Occasionally there are times when I meet a young Christian to talk about their new love interest and it gets, well, awkward. She'll let me know that she's been talking to a guy she met online or he'll share how he's interested in a girl at work. I'll then proceed to congratulate them and ask what they like about the other person.
The awkward moment transpires though when I ask what church their love interest goes to. "Uh...they don't really go to church." Oh really, how come? "Well, they used to go, but not these days." So is he a Christian? "Well, not really...and I know what you're thinking, but let me explain. This is different."
I've heard this story many times. I've journeyed with many Christians through their non-Christian dating adventure. And though I'm often hesitant to make any strong conclusions on a topic like dating, I can't help but say it: Sorry, it's never a good idea for a Christian to date a non-Christian. Never.
If you're a young Christian who grew up in the church, you're may be thinking, "Yeah, I know this already." But I don't think you do. Wait until you actually meet somebody you like but isn't a believer. And if this happens, the strong statement like the one I just made will really piss you off.
In Search of a "Godly Relationship"
But how do Christians who grew up in the church end up dating a non-Christian in the first place? Why do they "compromise" their values like that? Well let me paint a picture for you. Imagine you're a girl who went to church her whole life. You've listened to sermons about being in a godly relationship; you've read books written by Joshua Harris; and now you're hoping to one day meet a "godly guy."
And yet that day never comes. Sure there are guys at your church. However the ones you might be interested in already have girlfriends. And the ones that don't? Well, you soon realize why this is so. They're all so...awkward. It's great that they know their bibles and serve at church, but it's rough that they don't know how to take a joke or carry a conversation. And it doesn't change your opinion when your friends say, "But he's suuuch a good guy." As if that's the only criterion a Christian girl is supposed to have.
This goes on for a while until one day, at long last, you meet someone. It could be at work or through a friend or at a party. He's funny. He's charming. He's attractive. He gets you. And best of all, he's into you. And you think, "Finally, a guy I connect with." But as you get to know him more, you discover that he doesn't go to church. He used to in the past, but he was never really into religion. He's more interested in his career - and you.
Now if you're a "good Christian" you'll know this is a problem. You'll know his non-Christian status will serve as a barrier. You'll remember how Christians aren't supposed to be yoked with unbelievers (2 Cor 6:14). You'll recall all those sermons and dating books. And you'll get disapproval from all your Christian friends. Yes, you know. So as a result, you try to end things. You tell him this can't work. You tell him your faith is important. And to the relief of your pastor and church, you'll declare it's over.
But in reality, it's not.
How the Story Continues
From my experience, this type of situation almost never ends like this. What instead ends up happening is that you can't help but keep in contact with him because, well, he keeps texting you. I mean, you can't just ignore him right? That'd be rude. And it's not like you're dating - you're just talking now. And you still haven't met any of these supposed "godly guys" at church yet. So what's the harm of seeing where this can go?
So you keep messaging each other. You keep talking to each other. And you eventually start meeting again. Except this time you don't tell any of your Christian friends about it. You already know what they're going to say. And you can't help but feel happy being with him. Is that really so wrong?
This is when new thoughts arise. You remember he used to go to church, so that should count for something, right? You think, "Well, maybe I can change him; after all, aren't I called to be a witness?" And at a certain point, you'll feel frustrated and wonder why this is even a big deal. I mean, he's a good guy if people just got to know him. Why do Christians have to be so narrow-minded? And what's the alternative? Are you supposed to just hope for a godly guy to show up at church? What if he never comes?
Do you now see why people find themselves in this situation? It's much more understandable than people think. And for those who find themselves in this situation: I can see why you're frustrated, and I think I understand why you're doing what you're doing. But sorry, I also think you're making a terrible mistake.
So What's the Big Deal?
Talk to any dating or married couple who've been together for several years and they'll tell you: Being in a relationship takes work. Hard work. Sure in the beginning it's easy and fun to be with someone; but when the "real" you comes out, that's when the challenge begins. Even if you have the same values and beliefs with another person, it's really difficult to make a relationship work.
But think about it. If it's difficult for two individuals with the same values to make things work, how much more difficult is it for two individuals with totally different values? If both the Christian and non-Christian have any intellectual integrity, they'll soon realize that they have a totally different framework on how to approach life. As a result, they'll not only disagree and fight about normal dating issues (e.g. love language, priorities, etc.), but they'll also disagree and fight on the more serious issues.
For example, the Christian will want to be involved with church while the non-Christian may think, "Meh." The Christian will want to set physical boundaries while the non-Christian may think, "What's the big deal?" The Christian will sometimes want to talk about spiritual realities, but the non-Christian may be bored. Clashes over such issues reveal a clash of worldviews and will add strain to the already difficult task of dating.
You Will Break Up...With Someone
As the tension grows, the Christian girl dating the non-Christian will soon realize something has to give. Certain topics are taboo. Certain interests are not shared. And always always always one of two things will inevitably happen: The girl will eventually break up with the guy or she will break up with God. Of course this won't be an explicit decision. But you'll see it in her life. Her faith is less important. Sunday worship is now a seasonal pilgrimage. Life is not about glorifying God anymore but about building a life together with this guy.
No Christian ever goes into a dating relationship ever imagining they will end up abandoning their faith for somebody. But that's what usually ends up happening when a Christian tries dating a non-Christian. Why so? Why can't a Christian just worship God on her own and the non-Christian not worship God on his own and still make a dating relationship work?
Well, intimate relationship don't work this way. If you love art and devoted your life to it but your significant other is apathetic towards art or even against it, wouldn't that be tough? Or if you loved your family but your significant other is apathetic or against them, wouldn't that be painful? As one author says, if Christ is the most important person in your life but you date someone who doesn't really get Him, then he won't really get you. While you may connect physically and emotionally, you can never connect spiritually to each other. And that will bother you - unless you deny or minimize the spiritual realities of life.
So you have to end things with someone: either with God or with your non-Christian partner. The third option - living in the tension of alternative lifestyles - is too difficult. Perhaps you won't feel it in the beginning. But if your faith remains important to you, it will be painful not going to church with your spouse. It will be tough figuring out how to raise your kids together. And it will be difficult connecting at a deeper level.
Therefore Christians will often end things with God. The break-up may not be sudden and it won't be explicit, but rest assured something will give because nobody wants to be in an intimate relationship where such deep disconnection exists.
Yes I know you can think of that "one couple" that met when he was a Christian and she wasn't but they seemed to have made it work. But you need to realize those are unicorns. And before you declare that you guys are unicorns too, let me point you to all the other couples who thought the same thing but ended in heartbreak - either with their partners or with their God.
Again, I'm often very hesitant ever telling a dating couple to break up. Who wants to be that guy who says, "This relationship will end" only to see them working out and getting engaged and married? And now you're that guy in their story who didn't believe in them. I don't want to be that guy.
However, when it comes to this issue, I don't mind the risk of being that guy. Because more often than not, a relationship did indeed come to an end.