Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? As God has said: “Come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.” – 2 Corinthians 6:14-17 excerpts (NIV)
I’ve heard the 2 Corinthians passage used (misused, actually) to forbid Christians from marrying non-Christians. Used as a kind of proof-texting cudgel, this passage sounds as if Christians are righteous and non-Christians are wicked. To follow this logic, I really should be separating myself from anyone who is not a Christian, lest I be morally polluted.
To be clear, I 100% disagree with that idea.
In addition to being married to someone who is not a Christian, some of my most important professional relationships are with non-Christian faith leaders. One of my mentors, a man who taught me a lot about what pastoring, was not a Christian much less a pastor. I’m not going to cut myself off from non-Christians just on account of this passage from 2 Corinthians.
Yet, Paul does have a point about separating myself from wickedness.
There are certainly groups of people I would never choose to align myself with. I am not going to co-sponsor a winter coat drive with the Proud Boys. For what does the gospel first preached by dark-skinned middle eastern people have in common with white supremacy? I am not going to plan a teen mental health campaign alongside a group that teaches LGBTQ teens they can pray themselves straight. For what does the God who created the human body and called it good have in common with bigotry?
There absolutely are people in the world who are walking paths of wickedness. And as a Christian, I should not be associating myself with such people.
This is not easy stuff. Where do I draw these boundary lines? If I draw them too narrowly, I find myself in an echo chamber. Draw them too widely, however, and I find myself breaking bread with those who are actively hurting my loved ones.
Each of us must decide where to draw our non-negotiable lines. It matters very much. Our values are revealed by the company we keep.
Surround me with those whose righteousness exceeds my own, that I might learn from them the paths of peace.
John Edgerton is Lead Pastor at First United Church of Oak Park, Illinois.