When we first starting dating, Josh and I were mutually burned out by “Cru Culture” – the branch of Campus Crusade for Christ we were both part of that was highly legalistic and overly concerned with outward appearances. Despite our different backgrounds — he grew up Church of Christ, and I grew up Jewish — we were more or less on the same spiritual footing at that point.
Fast forward a few years, and I’m burned out from a year at seminary, about to embark on a treacherous road of spiritual deconstruction. Everything I thought I believed was being dismantled; I wasn’t sure what I believed anymore, and had no idea where I might land. The non-denominational mega-church that we once called “ours” was suddenly too triggering for me. I would sit in the lobby while Josh went inside the sanctuary on Sundays.
What ended up saving my faith was the Episcopal church: a place that makes Josh highly uncomfortable, what with all the sitting and standing and the organs and the Book of Common Prayer and clergy that dress like Harry Potter characters.
I loved it, as the flow of the service reminded me of the synagogue in which I grew up. Josh was not a fan. I reminded him that I felt the same way about his church.
No one ever expects spiritual deconstruction (much like the Inquisition!). You can’t predict when it will happen, or where the process might take you, which is why the concept of being “equally yoked” — that is, sharing the same core beliefs — isn’t always a guarantee. Who you are on your wedding day will not be the same person you’ll be five, ten, twenty years from now. Beliefs mold and change over time, whether we want them to or not.
It occurred to me some time ago that even when we first started calling each other boyfriend and girlfriend, Josh and I were already “unequally yoked.” Even though we both considered ourselves Christian, our backgrounds positioned us to practice and understand faith differently. Understandably, this has caused multiple disagreements between us, but somehow we make it work.
I probably haven’t been married long enough (four years this December) to give out meaningful advice, but if you find yourself in a marriage that is becoming “unequally yolked,” I have a few suggestions that have worked well for us:
Listen — don’t preach — to your partner
I remember getting a flat tire one night after small group, and as we waited on the side of the highway for AAA to rescue us, we got into an argument about hell. My father had been dead only a year, so this topic was extremely triggering to me – something that would drive me away from Christianity altogether if I couldn’t resolve it.
Josh didn’t have any solutions for me (he’s no theologian, after all). But he did listen to me without interruption, let me cry, and assured me it was okay to be angry and have doubts. He didn’t use any scare tactics or recite any Bible verses to try and “bring me back.”
Make compromises when needed
For a while, we were alternating Sundays at two different churches: his evangelical one, and my Episcopal one. We were both mutually uncomfortable when it was the other’s turn to be a visitor, but what’s marriage without a little self sacrifice?
I should mention that this sort of compromising is a lot easier when you and your spouse belong to two denominations under the umbrella of the same religion. If you don’t, that leads me to suggestion number three…
Find something spiritual you can do together
We attend a young adult small group on Thursday nights at that same evangelical church, but those meetings are a lot more laid back than the Sunday morning service, and have people there our own age. Much as I love Episcopal tradition, every church I’ve visited in our area boasts a congregation that appears to be 50 years and older. Nothing wrong with that, but having friends your own age is important.
If no such group exists or is feasible for you and your spouse, see if there are any interfaith councils in your area. Establish a ritual between the two of you, like praying or reading a book together. Get creative, but try not to become too isolated. Ideally, you should be able to help each other grow, even if your journeys don’t look the same.