Dear Pope Francis,
I was once part of a serious conversation about interfaith dating. From the perspective of the people I was talking with, any relationship with a non-Catholic is interfaith. Over the course of the evening, conversation progressed from what constitutes an interfaith relationship to whether or not the Catholic party should be actively engaged in converting the non-Catholic, or if Catholics should simply not date outside the Church. In today’s letter I want to look at the notion of ‘flirt to convert.’
My mother was raised Baptist and didn’t convert until several years after I was born, so I have a definite bias for being open to dating outside the Catholic Church. Given my desire for Christian Unity, it should be understood I also have a bias towards being a Christian as opposed to dividing ourselves by sect.
As Catholics we are all called to be ambassadors of Christ and evangelists to the world, and I think this ministry should be present in all our relationships whether they are with Catholics or non-Catholics. A dating relationship is a time for getting to know someone in an emotionally, spiritually and intellectually intimate way and discern whether marriage to each other is in the cards. Discussions about faith and honest, appropriate responses to questions a partner has about it should absolutely be happening, and as believers we should absolutely want the conversion of an unbelieving partner.
What we should not want is a superficial conversion for the sake of the relationship. If an unbelieving partner is going to become Christian, it needs to be because they believe Jesus is the risen son of God and want to grow and share in that relationship. We should want to share that journey with them, encourage them and support them as they come to know Christ.
12 To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her.13 And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. 14 For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.
15 But if the unbeliever leaves, let it be so. The brother or the sister is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace. 16 How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife? (1 Corinthians 7:12-16)
If we are serious about both the relationship and our desire for their conversion, neither can be a prerequisite for the other. We either love our partner as they are or we don’t love them.