But Being Unequally Yoked Is So Romantic!

If you have grown up in Christian circles, you are probably familiar with the term “unequally yoked.” This phrase comes from 2 Corinthians 6:14-16, which states:

“Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God.”

Growing up, I heard these verses over and over concerning romantic relationships, and they made complete logical sense. I mean, if my purpose in life is to know, glorify and serve Jesus, then why would I want to unite myself with a man who spits on the cross with his life, who scoffs at getting “too radical” over faith in Christ? At my heart of hearts, I want to marry a man whose life is Christ and who will be a spiritual leader to me and my family. Yet despite my desire to only find my heart drawn to men who are passionate about the gospel and becoming like Christ, I have been deceived.

Like Eve in the garden, I have become convinced that the forbidden is the best, and that only outside of the boundaries will I find identity and fulfillment. And like all the best deceptions, this lie has come to me through an insidious guise of light. This lie has not come through reading books like 50 Shades of Grey, not through watching X-rated films, but through a steady I.V. of (gasp!) Christian fiction and heartwarming PG movies.

I am convinced that these purportedly innocuous mediums have served to distort my view of relationships, and this post is an attempt to work through the lies that I have believed, that I have seen many Christian women believe and that I want to be free from.

Go to the Christian fiction section at your local book store, look on the back of books marketed to women, and you will find something like this: “Katie Anderson is working tirelessly to start a nonprofit that is sure to save all the orphans in Africa, that is, until the devastatingly handsome Byron Blakely comes on the scene. Byron is all Katie has ever wanted in a man, but alas! He is not a Christian. Join Katie as she struggles against her feelings for Byron but ultimately draws him to her with her sexy innocence and the book ends with not only a wedding, but a baptism!”

The books are usually not that bald-faced, but  insidiousness is defined by subtlety. The narrative of the moral, upstanding young Christian woman turning the non-believer from his ways has become a poison that is a part of many young Christian women’s diets.

I was first fed this lie through one of my favorite movies, A Walk to Remember. For those of you who haven’t seen it, it is about the rebellious, disturbed Landon who unexpectedly falls in love with Jamie, a guileless, understatedly pretty Christian girl who captivates him by her purity. Ultimately, she changes him for the better and they get married.

The second example comes from my favorite series, The Mark of the Lion by Francine Rivers. In this series, Hadassah, a plain, faithful Christian girl falls in love with Marcus, a Roman aristocrat, who on the outside, is the epitome of worldly success. Marcus is strangely drawn to Hadassah and confides his inner struggles to the pure-hearted girl. Soon, he finds himself captivated by her faith and way of life. Hadassah fights her feelings for him, but we all know where this is going. Eventually, Marcus is won over, becomes a Christian, and they live happily ever after. She just has to wait it out. This is only one of many examples in Christian fiction where this happens.

I have fallen for the romanticization of the Christian woman-heathen male narrative, and I believe that at the root of this is the sin of pride.  In my own life, I have seen myself fall for the lie again and again because of the following three manifestations of pride:

  1. He Makes Us Feel Special: After seeing A Walk to Remember, I wanted to be Jamie. After reading The Mark of the Lion, I wanted to be Hadassah. Why? Because they were chosen, they were special. They were chosen by a man who could have anyone, but something special about them made them uniquely attractive. The danger in this mindset is that it encourages women to use innocence and morality as twisted seduction tools. Many non-believing men do find the innocence and sincerity of Christian women to be a breath of fresh air after living in a different scene for so long. Every girl I know wants to feel like she is special, beautiful, and often, the non-believer fulfills these desires in her.
  2. We Want to Fix Him: This is the most audacious manifestation of pride. So many women fall into the trap of wanting to fix men in their lives, thinking that they can become the Holy Spirit in a man’s life. What is a noble desire can turn into a twisted vying to attain a godlike status in the man’s life: the hope that I will be the one to reform him, I will be the one he will forever be grateful to, I will be special, I, I, I!  My personality type is especially prone to this savior complex. According to my Myers Briggs Type (I am an ISFJ), my type is especially prone to getting into relationships with alcoholics because they want to save or change them. I cringed when I read this description, because I see this distortion of a noble desire constantly play out in my life. In my prideful desire to be “special,” and a “savior,” I am tempted to compromise my convictions and to try to usurp the Holy Spirit from His rightful place (yikes!).
  3. We Romanticize Danger: The dangerous, troubled man who needs a woman to fix him is romanticized in our society.  Taylor Swift’s song “Trouble,” shows how this narrative of the attractiveness of the troubled, noncommittal wanderer permeates our society. Lines like “I knew you were trouble when you walked in,” and “I guess you didn’t care, and I guess I liked that,” seem to indicate that American girls, including the Christian ones, are masochists at heart. And I will admit, that for some reason, I love the taste of these words on my lips. Somehow this “trouble” is fuller of life than a stable relationship. What’s more is that the unequally yoked narrative seems even more attractive because of polarized stereotypes of Christian men versus non-Christian men. Sadly, Christian men are often painted as boring, legalistic, too domineering or too passive. On the other hand, non-believers are painted as full of adventure, drama, excitement and confidence. These broad generalizations are easy for women to latch onto if they are (ahem) 22 and are getting a little bit impatient. It is easy to become bitter at “Christian men” as a whole when you are having a pity-party for your yet-un-kissed lips.

Isaiah 44:20 sums up this struggle to grasp the insidiousness of the lies that I have believed in its depiction of Israel’s idolatry:

“Such a person feeds on ashes; a deluded heart misleads him; he cannot save himself, or say, “Is not this thing in my right hand a lie?”

So this post is above all, really a challenge to myself.

A challenge to resist the lies that I have swallowed again and again about the unequally yoked narrative.

A challenge to stare my pride in the face, no matter how painful it is, and surrender it to Jesus.

And finally, a challenge to trust, really trust, that if He wills it, God will unite me with a man who loves Jesus with all his heart.

I need accountability in this. I need encouragement. Because I am weak, I am impatient, and I am full of pride. But with Christ’s help, these lies can be overcome.

So the next time someone walks in and I know that he’s trouble, may I bite my lip, spit out the lie, and get out of there as fast as I can.

And if I don’t, please slap me in the face. Hard.


For Whom the Bell Doesn’t Toll

This piece was published in the spring 2013 issue of the Vox Populi, a publication of Gordon College.

     A brassy peal emanates from the corner of campus, spreading its eerie power in a shockwave throughout Gordon’s domain. For just a second, the campus stops. Chemistry majors look up from their lab work, soccer players on the quad turn their heads, studiers in Jenks lose their place in Our Father Abraham.  Some sigh, some crack a cynical joke, and some shrug their shoulders. Despite our individual reactions, for just a moment, we are united. Gordon is rich with legend, and few Scots haven’t claimed the tales of the car at the bottom of Gull pond or of Teddy Roosevelt’s horse buried under the quad as part of their heritage. The mysterious lore surrounding Gordon’s history certainly plays a role in shaping our identity as students here, but nothing seems to compare to the metal monument that lounges proudly in its gazebo throne, observing passersby under its sway. The cultural icon that has the power to bring us together for better or for worse is that wonderful, terrible old bell*.
      We see its power in conversations, humming at a constant din throughout the four years, first starting off wistfully, hopefully, then morphing gradually into a senior cynicism or a lifeless joke. The bell makes regular cameos at Gordon Globes, providing a source of comic catharsis for those who find themselves bemoaning the infamous Gordon ratio or the rabid desperation of Gordon girls. The bell is occasionally rung by the reckless non-respecter of its sacred power, but the rest of us know that only under one circumstance may you ring it and leave unscathed.
      The bell’s renown reflects the fact that Christian colleges, and Christian culture in general, is infamous for framing marriage as the cardinal goal of life. Our generation is known for pushing back against the pressure to marry young, but still, the cultural constructs of American Christianity loom over Gordon culture, encouraging unhealthy interaction between the sexes. Many people I have talked to are familiar with the awkward apprehensiveness of male-female interactions at Gordon. The vicious cycle goes like this: Christian girls have a reputation for singling guys out as possible husband material; thus, guys fear that too much friendliness on their part could be mistaken as a marriage proposal. Assuming that Gordon men hold this view of them, many women also mete out their friendliness and smiles in controlled doses for fear that they will project a message of desperation. I have seen and experienced the frustrating awkwardness of this cycle again and again, and I have also seen a striking contrast in my two times studying abroad, where I was able to seamlessly befriend members of the opposite sex without fearing that they would think my attentions were a desperate plea for a ring.
      Not only is the emphasis on marrying young damaging to relationships now, but it sets us up for disappointment when we actually marry. With the best of intentions, Christian culture spreads the propaganda that marriage is the answer to our problems and the beginning of our lives. As such, marriage is one of the prime idols of single Christians everywhere, an antidote to loneliness and a license for guilt-free sex. And like all idols, it doesn’t deliver what it promises.  The National Center for Health Statistics reports that 60% of couples who marry between the ages of 20 and 25 decide to divorce, 10% more than the national average. This is not to say that there should be a ban on young marriage, but it does illustrate that at least 60% of young people tying the knot discover that marriage is not the cure-all that they had envisioned.
      But to be fair, perhaps the lore of the bell is casting a shadow of untruth on the nature of Gordon students. Although perceptions about the opposite sex’s intentions do seem to inhibit cross-gender friendships, the quest for a ring does not define the majority of the students I know. I do not see girls paralyzed by fear that they won’t find “the one” at Gordon. I do not see lazy young men, too indifferent to commit. No, I see men and women pursuing their God-given callings with direction and confidence. I see students investing in lives in the city of Lynn, I see RAs committed to loving their floors, I see blossoming mentorships between faculty and students. In short, I see people invested in deep relationships whether or not they lead to the altar.  
      I admit that when I first heard the legend of the bell, I hoped that one day I would join the ranks of ringers. But now that four years have gone by without anything resembling that type of relationship, I can say with confidence that I have no regrets. Statistics say that for most of us, marriage will eventually come. But regardless of that fact, there is no use in spending four years chasing a fantasy when the opportunity for deep relationships is at its peak. So love the legend of the bell. Laugh, roll your eyes and pass on its magic to the classes to come. Just don’t let it take a toll on your perspective.
*The bell on Gordon College’s campus is only to be rung by couples who have just gotten engaged. Lore has it that if you ring it under any other circumstances, you will have 7 years of bad luck, or worse, 7 more years of singleness…

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