Unequally Yoked

When I was dating, there was a lot of thought about finding my equal. . .

No, not my equal.

In fact, I was looking for my superior, for that was what I was told I needed as my “spiritual head.”

(never mind the fact that “spiritual head” is not actually a biblical phrase, or that “head” often means “source” rather than “authority”—we’ll go there another time)

I was told my spouse and I should be like two oxen yoked together to pull a cart. Oxen must be equal in all ways in order to pull the cart well. Otherwise the cart will topple and disaster will ensue.

They quoted 2 Cor 6:14-15

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?

And then they added to it. It’s not just about him being a believer, but he should be a believer just like you (with the same maturity, commitment, etc.)

No, wait. He should be better.

No wonder I know so many unmarried Christian women. This ideal is impossible, given that we all mature at different rates, and women tend toward greater spiritual openness. Sociologist Mark Regnerus writes about this over at Christianity Today.

Have you ever thought about the fact that there are many areas in which we expect inequality between the sexes? I’m not talking about inequality with regard to being in the image of God or having access to roles in church and the society. While those may (should) be equal, we still expect inequality elsewhere.

  • She should be more nurturing than he
  • He should know more about the Bible than she
  • She should know more about cooking than he
  • He should be stronger spiritually than she
  • She should be less aggressive than he
  • He should have a higher paying job than she
  • He should be physically stronger than she
  • She should be shorter than he
  • And more and more and more. . .

Physical, mental, and relational characteristics, job, social standing—we have pretty clear expectations of inequality. What happens when our significant other doesn’t follow these stereotypes?

We have clear expectations of inequality in relationships. Click To Tweet

What if he’s more nurturing and makes less money than she? What if she’s more aggressive and knows more about the Bible than he?

At sixteen, a pastor told me to be less aggressive and strong or I’d never find a husband (I write more about this in The Book of Womanhood). But then I got a PhD and started teaching Bible and Theology. And that intimidated Christian bachelors because I knew more about the Bible than they and thus their relationship with me would not follow the expected inequalities. The extrabiblical teaching had become gospel.

It’s high time that we allow people to be individuals, whether they follow our extrabiblical stereotypes or not. No two people are exactly the same and that is a good thing.

It’s also high time that we interpret 2 Cor 6:14-15 in its context. It’s about close partnerships between believers and unbelievers (possibly including, but not limited to marriage). All it requires is faith, no more. The rest is up to the partners.

At the end of the day, if we think about two oxen yoked together to pull a cart, we want them to be doing so with the same strength, the same height, the same everything.

Married People aren't two oxen pulling a cart. Click To Tweet

Married people aren’t two oxen pulling a cart. They aren’t the same. There will be inherent differences.

And those differences are good.

2 comments on “Unequally YokedAdd yours →

    1. Great question! I think femininity and masculinity are culturally determined–that is, femininity includes stereotypes that vary in strength in people and are not limited to females. Culture has stated “this is femininity,” but those characteristics, as you’ve discovered, are not necessarily determined by biological sex. And different cultures have different understandings of femininity. I don’t know if you’ve picked up my book yet (you can find it on the menu), but I have a more extended discussion on masculinity and femininity in one chapter in it.

      And, I guess the short answer to your question is yes. But I’ll bet that there are also men that are not transgender but find themselves with more culturally determined feminine characteristics than women they date or marry. It’s complex, no? But fascinating. I’m interested in allowing people to be individuals who don’t follow culture’s stereotypes, as I think this post makes clear. That’s partially because I don’t follow them in some ways myself, and I want permission to be the person I am!

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