Religious people should act differently than non-religious people.  Among the reasons people engage in the religious cultus is the effect is has on living.  Seems logical, right?  Active participation in a set of practices motivated by unique beliefs should mark people A as different than people B.  Clearly, Christians should be marked by a specific set of behaviors and those behaviors should set them apart from others.

Alas, one look at a barna.org survey or article in any major newspaper will reveal that in the area of relationships (marriage preeminently) there is little to no difference between professing Christians and non-Christians.  The challenges in accurately defining “Christian,” notwithstanding, we who make claims to follow Christ don’t demonstrate our faith skillfully in relationships.  Here are excerpts from data from such a survey found at ReligiousTolerance.org

Religion % have been divorced
Jews 30%
Born-again Christians 27%
Other Christians 24%
Atheists, Agnostics 21%

More specifically:

Denomination (in order of decreasing divorce rate)

% who have been divorced

Non-denominational ** 34%
Baptists 29%
Mainline Protestants 25%
Mormons 24%
Catholics 21%
Lutherans 21%

And what about region?

Area % are or have been divorced
South 27%
Midwest 27%
West 26%
Northeast 19%

So much for the “Bible Belt” having any effect….Divorce, premarital sex, extra-marital sex, hostility, coldness, late-marriage divorces, etc. mark Christian Marriage.  This is pathetic, sad and hypocritical.

Why is it that way?  What are the reasons for these startling statistics?

Of course, the diagnosis is complicated.  But, as a student of young professing-Christians adults I tend to believe part of the problem is a poorly-managed pre-married relational life. By this I mean the period of time we spent dating, pre-engaged and then engaged.

This K-I-S-S-I-N-G or PDA blog thread has been aimed at this issue.  And this particular post strikes close to the heart of the relational problems.  The character of our pre-married relational life is most often marred by the fact that we don’t view each other as brothers and sisters but rather trial-husbands and trial-wives.

As a result, this relational time is marked by “dating divorces.”  How do you know if you have had a “dating divorce” or if what you’re watching in your close friend is a dating divorce?  By how it has or will end.    In other words, you can gauge the biblical character of a relationship by how it ends.  If a “break-up” is like a quasi-divorce in many ways, then the man and the woman treated each other like spouses during the relationship rather than like siblings.

A quasi-divorce would include things like great anger at each other, follow on depression, arguing over material things, indulgent addictive behavior, rushed follow-on relationships, no communication, or splintering among friend groups along “party” lines.

Many (most) Christian dating relationships-in-progress look like marriages with minor modifications:

  • Unrestrained physical touch save (usually) only sexual intercourse
  • Vigorous exclusion of other people and relationships
  • Baring of all secrets, thoughts, and desires
  • Intense dependence
  • Presence of jealousy
  • Practice of marriage roles: heads and helpers

Many operate on the “test drive the car before you buy” theory.  On Chicago public educator who, with her fiance, waited until their wedding day to kiss (gasp!), replied, “You can’t take the car out of the parking lot until you pay for it.”  Nice.

If many of our marriage problems find their roots in our pre-married relational life, then we should be more concerned about doing that part of our life right.  Right.  What makes a relationship between a non-married man and non-married woman “right?”  Let’s consider three things: authority, audience and approach.

Authority.  The appropriate constellation of questions to ask regards the regulation of such relationships: what standards are they using?

  • What is the relational playbook being used?
  • What is informing the conduct of such relationships?
  • Where are the rules written down for them?

We don’t do anything without rules, folks.  Whether they’re explicit or not we follow some set of rules.  It could be what you grew up seeing in your parents.  Maybe you’ve had “satisfying” relationships in the past and you’re just trying to do current ones that way.  Some search through the myriad of self-help relational books you can find at any Christian bookstore.  Oprah, Dr. Phil, Judge Judy, Joyce Meyer, Joel Osteen…the list of celebrity “experts” is limitless.  Peers also provide rules – whatever my group is doing, I do.

We do all of this – Christians, now – because in some sense we believe the Bible doesn’t provide any relevant guide (save “No Sex”) for us.  Or worse, we won’t follow what the Bible does say.

Since this is part I of this particular topic, why don’t you take a minute and write down what you think the Bible says regarding non-married, heterosexual relationships.  What instructions does the Bible give to you?  How do you understand verses like 2 Timothy 3:16-17 relative to relationships?