Denominationally Mismatched Romance

Should I pursue a serious relationship with someone of another denomination whose theological framework is radically different from my own? While serving on a short-term mission this summer, I met a young lady for whom I have developed deep feelings and great respect. We've been corresponding since we returned to the States, and our friendship has reached a point where a "next step" is being prayerfully considered. While we share the same biblical values and passionate commitment to Christ, we come from different (some might even suggest conflicting) doctrinal backgrounds. She firmly adheres to the fundamental tenets of the faith (i.e., the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds), but there are some people in my church who I'm certain would consider the beliefs and doctrines of her denomination heretical. What should I do?

There’s no black-and-white, right-or-wrong answer here, but it’s almost certain that the relationship you’re contemplating would turn out to be extremely complicated. That in itself is reason to proceed with great caution.

It’s wonderful that you and your young lady friend feel that you’re on the same page when it comes to your shared “biblical values and passionate commitment to Christ.” But you need to understand that these “values” are not the same thing as your respective “theological frameworks.” On your own testimony, those “frameworks” are “radically different.” That should give you pause, because there’s an important sense in which framework trumps values. Allow us to explain.

Your theological framework is essentially the same thing as your worldview. It’s the overarching, all-embracing paradigm through which you perceive reality and interpret the universe around you. It involves assumptions that can be compared to inborn, inbred cultural perspectives. It’s part of the fabric of your psychological and moral makeup. If you choose to marry someone who “radically” differs from you in terms of this basic psychological orientation, you can be certain that conflicts will surface as the relationship progresses.

These problems will only get worse as children come along and you start confronting issues and questions that involve the extended family. What, for instance, will you and your wife do when one or the other of your “radically differing” faith traditions says it’s time to christen or baptize your kids? How will you handle confirmation, communion, and the many other liturgical details that can become such bitter points of contention between denominational groups? Where, how, and with whom will you celebrate holidays? Whose customs will your growing family adopt?

What we’re really trying to say here is that when you marry someone, you don’t just marry an individual. You marry an entire family. And it’s crucial to be aware of the potential for misunderstanding that can arise when that family and your family of origin operate on the basis of dramatically contrasting worldviews.

We realize, of course, that this potential for conflict can vary depending upon the seriousness and intensity of each family’s loyalty to its respective denominational background and their overall view of other believers. The same thing can be said about you and your girlfriend as individuals. Just how strong and staunch is your commitment to the doctrinal perspective in which you were raised? What about the young lady? We all know that there can be a huge difference between a merely nominal Catholic or Baptist and a dyed-in-the-wool, hardcore “pillar of the church.” It would be a good idea to ask yourselves where you and the various members of your families fall along that continuum. Give these questions some careful thought. Take time to write out exactly what the “radical differences” are and how much you care about them.

It’s possible, of course, that these doctrinal distinctions don’t really matter as much to the two of you as they do to your parents and relatives. If that’s the case, you will need to figure out how much you and the young lady in question are likely to be influenced by your respective family connections if you end up getting married. This is something you will want to do before considering the “next step” in your relationship. If you don’t, you may come to the realization somewhere down the road that the only way to maintain peace within your marriage is to stay away from relatives and have nothing to do with your extended family. That would be tragic on a number of counts.

Here at Focus on the Family we have a staff of trained family therapists available to provide you with sound advice and practical assistance over the phone. Call our counselors for a free consultation. They can also provide you with references to reputable Christian therapists practicing in your area.

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The Sacred Search: What if It’s Not About Who You Marry, But Why?

Emotions: Can You Trust Them? 

Solomon on Romance 

5 Love Languages: Singles Edition

Inviting God Into Your Dating Relationship (broadcast)

Dating Tips for Today’s Singles (broadcast)

Aiming for a Godly Marriage in the Dating Years (broadcast)

Referrals on dating

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