Dear Renita,
My boyfriend and I have been together for almost three years. I am Christian and my faith is important to me, but his is not. We do have the same basic beliefs, but mine are much stronger. He used to come to church with me, but he doesn't anymore. We've had our ups and downs, but we've always managed to work through our differences. We love each other very much. I really can't see myself with anyone else, although in my heart I really want to be with a Christian man. I know that the Bible says that we should not be unequally yoked, but I find it too hard to break off our relationship when his major flaw is that he is not saved. My pastor said that I should break it off, because he will only hold me back. I just don't know what to do.
--Stronger in Faith

Dear "Stronger,"
My response to this question is lengthier than usual because your question strikes at something many women worry about when contemplating romance and marriage. Can a relationship work if the two of you are on different spiritual levels?

It's not clear from your letter what makes the two of you "unequally" yoked other than the fact that your boyfriend is not the avid churchgoer that you are. Don't confuse differences in your spiritual maturity with differences in your religious beliefs. Being equally or unequally yoked, as Paul talked about (II Corinthians 6:14) had to do with more fundamental, irreducible differences between partners, those having to do with whether one partner was pagan and the other Christian, whether one confessed Jesus as Lord and the other worshipped multiple gods. The problem you've described in your note sounds more to me like differences in your Christian maturity. That the two of you may not be on the same spiritual plane is something to consider. But it's not like the sort of marital and family chaos Paul witnessed in biblical times when Christians and non-Christians married.

Judging from your note it's pretty apparent that the two of you love each other. Ideally the love you two share is built on more than just good looks, good loving, and some good laughs together. Undergirding the relationship, hopefully, is a bedrock of shared values about what matters most and a common vision of the sort of future you want for any family you might create.

I know some folks will disagree with me, but I don't think you should dump your boyfriend just because he doesn't attend church as much as you. Church attendance alone is not a reliable indicator of one's spiritual maturity. The question best exploring is whether your boyfriend's comparative disinterest in church hints at some more profound resistance on his part to spiritual matters. For instance, is he at heart an atheist, someone who simply doesn't believe in God and has no interest in talk about spirituality and Christian values? If he is, then I agree with your pastor that continuing this relationship is only going to cause you both lots of pain and disappointment down the road.

But let's say that your boyfriend is not an atheist. "My boyfriend is a good person who believes in God," women tell me all the time, "he just doesn't care for church." While I think the best relationships are those where both partners have the same social and spiritual interests, I know that it's possible to have a good marriage even when the two of you are on two different spiritual planes. Lots of women find themselves in relationships like this. It takes lots of work but it's possible for two people on different spiritual planes to build a good marriage. After all, just because you start out on different planes doesn't meant you will stay on different planes.

The question is whether your boyfriend is a mature, secure, intelligent man who admires where you are spiritually, even though he is not quite there, and respects you enough to honor your beliefs as a Christian woman Keep in mind that when the honeymoon is over and you find yourself in the winepress of day to day marriage that one partner enjoys attending church regularly, and the other one avoids church as often as possible can become a major point of conflict in the marriage. That one partner thinks that cheating on his taxes is perfectly acceptable while the other thinks it's cheating and wrong; or that one partner prefers to pray before making a big decision and the other prefers a good, stiff drink before making the big decision can cause major rifts in a relationship.

If he loves you and respects what your faith means to you, he will honor your values. If you love him, you will pray for his growth, encourage him on a journey that must be done at his own pace, and show him the grace and patience spiritual maturity allows us to extend to others.

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