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Asking the clergy: How to foster harmony in a multireligious household

As families become more diverse, their religious structure does, too. But maneuvering within that diversity can be a challenge. This week's clergy offer both religious and practical advice about how to ensure a harmonious household.

Father Randolph Geminder, rector of Saint Mary's Anglican Church, Amityville:

When I was a young priest, I remember a conversation I had with an older, wiser priest after he had a very frustrating conversation with a parishioner. With a laugh, he asked me why religion is the one topic for which total ignorance is the criterion for absolute authority. What he meant was that a person's spiritual walk is enormously personal and in most cases unshakable, even by seeming facts.

In a situation where there are multiple faiths, one must pray for the gift of tolerance -- both to have it and to receive it. The most typical combination on Long Island is Jewish and Christian. As a priest, I see it as far easier for Christians to embrace Jewish customs in the home without in any way compromising one's Christian faith. It is more difficult for a Jewish person to be respectful of a Messiah he or she does not yet believe has come.

The difficulty lies with the children. There will be moments even within that realm of love and tolerance where two exclusive views of what is truth will collide. It is the Christian's obligation to raise his or her child from the cradle in the knowledge that Jesus is his savior. This emphasis may indeed have to be lessened in the multireligious household. The hope is that the child, when he or she arrives at the age of discretion, can make a personal decision based on the loving example of both parents.

This is not ideal, but neither is the multireligious household. Somehow, within what we call the divine economy, our loving creator has room for these inconsistencies and will, indeed, foment full, happy and holy lives among those who love him.

Rabbi Ben Herman, Jericho Jewish Center:

The key is open and frequent communication. The adults in the household need to let each other know their personal faith story -- what parts of their faith they are passionate about and would like to incorporate into the household and what parts they are not comfortable with and would like to dissociate from their household. This could range from whether to put up a Christmas tree or Hanukkah menorah to what religion to raise children in -- and everything in between.

In sharing one's story, I would encourage empathetic listening between the partners and actively working together. This is holy work and, although messy at times, it is crucial to do.

If there are children, I feel the focus needs to be on what is in their best interests. Raising children in both faiths might be an approach a family takes but it is not a simple endeavor. More open communication between the partners will lead to well-thought-out decisions being made and a healthy household environment.

At the Jericho Jewish Center, we are welcoming to households of different faiths, and my approach begins by actively listening to people's stories and their aspirations for their families.

Imam Ahmadullah Kamal, Long Island Muslim Society, East Meadow:

Whether Jewish, Christian or

non-Muslim, the prophet Muhammad taught us how to deal with others. We are told we must live among them. When we need help, our neighbors will help us. When our neighbors need help, we should help them. We must live among them with respect. He teaches that we must do three things to maintain peace and tranquillity: Respect the authority in your community, feed the people and keep good relationships with our relatives.

One should not say anything bad about the other person's religion or their lord.

For example, my wife is Jewish. She practices her religion fully. But, our children are raised Muslim. As a Muslim father, it is my responsibility to lead my children in the Muslim faith. In Islam, a man may marry a non-Muslim woman, but a Muslim woman cannot marry a non-Muslim man because the religious lineage is through the father.

These are the kinds of discussions you should have before you marry. You have to have a discussion before you have children, or you will have a big problem. It is an emotional subject, and each should be respectful of the other's emotions, as well as their faith.

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