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Is it OK for a Christian to marry an unbeliever?

Two women in Christian leadership on whether Christians can be ‘unequally yoked’.

YES - Kate Peacock

I don’t think it’s wrong for Christians to marry non-Christians. I got married to one myself. Daniel and I have been married for 13 years and have two girls.

Since I was a teenager I’d felt called towards ordination. Although Daniel wasn’t a practising Christian, he was very supportive of my vocation and all it would entail. I didn’t view his lack of faith as a problem, I simply felt grateful to God for my calling and for Daniel’s support. He was very happy to have our children baptised and for faith to be part of their life.

Lots of people come to faith at later stages of life and others may lose it

I took the long view that you can’t predict what’s going to happen. Lots of people come to faith at later stages of life and others may lose it. Happily for us, things have grown together and Daniel was confirmed last year. He would now quite happily call himself a Christian and a believer.

Of course, there are no guarantees on that front and I don’t think you should ever go into marriage hoping to change the other person. It’s important that you respect the other’s choices and allow them to be themselves. An obvious problem would be if the partner was actively ‘anti’ the faith of the Christian. But if they can both sign up to what Paul says about love ‐ that it is not arrogant, rude or resentful ‐ then they already have a lot in common.

Paul says ‘do not be unequally yoked with an unbeliever’ in 2 Corinthians. But it’s dangerous to bandy about those verses out of context. Paul also says that somebody whose partner is an unbeliever should not divorce them.

You need to use your instinct and have a discerning ear. Is this a relationship which is of God? There is no one-size-fits-all approach as every couple is completely unique.

Kate Peacock is a Church of England priest in the St Albans diocese. Kate was speaking to Justin Brierley.

NO - Kathy Keller

Over the course of our ministry at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, one of the most common pastoral issues that Tim and I have confronted is proposed marriages between Christians and non-Christians.

In my view there are only three ways an unequal marriage can turn out:

1. In order to be more in sync with your spouse, the Christian will have to push Christ to the margins of their life. This may not involve actually repudiating the faith, but in matters such as devotional life, tithing, raising children in the faith, fellowship with other believers ‐ those things will have to be minimised or avoided in order to preserve peace in the home.

Paul warned against Christians being unequally yoked 'for good reason'

2. Alternatively, if the believer holds on to a robust Christian life and practice, the non-believing partner will have to be marginalised. If they can’t understand the point of Bible study, prayer, missions trips or hospitality, then they can’t or won’t participate alongside the believing spouse in those activities. The deep unity and oneness of a marriage cannot flourish when one partner cannot fully participate in the other person’s most important commitments.

3. So either the marriage experiences stress and breaks up, or it experiences stress and stays together, achieving some kind of truce that involves one spouse or the other capitulating in some areas, but which leaves both parties feeling lonely and unhappy.

Does this sound like the kind of marriage you want? One that strangles your growth in Christ or strangles your growth as a couple, or does both?

Paul warned against Christians being ‘unequally yoked’ for good reason. An unequal marriage is not just unwise for the Christian, it is also unfair to the non-Christian, and will end up being a trial for them both.

Kathy Keller is the co-author of The Meaning of Marriage (Hodder & Stoughton) with her husband, Tim Keller. Adapted from Kathy’s blog at thegospelcoalition.org


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