Yoked

Yoked oxen at Old World Wisconsin. They finall...

Yoked oxen at Old World Wisconsin. They finally got them yoked up to work. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There’s this verse in the New Testament that says, “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, ESV). In the context of my upbringing, this verse practically meant, “Do not date or marry non-Adventists,” or more liberally, “Do not marry non-Protestant Christians.” There is some debate about whether or not these verses are even talking about marriage. And the contextually specific nature of the Pauline letters does nothing to clarify the issue. Still, I want to take some time to talk about how the concept is often applied in Christian communities, and the practicality of the position. What concerns me isn’t accurate biblical exegesis, but the reality of the ‘equally yoked’ principle as it is actually practised. And the implications behind the language used to describe the ideal Christian marital union.

First, let’s consider the word ‘yoke.’  A yoke is a device used to harness two animals together so that they can effectively work as a team. A system of yoked animals won’t accomplish their task if one is smaller, or stronger , or if they pursue different directions than one another. Project this onto marriage and you have an institution that binds two people so that they can work together in life. And like a couple of yoked oxen, the partnership won’t work as well if one member of the partnership is constantly overpowering the other, or if both members want to move in different directions.

But is our direction necessarily defined by our religion? Or for that matter, is having identical worldviews even desirable in one’s most intimate relationships? Both of these questions boil down to issues of compatibility, specifically, what is compatibility, and what makes two people compatible? The assumption that two people of the same institutional worldview will automatically better suited for each other than two people who declare different worldviews is an old one, but it’s not necessarily accurate. For example, while I still self-identified as a ‘member’ of the church, I had more practical values in common with some liberal Anglicans than I had with conservative members of my own denomination.

Religious titles may tell us what denomination a person was raised in, what community embraced them during formative phases of life, or summarize the broad strokes of their cosmology. What religious titles can’t tell us what a person values from day to day, how they act on those values, or how those values play themselves out in the contexts of family, work, parenting, financial priorities, or time management. In short, religious titles can’t tell you how well the two of you will work together as a couple on a day to day basis. For that, you have to get to know one another, and it’s impossible to get to know a person you’ve already disqualified because of their title.

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