Here is a "Questions and Ethics" query I posed a while back. To summarize, this writer is a Christian who was dating a non-Christian. He fell into sexual immorality, and she's pregnant. They love each other and want to marry, but he doesn't want to violate Scripture by "unequally yoking" himself with an unbeliever. Some of you weighed in on the question. Below is my response.
Shortly after I posted this question, Candice Watters pointed me to the counsel of Christian scholar J. Budziszewski to a man in a very similar predicament. You can read his advice here. I agree almost entirely with his assessment.
Several factors bear on this decision. The first is that, yes, the Scriptures make it clear that Christian marriage is to be the union of a faithful man and a faithful woman. We are not to be, the Bible maintains, "unequally yoked with unbelievers" (2 Cor. 6:14). If you were merely dating this woman I would counsel you to immediately end the relationship. But the situation is, of course, more complicated than that.
The Apostle Paul, for instance, does not treat already existing marriages believer to unbeliever as an ongoing state of sin. Those who are already in this predicament should, Paul says, continue in it, unless the unbeliever abandons the marriage (1 Cor. 7:12-16).
Well, why? Wouldn't it be better for one's sanctification to be married to a godly spouse than to an unbelieving one? Sure. But divorcing one's spouse, walking away from one's vows and responsibilities would compound the sin, piling sin upon sin, in a way that furthers the damage already done. The Scriptures tell us not to "yoke" ourselves with unbelievers, true, but we are also not to abandon our responsibilities to the "yokes" we already have.
The question here is not whether you will be yoked unequally with an unbeliever. You are. The question is whether you can or should get out of it.
I am not saying that you are already married to this woman. I don't believe the sexual union, in and of itself, constitutes a marriage. There is a reason, after all, that there is a biblical category for "fornication," sex outside of the covenant of marriage. Jesus recognized that the woman at the well had "no husband" despite the fact that she was with (presumably in a sexual context) someone at the time (Jn. 4:16-18). Moreover, Joseph of Nazareth and the Virgin Mary were genuinely married, even without an accompanying sexual union (Matt. 1:24-25).
When I say that you are "yoked" already I do not mean that you are married already. I mean that you are not in a temporary "relationship." Even in repentance, you cannot simply "move on." You are now, and forever will be, the father of her child. She is the mother of your baby.
You had a responsibility not to entangle yourself with an unbeliever. You had an obligation not to violate God's command for sexual chastity outside of marriage. But you have done these things and you can't turn back time. Your only question now is whether, in addition to being a fornicator, you will also be an orphan-maker.
The Bible tells us that one who does not "provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household" has "denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever" (1 Tim. 5:8). The Scripture also tells us we are to give to everyone what is due (Rom. 13:7). What is due to the woman you have impregnated and the child you have conceived?
The answer, I believe, is what our Father God models for us: provision, protection, and covenant faithfulness. A child is meant to have two parents, a mother and a father (Gen. 1-2). Love this woman, and love this child.
Obviously, it may be that a marriage is impossible. She might, of course, refuse to marry you. But, so far as it is possible with you, I think you ought to make peace out of this situation. The shalom God shows to us from the beginning includes the nurturing of children in a stable, intact family. Repent of your sin, receive the forgiveness of Christ, and move forward with your responsibilities. You're a father now.
Do you have an ethical question? Send it to me at email@example.com. I'll keep it anonymous and change all the identifying details.
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About Russell Moore
Russell Moore is President of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. He formerly served as Dean of the School of Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and executive director of the Carl F. H. Henry Institute for Evangelical Engagement. Dr. Moore is the author of The Kingdom of Christ: The New Evangelical Perspective (Crossway, 2004) and Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families and Churches (Crossway, May 2009).
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