Oddly enough, even though I have many friends who have either considered or actually have gone “missionary dating,” I never felt an inclination to do so. I’m married now, of course, so it’s personally a non-issue, but I still have a number of Christian friends who struggle a lot with whether or not to date a non-Christian. When I say “Christian,” I mean devout, usually Evangelical Christians, not nominal Easter-and-Christmas-I’m-a-Christian-because-my-ancestors-were Christians. If you’re a nominal Christian dating/marrying an atheist, I don’t really consider that an interfaith relationship.
Naturally, the issue of interfaith dating or marriage is going to keep coming up. Without even considering faith, people are desperate enough to find someone to connect with, to feel themselves with. Now, just think if you cut the “eligible” dating population down by 90%. As far as feelings, money values, extra-curricular interests, curricular interests, sexual peculiarities, career aspirations, etc. are concerned, it would seem you’re far more likely to find someone compatible using 100% of the “eligible” population than to do so using only 10% of the “eligible” population.
Now, there are plenty of Christians who will tell others not to date non-Christians. I’m one of them, but the usual reasons given (see links below) are 1. Biblical mandate 2. The possibility the non-Christian in the relationship will somehow cause the Christian to backslide. 3. The inevitability of values disagreements later on. Now, there’s some validity to all of these arguments, but there’s something else seriously wrong with Christians dating non-Christians, particularly when it includes a “conversion effort.”
Now, I’ve seen a lot of these conversion efforts in missionary dating become successful (usually when a Christian woman dates a non-Christian man but not as much vice versa). What worries me most about “effective” missionary dating is the conflict of interest built into the relationship from the very beginning. Granted, most missionary daters do not say to their boyfriends something like the following: “Oh, you want to date me? If you want to date me, you have to become a Christian.” Usually the devout Christian meets someone who’s newly interested in but not committed to Christianity. Perhaps the non-Christian is starting to consider God may exist but doesn’t know that Christianity is the thing yet. The non-Christian is beginning to find Christianity itself fascinating at the same time he is finding the Christian herself fascinating. The Christian then becomes both the religious guide and the love interest.
If I “successfully” missionary dated, I would always wonder… I would always wonder, “Did she do it just for me? How genuinely interested in Christianity was she? Would she have found God without our relationship?” I’m not suggesting the non-Christian has somehow tricked the Christian into believing the newfound faith is genuine. There’s no “Ha ha ha! Little does she know I’m really still a non-Christian… my act is working!” The new Christian may have even convinced himself his faith is genuine, but how will either one really know?
It’s akin to, but obviously not the same as, a student-teacher relationship. If the student earns an A, he will never know whether he earned that A or if the teacher he’s having sex with gave the A as a pity grade. It works the other way around, too. The teacher herself may not even know “Did he really deserve that A? What will other people think?”
The real problem, which undermines the relationship, is not that the Christian will backslide, that “the Bible says so,” or that a difference in values will lead to disagreements and conflict. It’s the doubt that will follow the relationship wherever it goes. Anyone who doesn’t acknowledge that component of the “unequally yoked” relationship is in denial.