United in Marriage by One Lord:
God’s Wisdom on Intermarriage in a Multifaith World
The seed thought for writing this book has its roots in the fertile soils of Tana Toraja, the homeland of the Torajanese people in the province of South Sulawesi, Indonesia. Frieda and I arrived in this isolated but stunningly picturesque, mountainous region in late 1968 together with our young family. As members of OMF International (formerly known as the Overseas Missionary Fellowship), we had been invited by the Toraja Protestant Church to assist with equipping their lay leaders.
But life in Tana Toraja was more than just ministry. As important for us was our desire to make good friends with the local people. Doing this soon exposed us to the realities of living in a multi-religious community.
One such reality we observed was how friendships among the younger set sometimes turned down “love lane” and led through the door into a mixed-faith household. Not surprisingly a few of our Torajanese Christian friends were married to partners who espoused different religious beliefs.
Over the following 12 years we also lived in other regions of Indonesia. In each place, we met Christians married to non-Christians. We discovered that many Christians did not have clear answers for the question, “May a Christian marry a person who comes from a different religious tradition?”
So began my own journey to hear what God says on this important question. I wanted to understand his will, not just from “proof texts,” but from the whole counsel of God.
I had a second concern on my heart as well. As a pastor and teacher, I wanted to communicate God’s truth with love, and with understanding and sensitivity to the unique pressures of life in a multicultural, multifaith community.
We now reside in Australia. Twenty-first century Australia is a colourful mosaic of peoples with a wide diversity of cultures and religious traditions. The context for building friendships and relationships here, as in many other countries that have opened their doors to refugees and migrants, is almost identical to the multiethnic, multifaith context we experienced earlier in Indonesia.
That’s the way it is in our modern world! For most of us, building relationships with people of contrasting religious beliefs has become a part of everyday life.
This applies to young people, but also to their parents. Christian parents face a new challenge of faith as they try to help their children in their choice of friends, finding that as the children grow older the parents have little control over that area of their lives. Often they discover that the beliefs, habits, language and interests of their children’s friends do not fit with the Christian standards and convictions that they have sought to instil in them.
How should Christian parents respond if they discover that one of their children is feeling romantically attracted to someone raised with vastly different religious beliefs and practices? Should they view these differences as a “non-issue”? How would you respond in such a situation?
If we are true followers of Jesus, our responses should be determined not by personal or public opinion, but rather by what God says. From the very beginning of the Bible, we read that God is for, and not against, marriage and the forming of new families. After all, wasn’t it God’s idea in the first place to create us male and female?
This implies that the whole process of forming new families is a matter of highest priority and concern to God. It also means that we can expect to find in God’s Word specific and definitive guidance for His people in choosing a marriage partner.
That’s what I have aimed to share in this book—God’s wisdom for His people as they form relationships with people from different faiths and diverse cultures.
Many people had a part in the preparation of this book. Early in my life God touched my heart and mind through the wise counsel of my Christian parents and other godly mentors.
Others in more recent years have shared their own marriage journeys, or given words of encouragement, or prayed diligently as I wrote. To each I am truly indebted and grateful.
One I’d like to mention is Dennis Wright, a former leader, colleague and friend with whom we served for nine years in Central Europe with Operation Mobilisation. Almost every time he wrote or every time we met, Dennis would ask, “How’s the book going?”
I’d also like to express my heartfelt appreciation to two OMF International colleagues and experienced editors: Fay Goddard, a retired OMF missionary, for her encouragement and assistance in the earlier stages; and Stephen McElroy, for his timely advice and hard work in the final stages. I am particularly indebted to Stephen for his expert and invaluable assistance in honing and clarifying the text and message of the book.
Without doubt my number one encourager and supporter has been, and still is, my own beloved life partner since June 1963—Frieda. Whenever I felt disheartened, doubting whether I should continue in this long and arduous task, Frieda had just the right word. Her wise counsel, her occasional gentle rebukes when I allowed myself to be pulled down by negative thoughts, and her sharp mind so ably editing and clarifying the text, was God’s way of keeping me focused.
My own marriage has motivated me to write this book. Frieda and I have been blessed by God with oneness of heart and purpose, and with a rich and enduring love for each other. I pray that many, including you, dear reader, will desire and earnestly seek after God’s very best for your own marriage.
As you do, please read on!