I grew up in a small town in South Dakota where everyone was Christian. Well, maybe not everyone, but if you weren’t, you surely didn’t talk about it. Our community had seven churches: one Catholic Church and six Protestant churches. My family went to the Lutheran church every Sunday--and every Wednesday because that was choir practice or confirmation class or bell choir practice or soup supper or Lenten services or...you get the picture.
Faith/church/religion was a big part of my life, which was due in large part to my parents. We never talked much about other religions, probably because in a small town we just weren’t exposed to them. Fortunately, my parents never said a disparaging word about other religions. I never heard “ours is the right religion”. And really, although Christian teachings were the foundation of my religious education, what my parents stressed more than anything was what my father called “The Greatest Commandment”: Love one another.
And that meant love every single person, regardless of their beliefs, traditions or church membership. “Love your neighbor,” he would say. “And who is your neighbor?” my father would ask somewhat rhetorically. “Everyone is your neighbor!” (Which, in a small town with one stoplight, was fairly accurate.) As a child I didn’t realize how significant this statement was and what an impact it would have on my life.
When I got married, my Catholic-raised husband and I had many conversations about religion and how we would want to raise a child spiritually. Neither of us wanted to “choose” Lutheran or Catholic for our child- it just didn’t seem fair to the other person whose religion would be excluded. If we elected to raise our child in the Lutheran church, then we would preclude him/her from learning any of the teachings of the Catholic Church that my husband grew up with and vice versa.
It also just didn’t seem fair to choose a religion for someone else. Faith or non-faith is such a private, intimate thing, and it seemed unreasonable for us to unilaterally choose simply based on how we were raised even if it was our own child. But most importantly we wanted our child to learn that Christianity is not necessarily the only path to meaningful spirituality.
We certainly weren’t prepared to raise him or her in a faith totally different than what we knew either. We discussed that really we just wanted our child to be a good person- to be kind, compassionate, empathetic, loving, accepting, but maybe not particularly religious.
Then we had a child, and despite valiant efforts, we can’t seem to find the Church of Kind, Compassionate, Empathetic, Loving, Accepting and Not Particularly Religious.
When I think back, I have many good memories of Sunday school, summer Bible camp, and oh yes, even Bible music camp! My religious identity was a valuable part of my childhood. But what do I want for my own daughter?
Do I want her to belong to a particular religious community? How do I teach her that there are many different religions and one, even the one she belongs to, is not necessarily the only path to virtue?
I wish I could say we’ve found clarity in the past year (she’s now 14 months), but we haven’t. We are still searching for the best way to raise our child in an interfaith way in our interfaith world. As we continue our faith journey as a trio, I do know one thing that we will be sure to instill in our daughter: above all things, love one another.
About Emily: I am proud to be a part of an organization dedicated to promoting interfaith diversity, dialogue, education and understanding in Omaha. Project Interfaith has proven to be a valuable resource for people who are seeking knowledge about cultures and beliefs that differ from their own. In a world where misunderstanding and intolerance can lead to fear and hatred, Project Interfaith is working to create a community of respect and inclusivity. What a wonderful thing for Omaha and the world.