ARInterfaith Relationships: Overcoming Common MisconceptionsConsidering a mate of another faith? Married to someone of a different conviction? Some guidelines for singles and the romantically involvedIs it too restrictive to discourage people from marrying outside of their faith? Is it reasonable to believe that by dating an unbeliever you can bring them to church? Are those who are married to unbelievers "less spiritual"? The article addresses issues of interfaith relationships for singles, the romantically involved, and the intermarried.
Is it okay to
be romantically involved with an unbeliever? Ask a passionate, believing adolescent who has fallen victim to Cupid's religiously
indiscriminate arrow, and you will get a different answer than if you ask
an ascetic pastor of thirty years.
Or ask the believing
wife of an unbelieving husband, and you will receive a different response
than if you ask someone whose wife converted to Christ before marriage.
Even our own reply to this question may change over the years.
There was a time
when I thought it would be a cruel and unusual punishment if we could not
exercise our free will to date anyone we chose. But over the years, I
began to see that our true misfortune would be to have an unbelieving
partner and have to live with such fundamental differences with our loved
Despite the variety
of our responses, the Bible is quite clear about this issue. Throughout
the Old Testament, the Lord commanded His chosen people not to intermarry
with foreigners "because they will surely turn your hearts to their
gods" (1 Kg 11:2). After Jesus Christ opened the door of salvation to
all people, the Scriptures continued to instruct believers to keep holy
and be separate from unbelievers:
Do not be yoked
together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have
in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony
is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common
with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God
and idols? (2 Cor 6: 14-16)
God commands against
intermarriage with unbelievers out of love for His chosen people. He wants
His children to marry within the same faith so that a husband and wife
will provide spiritual companionship, not hindrance, to each other on the
lifelong journey toward the heavenly kingdom. Yet even though God's stance
against the union of a believer and an unbeliever is definite, we often
struggle with this command. What challenges do we face and how can we deal
Singles: "Not Enough Fish in the Water"
believers claim with despair that "there is no suitable match for me
in church," and use this complaint as a rationale to look for someone
outside of church. If we inquire further, however, we quickly learn that
while such believers will usually agree that there are available brothers
and sisters in Christ, they feel that the available ones seem to fall
short of their individual "ideal." It may be that they are not
good-looking enough, their education is not high enough, or they are not
wealthy enough. Perhaps their personality is not compatible enough, or
they are not eloquent, fashionable, or humorous enough. The list goes on.
Is it true that
among believers there are not enough fish in the water? Certainly, if we
aim to build our relationship mainly on what man sees on the outside, then
even an ocean-full of fish would not be enough.
In the story of the
prophet Samuel anointing David as King of Israel, God instructed Samuel to
go to the house of Jesse and anoint the one whom God had chosen. God did
not tell Samuel ahead of time who that chosen one would be, and when
Samuel arrived, even he, a prophet, initially mistook David's brother
Eliab as the chosen one because of his height and appearance. What was
God's response? "The Lord does not look at the things man looks at.
Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart"
(1 Sam 16:7). In our search for our other half some of us make the same
mistake that Samuel did: we base our choice on appearance and secular
qualities, failing to recognize the match God has chosen for us.
The story continues:
"Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to
him, 'the Lord has not chosen these'" (1 Sam 16:10). Imagine the
growing disappointment that Samuel felt as each son passed by and he did
not see the right one. After the seventh one, there were no others in
sight. Yet Samuel believed in God's words, so he asked Jesse if he had any
other sons, and then waited for the least likely one to arrive, whom even
his own father had overlooked. Samuel did not wait in vain because the one
that came to him last was indeed God's chosen one, David.
This story shows us
that we need to have enough patience and faith to wait for God's plan for
our marriage to be realized. Sometimes we may begin to lose hope and faith
in God after a couple of disappointments with potential matches. If only
we could be like Samuel, who despite at first making the mistake of
looking only at the appearance of Jesse's sons, was then able to sustain
his faith and wait for God's will to come to fruition. Samuel did not face
just one or two disappointments; he was disappointed seven times, yet he
kept his faith because he knew that God does not lie. There are plenty of
fish in the water, if only we recognize their true qualities and can wait
patiently for the right one in God's time.
Romantically Attached: "I Could Convert My Unbelieving Partner"
Those who are
romantically involved with a nonbeliever have their own struggles. Many
church members feel that there is nothing wrong with dating or marrying a
nonbeliever because they may eventually "convert" their partner.
They may even think that it is God's will for them to date an unbeliever
as a way to bring one more person to the Lord. To support this view, these
believers often cite successful examples of unbelieving partners
converting to Christ before marrying a believer. As encouraging and
heartwarming as these testimonies are, many people fail to recognize the
special qualities of these examples.
For one thing, the
believers in these testimonies hold fast to seeking God's will first. They
do not pursue a relationship based on chemistry or personal preferences
alone. First and foremost, they uphold God's commandment not to
intermarry, and they resolve not to begin a relationship with anyone who
does not show an interest or a potential to believe. When they sense that
God is leading them to get to know a nonbeliever who is interested in
seeking after the truth, they proceed with caution. They guard their
hearts so that they will not fall in love first and then need to beg God
to convert their significant other in order to prevent heartbreak. With
each step they take, these believers always seek God's will and guidance
before acting on their own desires.
their actions is a tremendous amount of humility. These believers
understand that they cannot convert their partners with charm or
persuasive eloquence alone. They know that only God can move or change a
person's heart. Consider King Solomon, who despite his immense wisdom,
wealth, and power, could not convert his foreign wives to worship his one
true God. Instead, these wives turned the heart of a great king to become
unfaithful to the Lord (1 Kg 11:1-13). If a king could not convert his
unbelieving spouses to the Lord and, worse yet, failed to maintain his
faith because of intermarriage with them, how much more likely are we to
falter spiritually if we are yoked with an unbeliever!
Certainly, there are
times when God may work through our love relationship to bring our partner
to Christ. But God's choice--not ours--is the key in determining who the
unbeliever is. Following the footsteps of those in the "successful
examples," we need to make it our goal always to seek God's will
first and to let God show us the person we should date and marry. That
means that if someone we are interested in or are dating is not taking
positive steps to seek God, then we should not progress further with the
relationship. Even if the person does show an interest in knowing God, we
still need to follow God's will before our own. That may mean resolving to
wait until our partner is baptized and has established his or her own
faith before we get married.
Intermarried: "A Different Breed"
Believers who are
married to nonbelievers have some of the toughest struggles. Some may feel
guilt-ridden and regret the choice they have made. Many suffer great agony
from standing at odds with their loved ones regarding fundamental beliefs.
Often, a spiritual battleground replaces the warmth and intimacy that we
all desire at home. Explosive disagreements may rage over beliefs and
values, or a pervasive sense of difference may bring a chilling
estrangement among family members. Day in and day out, these believers are
weighed down by a kind of cross that most brothers and sisters do not
share. Consequently, many of these believers see themselves as
"different," perhaps even as "second-class believers"
in the church. What hope is there in this despairing state?
encouraged those believers who intermarried with nonbelievers to stay with
their spouses, "for the unbelieving husband has been sanctified
through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her
believing husband. Otherwise, your children would be unclean, but as it
is, they are holy" (1 Cor. 7:14).
Paul's teaching is
both uplifting and important. He did not instruct the believers to coerce
their unbelieving spouse to seek God, nor did he encourage them to wallow
in self-pity over their situation. Instead, he enlightened the believers
about the sanctification of their spouses through them. In other words, he
exhorted the believers to take heart and strive forward in their Christian
walk and, through their Christ-like behavior, to inspire their unbelieving
spouses to seek and come to know God, and therefore to become sanctified.
This is by no means
an easy process. Years ago, it took my mother three consecutive years of
morning fasting and prayer everyday, as well as several major events that
bore witness to God's abidance, to bring my unbelieving father into the
Christian fold. True to the words of the apostle Paul, through my mother's
faith and resolve to put God's teachings into action, my father was able
to see and experience God, and began the process of sanctification through
baptism into Christ.
Believers who have
intermarried with unbelievers often face another problem--without
realizing it, many of us in church regard these believers as somehow
different from us. At best we see them as weak in faith, while at worst we
imprint a scarlet letter on their foreheads and consider them as fallen
believers to the grave sin of intermarriage. With such attitudes, we often
behave in ways that alienate these believers and their spouses from us.
Out of prejudice or discomfort, we may fail to interact with them with
genuine warmth and respect, or we may keep an uncaring distance from them.
Rarely do we take the time to get to know them truly, to learn about the
journeys they have taken, or to listen to their struggles. Not
surprisingly, we often end up treating these believers and their loved
ones as outsiders in the "family of Christ."
When a stirred-up
crowd sought to condemn an adulterous woman, Jesus told them that whoever
is without sin may cast the first stone. One by one the people left, until
only Jesus and the woman remained (Jn 8:3-11). Often we behave just like
the people in this crowd, ever so ready to see other people's faults. Yes,
intermarriage is against God's teachings, but do we not all have sins and
shortcomings, great and small? We lie, anger easily, and are unrighteous
in countless ways before God. None of us is without sin, so who among us
has the right to condemn those who are in an interfaith relationship? To
those who would judge others, Jesus gave a stern warning: "Do not
judge or you too will be judged . . . 'why do you look at the speck of
sawdust in your brothers' eye and pay no attention to the plank in your
own eye?'" (Mt 7:1-3).
Besides, judging our
fellow brethren will only drive them away from church at a time when they
most need the support and love of brothers and sisters to strengthen their
beliefs. We should rejoice that God has kept them within the fold, giving
us the opportunity to support them in their struggle and to pour out our
love to them through prayers of intercession. As much as the believing
spouses need to take up the cross to pray for their own faith and for
their unbelieving partner, the church also needs to take up the cross of
prayer for these brethren. It is this kind of loving act that will
strengthen and sustain the faith of the believing partners and move God to
extend His mercy and grace upon those who struggle with interfaith
Whether we are
single, romantically involved with someone outside of church, or
intermarried with a nonbeliever--or even if we are not actively struggling
with this matter--the issue of interfaith relationships touches us all.
Although we all know that interfaith relationships are against God's will,
each of us must struggle with this command in our own way. Some battle
against their misconceptions related to this teaching, while others live
in despair from a choice they made years ago. Even those who appear not to
have direct involvement with this issue may stumble by passing judgment on
those who have intermarried. We may not have the same struggles, but
weaknesses and imperfections are our common lot. With compassion, love,
and prayers of intercession, we should strive to help each other overcome
the various temptations and misconceptions that ensnarl us regarding the
delicate matters of the heart.
Marriage" seeks to address and provide biblical advice on a wide range of questions and issues related to dating, singlehood, and marriage. If you have any comments or suggestions for this column, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org.