Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky have just welcomed their daughter Charlotte into the world, becoming interfaith parents in the process. As an interfaith child myself, and a parent of two grown interfaith children, I recognize and respect the very private and intimate nature of decisions about religious identity and religious education for interfaith children. It is important for interfaith couples to listen to their own hearts and to each other, and not necessarily to the chorus of voices giving unsolicited advice. Nevertheless, after a lifetime of contemplating these issues, I felt inspired to think about what I would have wanted to say to my own child, at birth.
My Dear Interfaith Child,
You have been born into a country with tremendous religious freedom, in a time of great spiritual fluidity and flexibility, when people are free to love across traditional borders. All of us are creating complex identities, drawing from the rich pluralism of religions and cultures and worldviews in America. Being an interfaith child will make your life more complex, but your father and I plan to raise you to see that complexity as a rich source of creativity and inspiration.
You have been born into two great religious traditions, both infused with compassion and social justice, learning and spirituality. Some parents choose to label their interfaith children with one religion, or both religions, or no religions. But beyond all labels, what is important to us is that you grow up to honor, respect, understand and appreciate both family religions, just as we want you to honor your parents. We pledge to help you to study the texts, the histories, the practices of both traditions, so that you will be literate in both and understand references to both in literature, politics and culture.
We expect you to take this interfaith education and grow up to make your own decisions about your religious affiliation(s), the religious practices that provide spiritual support for you, the cultures that resonate for you, the worldview that makes the most sense to you. In truth, every human being must grow up and make these kinds of choices, often shifting more than once through a lifetime, whether born into one religion or two or more. Or, as Sweet Honey in the Rock sang in "Of Children," a song inspired by a Khalil Gibran poem, "You can give them your love but not your thoughts. They have their own thoughts."
On this journey, I am sorry to have to tell you that you are going to meet people who claim that interfaith marriages should not occur, that interfaith children will be confused, that interfaith families threaten religious institutions. You will meet people who will try to tell you what your religious identity can be or should be, rather than respecting your right to decide on your own beliefs, practices and affiliations. I know these comments will sometimes be painful.
We want you to remember that we don't see our interfaith family as a problem. As an interfaith child, you are a bridge-builder, a peacemaker, an interfaith ambassador in a world still marked by religious hatred and violence. We are raising you to go out and explain one religious world to the other. We want you to think of yourself as the embodiment of a love that prevails, that transcends boundaries, that creates a healing bond between cultures. We want you to be motivated by your interfaith family to go out and work to repair our broken world. And as you embrace your own complex identity, remember that we love you.