Is it OK to date non-Christians, or will it just lead to heartache down the road when either I’m trying to convert them or they me? What about raising children of a different faith?
“No”, because the next answer is “yes”, and it will make the third answer, “complicated”. I’m always curious as to why this question is asked. I honestly think that at some level, it is a matter of not believing the Gospel, because God does and can satisfy all of those desires. Is there a quick desire to get into a relationship? Is there a belief that there are no good Christian options out there?
I understand anxiety over wanting to be in a relationship (if this is the case), it wasn’t until I was 25 till I met my spouse. My spouse was turning 26 and both of us felt as though “it would never happen to us”. I felt doomed to be a bachelor, my spouse an old maid forever. But when I finally let go of this part of my life, God allowed me to meet my spouse. When I finally submitted this particular area to Him, days later I literally met my future spouse. To caveat this a little, this is not a formula to meet someone, “ok let it go, and I will meet someone right away.” It happened for me, but that may not be your story, but the goal is indeed to learn to rest and trust in God for our relationships.
Here is what I have observed in 34 years of being alive, and seeing many different friends, family members who have gotten into intimate relationships with people who do not believe, as a believer. It often goes in the direction of believers walking away from their faith, or they find themselves in extremely difficult, and messed up situations. I understand that two professing believers can also make a mess of their relationship, that may also result in an abandonment of faith, but that is not the subject of the question.
Usually, I have heard from believers who date non-believers, “they are so supportive of my beliefs”. When I was a youth pastor, I saw many mothers come to church alone, with their kids who had “supportive” spouses. I rarely saw their husbands except maybe on Christmas. But often the mothers were alone in bringing their kids to church. They were unable to be involved in anything else outside of the Sunday service. More often then not, when those kids hit the age of 12, we stopped seeing them altogether. Support alone is not enough, my heart went out to them, because it a beautiful thing to experience God together as a family through worship.
The problem is the lack of the deep encouraging and spurning one another to Christ that cannot happen in a relationship where the boyfriend/girlfriend does not believe in God. We as Christians believe (or should believe) that the Gospel transforms our lives, our very core being, and on this side of eternity, we push our significant others to be more like Christ. Take it from someone who has been married for 7 and a half years, my spouse pushes me to be more like Christ, and has to remind me of my identity as a believer when I don’t feel it. Her prayers, her support, her encouragement pushes our relationship to be more deeply intimate.
Often the verse we use is 2 Cor 6:14, “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?” It sounds so harsh. Yet it is the truth. In another letter, (Ephesians 5:22-33) Paul exhorts husbands to love their spouses as Christ loves the church, and for wives to submit to their husbands as the church submits to the headship of Christ. This is a mystery of love, what you want in a spouse is someone who can push you into a deeper relationship with Christ. This is not possible with someone who does not believe the same as you.
The kids question becomes important. Church may be important to you, but may not be to a non-believer, or they may just be indifferent. How do you discipline? If they are part of a different religion, to which church or faith do they ascribe to?
Even outside of child raising; how do you deal with finances, how do you direct financial giving? How do you practice generosity? If you have a deep desire to see your neighbours, co-workers, family members come to faith in Christ, who intercedes with you for them?
If I were to simply speak practically. Becoming one flesh is hard work. The more you can do to eliminate barriers to becoming one, the better this process is. Because being a follower of Jesus goes down into the intrinsic person we believe we become, it is so important that the person who will share life with you, be on the same page. Having a cheerleader from the side, is not going to push you to Christ in the darkest, and hardest moments of life.
Believers dating believers is not a guarantee to a messy free relationship, it is not a guarantee to stress free living, perfect child-raising, or even purity. But when two people can recognize their brokenness, and how much they need the Gospel, and speak that into each others lives, they have really good tools to work through the pain of becoming one flesh.
There are rare circumstances when a non-believer comes to faith in Christ through or because of the relationship with the believer. But honestly this is so rare, and rarer still is seeing this happen through a healthy relationship process. What I have seen speak powerfully, is when the believer turns down the relationship and explains why. I have seen that spark a journey to faith in Christ in the non-believer.
David Ritz is a pastoral intern with Church 21 concentrating largely on reaching university students in the downtown core of Montreal. He is passionate about engaging students with living out the gospel. He has two kids Annabelle and Levi. He has been married for 7 years. You can follow his blog at http://l.facebook.com/l/qAQH4Y81-AQG56gTUA-Dgj2PWZenjleRhqEPjG76ILvCwUA/mtlcampus.com