Offering Religion to a Secularizing and Intermarrying Public: A Hopeless Cause?

November 30, 2013

At Interfaithfulness we care about the synergy between Judaism and Christianity, and partnership between Christians and Jews. This means we want to help Jews and Christians to appreciate and work with each other, and to understand what God is up to in the world that involves both groups. We also offer all kinds of instruction and assistance to Jews who want to understand the Christian world better, and Christians who want to understand the Jewish context better.

These interests  also bring us into contact with the intermarried. And when opportunity arises, we challenge intermarried people to ask and answer this question: "Considering our life situation, what would it mean for us to seek and to serve the purpose of God?" This is a good question, but for many people, both Jewish and Gentile, it is not a question they are apt to ask themselves, unless God and circumstances move them to do so,

The reason for this is that we live in an increasingly secularized generation. The recent Pew Research Center 2013 Survey of U.S. Jews provides a goldmine of information on the current status of the American Jewish community. Anyone who shares any interests at all with us at Interfaithfulness ought to digest what this research tells us.

Here are some striking statistics:

One in five Jews now describe themselves as having no religion

  • In the Greatest Generation [the generation of WWII], 93 percent of Jews identify as Jewish by religion, with 7 percent saying they have no religion.
  • Among the Millennials, people reaching young adulthood around the year 2000, 68 percent identify as Jews by religion, and 32% as having no religion.
  • This means that Millennials are four and a half times more likely to claim to have no religion than were their grandparents—they are \alienated from religion.
  • The one out of five Jewish adults of whatever age who claim no religion are less connected to Jewish organizations and much less likely to be raising their children as Jews. Two thirds of these Jews of no religion say they are NOT raising their children as Jewish either by religion or even aside from religion.

Six out of ten of today’s Jews say that being Jewish is mainly a matter of ancestry and culture

  • Roughly three  out of twenty will say that being Jewish is mainly a matter of religion.
  • When Jews change from one brand of Judaism to another, the trend is sharply in the direction of moving toward less observance

Eight out ten Jews who say they have no religion are intermarried,  compared to 36% who term themselves Jews by religion. This means that Jews who claim no religion are just over twice as likely to intermarry.

  • 96% percent of Jews with a Jewish spouse are raising their children as Jew.
  • Among Jews with a non-Jewish spouse, 20% say they are raising their children Jewish by religion, and 25% are raising their children partly Jewish by religion.
  • Roughly 37% of intermarried couples who are raising children say they are not raising those children Jewish at all.

“Intermarriage rates seem to have risen substantially over the last five decades. Among Jewish respondents who have gotten married since 2000, nearly six-in-ten have a non-Jewish spouse, Among those who got married in the 1980’s, roughly four-in-ten have a non-Jewish spouse. And among Jews who married before 1970, just 17% have a non-Jewish spouse” [“A Portrait of Jewish Americans” Pew Research Religion and Life Project]. 

For Messianic Jewish religious professionals, and religious professionals in the wider Jewish world and Christian world these are sobering statistics.  Those of us concerned with the spiritual status of Jews in particular feel obliged, even called to bring to them a religious message, a spiritual message. But the statistics clearly demonstrate that the percentage of Jews interested in religious questions and answers is rapidly shrinking.

jewish_7283_1208Recently, I had the opportunity to share this data and more like it with a group of young Messianic Jewish professionals and those training to be such. I then raised some questions that I think you will agree need to be answered. Here are some of them, with more following in the next blog post. Rather than answer these questions right now myself, I want instead to ask that you consider them. How would you respond to these?

  1. What would it look like to facilitate intermarried people into Jewish/Christian spirituality rather than inviting them to a religious service—even if integration into a congregation were contemplated later.
  2. Do we have to present church, synagogue, messianic synagogue as the only three choices for meeting and integrating intermarried people into an encounter with life with God as we have encountered him and into community with others who share that life with God?

Sometimes an aware teacher does more by providing questions than by supplying answers. I hope I did that here.

Think on these things.

4 comments on “Offering Religion to a Secularizing and Intermarrying Public: A Hopeless Cause?”

  1. It may look like a once a month unscripted erev shabbat community gathering in a park; singing Jewish music while getting to know one another.

  2. Again, I think Chabad has a great model for building relationships and teaching people about G-d. Lunch and learns, classes on Jewish philosophy, not to mention participation in holidays other than shabbat services, etc. these are all available and marketed to the community at large. In our Chabad there are a couple
    Christians who come to these classes and events just to learn more about G-d. These events have limited seating and fill up quickly. In my experience, people want to learn about spiritual things but the availability of genuine, balanced, mature teaching is very hard to find.

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