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I was invited last week for the live radio show of The American Church of Paris.I was thankful for the invitation and the experience. Everyone was very gracious and kind. However, at the end, I felt that I had much more to share. I actually prepared « for more. »  So, I returned to the original script I was given and thought of writing this post  with the information I meant to share but did not. Voilà:

INTERVIEWER: Good evening Jean-Christophe. Thanks for accepting our invitation. You assisted to a meeting of the ACP (American Church of Paris) multicultural group in order to deepen your research. Can you tell me more about that research?

JC: Good evening. I am currently a Ph.D candidate at King’s College University of London. I am  writing  a thesis on “Developing a Christian Theology for Ministering to Intercultural Couples” This thesis attempts to bring together the insights from several disciplines such as sociology, theology and psychology on the issue of intercultural marriage. By drawing on the research findings of these fields, I attempt to provide a resource that Christian clergy can use for informing their ministry to intercultural couples.

INTERVIEWER: You yourself are in a multicultural relationship. Was that one of the main reasons you wanted to pursue research on this topic? Did you feel that the Christian community did not take sufficiently in account your situation?

JC: My research came out of my pastoral experience in France. About 90% of the couples I was marrying in my  church in the business district of Paris were intercultural. As a pastor providing premarital counseling, I looked for pastoral ressources in French  for ministering to intercultural couples and… I found none!  Actually, even in English, there are few resources available from a Christian point of view for premarital counseling with intercultural couples. I called some friends who were pastors and asked them how they were doing counseling with these couples. They all answered that they were not doing anything specific. Their answer blew my mind. « So you are doing premarital counseling with French-African or French-Asian couples the same way as with French couples? » They did. Or rather, they did not take into account cultural differences and challenges in their premarital counseling. At that point I thought of doing more research on this subject and King’s College offered me the opportunity to do so. 

INTERVIEWER: What did you think about the ACP multicultural couples group? Do you think it can be a solution for multicultural couples or do you think, on the contrary, that more must be done for them by the Christian community?

JC: Research shows that intercultural couples need friendships – more often new friendships with couples like themselves. They are often isolated from their family of origin – sometimes rejected by them or simply far away from them. Intercultural couples need friends and usually, as research has shown, their friends tend also to be intercultural couples – people who share the same challenges. An author, Romano, wrote: “Such couples usually know how not to intrude and also can serve as sounding boards for one another, sharing the mutuality of problems not experienced by same-culture couples.” So, to come back to your question, intercultural couples’ fellowship groups like the ACP multicultural couples’ group are essential. It is a place of fellowship and laughter  but also support – and I mean mutual support. The ACP multicultural couples’ group is the first of its kind that meets on a monthly basis – I do not know any other churches that actually offer such a fellowship for intercultural couples even though there are more and more intercultural couples in France and… in the Church in general.

INTERVIEWER: What are often the biggest challenges for multicultural couples?

JC: The challenges are: 1. Facing my predisposition to marry someone from a different culture – why did I choose to marry someone different from me? (If you are honest with yourself – you will be honest with your spouse)  2. The definition and redefinition of adjustment patterns – how can we function together as an intercultural couple? (Is it about forgetting my culture and adopting a new one or a 50/50 agreement or compromise?) Someone wrote: “A marriage is a process in which two persons learn to live together and adjust to each other … When persons of different cultural backgrounds marry, their difficulties in adjusting to one another are far greater than for couples of the same culture. » 3. Facing daily cultural differences. A cultural difference can be new, exotic, even charming at first, but when you have to face it and deal with it everyday, it becomes a problem; a real problem, which over time can contaminate the couple’s well being and harmony. Cultural differences are numerous and complex – to name just a few: identity, gender roles, communication and language (beware of non-verbal communication), country of residence, food, time, and finances.

INTERVIEWER: Is there anything in their relationships that makes things easier instead of harder?

JC: Without hesitation, yes:  sharing the same religious beliefs. It is recognized even by secular psychologists as a factor of stability within marriage. Everyday, I mean everyday, I hear intercultural spouses struggling with religious differences. I have a whole chapter in my thesis on this subject. When couples do not share the same religious beliefs, great challenges are to be expected, regardless of how nice and kind  and willing each spouse is. Challenges arise very early in the relationship (religious wedding), when the couple has children (the issue of religious education), at the mid-life point (many people return to their religious beliefs when they are 50 – to the surprise of their spouse and children) and at the end of life. Sharing the same faith will actually help the couple talk, pray together and seek help from God and from their religious community. In the case of Christianity, at the heart of Christianity, there is something essential for intercultural marriages: the doctrine of forgiveness; forgiveness that is sought and forgiveness that is offered…

INTERVIEWER: What about when two people speak the same language, but are from two different countries?

JC:  Let me give you one example. I met a couple once from the French “Antilles” and from French-speaking Africa. Same language – even same faith, but actually great problems – even just before the wedding ceremony. The problem at stake was la dot,   dowry. She, being African, expected that he would offer a symbolic dowry to her parents. For her, dowry was about “how much value do I have for you”. But for him, who was born and raised in the Antilles, he rejected the dowry – it was nonsense! His line of argument was: “I don’t want to purchase you! You’re not a product!” Two great people, same language, same faith, but a major problem for them and their families.

INTERVIEWER: Are there certain pairing of certain nationalities that seem to work particularly well – or not?

JC: I do not think any pairing seems to work particularly well. Even when you are from the same culture  around 50% of French couples end with divorce. What works well is having a positive attitude and a  willingness to learn and being someone who is flexible and does not take himself or herself too seriously.

INTERVIEWER: Thanks again for this interview Jean-Christophe. We will further discuss this issue with Renata. But before doing that, I would just like to mention your website that is full of useful information on and for multicultural couples.

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