Don’t be a local Yokel

I want to share some overarching thoughts about romantic relationships between Christians and non-Christians.  This is my broader, more theological post on the subject.  You can click here for a summary of my personal experiences on the matter.  Or click here for the beginning post of a longer testimony of how I came to Christ.

Theologically speaking, here’s how I see the matter:

I’m not sure that there are any good reasons to view a romantic relationship as any different than any other kind of interaction we have with folks who aren’t Christians.  A romantic relationship might be more intense than many other relationships.  We might spend more time with our special friend, and this should certainly figure into the equation.  To be really blunt, hormones ought to figure into the equation as well.

Bult ultimately, it doesn’t seem to me that this situation is any different than any time we, as emissaries of Christ, venture out into the world into places that could have temptations for us.

I believe that we should be venturing into Hells on Earth to rescue people and set them free.  We shouldn’t just go on missions and then go home.  We should be missional, we should be the mission.

But we should be wise about it.

We all have our temptations.  We shouldn’t make our missions fields in the same places our temptations lie.  I think that this would be a bit like Jesus throwing himself off the temple knowing that the angels would catch him. 

There are some situations we shouldn’t get ourselves into.  Most of these depend on the person.  Some people most definitely should not engage in some types of close personal relationships with people who are not Christians.  I don’t think this is a sign of a weak or immature faith, even, just a wise recognition that we all have places we should not go.  But should we make a blanket statement about all Christians?

If there’s any reason why I haven’t see it yet.

The most frequent attempt at explaining why is in 2 Corinthians.  I’ve had one good reason for quite some time for thinking it’s ridiculous to use this as an argument against “Mixed” marriages.  I’ll run through that first.  Then I’ll explore a second reason that this doesn’t work.  This second argument was brought to my attention in the last couple weeks.  (Thanks to that person.)

2 Corinthians 6: 14-16 says : Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial[b]? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols?

Reason #1 why this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t get involved with non-Christians: The word “yoke” had a very specific meaning in Jesus’ time.  It referred to the specific rules that a Rabbi lived by.  Rabbi X might think that walking a certain number of miles was acceptable on the Sabbath, for example.  Rabbi Y might think that this was too many.  A yoke was the specific, nit-picky, down-and-dirty rules that a follower submit himself to.

Therefore, it’s exactly right to say that we shouldn’t yoke ourselves to nonbelievers.  But it’s exactly wrong to think that this means we should shun, ignore, or ostracize them.  If a person were to get romantically involved with a non-believer, there is probably no truth more important than this: have a relationship with them, but do not submit yourself to the nit-picky, bottom line rules that they live by. 

Reason #2: It seems that Paul is talking to a church community about the wider community.  He’s not talking about individual relationships, based on the context.  If we read the surrounding verses, it seems like a modern understanding might be something like “Just because the rest of the world watches UFC fights, or buys blood diamons, or takes God’s name in vain, that’s no reason for you as a church to do the same things.”

I don’t want to say that it’s easy to get involved with someone who lives by a different understanding of the universe.  It’s brutal and hard and there are no easy answers.  But sometimes, the reasons we stay clear of these relationships don’t seem very Christ-like.   We appear fearful of the non-believer and his (or her) impact on our faith… Or perhaps even worse, we appear unwilling to sacrifice and suffer.  Fear for our faith or cowardice before suffering are certainly not traits that Jesus modeled.


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The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

3 thoughts on “Don’t be a local Yokel”

  1. I think the cowardice thing is really key. But I think some of us sometimes have tendencies toward that jumping-off-the-Temple thing in the name of eschewing cowardice. It’s a hard balance to strike, and even harder to see in ourselves what’s going on. I find objectivity to be pretty much impossible.


  2. Jeff, thanks for your thoughts on the issue. I love your honesty and openness. As a single young person it is interesting for me to read these things. I totally get what you’re saying about what “yoke” meant in Jesus’ time. By any chance did you look at the Greek word used in that verse? I’d be interested to know if the word “yoke” is an English translation for a word with perhaps a different meaning than what you described. I guess I have always heard the explanation of that verse in the following way (in the context of “missionary dating”) – yoke being the wooden axel that holds to oxen together to pull a load. If “yoke” is taken that way, it would not be biblical for me to marry someone who is not a Christ follower.

    Regardless of 2 Corinthians 6, I personally shy away from dating people who aren’t “sold-out” for Christ because in the deepest part of my heart, I want a man who will lead the family in the way that is described in the Bible. If I date someone who isn’t a Christian then there is potential that I will be settling for something less than what I believe that the Lord wants for my life (and in light of the way I interpret 2 Corinthians 6, not biblical).

    I realize that you’re not saying that all Christians have the capacity to marry a non-Christian (for various reasons) and that your point is that there shouldn’t be a blanket statement ruling one way or the other, but I don’t think that it is cowardice or unwillingness to sacrifice/suffer that some of us Christians avoid missionary dating. I think that it is a desire to have a mate who wants the things we want- to live our lives for Him and to follow where He leads us in this life.

    Side note, but related– As a female it would be especially hard to be yoked to a non-believer because in the end, I’ll be held accountable for whether or not I submitted to my husband. (In the same way that my husband will be held accountable for how he lead the family). I would have a hard time submitting to a man who doesn’t submit to Christ because I would think “I’m as smart as you are, why shouldn’t my opinion be the way we pursue X”. But, if I know he’s submitting to Christ, then I’ve got no problem with it (and even if I do, It’s my job to submit to my husband, not lead the family).

    *I may have digressed a bit from the purpose of the original topic that you posted… but those are my thoughts. And, I’m not much of a debater/intellectual arguer, so forgive me if I’m way off-base. And I’m certainly not arguing with what you said, just perhaps putting a different view out there. : )


  3. Thanks for your insights Michelle. Your points are well taken. Your observations about the complexeties of gender expectations within a marriage to a believer and nonbeliever are particular powerful and important. There are ways that this has been a challenge for us.

    To the best of my understanding, before Jesus time, there was a term that originally applied to oxen in the arrangement you describe. This word, by the time Jesus was around, would be applied to submitting oneself to the specifics of a Rabbi’s teaching. People would say “I’m under the yoke of Rabbi so-and-so” to describe their submission to that Rabbi’s rulings about how best to live out the law.
    I guess what I’m skeptical about, around the traditional understandings of 2 Corinthians 6, is this:
    #1) How do we suddenly and specifically decide that this applies to marriage? The context within the bible seems to be discussing communities as a whole. I can see that it would be reasonable to claim that it might describe all of one’s individual relationships. I don’t see it as a slam-dunk, though, that this should apply specifically to marriage relationships; nor do I read it as saying we should not engage in relationships.
    I’m no expert in Greek and I’m relying on others’ interpretations… Anybody with first hand knowledge is quite welcome to chime in.


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