“Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?” – 2 Corinthians 6:14 (English Standard Version)
Growing up Seventh-Day Adventist, it was only natural to wonder about the nature of male/female relationships. Everybody growing up wonders about that, but for the SDA it was almost like sacred territory. We saw couples at church, but we were only privy to their public relationship with the Lord, not to their private relationship with each other. But you know how kids are. We talked, and it was pretty easy to place the couples we saw into three categories:
- The Ones Who Were Genuinely Happy
- The Ones Who Were Pretending
- The Ones Who Weren’t Even Pretending
The ones who weren’t even pretending were the ones who we never even saw together. Either the wife would bring the kids to church, the husband would bring the kids to church, or they would both be there, but never in the same place at the same time. These couples tended to be middle-aged with young children. The ones who were pretending could always be seen together, but they were never actually found communicating with each other. And those who were genuinely happy had a seamless nature to how they went about their business while at the same time tending to each other. Those couples were usually smiling, and had an ease to them that we could tell the other couples obviously envied.
But one thing that was hardly ever in question was that each couple we saw at church were in fact baptized Seventh-Day Adventists. While there may have been degrees of faith, the faith itself was never in doubt. Apparently this isn’t so clear-cut in some other religions, but I didn’t know anything about that then. I assumed that everyone who was married was “equally yoked,” meaning that they were of the same religion. I also assumed back then that when I grew up I, too, would marry a Seventh-Day Adventist and raise Seventh-Day Adventist children together with her. That assumption would prove false.
It was interesting this past weekend going to my high school reunion, because several of my former classmates, upon meeting my wife, had the same assumptions that I had so long ago in North Philadelphia Church. And perhaps it would have been true had I remained a Seventh-Day Adventist, but that was the twist in the road I had never seen coming back then. It’s funny to look back at it all now, seeing things through my young, naive eyes, but when I think back to so many of the couples who weren’t even pretending, eventually they would divorce. It happened probably 9 times out of 10.
Maybe being unequally yoked is as negative as God makes it sound in 2 Corinthians after all. I recall a family that began coming to the church, a mother and her three daughters, and I honestly thought that was their family. Until one day after church I saw them being picked up by a man in a car. He never came into the church, and no one ever talked about him at church either. It was as if he didn’t exist, save as a ghost driver to ferry the family away when the service was done. We later learned that he was the father and husband of that family, but he wasn’t a Seventh-Day Adventist. So he might as well have been a ghost, I guess, so much as the church folk were concerned.
And I wondered how they did it, how they somehow made it work, but it appeared as if they did, until they didn’t anymore. The mother gradually stopped coming to church, but they would still drop the kids off for church service and for special programs for the children. Then eventually even that ceased, and despite outreach from several church members who had been given that particular spirit for service even that was phased out, until all we had left of the family was memories. The yoke had finally broken in the one of the only two ways it seemed like it could for people of different faiths. Either the religious faith won out, or the marriage did. There was no middle ground.
“We’re one, but we’re not the same. We get to carry each other.” -U2
I fear there still is no middle ground, because there is no room for difference. I love most of the tenets of the Seventh-Day Adventist faith, but what I don’t like is its insistence that it is the one “true” faith, that all others are pretenders, which is the basis for its witnessing program. Yes, the church wants to do outreach, but it is for the sole purpose of bringing people in so they can be saved when Jesus comes again. If you’re part of a religion that says this, how can you possibly hope to maintain a marriage (or even a courting relationship) with someone who will be doomed if what you believe is in fact true.
Still there were so many couples I saw then, and I still see now, who are in the Seventh-Day Adventist church and who are genuinely happy. They have their life’s mate, and they have their religious faith, and instead of clashing, the two are highly compatible. I love when I see that because that’s the true glory of being equally yoked, of understanding each other and your place within the hands of the Lord. But I don’t think it can only happen within the church, and I don’t think only people in the church can be believers.
I believe that Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior and that he is coming back to claim those who are faithful, but I don’t believe only people of one religion are going to be going with him to heaven. I am blessed to have wife who feels the exact same way, so in that we are equally yoked. I trust in that more than I trust in any religious structures, and that’s good enough for me. Belief is such a nebulous thing, but when you truly feel that connection with another human being, it’s enough.
And you know what? Some of my biggest role models remain those people I saw in the church when I was young, the ones who were genuinely, and I hope they’re still just as happy now as they were then, that time hasn’t broken their yoke, instead making it stronger.