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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their lifestyle and ignore it or explain it away when it doesn’t, the Christian Partner for Life website (website is no longer active) gives this advice: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 partner of almost forty-six years 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 alone.

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 finally 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-six 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 extremely 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, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

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  1. Avatar

    When I married 50yrs ago, (to a x-tian) it was definitely considered undesirable to marry a non-x-tian. An absolute no-no. If one did, friends and family prayed their socks off for the conversion of the spouse. For 50yrs, I did children’s work in churches and recall that often those shrieks at the ceiling were part-answered as when their children were born, the x-tian partner would bring them to Sunday School. If we then put on a cutsie nativity play, the non-x-tian partner would come to see their kids perform….and we were sure that would lead to their conversion. As the decades went on, it became the x-tian g/parents who brought their g/kids to church. Parent(s) may had rejected their faith, but were happy for their kids to hear those nice santised bible stories they remembered fondly from their childhoods. – and busy parents got a nice break on Sunday mornings. I think it’s true that now, couples expect to pursue different interests, have an evening or a day a week doing their hobbies which means that the x-tian partner can go to church while the other does their own thing as well.

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    My husband and I were basically “unequally yoked” as I was an evangelical and he was nominally Catholic and barely knew shit about Christianity. But, hey, he thought I was super hot, so he put up with churchgoing for quite a few years. Granted, we weren’t going to evangelical churches – we tried Catholic churches but didn’t care for them and ended up in United Church of Christ which was about social justice, being a good person, and helping others. We stopped going when I had my crisis of faith (LOL) – he was already an atheist but didn’t mind the messages of helping others.

    My 24-year-old daughter is friends with an engaged couple. Both are educated with degrees from a prestigious university. The woman has an engineering degree and the man has a music degree. He is culturally Jewish, and I don’t know what her background is. She’s seeking meaning, purpose, and spirituality and has been dabbling in crystals, tarot, etc. She’s befriended an evangelical (Church of Christ – the non-musical-instrument kind) at work, and this woman is love-bombing her with friendship evangelism – AGGRESSIVELY. The CofC woman has successfully converted a man at work, and the 2 of them are going after my daughter’s friend. The culturally Jewish fiance is HORRIFIED and expressed concern that his fiancee is choosing a religion that has caused much harm to Jews over the centuries. He told her she needs therapy to address whatever need she is seeking to fill with evangelicalism. He says he doesn’t want their eventual kids raised in a religion that is harmful to him. They’re supposed to get married this fall, but……this may break them. We’ll see what happens. My daughter called me because evangelicalism is my wheelhouse, and she didn’t know what advice to offer to her friends. She actually told her friend to read the Bible thinking it would be a turnoff, but the CofC evangelical woman already had a response that it’s ok to cherry-pick because God let the Bible be written at a time when people weren’t as advanced, so it’s ok to ignore the bad parts.

    I don’t see this couple working out if the woman becomes evangelical.

  3. Avatar
    MJ Lisbeth

    “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.”

    That isn’t surprising when you consider that Christianity is the “default,” if you will, of this country. Most students and workers have the day off for Christian holidays like Christmas and Easter, but people of other faiths–or no faith at all–have to take unpaid days off, and possibly jeopardize their jobs, for their observances. There is still an assumption, I think, that Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus and people of other religions–let alone non-believers!–are simply folks who are too ignorant or stubborn to accept the “truth.” And, of course, Evangelical Christianity is such an attitude on steroids.

    To be fair, I have to say the “only our beliefs matter” attitude is not unique to Evangelicals, or even Christians generally. When I married, my Latin American Jewish spouse wanted me to convert. Actually, at that time, it wouldn’t have been a conversion, as I was “over” the Catholicism in which I was raised, the Evangelical Christianity I later embraced and just about any other form of Christianity. I hadn’t, however, become a full-blown atheist or even an agnostic. I was willing to go along with my ex’s wish to raise our children (which we never had) as Jewish and I went as far as to learn as much as I could about the religion and its cultures. But she became basically a Zionist and I could never, therefore, be Jewish enough. She later married a religious Jewish man with whom she had four kids and, last I heard, had plans to move to Israel.

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    OBSTACLECHICK makes a good point about the “superhot” effect, finding a mate that is healthy and fertile IS by biological necessity the first priority. That said you still have to live together and not kill each other (or harbor resentment) so I think before someone considers marriage or other long term relationship you should honestly pan out the complications that come from people who have a different religious outlook. For example : Do you expect me or any children produced in the marriage to attend religious services? If so how often? Can older children decide they want to opt out? Once there is agreement stick to it. (I’d do this even if you have the same religion, people can and do change!) Then once that’s settled get back to humping.

    • Avatar
      Yulya Sevelova

      And the whole thing sounds super stressful in other ways, and that is is one of the spouses were to die, who is actually ready for that ? If you’re a Christian, and you marry a non- believer and something happens to them, it can be a source of endless emotional and mental pain, wondering where they went. So I wouldn’t recommend such a union. Too unpredictable.

  5. Avatar

    My husband is Catholic, although not a die hard one. I was a believer when we met. After I became atheist/agnostic, it wasn’t a problem because we never had kids and he rarely goes to Mass. The last time I went to Midnight Mass with him I had an asthma attack from the incense, and he doesn’t expect me to be exposed to that. As he ages, he doesn’t attend Mass because transportation is a problem, and some days he isn’t up to it.
    In our building, a woman is a Catholic Eucharist minister, and she asked him to attend a small ceremony to receive the ashes on Ash Wednesday. He went, and I had no problem with it. He doesn’t pressure me to go, since non-Catholics can’t participate.
    I agree with you, Bruce. Unless one partner is Christian-in-name only, or willing to allow kids to be raised exposed to all beliefs/ opinions, the relationship will not work. It isn’t fair to expect one person to completely conform to another.

  6. Avatar

    In my husband’s family, two Protestants broke their engagement over a doctrinal difference. I don’t know if the sticking point was “grace alone” or something else, but they decided to not get married because they couldn’t agree on it.

  7. Avatar
    Brocken Instead of going by the Bible, How about going by the Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 24. It states that those following the true reformed religion should not marry infidels, papists, or other idolaters. There are other sections about not marrying those maintaining damnable heresies. The Baptist 1689 Confession did not specifically mention not marrying papists, but it warned about marrying infidels and idolaters. I think both Confessions also had things about not marrying blatantly wicked people.

  8. Avatar
    Michael Fox

    When I first met my (now ex) wife, we had ‘the religion talk’. She was a ki d of casual Christian who attended church sporadically for social reasons. And I was–and still am–a non-observant Jew. Still culturally pretty Jewish (Hey, I grew up in Northeast Philly!) but hadn’t been to a synagogue in the several decades since my obligatory Hebrew school and Bar Mitzvah ordeal. (I was the most disruptive student in the school, spending more time in the Rabbi’s office than the classroom.)

    Anyway, it seemed as though the religious issue wouldn’t be much if an issue. Six years into the marriage and eight years after meeting, she decided to start attending a Korean Baptist church. For those unfamiliar with Korean churches, suffice it to say that I refer to Korean believers as the Nazis of Christianity. The life revolves around the church.

    I attended church with her off and on for years, reasoning that I was her husband and the (adoptive) father of a teenage daughter. But I was oblivious to the manipulation taking place: pre-dinner prayers; weekly small group meetings; unsolicited email subscriptions to daily Bible verses; reminders of prayers for me.

    Flash forward 15 years, and the ex joins a cult-like retreat known as YWAM. 4.5 months of training, restricted contact with me (one phone call a week), and who knows what else. When she came back, she was a different person. One day she calmly told me that we’d only be together for another 20-25 years, and we wouldn’t be together for eternity. The implications of that were quite clear.

    I immediately requested a conference with her pastor, and required my wife to join and participate as she saw fit. I brought up the exact verses in Corinthians that Bruce cited in this article. (As a fairly well-educated literature/history guy, i have a working knowledge of the Bible ) And the pastor’s response was a carbon-copy of the one Bruce noted. Apparently, pastors can be quite flexible in their interpretation of even the most explicit verses. This gentleman then informed me that unless I believed as he did, my post-life existence would be rather unpleasant. And of course my wife believed the same.

    For 22 years I had placed my marriage at the center of my life, and the relationship with my wife above all others. I then realized that the same was not true for her. She had a greater love.

    Divorce soon followed, ensued by parental alienation from my daughter, a young woman who I’d raised as my own since she was twelve.

    I share this tragic tale both to caution anyone considering a similar choice and to thank Mr. Gerencer for his many efforts. These things just don’t work.

    Michael Fox

      • Avatar
        Michael Fox

        You’re quite welcome. A couple of years ago, I found Bruce’s site and read dozens of posts. So many of them were therapeutic in helping me come to terms with what had really happened in my life and marriage. I emailed Bruce, and he was kind enough to share a thoughtful reply. Therefore, I felt obligated to comment on this particular article.

        I still struggle with the loss of the relationship with my daughter. Five years of no contact with little hope of change. This is the risk one runs in pursuing such a relationship; as so many of Bruce’s posts point out, the non-believer is seen as a non-person, or a project, or a sacred mission–or even a demon. For 22 years, I was a loyal husband and devoted father. I loved my family. If even one person reads my story and considers the implications, I can gain some small measure of peace.

        • Avatar
          ... Zoe ~

          It is painful Michael. I am sorry for your pain. I agree with you that sharing your story may help others feel less alone. We lost almost all our friendships when we left our abusive church. All those years of friendships wiped clean. It’s not the same as marriage and a child, but I relate to years of relationship and then, nothing.

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