I believe the third reason for the high divorce rate, even among Christian marriages is unequal yoking.
If one were to ask questions regarding compatibility in marriage, the usual responses may involve political affiliations, values, careers or how many kids a person may want have. And sometimes, unfortunately, no thought at all is given to any matters regarding compatibility. Faith issues seem to be less of a concern according to most research, especially right before marriage. To enter into a marriage relationship based on the afore mentioned items however, is not building a solid ground for a long lasting, successful partnership.
Even when religious affiliation is considered, differences don’t always detract wedding bells from being heard. In fact, interfaith marriages have been on the rise. According to this NPR broadcast stating that 20% of marriages in US in the 50’s were interfaith and this figure climbed to 45% by the first decade of the 21st century. In the same broadcast, it was mentioned that discussing family values and how to raise children within a world view was important but because society has become more focused on individual satisfaction, these concerns have taken a back seat. This lack of discussion leads to problems.
Looking at this topic from a Christian worldview, there is one primary factor that should be taken into account prior to marriage: whether your future spouse is also a Christian. The Bible describes this as being “equally yoked.” Paul wrote about this in 2 Corinthians 6:14-15, where he warns against being unequally yoked, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with the Belial? What portion does a believer share with an unbeliever?”
To put this term yoked in the perspective of an agrarian society which is the kind of society in which the Bible was written, a farmer would yoke two oxen of similar size for plowing. This way they could both carry a load equally and efficiently, without one working harder than the other. Imagine for a moment if an ox were yoked with one of my yorkies. How much would Roxy (our yorkie’s name) contribute? Probably close to 0%!! Well, applying this illustration to a marriage, an unequally yoked couple will have different morals, values, priorities and friends. These differences can create significant problems as each person in the marriage tries to “plow” through life.
This is not a New Testament concept. It has always been God’s heart to give us joy through this parameter. In Deuteronomy 7:3-4, as God led the Israelites into the promised land, He gave them commands about unions:
“Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your sons away from following me to serve other gods, and the Lord’s anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you.” God’s command was not to stifle or harm His people but to protect them and us.
As a married couple plows together through life, “life happens.” Job changes, financial difficulties, family difficulties, sickness, etc. People with different mindsets, values, beliefs, and priorities can have a difficult time navigating together through this maze of problems. The tendency may be to pull in different directions. It is no wonder why a survey by the American Religious Identification Survey of 2001, found that people of mixed religion marriages were 3 times more likely to be divorced than couples of the same religion. Why? I would venture to say that since Christ is not in the center, The foundation is weak and able to break. However, when Christ is at the center of a marriage two can truly become “won” and be able to withstand the pressures and challenges of life. God’s word relates this truth in Ecclesiastes 4:12, “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not easily broken.”
So am I suggesting that is marriage a cake walk as long as Christ is in the center? Absolutely not!! Even with Christ at the center of a marriage, two imperfect people can have difficulty working through life’s obstacles. But when a marriage has been built on solid ground, on the “cornerstone that the builders rejected,” there’s a much higher chance that life’s challenges will be “won.”
So what if one finds themselves in an unequally yoked marriage? What’s the solution? I’ll touch on that in my next post.