Dating and the denomination dilemma
‘I’d never marry a non-Christian, but what about someone from a different denomination?’ mused a woman I met at a Bible week. ‘I go to a charismatic Christian fellowship, and I’ve starting dating an Anglo-Catholic man. He’s lovely and very Godly, but his church is so different from mine, it’s like another religion! I’m wondering if it can ever really work between us.’
I once made a throwaway comment in one of my Christian Connection blogs about people missing out on love because of differences as ‘trifling’ as denomination. The good members of CC were quick to point out that while we may all share a common faith (and some aren’t even sure about that!), styles of worship and the day-to-day living out of our faith can vary enormously. For some people, this doesn’t matter; for others, the gulf is too wide.
When I thought about it, I had to agree. Building a relationship with someone whose Christian life is very different to our own, and with whom we may disagree profoundly on theological issues, can be very challenging. A lot depends on our previous experiences of church (good and bad), and what Christian tradition feels most authentic to us. For instance, if you hate noisy worship, find succour in liturgy and ritual, and see prayer as a strictly private practice, then you may struggle to find a meeting point with someone who expects to pray out loud together every day, go to praise-a-thons and lead a homegroup.
‘Denomination sometimes means a lot, and sometimes doesn’t,’ one Facebook follower told me. ‘I’d struggle to be in a relationship with a woman who doesn’t share my views on core Christian doctrines.’
‘I recently met a lovely Catholic man,’ shared another. ‘I can live with him having the odd chat to Mary, and even the prospect of having loads of children. But I’m divorced, so before we can even start a relationship, we have to check if I can get an annulment! And it was a seriously surreal experience discussing contraception on our third date…’
Some couples make it work. I know one pair where the wife, who came from an Evangelical church, joined her husband’s traditional Anglican church. While it isn’t her ‘natural’ church environment, she’s happy and settled in her new community, and hasn’t looked back.
Another couple I know go to different churches. She’s happy-clappy; he loves smells-and-bells. Neither can stomach the other’s services, so they stick to their own, visiting each other’s churches for special events. It wouldn’t work for everyone, but they’re happy with the arrangement.
‘My boyfriend is from a conservative Evangelical background; I’m central Church of England,’ one reader shared. ‘We’ve found a Evangelical C of E that suits us both. We sometimes disagree, but we try to look at the Bible and work out what it really says. We almost always end up agreeing.’
‘As long as a partner’s focus is on God, I’m happy,’ added another. ‘Sometimes, differences expand your horizons.’
However, this requires a genuine acceptance of who the other person is, not viewing them as someone to be ‘converted’ to your way of doing things. ‘I dated a man from a charismatic church,’ recalled one woman. ‘I had no issue with that, but he tried to lead me away from my own Presbyterian church, and I didn’t like that.’
So if you meet someone with relationship potential, but who comes from a very different Christian tradition to your own, how can you determine if it’s workable? The key is to first decide which issues are fundamental beliefs, and which boil down to church culture. Then find your common ground, work out where you’re each happy to compromise (or not), and see what you’re left with.
‘There are more important things to consider than denomination – shared values, interests, honesty, whether you actually get on!’ said one Facebooker. ‘Then it doesn’t matter if they’re Baptist, Anglican, Evangelical or whatever.’
I agree, and I believe it’s worth putting in the effort. While some differences may be impossible to negotiate, it would be a tragedy to miss out on a good marriage just because of the trappings of church styles.
Have you dated someone from a different denomination? Did you learn to live with your differences or was the gulf too wide? We want to hear your stories!