dear sharideth #15: interfaith relationships

Dear Sharideth,

Wondering about your thoughts on different faith commitments in a relationship. Dealbreaker?  I know this question  has been “done” a lot, maybe you even talked about this in an older blog post– I checked but could not find.

…the reason I ask is that I’ve been crushing on this girl who is not a Christian, however I’m a pretty committed follower of Jesus myself.

We’ve gone out a bit, she’s great, but I’m pretty reluctant to go any further, because I suspect it can’t end well…

Actually, I know it can’t end well. Its just hard to convince myself to “back off”, when (a) This is pretty much the first time things have started to come together for me–lady-wise (I’m a late, late bloomer) (b) She’s great (already mentioned) (c) I see her often and (d) There appears not to be a super-abundance of eligible, compatible Christian ladies at the moment.

Talk me down….

Thanks,

IsItWorthIt

dear IsItWorthIt,

i’m glad you asked this particular question, because i’ve been putting off writing about it for about a year. 

i know, i know…i’ll leap head long into porn issues and calling people out on bad behavior, but the interfaith thing makes me jumpy? 

it also makes my head hurt.

i originally was going to make it part of my “deal breaker” series, but that just didn’t feel right.  is it a deal breaker?

yes.  it is.

no.  it isn’t.

both those answers are absolutely true.  see why i avoided this one now?

for some people, marrying outside of their faith is forbidden.  whether it be by decree of the faith or a personal boundary that is immovable, the result is the same.  total deal breaker.  Christians like to throw out the “do not be unequally yoked” verse for this, even though it’s not specifically about marriage.

for others, they don’t even really consider it a factor in whether or not the relationship should move forward.  GENERALLY SPEAKING, for this to work one or both people must either be more or less indifferent to their own faith or absolutely committed to the Universalist ideal.

but since you asked me what i think, here it is…

it’s a bad idea.  i believe God is the author of common sense and gives us the tools we need to make wise decisions.  sometimes He gives us a hand by giving clear direction through scripture by saying “do not do that”.  sometimes He doesn’t and we have to look at the principles and make the best choice we can.

i’m going to put things in terms of two different faiths, but the same principles apply for one person possessing a certain belief system while other does not.

 

why i think it’s a bad idea:

1.  it puts the relationship at an automatic deficit.  before it even begins, the relationship has an issue to overcome; how to reconcile the two different belief systems.  whose church are you going to attend?  will a conversion eventually be expected?  are there conflicting beliefs or practices?  it just doesn’t make sense to me to have work your way to ground zero.

2.  commitment to a religious belief changes over time.  what might be no more than a shoulder shrug right now, could become a renewed, deeply held belief over time.  there’s no guarantee either way, but it is still enough of a possibility to contribute to eventually becoming incompatible.

3.  differing moral compass.  without sharing the same faith and running on the same rules, you face the probability of conflicting morality.  who’s going to compromise?  someone is going to have to.

4.  can cause conflict in parenting.  by what system of belief are the kids going to be raised?  if a decision is made before the kids are born, how can you be sure you will both still be on the same page when the kids actually arrive.  i know it’s an extreme example, but we have all heard the stories about children being abducted by one parent who decides the children should be raised in a certain faith and the other parent spends years trying to locate the kids, then trying to get them back.  obviously this can occur in varying degrees, but why would you want to risk putting children through any of it?

i know all of these can be overcome and that there are successful interfaith relationships that happen.  kudos to them for making that work.  James Carville and Mary Matlin?  how does that work?

i just tend to err on the side making things less difficult, not more difficult.

i guess the question you have to ask is how important is your faith to you?  if it’s first in your life, then you should probably find someone who feels the same way.  if not, well, weigh the pros and cons and make the best decision you can.

for me, i can’t imagine being married to someone who i couldn’t engage God as i understand Him with.  it’s an intimacy that can not be replaced in my opinion.

oh so sincerely,

sharideth

what do you guys think?

other reason why it’s a bad idea?

reasons for it?

Advertisements

32 comments on “dear sharideth #15: interfaith relationships

  1. Evan says:

    My wife and I were just talking about this! Both of us are Christians, and we cannot imagine not being able to pray together or talk about what we’re learning in the Bible.

    Also, this has been a very challenging year for us because both of us are working and attending grad school. We both get worn out, frustrated, and pessimistic about life, but it is so amazing to have someone who reminds me of God’s plan and point me back to truth.

    If you’re already married to someone of a different belief system, stick with them! But if you haven’t gotten married, break it off. My friend did this and his girlfriend actually ended up believing on her own accord while they were separated! Also, my mom broke off an engagement to a non-Christian and ended up marrying my dad later. In other words, I almost wasn’t born, so it worked out well for me. Also cool, the ex-fiance became a Christian himself a few years down the road.

  2. Dear IsItWorthIt.

    I am certainly not qualified to speak on marriage persay, but I can speak on Christian relationships.
    I just witnessed two of the most Godly people i know get married back in July (He was a young adults minister and she is in school studying apologetics)… the reason i’m telling you this is because the girl was NOT a Christian when they first got together, even though he was a hugely devoted Christ follower. When they began dating he encouraged her to come to church and “try out the whole Christian thing”. However, after a couple months, it wasn’t working because they were each at different levels in their walk and therefore had different values and standards in what they wanted their relationship to be. So they stopped dating, BUT they stayed friends, hung out as friends, etc, all while the girl was working on “becoming a Christian”. Long story short, they took a break from dating for a couple months in order for the girl to fall in love with Jesus more than she loved her (now) husband.
    By them staying friends and encouraging eachother as friends in their faith, God worked it all out and brought them back together when the time was RIGHT. His timing is always right.

    So, my whole point here is that maybe y’all could try being just friends for a while and see if she could really become the woman of God that a man of God needs and deserves. There’s no reason to rush in to things if you feel like in your heart God is saying “wait, hold up just a second”. If it’s meant to be and she becomes a Christian that genuinely loves Christ then if it’s part of God’s plan He’ll totally work it out.

    Best of luck!

    (p.s. I struggled with this for the past 6 months and I can promise you it’s been worth it to remain in the “friend zone” with someone in order not to compromise your beliefs or hinder someone elses growth in their faith) 🙂

  3. Julie says:

    I’ve always said that I wouldn’t date someone who wasn’t a Christian because that’s problems from the start. Why would I want to spend the rest of my life with someone who though the most important thing in my life wasn’t true or had serious issues with it? Thank you for making that point. Makes me feel like I’m not a total goober for waiting it out 😉

  4. El Guapo says:

    My girl and I are of different faiths.
    Each of us holds what we believe deeply, and recognizes and respects that in the other.
    We also believe that faith, without any of the attached dogma is what is important to us.

    Once in an argument with my mother, who did not want me to marry out of my faith, I explained to her that my girls’ demeanor and behavior exemplified the best characteristics of all religions, and she was The One.

    After 11 years together, it has yet to be an issue.

  5. pepperintea says:

    I am a lifelong christian, and my husband is not. We have a marriage that exemplifies servant leadership in a way my Christian relationship that ended in a devastating divorce did not. I speak for only myself, but I won’t discourage my daughter to limit herself to one faith as long as she chooses someone like her dad (open minded, golden rule, don’t be a jerk on purpose, you aren’t better than anyone else and they aren’t better than you. Serve/give/be a voice for others in need.).

  6. To me, this is one of your best handlings of a potentially contentious subject, Sharideth. You bring out some wider issues than just the religious command not to do it in some religions.

    I was glad to see Evan add in the “what to do if you’re already in an interfaith marriage” part. For a Christian, Paul was very specific on this point. If you become a Christian and your spouse is not, and your spouse is content to stay with a Christian, don’t leave them. If your unbelieving spouse decides to leave because they don’t want to share life with a Christian, let them go. Other religions may have different directives of course.

    I would also add a recommendation: if you have a commitment to your faith, and determine that your faith would not allow you to marry a person who did not share that faith, then don’t date a person not of your faith. This falls under my general “don’t date someone you already know you will not marry” rule. That’s just choosing short-term fun knowing it’ll bring long-term heartache. Not cool.

  7. I just thought of another reason for your list, Sharideth: final destination.

    Obviously this depends on your religious beliefs as to whether it’s an issue or not. If your religion doesn’t believe in an afterlife, or doesn’t believe that only your members reach the good version of that afterlife, then it’s not applicable to your consideration. For myself, as a Christian, I’m tied to Jesus saying “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No man cometh unto the Father but by me.” As someone who fully believes only those who accept Christ as their personal savior are going to heaven, it seems wise for me to not tie my deepest bonds to someone I’m going to have to worry about burning in hell forever. Having that belief hanging over our relationship would just be an extra source of strain. Life has enough strains without that, for me.

  8. Jason says:

    I have been married for 11 years to a woman who grew up in a very liberal church where Jesus was no longer the preeminent focus but on good feelings. I knew it, I was back-sliden and didn’t care anyway. My background is a church that teaches very heavily the Word of God with studies being chapter by chapter and verse by verse.

    Every time that I sought to return to my love of Jesus and get involved in church, and just live what I knew was right; I did it alone. There is no joy there, and she does come to church somewhat regularly when she wants to; but there are still things she doesn’t understand and still places where my hands are tied. I can not tithe because it has started multiple fights. It is hard to get her interested in doing anything to build our marriage on godliness, and it honestly is something I would rethink if I could.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love my wife. I would have left her a long time ago if I didn’t. I just know my cares of the world prevent me from being free to do freely the work of the kingdom. We are supposed to be one flesh, have one direction, but we are both pulling separate ways and that can hurt a lot.

    • just know you are honoring God by respecting your marriage and working at finding a compromise. my prayers are with you, Jason.

    • Chris says:

      Just a side note, in the hope it may help. If it doesn’t help, please don’t let it burden you. But you may not have heard these things, and they may help.

      Not everyone believes that tithing is required in the New Testament. It is an Old Testament requirement, between 10% and 30%, depending on who you ask.

      In the New Testament, there are no such laws, and there is no such priesthood, which would require such financial support. Jesus is our High Priest, and He is building believers themselves into a spiritual royal priesthood. (1 Peter 2:5)

      The New Testament practice is to give cheerfully, as we are able, (2 Cor. 9:7) and generously in proportion to what we have. (Luke 21:3) We are not required to give 10%, nor are we limited to 10%. In fact, Jesus should have 100%, and a lot of that 100% must go to provide for family and relatives. (1 Tim. 5:8)

      Many big name preachers today preach for money, in the sense that they expect their followers to pay their wages. Paul could have done the same in his role as an apostle, but he did not. Instead, he worked with his hands, to not burden the people he was ministering to. 1 Cor. 9 talks about this.

      I write this to hopefully share the freedom of the New Testament, and relieve some of the guilt that must be lingering, thinking you must tithe, and not being able to with peace in your home. And if charitable giving was framed in a “giving to the poor” sense, instead of “supporting the church” sense, your wife might be more receptive, and your giving to the poor would definitely be fulfilling Jesus’s commands. (Matt. 5:42 and 10:8)

      May God bless and strengthen you.

      • While I’m not sure I agree regarding whether tithing is expected or not, you point out a really good option in that last paragraph.

        “And if charitable giving was framed in a “giving to the poor” sense, instead of “supporting the church” sense, your wife might be more receptive, and your giving to the poor would definitely be fulfilling Jesus’s commands. (Matt. 5:42 and 10:8)”

        Jason, if you think your wife might go for this angle, you might check into a group called Partners International (http://www.harvestofhope.org/). They have various programs around the world and they allow you to designate your gift to a particular purpose. They also work through local organizations wherever possible. So while your wife might not go for sending money to provide Bibles to China, she might support donating to dig a well for clean water in Africa or providing seed money for widowed women in Sudan to start a business to provide for their children. There are, of course, plenty of other Christian organizations that do similar things. Partners is one to which I’ve personally donated.

  9. Jenn says:

    The minute I hear this question, I confess I think of the relationship between Charlotte and Harry (Sex & the City) when she yells, “I gave up Jesus for you!”

    On a more serious note, I think if you go into it with deep consideration of all the issues then as noted above it might work. I think it depends what you want and what is important to you. I think so often we believe that two Christians are automatically on the same page, when really they can be so different. And the whole unequally yoked business I think can relate to that as well, if your understanding of Christian expression is radically different you’re just as likely to hurt/hinder your partner as you would be if you are of different faiths.

  10. Mandie Marie says:

    High five for this. Excellent.

  11. G Fresh says:

    Man, do I know the kind of conflict this guy is going through.

    I seem to have the same issues with women as this guy does in that for whatever reason, I tend to attract the unbelieving girls who are drawn, I think, to the peace and kindness that God has apparently given me that people have told me I have that I definitely don’t always see in myself.

    Or, I get the legalistic Christian girls who are easily offended by occasional bad language, drinking alcoholic beverages or the fact that I have many unsaved friends that I hang out with on a regular basis.

    I’ve had to (very reluctantly in a couple of cases) avoid getting into relationships with the non-Christian women despite clicking on every other level because I know, even when I struggle in my faith, even when I get pissed at God that I’m still single in my almost mid-30s, even when I know that on every other level we would be perfect for each other; Jesus is the center of my life, or at least I’m trying to make Him so and if you and your significant other don’t share the same cornerstone, your building is not going to be very strong, if it stands at all and it’s just not worth it.

    As far as the legalistic Christian girls go? It’s actually much easier turning them down believe it or not. 😀

    The song, “I Just Don’t Want Coffee” by Derek Webb explains this exact situation amazingly well. I would give it a listen if you can find it. It’s about 15 years old at this point.

  12. I have little to add, but once again admire your handling on topics that have a very healthy balance between an active Christian background and the world as it is. I really think you have a sensible way of mixing the two, as is best shown in example above (not that I have read all your stuff).
    My former girlfriend was a Christian, but both on another level and we had different styles in living it. We had trouble making it work within the relationship and it made me anxious about a future that might have been ahead of us (among other things). The one thing that made me certain about my current girlfriend was that we connected on the same Christian level and she made me draw closer to God. I really feel that a relationship that has God involved on many different levels, makes for a better relationship. Someone once told me relationships should be build on three pillars: physical, emotional and spiritual. Now that I’ve seen both, I couldn’t agree more.

  13. For me as a Christian, it comes down to the two golden rules: love God, and love your neighbour (as Jesus says, everything else follows from these). If I can respect and feel uplifted by the way my partner follows these two rules (regardless of which name for God she has, or if she even believes in God), and feel also that she will respect and be uplifted by the way in which I adhere to my faith to follow these two rules (even if she does not recognise the same name or revelation of God, or even thinks that God doesn’t exist), then all will be well.

    My best friend refuses to believe in God, and yet in the way he lives his life I see the golden rules exemplified. So I know that people of other faiths or none can live that way (and I think of the parable of the sheep and the goats). For me, I think it is respect for each other’s spiritual calling that matters, and not the name you give to your faith.

    I guess the advice is the same for any part of a relationship: work out what the essential parts are of your personal faith and how you practise it. Would being with this person interfere with those or not? If it would, then the relationship won’t work, but if it wouldn’t then you can choose to give it a chance and see what compromises are possible.

  14. El Guapo says:

    Kudos to you and your commenters for taking the question seriously and giving thoughtful considered answers to the question without being judgmental or rude.
    It’s very nice to see that in a public forum.

  15. London says:

    I’m an athiest and my husband is christian. It isn’t always easy and we have to compromise a lot. I promise not to scoff at his christian beliefs and he promises not to tell me I’m going to hell when I do something really bad (he’s usually just joking though!). He goes to church on Sunday I stay home and hang out with our baby. He goes to Bible study I text my mom and watch Glee/work. In the end as long as you are open minded and respectful you can really make anything work. We have fights about it sometimes and when we had our daughter we had a few stressful months while we tried to work out the whole religion angle in regard to her and how we would try to introduce our different beliefs into her life but we stayed committed to our family and worked through it. Commitment, respect and open mindedness are key.

  16. Chris says:

    I can totally understand why you left this question for a year. It’s sometimes hard to answer with caring, understanding, and truth.

    Lots of amazing points have already been made. I’d just add that in my experience, when I’ve tried to back away due to my beliefs, I have felt and I have worried that I was painting a very ugly picture of God by my example. The kind of picture where God won’t have anything to do with you because you’re not like Him. I know that is not the right picture, because it is only half true. The picture is true in the sense that God won’t compromise, but the picture is false because He does not avoid us because of our sin. He still loves us. And if I’m to imitate God, then I have to paint a true picture for my friends.

    This was a wakeup call for me, but also a very hard thing to balance in the realm of relationships.

    So I can sympathize with those in the “friends and waiting” camp. But I know it is a hard camp to be in, when there is hope and longing, and yet a struggle to remain true to what you know is right.

    I would add (and I point this out to myself as well) that there are examples in the Bible of people being led away from God due to their choices in partners. That link is strong, and it is meant to be. So strong that, in a sense, it can tear God out of your life. If you’re interested in someone who doesn’t believe as you do, both sides have to be ready for the sudden disconnects that will come up. These disconnects will make perfect sense to you, because of your beliefs, but they won’t make any sense to your partner, and they may take it very personally. It’s not a full union, and there will be divides. Lots of patience will be required on both sides to make it work, and sometimes an iron backbone will be needed in order to avoid compromising your faith.

    • “I would add (and I point this out to myself as well) that there are examples in the Bible of people being led away from God due to their choices in partners. That link is strong, and it is meant to be. So strong that, in a sense, it can tear God out of your life. If you’re interested in someone who doesn’t believe as you do, both sides have to be ready for the sudden disconnects that will come up. These disconnects will make perfect sense to you, because of your beliefs, but they won’t make any sense to your partner, and they may take it very personally. It’s not a full union, and there will be divides. Lots of patience will be required on both sides to m ake it work, and sometimes an iron backbone will be needed in order to avoid compromising your faith.”

      That is a seriously excellent way of stating this.

  17. hey-o silver, away says:

    I find that I don’t like christian (aka churchgoing) boys because they are more crass and disrespectful of women than boys who are not christian (not churchgoing). That’s a HUGE generalization, and while I still believe, for the most part, in God, I haven’t been churchgoing for years. So I’m probably not typical. I guess my boyfriend does share my beliefs: neither of us have a lot of love for the church but we have similar moral compasses.

  18. I have counseled many says:

    As a believer the guide for our lives is God’s Word. While there are some issues the Bible does not specifically address, there are others it is quite clear about. This is one of them. 2 Corinthians 6: 14 states that we are not to be are not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers. Paul then explains why. One of the main problems the Israelites had was intermarrying with those who served other gods. We don’t like to think of it that way but, those who are not in Christ are serving another god. Doesn’t mean we separate ourselves and have not contact. God’s intent for marriage is that the husband and wife be one. If spiritually you are serving different gods, that process is hampered. At some point there will have to be compromise. Marrying someone who is claims to know Christ is no guarantee of success if God’s Word is not applied. When it comes to obedience to God’s Word how we feel and other people’s experiences should not be our guide.

  19. Yes my friend, break it off or you will regret it down the road. Especially if you have kids. AsGod’s word calls for wives yo respect and submit to their husbands. But if the wife is on a different “operating system”, then you will have a wife on your hands who doesn’t understand your devine role as a husband. Yikes! As a Christian wife myself, I sometimes find it hard to submit to my husband. I can’t imagine being a non-Christian.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s