiction and nonfiction books that are age appropriate without going into theological discussions. Once you are done with the books, you can have a conversation about similarities and differences between your faith and the one shared in the books.
Connecting with families of other faiths
Does your child have friends of other faiths? Are there families on your block who practice a different religion that you can connect with? I realize that this may be easier for extroverted families, but developing an understanding of interfaith cooperation in your own backyard is perhaps the easiest place to begin. It could be as simple as inviting them over for Passover Seder, to break the fast during Ramadan or a Christmas Eve dinner. Giving a disclaimer would be helpful. Be sure to inform your guests that the purpose of the invitation is not conversion, but to share your beliefs in hopes of promoting respectful interfaith dialogue.
Pray about it
I know I have this listed last, but it’s definitely the way to begin any journey. I realize that everyone didn’t grow up as I did or work in an environment where these conversations happen on a regular basis. So thoughtful consideration about what types of questions or feelings this may stir up is important. You don’t have to learn about every faith in the world; you could start with just one and see what happens. In the end you have to do what works for you and your household.
How does your family approach interfaith cooperation or dialogue?