Everyone who has been raised in faith has heard 2 Corinthians 6:14: “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?”
For most of us this means that we are to grow to a good age (in my case that age was 17), find another God-fearing, church-going person of faith and yoke ourselves with that person. We’re to spend our days worshiping God together and helping each other to build our faith through Bible study and church attendance. We are to avoid at all costs the darkness and unrighteousness presented by those who don’t believe the same way we do or who don’t believe at all. We are to keep that stain away from ourselves and our families.
Back in the by-gone era of my misspent youth, I was a dewy 13-year-old girl sitting in an art class next to a slightly older boy. As teenage girls are wont to do, I found myself flirting with this boy quite a lot. Eventually he asked me to be his girlfriend and I said yes. Our short romance ended after about two weeks when my Mom found out that he was an atheist. We professed to be Mormons but we were mostly lapsed but one thing that my Mom was very sure about was that there was a God and those who didn’t believe in Him were bad. So I went to school and broke up with him and that was that.
Fast-forward to May of 2012, 6 months after a disastrous split from my own God-fearing, church-going husband of 11 years, I was at work at a large retail outlet, doing what I did and minding my own business when I noticed a man who was leaving the register and getting ready to leave the store. I knew this man. Had, in fact, been his girlfriend for a brief time when I was 13. I flagged him down and he was just as surprised to see me as I was to see him. We made a date to get together for a catching-up dinner the following Friday. I showed up, butterflies in my stomach because this was the first time I’d ever been out with a man who wasn’t my husband – and we went to dinner.
During our dinner conversation it came up that he was, indeed, still an atheist and I was, indeed, still not. At the time I wasn’t sure how I felt about that information since I’d been fully immersed in the fundamentalist Baptist faith for the last 11 years and I was still very much a believer, albeit a confused one. But over the course of that dinner and during the movie and long conversation that followed it, I realized that the childish attraction we’d felt for each other was still there – tempered by age, distance and experience. Neither of us were the kids we’d been so long ago and we both wanted to see what our relationship could be so we kept seeing each other.
Over the course of the next couple of years we dated and something completely unprecedented (for me anyway) happened; I was challenged in my faith. Not in a “your God doesn’t exist and you’re stupid for believing he does” way but in a “why do you believe the way you do?” way. This man, we’ll call him Tom, would ask me questions about my faith and I was dismayed at how often I didn’t even know the answers. I quickly realized that Tom knew more Bible passages than me, knew more about Jesus’ story than I did. Atheist or not, he knew more about the faith I had professed to follow my entire life than I did.
So I stopped just following the line I’d been led along my entire life. I took the lens of organized religion away from my eyes and began to venture outside my spiritual comfort zone and I realized that I didn’t believe – at all – in God the way I’d always been told he was. I didn’t believe in a cruel and vindictive God; a petty and jealous God. I believed in the God of love, of acceptance, of gentle joy. My God loved everyone equally as I did my own kids. He wasn’t some omnipotent, untouchable deity. He was my friend, my confidant, my Father.
Through the whole spiritual reawakening that I went through, through all my exploring and questioning and redefining of my faith, Tom stayed by me. He listened to me talk about my God, he questioned me and encouraged me and supported me. Not once did he ever tell me I should abandon my faith altogether and “come to the dark side” of unbelief. He knew that my faith was a part of me that he wasn’t going to change and he accepted and loved that about me.
My family – especially my Mom – were not happy that I was dating an atheist but being in a relationship with him had opened my eyes to so many things. Tom was one of the best people I knew, even without faith, and maybe because of his lack of belief. He did the good things he did because he knew it was the right thing to do, not because he feared some eternal retribution or hoped for Heaven when he died. He taught me to do good for the sake of the good, not to impress a Higher Power. He taught me that religion doesn’t necessarily give you morals and that faith doesn’t necessarily make you a better person. Being with Tom, seeing faith from his side of things, didn’t push me away from God. It helped bring me closer to Him.
Tom and I have been together for nearly four years and are planning on getting married in the summer. If the last four years of being a Christian in a serious relationship with an atheist has taught me anything it’s that the term “unequally yoked” has been wildly misused.
“Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?”
Why do we religious people assume that only the religious own all that is righteous in the world? Why do we assume that the light is our sole property? Being equally yoked means being tied to someone who shares your morals, your ideals and your goals in life. It means being with someone who supports you and lift you up. It means being with someone who shares the load of life’s burdens and who’s there for you no matter what. It means being with someone who is going to pick up their side of that yoke and make their way with you, step by step, through life. And your partner doesn’t have to worship God – or the same God as you – to do that.