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Is it Okay for an Evangelical Christian to Marry an Unbeliever?

unequally yoked together

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

The Bible is clear on this subject. The inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God that millions of Evangelicals SAY they believe says:

Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you. (2 Corinthians 6:14-17)

2 Corinthians 6:14-17 is not an ambiguous or hard-to-interpret passage of Scripture. It means exactly what it says. Believers (Christians, followers of Jesus) should not be unequally yoked (joined) together with unbelievers. The Bible describes marriage this way: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24)

One would think that bought-by-the-blood, Bible-believing Evangelicals would, because of their love for Jesus, obey what God has commanded. God calls on every single Christian to be just like Tim Tebow: a virgin until the day they marry a fellow believer of the OPPOSITE sex.

But, in another, all-too-typical, example of the fact that Evangelicals only believe the Bible when it fits their lifestyle and ignore it or explain it away when it doesn’t, the Christian Partner for Life website (website is no longer active) gives this advice:

Finding your husband or wife can be quite a process.  Often, whether through school or elsewhere, we meet people in our lives who are not committed Christians.  A common question that we receive is: “Is it OK to date someone who is not committed to Christianity?”  While many advisors and ministers that we encounter have said definitively “NO,” we think it is important to have a more secular view of the situation.  If you have a great connection with someone, and they would potentially want to explore raising your future family with predetermined beliefs, we see no reason to object . . .

We believe that marrying a non-Christian or a non-practicing Christian is not a definitive “no” answer, as is commonly taught.  Would you rather stay single or marry a loving and wonderful person who is agnostic of Christian beliefs?  If this future partner is devoted to you and has a great moral compass, we think the possibility of marriage should very much exist.  If a relationship is based upon love, trust and mutual respect, there is a good chance that a marriage will succeed, regardless of religion.

The caveat to this question becomes whether your future spouse is willing to raise a family the way that you would like to.  Would your future spouse be open to raising your children as committed Christians?  If so, we think that a relationship could work . . .

In other words, ignore the Bible.

The Bible says that nonbelievers are dead in trespasses and sin. Unbelievers are at variance with God, vain in their imaginations, and haters of God. Unbelievers are really bad people, After all, their father is the devil himself.

Yet, John at Christian Partner for Life says: “If this future partner is devoted to you and has a great moral compass” then perhaps it would be okay to marry them. How can unbelievers have a great moral compass? According to the Bible, they can’t.

Here’s what I think . . . unbelievers are hotter . . . and baby, when it comes to chasing after hotness, let the Bible be damned darned.

All silliness aside, John’s post at Christian Partner for Life is just another reminder that Evangelicals, for all their bluster about the Bible being truth, really don’t believe it.

Now for MY marriage advice for unbelievers.

Actually, the Bible gives some pretty good advice here. In most circumstances, it would be unwise for an unbeliever to marry an Evangelical. Unless the believer is willing to live as an unbeliever, then it is probably not a good idea to marry someone who doesn’t believe in or worship God. I can hear the howling now Evangelicals everywhere are screaming, HOW DARE YOU EXPECT A BELIEVER TO DENY THEIR FAITH AND LIVE AS AN UNBELIEVER!! I bet it seemed okay to most Evangelicals when John proposed the very same thing when he suggested making sure the unbeliever would be willing to raise future children as believers. Evangelicals seem to always expect OTHERS to compromise so they can be true to their beliefs, but they rarely seem to be able to compromise their beliefs for the sake of others. The message is clear: my beliefs matter, yours don’t.

Generally, it is a bad idea for an unbeliever to marry an Evangelical, especially if their prospective marriage partner’s family is Evangelical too. If you marry anyway, you are sure to have conflict over issues such as:

  • Baptizing or dedicating your children
  • Attending church
  • Tithing
  • Praying over meals
  • Having family devotions
  • Cursing
  • What entertainments to participate in
  • What movies to watch
  • Sex

You will also likely subject yourself to a life of “I am praying for you” and subtle attempts to win you to Jesus.

It is almost impossible for Evangelicals to NOT talk about their faith — nor should they be expected to. This is why the Bible actually gives sound advice about an unequal yoke.

Contrary to the aphorism opposites attract, successful marriages are usually built on the things that the husband and wife have in common. While my wife and I are very different people, we do have many things in common. We cultivate our common values and beliefs, and with things we differ on, we leave each other free to pursue those things.

Over time, the things a couple differs on can become something both like or agree upon. When Polly and I married she was a sports atheist. I was a jock. I mean, I was one of THOSE kinds of guys. I played sports year-round for the first ten years of our marriage. Age, knee problems, and a busy ministerial life ended my sports playing career. Polly made a good faith effort to enter into my world. For a long time, her ignorance of sports was quite amusing, but bit by bit she became conversant in sports-talk. I did not reciprocate. I still do not know how to sew or put the toilet seat down.

We still have a lot of things that we do not hold in common, and that’s okay. But, the bedrock of our marriage of almost forty-two years is the values, beliefs, and likes we share. I believe it would be very hard for an Evangelical and an unbeliever to find common ground to build a successful marriage. It’s not impossible, but it is hard.

On this issue, I am much more of a Bible believer than John at Christian Partner for Life. Granted, I see the principle taught in Scripture from an atheist perspective these days, but it still is good advice. When it comes to the foundational issues of life and the philosophies we live by, having a common mind is always best. Certainly, compromise is possible, but willingly chucking your beliefs (whatever they might be) for love will usually leave you disappointed, and it may land you in divorce court.

If you are in an unequally yoked marriage or relationship, how do you make it work? Please leave your thoughts in the comment section.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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8 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Connie

    When my late husband and I met he was Asatru (warrior of Thor) and I was a generic pagan who picked out a few gods and goddesses I liked. By the time he died 15 years later I had become his sheild maiden and moved to science for my personal understanding of the Universe.

    Not exactly Christian and Athiest but two faiths that were unevenly yoked at the start but even at the end.

    PS Brian had a hard time with the toilet seat too until he received loving kisses from Pickles, the service dog, after a long cold drink. The whole seat has been down in our house ever since.

  2. Avatar
    Karen

    My mother was a devout Catholic. My father was raised Lutheran, but as far as I could tell he was a functional atheist. I never once heard him say that something was right/wrong or good/bad for religious reasons. His world view was about responsibility, obligation, and productivity. He was unable to enjoy any non-productive activity, and his favorite hobby was growing fruits and vegetables.

    In order for my parents to marry, my father had to agree to raise me Catholic. So we went to church on Sundays, and I went to Catholic elementary and high schools. I got a lot of religion from my mother. Not one word from my father. But their worldviews were compatible enough, and they mostly got along well. Periodically my mother would harangue my father about going to the local Lutheran church, because “someday you’re going to need God”. Dad listened but said nothing, and he died not knowing where the local Lutheran Church was located, though they’d lived in that town for 25-odd years.

    There was a long period of time, several years in fact, when my mother treated my father really badly. She would tell anyone who would listen about mistakes he made, ridicule his ideas, and complain about him not being religious. I would have had a very hard time staying with a spouse who did this, but Dad just endured it. Eventually, Mom got over it. That time period followed the loss of her mother; maybe it was a way of dealing with grief or depression. Dad just rode it out.

    During the last years of their life together, my parents hung out with several Catholic neighbors. Mom was too disabled to endure physically going to church very often, but she could manage to get to a neighbor’s house for a couple of hours. So this group got together for a collective prayer meeting to say the Rosary once a week. For those of you who are not Catholic, the Rosary is a sequence of two prayers, repeated many times; one counts off repetitions using Rosary beads. It’s a kind of meditation, though most Catholics would be horrified by that notion. Dad took Mom to these meetings and as far as I know, chanted the prayers right along with everyone else. Did he believe God was listening? I suspect he didn’t care.

  3. Avatar
    dale M

    As an atheist, I always, somehow, end up with evangelical women. One I went with for nearly 30 years. They were good times. We did everything together. Candle light dinners were quiet. I rarely spoke about my interests in science. When I did, she would bring up a bible passage that often made no sense to the conversation. She told me that she was glad about how science had made life better 4 the world, I realized that we lived in the same world with 2 utterly different perspectives. It was trying. Very trying at times. Her entire family was evangelical but married atheists.And it was the atheists who overpowered their evangelical spouses. She and her family did have the Christian “persecution” complex. The majority feeling persecuted by a tiny minority. But we really loved each other. All irritants aside, I would not have changed anything in those 30 years of “bliss” except that I would have tried to be a better person around her. A much better person. And it MUST BE SAID that if you’re positive in your outlook, every person U cross paths with will eventually teach U something of value. No pun intended (just don’t expect miracles).

  4. Avatar
    Troy

    When I was dating, I’d tell women that if they were religious, that was fine with two caveats. I wouldn’t be dragged to church. If we had children, she could take them to church, but at the age of 14 the children could make their own choice.
    I think this is good advice for atheists or other nones to use to weed out an incompatible relationship. Some might disagree with the children going to church proviso. Especially, since young children are very susceptible to some of the mind control that occurs in churches, but it was right for me at the time.

  5. Avatar
    Matilda

    This was taken very seriously by the Bethren denomination when I had Brethren friends in the 1960s, and presumably long before that too. It mainly focussed on not being unequally yoked in the matter of business, it was wrong to work for a non x-tian employer, so the men I knew ran their own businesses. They only married within their cult because they never met anyone outside it.

  6. Avatar
    ObstacleChick

    I don’t see how two people who are devout in different respective beliefs could stay together. At least one of them has to not really care to make it work, in my opinion.

  7. Avatar
    Angela Graham

    My husband is a Christian and I am an atheist. We argue at times but have respect for one another’s beliefs (or non belief). He prays over his food, I just start eating. He goes to church on Sunday, I read a book and have several cups of tea. He doesn’t force his beliefs on me nor do I mine on him. He attends one of those mega churches where the music is loud and the sermon is ambiguous. We have been together 27 years, 2 children, 2 grand children. It just works because we love one another and care very deeply about each other.

  8. Avatar
    missimontana

    My Aunt was a Catholic married to a Hindu. Most of the time, they got along fine. She agreed to not serve him beef, and he never hassled her when she ate it or served it to guests (She cooked two main courses.) They went to separate houses of worship, and only went to the other’s for weddings and funerals. They explained their beliefs to their child, and agreed to let her choose her own path as an adult. Later in life, my Aunt abandoned Catholicism and became sort of Pagan/New Age, but the same rules applied. The biggest problem came when his family came to visit and made a mess in the bathroom. His sister refused to clean up because their caste was too high for that; only Dalits (untouchables) clean bathrooms in India. They got into a fight. My Uncle cleaned the bathroom, and told his family they would have to abide by their rules or stay in a hotel (this took place in London.) Somehow, they resolved it in the end. I agree with Bruce. I’ve had many relatives who lived with mixed religions or one partner no religion who made it work, but it’s really hard. It’s better to find a partner you can agree with.

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