About a third of Hindu youths in America marry to Christians. However, most Hindu youths in the West take pride in their Hindu traditions and insist on going through Hindu vivah (marriage). Most Christian significant other takes part in the Hindu wedding out of curiosity, fascination for colorful rituals, out of respect for the intended spouse and/or they find a spiritual meaning from all inclusive pluralistic Hindu way of praying to God. In some cases, Hindu and Christian marriages are performed on the same day in the same wedding hall or these marriages performed at different places.
In one case, the Christian spouse requested the Hindu priest to put a Lord Jesus’ picture into the Hindu ceremony and the request was applauded by all attending pluralistic Hindus. However, in another case, a Hindu youth interviewed a priest and requested on behalf of her Christian fiancée that the Hindu wedding be performed without putting a head dot (kum kum) on the Christian, the Christian will not pray to Hindu Gods and will not take any prasāda (offering from Gods). The proud Hindu priest simply declined to be part of such wedding.
Most Christians who marry a Hindu may be ready to live married life with equality of both faiths and without imposing his or her Christian dogmas on the Hindu spouse. However, there may be some other Christians who may not be ready to tolerate Dharmic traditions and expect Hindu spouse and children by this marriage to accept "unintended" religious conversion by Baptism. After conversion, the Hindu marriage is simply a Christian-Christian marriage performed by a Hindu priest. In most cases, the Hindu Priest and all celebrating Hindus in the Hindu marriage have no clue about the conversion of the former Hindu. Such Hindu weddings are devoid of spiritual meaning, and probably performed simply to save face of the Hindu parents in the Hindu community.
Two themes found throughout the Bible are religious exclusivity and religious intolerance. Christianity’s core belief is that salvation exists only through faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus said: "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the father (God) except through me." The Gospel of John and Peter gives frequent messages that the followers of other religions hold invalid beliefs, which were wrong, deluded, immoral, and/or heretical. Some of the acts of intolerance cited were actually ordered by God, like… "When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you may nations...then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them and show them no mercy" and "do not leave alive anything that breaths. Completely destroy them...as the Lord your God has commanded you."
Even today, no major Christian church holds a pluralist theology that each person is “saved” through his or her own religion. Does this mean that Mahatma Gandhiji will not achieve salvation because he was never Baptized? Many churches will expect a religious conversion of a Hindu before marriage, a sign that they cannot tolerate a Hindu in their life. Some other churches will ask the Hindu spouse to sign a pre-nuptial that the children from this marriage will be raised only as a Christian. After divorce, this one sided affidavit will have serious legal consequences. For this reason, a request for a wedding involving a Hindu in a church should be considered as a very serious matter.
Baptism is the act to cleanse former (Hindu) sins and practices, and later live with Jesus Christ forever. A Hindu youth should not have the wrong impression that Baptism is a hollow ritual devoid of meaning. The most critical test to identify an intolerant Christian intended spouse is to ask “What if I decline Baptism/Christening of our children?” If ultimately only Christian heritage is expected, then you should wonder why are you willing to tolerate someone’s intolerance for what you are.
If your intended spouse (or in-law) is expecting that your and/or your children undergo Baptism, then you have one of two choices: 1) accept his or her Christian faith and be prepared to give up your birth religion and cultural heritage completely or 2) clarify that you have a pride in your birth religion and ask for equality by denying the Baptism religious labeling, especially for your children.
If Mahatma Gandhiji has to rewrite his famous statement today, probably he would say…“Your religion is like your mother. Just because your intended spouse is demanding that you adopt your mother-in-law as your dear mother, you are not going to abandon your birth mother!”
As per different surveys, it is estimated that up to 70% of interfaith marriages end in divorce. The main reason given for any divorce is that "the person changed" after the marriage. Actually no one changes, but in love one fails to recognize real him or her. It is critical that a Hindu considering interfaith relationships with a Christian know “real” him or her sooner than later. Here are some pointers that will help a Hindu.
Q? Are your Hindu parents not going to be “saved” on the Judgment Day?
Q? Does he or she believe that Lord Ganesh and Goddess Kali are not incarnations of the same “Lord your God” described in the Bible?
Q? Does the Christian intended spouse have any reservations coming to a Hindu temple, bow to Hindu Gods and take offering (prasad) from the Gods? Is the Christian going to be scared of the “jealous” Lord their God if he or she has to take part in a prayer (puja) to God in the form of Goddess Durga?
Q? Do you have to get married in a church?
Q? Do you have to change your religion by Baptism before marriage?
Q? The American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend routine circumcision. Do your sons have to have circumcision even though there is no compelling scientific merit to it?
Q? Name is everything, as it reflects the tradition and culture the parents are proud of, and, would like the child to follow. Are the children going to have Dharmic first name and your current last name?
Q? A membership in a church costs from 3-12% of your gross family income. Are you planning to be a member of a church, especially after children? Are you planning to spend the same amounts supporting Hindu religious institutions?
Q? In case of a child’s death in your family; will he/she get a Christian burial or the Hindu cremation final rites?
Fundamental religious differences can bring unexpected complexities to married life. Ideally both faiths and traditions should be respected and followed without imposing own intolerant religious beliefs on other spouse. Here, the objective is to increase awareness of interfaith complexities and help young adults better prepare for a happy and long lasting married life, even if it is a Hindu-Christian marriage.
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A Hindu-Christian couple in relationships should address the questions raised above, more specifically, what will be the "formal" religion of the child? Here are some additional reading recommended: