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I grew up with atheist patents in a pretty secular neighborhood (when
we learned about the Reformation in AP Euro, one student asked if
Lutherans still existed today). I didn’t know any particularly
religious Christians until college, when I joined a debating group that
had knockdown, drag-out fights that often pitted Libertarians against
Catholics. Not falling into either of these categories, I tended to
pick fights with everyone and came in for my share of questioning in
And then I started dating a nice Catholic boy. (I traded
my Mass attendance for his presence at ballroom dance lessons, and it’s
worked out pretty well so far). So between one thing and another, I was
spending a lot of time arguing with smart Christians and I needed to
step up my game.
First a disclaimer. I know nothing of this woman or her boyfriend. Only what I have read. But her blog raises an issue worth raising -- what about those devoutly Christian folk who date and fall in love with (and marry) people opposed to faith?
I read in the comments of this blog a heart felt story of a young man seeking friendship with someone who shares his confessional Lutheran identity -- much less the prospect of dating someone from that perspective. His lament of the few opportunities available to him, raises even further the issue of unequally yoked men and women (dating or more).
What was once a given -- namely that faith is one of the cardinal virtues you seek in a prospective spouse -- has become one of the last things couples think about or discuss. I have had couples in premarital sessions poo poo the idea of any discord that might arrive from the fact that one was a believer and the other not. I find it hard enough when one Christian comes from a sacramental tradition and the spouse comes from a non-sacramental tradition that I cannot even imagine how it must be when one is for and the other opposed to the faith.
As a Pastor I encounter this when the question of baptism (often prompted by encouraging new grandparents) leads a couple into my office to talk about it. What seems non-threatening and easily resolvable in theory becomes conflicted when one presumes the baptism of their children and the other does not. One cannot participate in religion as a mere option to which one defers out of love for the spouse and agree to raise the child in the faith. It is not enough to raise the child with the prospect of a faith as one of the choices when baptism presumes that faith that receives the gift and which calls upon parents to nurture and encourage this faith through example and over teaching.
Now this is hardly an issue when the Christianity of the one spouse is largely INO, a part of their past but not much of their present or their presumed future. But for the devout and faithful, this presents a conundrum? Can I continue to date and think about more with someone who is opposed to the very notion of God and militant against my religion?
In the end everyone loses. The atheist allows but probably resents a religious dimension to their family life and the faithful is left with two opposing ideas in place of the unified faith of the home. I cannot make rules about this but I think that it is a highly questionable prospect and one fraught with difficulty. When marriage is hard enough, I cannot image why one would want to complicate it even further by becoming unequally yoked with one opposed to belief and believing.
I once debated a Roman Catholic
priest in a high school sociology
class on the definition of a "Mixed
Marriage". I said a mixed marriage
is when a Christian marries a
non-Christian. The priest said a
mixed marriage is when a Roman
Catholic marries a non-Roman Catholic
The class agreed with me. This was
25 years ago in a conservative
Unity of faith is very important. After a failed marriage to a non-Lutheran (who did convert but not sure if it stuck with him), I found a man at church. We had that bond of faith as the basis of our relationship. He has since died and I still feel that unity of faith needs to be what I look for first in a spouse. It narrows the field considerably but the Lord does provide according to His good and gracious will.
I would qualify it as well with an active believer. There are those who profess in name only and would only see the inside of a church at their birth and death.
When my girlfriend and I started dating, she was attending a Bible church.
I grew up with friends who split their time between two denominations, so I initially thought that this scenario was going to be our future as a married couple. After I proposed to her, she decided to join my LCMS church.
Should I convert to her church or should she convert to mine? My future wife wanted all of us to attend the same church as a family. We had agreed to send our future kids to the local Lutheran grade school. We know other young couples at our church where one spouse came from a non-Lutheran background (Methodist, Baptist, etc.). For them also, one deciding factor to convert to the LCMS was the high quality daycare and grade school.
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