Dating Non-Christians: Forbidden Fruit's Appeal – Part 2
- 2006 2 Feb
In "The UnGuide to Dating," a he said/she said look at adult dating relationships, authors Camerin Courtney and Todd Hertz discuss why the temptations – and dangers – of dating non-Christians are very real. ...
“But This Is Different!”
Todd: Nobody consciously thinks, "Boy, I reckon I’m gonna look for a non-Christian to date today." Instead, the temptation to lower our standards sneaks up on us quietly. And the temptation can be brought on for a variety of reasons. For my friend Amber, for instance, it was watching her best friend and younger sister get married (both to wonderful Christian husbands) and start families. She doubted God’s plan for her and began dating more aggressively to hurry up her own trip to the altar. So when Steve asked her out, her attraction to him – and the idea that he could be her husband someday – far outweighed the serious effect of his beliefs on her faith journey.
Temptation to date a non-Christian can take many forms. Maybe she has looser standards for sexual activity than Christian women. Maybe you just really like her. Or maybe you just see no Christian options. If non-Christians are showing interest when Christians either aren’t or aren’t around, it can be hard to resist. I mean, if you’re getting no results in your search, it seems sensible to drop the one stipulation that’s narrowing your potential pool, right?
This rationalization is exacerbated by lots of easy excuses that remind me of the secular dating book "He’s Just Not That Into You." The book features letters from women in awful dating relationships using various excuses to explain that their misbehaving boyfriends really do care for them. “But my situation is different,” they say. And one by one, the authors shoot down the letters, explaining, “Nope, he’s just not that into you.”
When it comes to dating non-Christians, we also often tell ourselves, “But this is different!” For each excuse though, it seems like the Bible has a response, saying, “Nope, that relationship’s just not right for you.” Some examples of these excuses:
“But we love each other.” My friend Dan married a non-Christian several years ago. They love each other very much, but Dan quickly realized many hardships would stem from the fact that his wife will never really understand his faith.
In 2 Corinthians, Paul warns believers by writing, “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common?” (6:14). Paul doesn’t say love can’t exist between a believer and a nonbeliever, but what Paul observes is that a believer and a nonbeliever cannot ever really understand each other. How can we expect a person who walks with Christ to be understood by someone who doesn’t even know him?
Dan knows this too well. Not only will his wife not share in eternal life, but their differences trickle down to practical matters as well. When facing a problem, they can’t rely on prayer together. When Dan is busy volunteering at his church, his wife is less than understanding. In addition, many arguments have started over the amount of Dan’s annual tithes. She just doesn’t understand the most important thing in his life.
“But he respects my faith.” A committed Baptist, my high school friend Jessica had heard the “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers” verse in 2 Corinthians dozens of times. But when she began dating Dominick, a non-Christian, she told friends it was OK because he believed in a higher power and was very interested in the supernatural. She argued that his interest and respect for people with devout beliefs was good enough to combat 2 Corinthians 6’s warnings that they’d have no common ground.
But slowly, Dominick’s intimate and intense influence on Jessica began to reshape her long-held convictions. He did believe in a god but had no commitment to him. So when I learned they were sleeping together, I was disappointed but not shocked. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 7:1 that we need to “purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit.” Letting someone who doesn’t hold our convictions and beliefs into the secret places of our heart surely can wear us down and contaminate the good there.
“But it’s my chance to witness.” My friend Lacey used to talk about her boyfriend Zach as if she had a secret time machine hidden somewhere. She would say, “Once he gets saved, he’ll be the perfect husband.” She acted as if it were a given.
I didn’t really know what to tell Lacey, because I could understand where she was coming from. I once met a non-Christian girl I really liked and quieted my inner warnings by saying, “It will be fine. She’ll become a Christian eventually.” But was my chief concern really the status of her salvation? No, selfish motivations were at play.
Several years ago, a woman named Zen Lee explained in the Columbia Standard why she dated only Christians. “I do not trust myself to desire the right things or to have the right motivations,” she wrote. “Maybe 99 percent of the time the motivations behind missionary dating are impure: a need for attention or approval, [sexual desire], desire for companionship, longing to be understood, or a savior-complex. Every Christian should be wary of the secret motivations of the heart.”10
And even if our motivations were purely about a romantic interest’s salvation, missionary dating is a pretty ridiculous strategy. First off, we can’t save anyone – no matter how hard we work at it. It’s God’s call whose heart to work in, not ours. Second, the basic premise of missionary dating is purposeful deception. Do we really want to trick or lure somebody to Christ using our love as bait? I hope not.
Worse than the ineffectiveness of missionary dating is that it actually does the opposite: it hurts our own faith. Like Lacey, we can convince ourselves that everything will be OK once the other person changes. But typically, it’s we who change.
Women may be especially in danger of this trap. In 2000, syndicated religion columnist Terry Mattingly wrote about a study that looked at trends in living together before marriage. In the Journal of Family Issues study, researchers found that “deeply religious men” far less commonly live with a woman before marriage than nonreligious men. However, “deeply religious women” were just as likely to cohabitate as nonreligious women. Why?
“My theory is that women are willing to make sacrifices for their partners, once they have become emotionally attached,” said one of the researchers. “They’re willing to make compromises to try to hang on to the relationship. Men won’t do that. ... These girls are probably thinking, ‘He’s not perfect. But I love him and I can help him change.’”11
This is exactly why over and over the Bible warns us, above all else, to guard our hearts (Ps. 119:37; Prov. 4:23–25; Prov. 22:5; 1 Cor. 16:13; 2 Tim. 1:14). It’s better for me to not even approach a non-Christian than to tease hurtful motivations.
Of course, that’s easier said than done. Luckily, we aren’t alone. God can do mighty things through prayer. And he can also do mighty things through the people he puts around us. I try to take advantage of those trusted friends and family members by being open with my life so they can lend me truth and accountability. I try to be honest with them. And to ask them to look out for me and keep me in prayer. In fact, I have even given some loved ones specific permission to challenge me and question me about dating decisions.
Most of all, we need to trust God to build our romantic relationships. And we need him not only as the architect but as a day-to-day presence in both members’ lives. Great advice comes from Psalm 127:1: “Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain.”
Click here to read Part 1.
10Zen Lee, "When Dating Becomes a Mission," Columbia standard, March 1997.
11Terry Mattingly, "Missionary Cohabitating," Scripps Howard News Service, 2000.
Used by permission of Fleming H. Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, copyright © 2006. All rights to this material are reserved. Materials are not to be distributed to other web locations for retrieval, published in other media, or mirrored at other sites without written permission from Baker Publishing Group.
Camerin Courtney is managing editor of Today's Christian Woman magazine, author of "Table for One," and a columnist for ChristianSinglesToday.com.
Todd Hertz is an associate editor for Ignite Your Faith Magazine, formerly Campus Life. He's a frequent contributor to ChristianSinglesToday.com and ChristianityTodayMovies.com.