Christians should not marry nonbelievers. It just won't work, says Kathy Keller, wife of well-known pastor Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church.
The Kellers have dealt often with relationships between Christians and non-Christians. But rather than lecture couples on all the biblical reasons why marriage would be unwise, Mrs. Keller said it would be easier to let those already married to unbelievers do the talking.
"If only I could pair those sadder and wiser women – and men – who have found themselves in unequal marriages (either by their own foolishness or due to one person finding Christ after the marriage had already occurred) with the blithely optimistic singles who are convinced that their passion and commitment will overcome all obstacles ... Only ten minutes of conversation – one minute if the person is really succinct –would be necessary," Keller wrote recently on her blog.
She said that you can quote Scripture like 2 Corinthians 6:14 where it says not to "be unequally yoked," but while "you can find those passages in abundance," "when someone has already allowed his or her heart to become engaged with a person outside the faith, I find that the Bible has already been devalued as the non-negotiable rule of faith and practice."
The most effective pastoral approach, she wrote, might just be to "find a man or woman who is willing to talk honestly about the difficulties of the situation, and invite them into a counseling ministry with the about-to-make-a-big-mistake unequal couple."
Keller defined being "unequally yoked" as also including "genuine, warm Christians who want to marry an in-name-only Christian, or someone very, very far behind them in Christian experience and growth."
In her post, she outlined three outcomes for Christians who marry nonbelievers, and none of them lead to a happy ending.
The first is, that in order to be in-tune with one's spouse, the Christian in the marriage "will have to push Christ to the margins of his or her life," she said. This will affect things like a devotional life, tithing, raising children and fellowship with other believers.
Another outcome can include the non-Christian partner being marginalized instead, if the believer in the marriage ends up holding on to a healthy Christian life.
"If he or she (the nonbeliever) can't understand the point of Bible study and prayer, or missions trips, or hospitality, then he or she can't or won't participate alongside the believing spouse in those activities," she noted. "The deep unity and oneness of a marriage cannot flourish when one partner cannot fully participate in the other person's most important commitments."
What usually ends up happening, Keller said, is that the marriage undergoes a lot of 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."
Mike Fox, co-author of the book Marriage for Today: A Practical Guide for Couples, echoed Keller's analysis. He told The Christian Post in an email that "marrying an unbeliever brings a lot of negative baggage with it."
And even though "the Bible is definitely full of scriptures that discourage and redirect believers from marrying unbelievers, it is nonetheless a fact that it happens all too often," Fox stated.
Fox, who is also a certified marriage coach, said that couples "should never marry with the idea that [they're] going into a marriage to 'change' the other person." Oftentimes couples think they can change the other person or convert them in the marriage.
He said this idea of change also "goes for spiritual as well as emotional or personality wise. So, if the reason to marry the other person is to change their spiritual perspective, then it may backfire in a very devastating way."
Keller stressed that this issue is very important for those in the church. She wrote, "We need to hear the voices of men and women who are in unequal marriages and know to their sorrow why it is not merely a disobedient choice, but an unwise one."