Dude: Being a Christian doesn’t mean your girlfriend has to be one, too


Dear John,

I am non-Christian, but am open to many aspects of several religions, including Christianity. The love of my life told me that God doesn’t want us to be together because it takes him away from God. I have been very supportive of his faith, and love hearing about what he has learned in church. But he says that to have a truly happy relationship, it has to be centered by, and on, God.

He left me, but he says that he still wants to be with me, but that God wants him to worship Him, and that our relationship takes from that, because it wouldn’t be centered around God. He says our relationship would a one-sided teaching one—him teaching me about God—when what he needs, because that’s what makes God happy, is a relationship where him and his mate teach each other about God.

I think that he and I are meant to be together, and that our relationship is a gift that God gave us both. I think my boyfriend has confused what he thinks God wants for him and what God actually does want for him. I want to be with him more than anything in the world. He is the only one I have ever felt truly comfortable in my own skin around, and he is my whole world. I feel such a strong connection to him, one that pulls me in his direction more by each day.

So, what I’m asking is this: If God loves everyone, and you love God, but you also love someone with a different faith than you, should you break up with that person? And if you didn’t, would God truly frown on that relationship, even though it is love?

Dear young (I assume) woman who wrote me this:

First, thanks for trusting me with this personal concern of yours. It means a lot to me.

Your question for me boils down to this: Should a Christian in love with a non-Christian break up with (or never pursue a relationship with in the first place) the non-Christian, since the two of them don’t share the same faith?

When it comes to matters of love there is no should. Everyone must feel their own way to their own best truth.

Speaking personally—because, again, there really is no other right way to talk about love—I would absolutely and under no circumstances reject a woman I loved just because she wasn’t, as I am, a Christian. Why? Because (as John tells us in 1 John 4:8—not that we need the Bible to tell us this, though it’s awesome that it does) “God is love.”

So I would have no doubt whatsoever that the love I felt for the non-Christian woman was as purely a thing of God as could be anything else in the universe. (As for the “being unequally yoked” thing, see my comment below.)

Moreover, if my beloved subscribed to a faith tradition other than Christianity, I would be extremely open to everything about her faith system that I felt was only a different way of expressing the same sacred and inspiring truths that I find so perfectly expressed in Christianity. As I wrote for tenet #7 for the group Unfundamentalist Christians:

The belief that throughout history God chose to introduce himself in different ways into different culture streams is more reasonable, respectful, and compassionate than is the conviction that there is only one correct way to understand and worship God.

God is God, love is love, where love is God is.

Them’s the rules of love, God and relationships. Those truths cannot and will not change.

Your boyfriend, however, will. The trouble you have is that your boyfriend’s understanding of God is, in a word, immature. And there’s certainly nothing wrong with being immature. But your boyfriend being spiritually immature means that you’re going to have to wait to see if the God he loves turns out to the real and true God—the God of love, the God of universal compassion, the God who holds all people equally worthy and good—or if, instead, he pledges his loyalty to the infinitely less worthy faux-God—the hateful God, the wrathful God, the shamelessly jealous and cruelly capricious God—that is so often fabricated and promulgated by those whose interests ultimately have everything to do with the religion of Christianity, and, alas, nothing to do with God him/herself.

While you wait for your boyfriend to choose a lane, might I suggest keeping a bit of distance between yourself and him? Why dive into water that hasn’t yet settled down so that you can see what’s beneath its surface?

See also: Letter from an atheist married to a Christian.

I’m the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question:

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  • BarbaraR


    This isn’t about what or who God loves and whether God approves of your relationship.

    Your boyfriend has already told you where you stand with him, and you aren’t first. Further, he sees himsef as God’s messenger to you (“He says our relationship would a one-sided teaching one—him teaching me about God”).

    Walk away from this guy.

  • Karen Streeter

    Okay I am going to ask an unpopular question. I preface this by saying that I consider myself to be a fairly progressive Christian. Unpopular question which may just be my old evangelical baggage: How then do you interpret the verse about “not being unequally yoked with unbelievers”? I am curious and open to hear another perspective on this verse. Thanks!

  • Psycho Gecko

    The blogger Captain Cassidy over at Roll to Disbelieve has quite a series about unequally yoked couples from her perspective of having been in one.

  • Psycho Gecko

    This is from an atheist perspective, but perhaps the believer should try being equally yoked to a nonbeliever. You know, stop assuming that the nonbeliever is a hellborne sinner or an unrighteous figure of darkness.

  • The quote itself, from 2 Corinthians (and this is from the NIV, which is certainly representative) is: “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?”

    So you see that Paul is here equating unbelievers with wickedness and darkness. I don’t think too many people today would dare to claim that not being Christian automatically makes one wicked–just as no one would claim that being a Christian automatically renders one righteous. Moral character isn’t determined by faith systems. A child understands that there are good and bad people in every faith tradition.

  • KJ

    Absolutely. Next thing you know, he’ll be spouting off about “submitting to your husband” and “the man is the master of his household.” And maybe even throw in a bit of slut-shaming, just for giggles.

  • I’m a Christian man married to a Jewish man. I was getting acquainted with a new Christian friend recently, and I mentioned something about the Jewish holidays.
    “Why would you celebrate Rosh Hashanah?” He said.
    “Because my husband’s Jewish.” Said I.
    “Why is my husband Jewish? Because his mother is, and Judaism is matrilineal.”
    “No…why would you marry a non-Christian. It get so…complicated.”

    It’s not “so complicated” for us. I’m a Christian. I believe Jesus died and was resurrected so humankind can be reconciled to God. My husband doesn’t believe that.

    We seek God together. We go to temple one week and Church the next. We celebrate the Christian holidays and we celebrate the Jewish holidays.

    I think it would be harder for me to be with an atheist – someone who would question why I seek God (rather than question how I seek God).

    It might get more complicated if we had children. Although our best friends are an interfaith couple raising two boys… They seem to handle it just fine.

    It also would be more complicated if I believed that non-Christians were damned to hell. Which I don’t. But if I did, I doubt I could commit myself to someone who would become Satan’s marshmallow.

  • When one understands and respects that faith is a very individual, personal matter, and doesn’t try to coerce the other into believing as they do, then it should matter little.

  • wjtaylor

    I am a believer (Christian) married to an agnostic atheist for almost 22 years. There have been some intense, sometimes loud discussions for sure . . . but you may have hit the nail on the head. I think having worked through our differences, we have come to a respectful support of each other. Equally yoked. I like that.

  • (“He says our relationship would a one-sided teaching one—him teaching me about God”).
    That line bothers me a great deal as well. There is a lack of respect there, of her beliefs, of why she believes what she does, of the fact that they can learn from each other and still maintain personal belief with out the hint of either being threatened.

  • Matt

    My female partner and I started out “equally yoked” and then became “unequal” when I de-converted from Christianity and she remained a Christian. It’s just not a problem. Hard as it is for me to believe, the girl loves me, not my characteristics. I retain my faith in God, and I will happily go to church with her or anyone else, so it wasn’t a cataclysmic event in our relationship.

    The idea that God is only present if you consciously focus on them is, well, rather simplistic. God is everywhere, every moment. There’s no need to constantly structure your life around God when they’re woven into the very fabric of the universe. I may be an unbeliever now, but I know for sure that this idea is compatible with Christian teachings. Simply being with your boyfriend will teach him plenty about God, if he’s willing to listen. Just take it slowly if you decide to get back together with him. You’re not spiritually inferior, and he should treat you well whatever he believes.

  • I had to smile when I read your comment, Ford: I would think that you’ve got the “complicated” aspects of your relationships down pat just by being a Christian married to a man. The cross-faith aspect would seem to be relatively small in the larger scheme (though that, of course, is just my perspective from outside…)

    I think we all have “complication”s in our relationships: some are just more obvious than others, some more accepted than others. And, perhaps the ease (or the effort) with which we deal with them is a reflection of our “spiritual maturity”.

  • Victoria Barnett

    Honey, run away as fast as you can. As others have pointed out its clear who comes first in this relationship. It’s not you. It’s not God either. It’s your ex boyfriend. He doesn’t feel comfortable in his skin around you. He wants you to remake yourself into his image of the perfect woman. That never works. Unless there is mutual respect and willingness to compromise, a relationship has no chance.

  • You make a very valid point right here…“Simply being with your boyfriend will teach him plenty about God, if he’s willing to listen”.
    Part of a healthy relationship is listening to each other, being willing to learn from the insights, beliefs and experiences their partner brings to the table as well as respecting the fact that there will always be different views on a great many things while in that relationship.

  • I love this. So well said.
    The boyfriend doesn’t have a monopoly on Truth – he indeed has something to learn from the letter writer regardless of her espoused beliefs (or non-beliefs as the case may be).

  • Hi Ian,
    I so agree with this comment.
    Fun (vaguely related) fact: It was more difficult for us to find clergy who would do interfaith marriage than it was to find those who would officiate for a gay couple.

  • James Walker

    as time has passed, it has become more and more difficult for me to understand why anyone calling themselves a Christian would be so hung up on labels as to declare someone who doesn’t call themselves a Christian automatically an “unbeliever” in the context of 2 Corinthians 6:14. large chunks of the Christian canon are devoted to telling us our true beliefs, the ones we really, sincerely hold, are revealed by our actions rather than by the labels we apply to ourselves. if someone’s behavior is loving, kind, compassionate and in every way demonstrates following the path Jesus taught us to follow… then, where’s the conflict in joining your life to theirs?

  • Hi Karen –

    I think if I was trying to get a fledgling religion off the ground, I might try to create a tribal culture too. Paul is taking personal offense that the Corinthians are cavorting with unbelievers. He frames their association with unbelievers as a rejection of his love for them, which I take to mean that some of them are questioning or rejecting his teaching and commands. Paul was pissed that his earlier rebuke was not taken seriously; he’s trying to remove the “bad” influence.

    It’s a little cultish. But he seems to have been successful.

    I think you could argue this passage a couple of different ways – one, of course, being the traditional way: Insulate yourselves, don’t marry non-Christains, don’t be friends with non-believers, etc. This is probably how Paul meant his letter to be read. But I take issue with such a literal application because it seems absolutely contrary to Christ’s words and actions.

    For me, spiritual life is a journey of discovery sustained by faith. There are people who would encourage me and join me in that journey, and there are people who wouldn’t. I want to be with those people who will jump in the river with me as we’re carried towards shalom; I want to avoid those who dig their heels into the loam and try to teather my raft to the riverbank. That’s the truth I find in this passage.

    If you’ve read this far…thanks for indulging me.

  • Interesting… and rather telling. When I was in Bible College (mid-1980s) one of the key things I remember was how insular the faith seemed, how difficult it was to cross the boundaries of tradition. So I’m not very surprised at all.

    What bothers me is that I do see a lot more inter-faith dialogue these days… but the subjects of those instances of “working together” are not the good things, like your marriage. They’re things that are negative, like getting together to stop immorality (abortion, or gay rights, or divorce, etc) or supporting war.

    As it turns out, I was a speaker at a conference here in Toronto during the recent World Pride: we were discussing faith and sexual orientation. Myself and two local leaders of the Jewish and Muslim community all spoke about our experiences regarding “coming out” in our respective communities of faith. All of us felt that we did not want to abandon our faiths, and we all did some “redefining” in the process. Afterward, the woman from the Jewish community (who teaches at York University) invited us to a Pride Shabbat at her shul (sp?) and to basically repeat our discussion for her class next semester. I felt there was a lot more similar between us than different.

  • DC Rambler

    Me too Matt..Though I do not attend church or walk the same path with my wife, we meet on the same fundamental understandings of love, inclusion, compassion and justice. We are both humble enough to know that we don’t have a market on all truths and everyday we all learn and grow. Peace

  • Psycho Gecko

    In an unrelated note, I’m happy to see that someone else understands what agnosticism is.

  • Chris Jones

    I used to think that way, too, back when I grew up in a fundamentalist church. I’m glad that my wife is a Christian as well as I am, but every relationship is different because every person is different. God loves all, no matter their belief or non-belief. It helps that I no longer believe in a literal Hell.

    So much our faith is changing and evolving, and I’m very glad for it.

  • So much good and sincere wisdom has already been conveyed via prior comments, I just want to add this: if, in addition to differing views of God, one of you is a Democrat and the other Republican, run for the hills!!!

  • Guy Norred

    Yes, I have to admit that might be more difficult to deal with than my husband’s agnosticism. I DO know of some couples who make it work–and sometimes make it work beautifully, but I can’t fathom how they do.

  • Guy Norred

    Change has so much to do with it. There is a quote I read a while ago, that was attributed to Thomas Merton though try as I might, I have not been able to verify it. “If the you of five years ago wouldn’t consider the you of today a heretic, you are not growing spiritually.”

  • BarbaraR

    You said this perfectly. Whether or not you share a religion, people change and grow at different rates, and both parties have to be able to roll with that growth.

  • The “fun happy go lucky” church I grew up in used to have very strict policies on marriage, which they softened over the years…well except for inter-racial marriage. that was in the “oh hell no!” category.

    What they used to demand was horrific. If one spouse joined up and the other didn’t, then they were unequally yoked and a divorce needed to happen. Amazingly couples divorced, following the “biblical teachings of the church”, while families were devastated because of this “delightful” theology. Ironically, if you were both in, forget divorcing, no matter how shitty things were. The denomination eventually dropped the enforced divorce decree, but not before a lot of broken hearts law strewn in the wake. When the church leader himself got a divorce from his second wife, (his first had passed away) when she realized what a turd he was, well, suddenly it wasn’t so terrible and sinful to end a bad marriage.

    When I finally escaped in the early 90’s, inter-racial dating/marriage was still taboo. Same sex relations was a “aaaaaggghh, we don’t talk about that!!” topic.

    I’m so glad I’m a really lousy Methodist now.

  • My husband is a die hard republican, but doesn’t fall to the tea party extreme. I’m about as left as they come, and have been known to vote “gasp!” Green party. We are resigned to cancelling out each other’s votes for the duration, although I think we will both attempt to vote out our current governor.

  • BarbaraR

    That kind of thing makes me start barking. It still boggles my mind how people get caught up in the intense group-shaming policies of churches no matter how batshit crazy they are, and are unable to stand back and say, “Wait a minute! No one needs to live like this!” and walk away.

  • and once again, proof that love conquers all!!

    (and I love that you’re giving your husband room to evolve … I used to be a Republican as well, but I blame that on my poor upbringing.)

  • Allegro, I clicked on your profile to see which Gov you guys want to give the boot … Agreed!!!! (I spend most of my time in Asheville.)

  • I do admit voting for Bush Jr., both times, and Perot twice. Forgive me.

  • Guy Norred

    A couple I know had dueling FB profile photos during the last few big elections but honestly have one of the most beautiful relationships I have ever had the privilege to watch. I find the example of their truly palpable love inspiring–something that Dan and I hope to be.

  • I do miss the Asheville area. Was just north of there the Saturday before last in Spruce Pine for my grandmother’s 100th. Lived in Rosman for 18 years, never needing an AC. Here in the upstate of SC, or the first level of Hades, I melt like a cheap snow cone in the summer.

  • Andy

    Wait, you mean there are things written in the bible that most people don’t believe anymore today?

  • lawdy lord, girl …. never vote from someone from Texas! It’s like … I don’t know … voting for someone from the moon … you know they can see the earth is round, but still believe what they’re looking at is a flat round plate (usually with picture of Jesus airbrushed, ala black velvet Elvis, on to it.) NO judgement though, I used to wear pink pants with whales embroidered on to them. And I LOVED those pants.

  • Andy

    When I met my wife, I was an enthusiastic Christian that hung out with evangelicals and she an apathetic agnostic. I admit that at first her not being a Christian caused me a bit of consternation, but it wasn’t too long before I realized it wasn’t an issue worth thinking twice about. Now, more than a decade later, I may or may not identify as Christian (depends on my mood, who I’m talking to, etc.) and she’s the same as she was. We were married in a non-denominational ceremony by a minister, but neither of us is a church-going Christian. Both of us have serious issues with some forms of organized religion promulgated by outspoken bigots. Really, other than the fact that I usually lean vaguely theist and she doesn’t really care, we aren’t very different at all.

    If you’d told me back when I first met her that this would be how it is right now, I don’t think I would have believed you. But neither of us was ever disrespectful of the other’s beliefs, so it hasn’t been a problem. It’s only a problem if you won’t tolerate anyone who’s different.

  • Andy

    Never? Texas has some progressive politicians that don’t suck. It’s easy to lose them amongst the Cruzs and Perrys unless they do something like Wendy Davis, though.

  • wait … this may be mean, and I don’t want to be mean to you, because you’re fun and awesome … but, thank you for Perot votes, as that’s what gave us a Clinton White House (sorry.)

  • oh, I’m just teasing around … Mayor of Houston is too awesome for words.

  • Andy

    Oh yes, I’m proud of my hometown for electing Annise. And then re-electing her. Twice.

  • wish I could give you two dozen likes for that.

  • Andy

    Do you mean, as in, realizes that one can be both agnostic and theist/atheist/neither? If so, I agree. A lot of people don’t realize the difference between a theological stance and an epistemological one.

  • Psycho Gecko

    If you’re ever stuck on an airplane with a crying child, the last thing you’ll want to do is suggest Psalm 137:9 to the parents.

  • Psycho Gecko

    That’s exactly what I meant. It gets annoying to try and correct both Christians and self proclaimed “agnostics” about it. It gets very frustrating when someone wants to try and have a say in the conversation but hasn’t even bothered to look up the basic definitions.

    At least I can understand the people who go “I just would rather be called an agnostic because of the negative connotations of the word ‘atheist’.”

  • Dang I had to look that one up! Ha!

  • Clinton ended up being a decent choice.

  • Andy

    Me too.

  • Jean Stuntz

    I agree with this. He has told you plainly that you are way down on the list of what is important in his life. That will not change. Hear this – you will never be as important to him as he is to you. You deserve someone who adores you for who you are.

  • Jean Stuntz

    I have been tempted, sometimes. 😉

  • Oh thank you for the delicious mental image. I bet they were super comfy too. The most outrageous often are.

  • Jill

    I just love your words, John.

  • Jill

    Unpopular questions are great. They are less interested in what looks good than what is real.

  • WonkishGuy

    Wouldn’t a conservative person say “and that’s exactly what we want to avoid?”, enthusiastic Christians eventually becoming “vaguely theist” after they get married to someone who’s also indifferent about Christianity? I’m not saying that this is what happened, but that’s a huge part of their argument, so your story would just give them more ammunition.

  • BarbaraR

    Conservative Christians give quite a lot of lip service to “growing in the Lord” but they have very strict perimeters about exactly which direction one should grow in. If someone crosses that line, suddenly you’re not growing any more; instead you have been “deceived by Satan.”

    That’s their stuff.

  • CKPS63

    John — I think your analysis is spot-on. I was particularly struck by the boyfriend’s claim that he wanted a mate who could “teach him about God;” it seems to me that, if we’re really serious about the whole “God’s image in everyone” concept, then ANY human mate, regardless of faith, should be able to teach us quite a lot. I suspect what he truly meant was that he wanted someone who could teach him about whatever “god” he had created for himself, which is a different thing altogether.

  • MaryLouiseC

    Yes, God loves all. That’s why Jesus Christ died for all. But only those who accept that he is the one and only way to God and enter into a relationship with him and are filled with the Holy Spirit will receive salvation. Too many people think that love means accepting anybody and everybody, including those who thumb their nose at the Bible and what it says.

    Part of love is justice. Let’s say the man who raped and murdered your sister and a number of other girls goes before a judge. That judge says to the man, “I know you’re guilty. But I’m a loving judge. Therefore, I will not punish you, but allow you to go free.”

    How would you feel about that? I suspect you would be furious. First of all, it is an insult to your sister and all those whose lives were taken by this man. Secondly, it allows him to go ahead and rape and kill others. Would a “loving judge” really set a man free?

    When you suggest that God is too loving to allow anybody to go to hell, you are saying that it’s perfectly acceptable to you for him to allow people to go scot-free in spite of their sin, that they shouldn’t be punished, that they should be allowed to do anything and everything they want without any negative repercussions. That’s not love. That’s stupidity.

  • MaryLouiseC

    Political correctness would have us believe that all worldviews, all religions, all belief systems, all ethical viewpoints, etc. are equal. They’re not.

    Would I want to be yoked to someone with a worldview that isn’t based in reality and, therefore, leads to tremendous problems? No.

    Would I want to raise my children with someone who is going to teach them things that I know are a complete lie? No.

    There is nothing immature about this fellow wanting to be with somebody who is on the same page he is. In fact, I think his decision shows his maturity. He realizes that a relationship isn’t going to work if they are at odds over the key issues in life, with how one views God as the most important issue of all. His recognition that she can’t help him grow in the Lord — something that is of tremendous importance to someone who is committed to becoming more like Christ — could well stem from the fact that he knows her ideas about God are totally off-track. And if she isn’t willing to consider that her beliefs are bogus, they would always be in conflict.

    By the way, all religious roads do NOT lead to God. If people think that all religions are basically the same, they have only a superficial knowledge of them. Christianity differs from all of them in several key areas. I will mention only two:

    1. It’s about being in a relationship with God through the person of Jesus Christ by the infilling of the Holy Spirit. All other religions are about pleasing a remote, impersonal deity. There is NO relationship.

    2. Christ offers salvation as a gift. All other religions are about people trying to earn their salvation through good deeds. It can’t be done. We are all born with sin natures which we cannot change no matter how many “good” deeds we do. Knowing that, God sent Christ to atone for our sins, taking our punishment so that we can have salvation, given to those who accept it with the understanding that Christ and Christ alone saves.

    This idea that love means accepting everybody no matter who they are, what they have done, what they believe, and allowing them to keep on believing what they want and doing what they want, etc. even if it’s leading them down a path that is nothing but a dead-end is total foolishness. As I stated below, that’s not love. That’s stupidity.

    There is such a thing as right and wrong. God recognizes it and responds accordingly. We can, too, but only if we throw aside the lie of pluralism that says all worldviews, religions, etc. are equal.

  • Chris Jones

    I do believe people can be separated from God (that is, separated from Love, Kindness, Logic) and bring/wallow in misery. It completely escapes me that an all-loving God would desire for any of his creations to eternally suffer, especially benevolent non-Christians. I’ve read of the difference between Sheol (Hebrew underworld) and the Greek idea of Hades and their origins. The current word and concept “Hell” actually has pagan roots. I also read John Shore’s book “Hell No: Extinguishing Christian Hellfire” and parts of Rob Bell’s “Love Wins”. I read these during a huge crisis of faith and actually came back a stronger Christian. It really changed how I viewed humanity once I stopped believing in an absolute eternal damnation.

    I’m only saying this because these are my conclusions after much questioning (and I still am) and not to convince anyone. Spirituality is a very individual experience.

  • Guy Norred

    God is the only judge who truly knows the heart of those He judges. Even the horrific example you give, has circumstances none of us can know–not excuses–but honestly I cannot myself fathom what it takes to become that kind of monster. Can you? What it comes down to me is that, yes, God is a god of justice–but revenge is not justice. I will also admit this is something I have just started to study.

  • wow … speaking of stupidity ….

  • Bones

    Must be why conservative Christians have the highest divorce rates.

  • AtalantaBethulia

    Re: “Political correctness would have us believe that all worldviews, all religions, all belief systems, all ethical viewpoints, etc. are equal. They’re not.”

    You’re right. They’re not. There are clearly those that are inferior. Particularly those that do not respect the equality of all people; are Patriarchal, misogynistic, racist and xenophobic; who do not recognize the rights of children; reinforce tribalism; employ binary, concrete thinking; lack self-awareness, reason and critical thinking; are war-mongers; who only show compassion, trust and loyalty to their in-group; and who think of themselves more highly than they ought to think.

    Re: “Would I want to be yoked to someone with a worldview that isn’t based in reality and, therefore, leads to tremendous problems? No.

    Would I want to raise my children with someone who is going to teach them things that I know are a complete lie? No.”

    Do you realize you just made the case for atheists and agnostics not to marry certain religious people?

  • AtalantaBethulia

    Re: “This idea that love means accepting everybody no matter who they are, what they have done, what they believe, and allowing them to keep on believing what they want and doing what they want, etc. even if it’s leading them down a path that is nothing but a dead-end is total foolishness. As I stated below, that’s not love. That’s stupidity.

    There is such a thing as right and wrong. God recognizes it and responds accordingly. We can, too, but only if we throw aside the lie of pluralism that says all worldviews, religions, etc. are equal.”

    Loving and “accepting everybody no matter who they are, what they have done, what they believe, and allowing them to keep on believing what they want and doing what they want, etc. even if it’s leading them down a path that is nothing but a dead-end” is exactly what Jesus taught us to do because that’s what God does. It’s illustrated rather poignantly in the parable of the Prodigal Son.

    God represents the father in that story. Patient. So excited when the son returns home. But he never goes out and tracks him down and tells him how wrong he is to have left.

    And the prodigal son, that’s all of us. Struggling to find our way in the world, choosing the wrong priorities… but learning along the way and growing. Until one day we come to our senses, and we turn and we go in a new direction.

    But the “righteous brother” is often overlooked in this story. Do you know who he represents?

    The church. Righteous people… who are so sure they’re doing it all right, following all the rules, pleasing their dad. But who are seething inside with jealousy that Dad still loves the brother who isn’t living up to their expectations.

    Think about that for awhile.

    Loving without expecting anything in return is exactly how God loves you.

    We live in a pluralistic, free society in a Democratic Republic without an official state-sanctioned religion. If we do not learn to appreciate our similarities with those who believe differently than ourselves, if we do not learn to communicate more effectively, if we do not afford equal rights to all people, if we fail to see the reflection of God in all others we will surely one day live out the wisdom of “If we do not hang together, we shall surely hang separately.”

    Jesus taught us that we aren’t to only love those who are our friends, who are like us. He taught us to love those who are perceived to be our enemies. Why? Because it’s hard. And doing hard things is where spiritual growth and maturity happen.

    “What good is it my friends if you love only those who love you? Any run of the mill sinner can do that. Be perfect (compassionate) as your heavenly Father is perfect (compassionate).” Matthew 5

    “And what does the Lord require of you? Do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God.” Micah 6:8

    If you can do those two things, you would be a participant in bringing about the kingdom. Are you up for that kind of kingdom work? To follow Jesus in this way? Or would you rather stick with: “You need to change and be like me and believe the right things in order for me to love you” way of understanding love? Which is the most limited and conditional way possible that only humans could ever invent.

  • paganheart

    When my husband and I met he was a die-hard Republican, and I was a Democrat (though I will cop to voting for Bush The Elder in my first presidential election.) Over the years we’ve had some pretty intense discussions but in the end, we “agree to disagree” most of the time, and he has always told me that I am free to believe and vote as I choose, and he would never dare to tell me otherwise (which is more than I can say for some of the other men in my life, but that’s another rant…) Some claim that people get more conservative with age, but at least in his case, the opposite has happened. In fact, many Republicans where we live (AZ) would probably dismiss him as a RINO because he is pro reproductive choice, pro gay rights, and pro marijuana legalization. In fact he is so disgusted with the whole “Tea Party” thing that he’s tempted to abandon the party entirely at this point. About the only reason he stays is that he’s terrified what might happen if there weren’t a few moderates left in the party to hold the crazies in check….

  • paganheart

    I assume you are being rhetorical with your question, because she probably does know she made that case. Because in her world, Christians should not marry anyone who does not believe exactly like they do. Because in that narrow, binary, black-and-white existence, if you do not think and believe exactly as she does, you are doomed to hell. If you are her type of Christian, good. If you are anything else, including other Christians, you are at best, misguided, and at worst, evil. And if a Christian like her cannot convert her significant other to her brand of Christianity, then of course said significant other should be kicked to the curb, poor doomed soul…

    The girl who wrote this letter reminds me of a roommate I had in college. She was Catholic, and I even went to mass with her a few times. (I don’t agree with much Catholic doctrine, but I do love the ritualism of the mass.) She started dating a guy who seemed nice enough, until he got involved with our school’s chapter of Campus Crusade For Christ, when he turned into a full-on “holy roller” determined to “save” her from her “false church” made up of “papists” and “idol worshippers” who “worship Mary instead of Jesus,” …. he said some incredibly hurtful and ignorant things to her, and turned bullying and emotionally abusive (maybe he already had those tendencies but his conversion experience brought them out!) Eventually she called off the relationship, but she almost had to withdraw from school to get away from him, he continued to harass her for several weeks. (Until he finally found another girlfriend who either agreed with him or was more pliant.)

    Seriously girlfriend, if the guy refuses to stay with you because you are not “Christian” enough for him, you are better off without him. Run as fast and as far as you can. You deserve a guy who is strong and secure enough in his own beliefs to not be threatened by yours. Or at least a guy whose be-all and end-all in life is how “Christian” you are.

  • paganheart

    Yes. This. Exactly this. Thank you!

  • AtalantaBethulia

    Re: “I assume you are being rhetorical with your question, because she probably does know she made that case.”

    I’m going to bet she didn’t, in that she didn’t see how the words she chose might be exactly what an atheist or an agnostic or a non-theist would say about marrying someone of her religious persuasion. (This would require a level of self-awareness that, sadly, too often folks of a biblical literalist persuasion rarely have.) In that, if she rejects them for those reasons she is being moral, but if an atheist would reject a Christian for those same reasons it is because they are amoral.

    Ego and tribalism work to convince us that we are the righteous ones, to the exclusion of all others outside our in-group, blinding us usually to how our own words can be used against us.

  • Chris Jones

    It’s sad that fundamentalists still carry this “us-vs-them” mentality. It’s so unbelievably damaging to us as a species.

  • paganheart

    Good points, you are probably right, there is a remarkable lack of self-awareness among these types. Sorry if that came off sounding a bit strident; apparently I am not yet sufficiently caffeinated this morning….. 🙂

  • I think your husband sounds like a good guy and a true conservative – a “Goldwater Republican”, given that you’re from AZ – with a “less is more” approach to government. The Reagans were our neighbors when I was growing up, and most people don’t know (or have revised history to support their own agenda) that Ronnie would be considered a RINO by today’s party and wouldn’t stand a chance at getting into the White House. I understand where your husband is coming from … I stuck with the party until the AIDS crisis, about which Ronnie did nothing, to his shame. It was then I realized politicians suck, on both sides of the aisle. I gave up on both parties, and I now vote policy (which means I vote for Dems, usually, even when I have to pinch my nose to do so. Pelosi and Reid drive me bonkers!!) Thus endeth today’s rant.

  • AtalantaBethulia

    Not strident at all. =) No worries.

  • Andy

    Well, that kinda is what happened. Yes, that would give some people ammo for their agendas, but it doesn’t make them any more right in discouraging interfaith relationships. In fact, they would be wrong.

  • Andy

    If you savor the flavor of cosmic irony, the juxtaposition of this with the “sanctity of marriage” bullshit that some of them like to spew is just delicious.

  • Andy


  • gimpi1

    How is eternal torment ever just?

  • BarbaraR

    That is what Anne Lamott calls “spiritualizing your hysteria.” She also wrote, “You know you’ve created God in your own image when He hates all the same people you do.”

  • There is a big difference between punishing someone for hurting someone and fating someone to eternal torture.

    If someone commits a crime, they pay a cost, financial, personal. It is always finite. Even if those the person harmed forgives them, the law says, this is the cost. it is finite, and in many cases there is plenty of time and space for restitution, restoration and rehabilitation. If someone ends up with a life sentence for a crime, they are still treated with dignity, allowed to eat, drink, read, sleep, have opportunity for medical care and even an education, albeit in a very constricted setting.

    According to some Christian theology, if someone is not a Christian, hasn’t gone through the salvation process, then they are fated for eternal torture for the only reason of religious preference. Ironically, the hypothetical criminal serving a life sentence can still be fated for heaven, IF they have followed this christian series of cosmic hoops called salvation, even if they did rape and torture your sister. Yet, if your hypothetical murdered sister, happened to be Wiccan, then she is fated for eternal torture.

    That is only one of the reasons I cannot believe this theology as loving or just, or something that a loving God would dream up for anyone.

  • Alliecat04

    I think people are overlooking the obvious, which is that he isn’t that into her and is too much of a coward to own that. So she bullies him into accepting her opinion of the religious divide. What has she won? A guy who wasn’t motivated enough to reconcile his religious beliefs with his relationship, because he just doesn’t care for her that much.

    Incidentally, I wouldn’t marry a fundamentalist Christian. Our worldviews would not be compatible, no matter how much chemistry we had. Consider the possibility that this guy knows what he wants and what he’s talking about when he says she is not the one for him. Maybe she brings out the worst in him and he knows it. And she doesn’t. There’s a lot of information lacking here.

  • Branden Nichols

    This story almost sounds identical to mine, for the last 6 or 7 months I’ve been dating a devote Christian girl. I met her at the art studio I volunteered at and she’s an artist herself. During the time we’ve spent together we’ve developed a very open, honest, and love relationship…I have honestly never treated a girl so well. I was aware going into it that she was very serious about her religion so I always told her that I support her 100% in her faith although it is not that faith that I myself practice in my personal life. (I would say I’m an agnostic) she never understood how I could support her even though I did not believe the way she did. Because it meant so much to her I started going to church and decided to open myself up to the idea and give it a chance for her which for me was an experience to learn more about religion and it’s origins in general. I was their every Sunday for a month or two then I started to hear things I honestly disagreed with, intolerant comments about unbelievers, talking about atheist in a very smug us against them type of way. Eventually I started getting a calls from the pastor wanting me to “sign the book of lambs” which was a symbolic declaration of Christianity and belief. All the while I started getting pressure from her mom who told her daughter (my gf) that she should never date or marry a non Christian. Eventually I started to express my own doubts and reasons for not deciding to join her church or believe in her way and she decided she wanted to leave me although she later changed her mind, she said she was getting a lot of pressure from her mom and other Christian friends. I tried to explain to her on countless occasions that I believed that a loving god would not only accept but be pleased to see that someone he loved, his daughter, was happy regardless of who or what was making her happy.

  • Guy Norred

    I realize this was ages ago but I just read your post. That wasn’t Christ you were hearing in those Christians.

  • comic

    was referred to this article and i’m glad i found your post,

    It’s comforting to find a story that is almost similar to mine [i’m the woman in your story]. Issues like these aren’t openly and honestly discussed in the community I’m presently in. It’s a black-and-white society over here. My own church tells me that all instructions are followed. If I stop and contemplate/question, it’s a sign of a weak faith or the lack of it. Further acts of ‘rebelliousness’, then leads me to be branded as hard-headed and therefore, must be abandoned to the world [i.e. removed from the community].

    I guess that’s the kind of reality your gf is living in as well. I do hope that her horizons widen. I hope she starts questioning her reality.

  • danielle c

    I am in the same boat, Branden. I am still looking into this issue further because it is hard to leave the love of my life after four years because I cannot get him to turn to God fully, he has doubts and if I read about him being an unbeliever, Pastors and Christians throughout the internet point to bible passages that declare him a child of the devil, which is a hard pill to swallow and accept. I am the hard head at my church who tries hard to love everyone, even nonbelievers and blatant rejecters of Christ – anything is possible with God so I fully believe anyone can change. There is nothing easy about trying to be Christian, so I pray for all the couples on here in difficult situations. We need to be here for each other instead of pressuring each other and declaring someone a child of the devil. God bless everyone and good luck to you all.

  • danielle c

    this was exactly what i needed to read – thank you!

  • Ilkka Rankila

    Dude, it pretty clearly says in the Bible that the followers of Christ should NOT have a relationship like that with a non-believer. It’s not because it’s sinful or anything but because we are to be focused on Christ alone. And if our non-believing half doesn’t keep their focus on Christ but us, how can we focus on Christ in that situation? Isn’t it only natural for our focus to start drifting around the partner and not Christ? Here you are making God in your image when you cannot possibly get on top of Him who is standing highest on the mountain. You just cannot. He will make the mountain grow taller and taller the higher you climb to reach Him. Jesus Christ is our savior. Live for Christ alone!

  • Bones

    I think you need to date someone who goes for the same football team.

  • Jarrod Banks

    So what is your standing on original sin? And the “for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”. It seems to me that the bible says that by definition everyone is wicked and needs the Salvation of Christ. Now obviously by human standards the majority of humanity is not wicked, immoral and evil. But by the Bible and therefore God’s (lets assume the inerrency and Godly-inspiration of the bible) standards we are all sinful (even the “righteous” Christians). I really would like some clarity on that. Thanks!