Hi all, I want to begin approaching this sensitive topic by establishing that I seek to characterize my writing by loving-kindness, openness, and reciprocity. As a Religion and Philosophy major, incoming Princeton Theological Seminary student, and co-captain of my relationship’s ship, the issue I am about to raise is one that I have handled with careful reflection and prayer. I am a seeker, however, and it is with this acknowledgment that I continue to strive to remain open to the idea of being wrong, please feel free to question, comment, or even challenge me in regards to the contents of this post.
Over the last year, I have engaged in an ever-evolving relationship with an agnostic. Growing up in a Christian community, I have received a variety of responses to my dating decision. Many people, including my parents, disapprove of my romantic relationship even asserting that my boyfriend will never be “worthy of their acceptance.” Still, others, primarily existing outside of the conservative evangelical church sphere, remain surprised by the negative reactions I experience regularly. I am sure that the individuals reading my post might react in similar manners- some of you might feel that my decision places me in spiritual jeopardy, while others might remain convinced that this issue is archaic and perhaps not even worthy of discussion.
Whatever you might think- these are reflections and tips that I have gathered based on my limited experience:
- When a relationship works, it is built on love and friendship
I think I need to clarify by stating that Jeremy and I became best friends long before ever dating or even considering the possibility of such an interaction. We became friends as we interacted together in class, fiercely competing in our academic studies and as we took long walks on the cross country trails of our shared college falling in love with each other’s incessant questions. We discussed everything from literature, history and political science to the horrors of our high school experiences.
We became boyfriend and girlfriend when we both agreed that “We were the closest people to each other besides our immediately family and we wanted it to remain it that way.” Perhaps biblically there are a series of implications when it comes to our situations, but philosophically our relationship is one that does not deserve questioning.
- Wrestle, keep wrestling!
I think there is an underlying assumption that romantic relationships with the “believer” and the “non-believer” result in the loss of Christian faith. This conclusion is reasonable as frequently in the Old Testament God’s chosen people, the Jewish people lose their faith as they intermarry with those from heathen nations. Often when these romantic relationships inhibit someone in their walk with Jesus Christ, it is because they become increasingly disinterested in their religious faith trading prayer and spiritual discipline for less conflict between their partners. The truth is when Christianity is not just an interest or a hobby, but your entire worldview conflicts will inevitably occur. It ‘s okay to ask yourself whether you could marry, perhaps the even a parent, with someone that couldn’t make Yahweh Lord of their lives. The only way these relationships work is when you seek God’s will when you pray earnestly and are even willing to sacrifice your relationship with your partner if that is what was asked of you. God promises to remain faithful and responsive to us when we approach His throne of grace. Eventually, you will need to receive an answer, or else you might be married and still continue to struggle to explain whether or not your marriage is even “right.”
- Don’t expect you, partner, to change.
I think every Christian individual has heard the hopeful stories of unbelieving husbands and wives that convert or become baptized fifteen years into the marriage. While these are compelling testimonies and one to rejoice in they can never be an expectation or even an ardent desire. Dating is a time to test whether or not you could live with the traits of another for a lifetime, but marriage is a covenant that makes the simple and radical claim: “I choose you.” I pick you when you’re smelly when we argue when you act selfishly, and on that rare occasion when I just find you gross overall. I choose you wholeheartedly, the entirety of you, and if a different worldview makes this promise impossible it is not fair for either of you to remain together.
- Your partner needs to seek at least to understand your faith.
I resisted openly discussing my faith with Jeremy for months, I wanted to resist conflict, and I never wanted him to feel uncomfortable. I was preparing to attend seminary, and still, I refrained from bringing up topics connected to God. After a while, Jeremy came to me and told me, “Brooke I love you so much, but you claim that the most important thing to you is Christianity and, yet, you rarely talk about it. I have a lot of baggage when it comes to religious faith, I have been a victim of spiritual abuse, but if I love you at all I need to appreciate this part of you, I need to understand your worldview.” Since this discussion, we regularly listen to Science Mike a progressive Christian that discusses questions of religious faith and the hard sciences. Jeremy prays with me, although he uses this time as a meditation exercise and he daily encourages me to dig deeper in my faith rather than separate from this part of myself.
- Equally Yoked
In 2 Corinthians 6 Paul advocates for the necessity of remaining equally yoked. While these verses are often employed to warn against Christian and non-Christian romantic relationships, I think it is important to recognize that one should seek to remain spiritually, emotionally, psychologically, physically, intellectually and sexually yoked together. If in a broken world you find a partner that even fits most of these categories I think you should consider yourself blessed.
- Fruits of the Spirit
Jesus Christ once stated that “we will know a disciple of Christ by the fruit that they bear.” According to Galatians 6:14 the fruits of the Spirit are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” If you are Christian in a romantic relationship with a non-Christian ask yourself, “does this connection bring me peace?” Does my partner bring me joy? Does my boyfriend/ girlfriend love me authentically or treat me kindly? If the answers to these questions is a resounding yes, thank God for your relationship.
- A Loving Response
It is tough to listen to the people you love tell you that your flourishing relationship is dishonorable to God, that they will always disapprove of your relationship provided your partner does not convert, and that you are “living in sin” but, truthfully, these responses are most frequently ones of misguided love. Many people that declare these kinds of relationship “evil” are afraid of you losing your faith or, worse, worried that if you lose your faith, you will receive “eternal damnation.” Clearly, these responses are ones of sincere concern, not hatred.
On the other hand, if your partner is a kind person he will want to be involved in your family’s life. Jeremy, for instance, envies my relationship with his family- he wishes he could attend my siblings’ sports’ games and go on double dates with my parents. When I began dating Jeremy I sympathized with my parents’ rejection and, in doing so, forgot to offer Jeremy proper support in response to their outwardly callous words and actions. Your partner will hurt because of these replies, and you need to respond with love, affection, and empathy.
- Love is love.
As terrible cliche as it is I believe that the most important biblical commandment is love, that is the highest order. Life, for a lot of the time, is sad, difficult, and complicated, and you have received the blessing of finding radical, sincere love, a love that encourages you to be better every day, it may be that the only response it requires is heartfelt gratitude.
I hope these thoughts and reflections are helpful to you either to offer insight into your relationship or to help clarify an incredibly practical theological concern.
Jeremy is my boyfriend, co-adventurer, partner in crime, and, most importantly best friend, I want so desperately you to experience the same radical, earth-shattering, soul-awakening love regardless of your background!