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“Ask a Priest: Should I Do a Bible Study With My Protestant Boyfriend?”
Q: Is it wise for me to do a Bible study with my boyfriend? We have been dating for a little over a month. He is Protestant and I am Catholic. I am less worried about our different ways of worship than about whether it is appropriate for us to get too spiritually close to each other in a new relationship. I wasn’t really that worried about that until I saw some articles online, in which some Christian sources said it was a bad idea. I’m curious what the Catholic take on this is, as it seemed like a good idea to both of us, and a great way to put God first. – M.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: It’s great that you want to put God first in your life — and presumably first in any relationship you have with people.
Your question is worth examining at several levels.
First, early on in romantic relationships it is a good idea to keep a healthy distance, especially in spiritual matters. This might seem odd at first glance. But getting too close spiritually, too soon, can carry risks.
A Bible study can prompt a person to reveal very personal facets of herself. In this situation it would be easy to let down the drawbridge and give people a deep look into your soul.
This kind of thing might be OK among a group of your trusted Catholic girlfriends. But the dynamic can be much different if you do it one-on-one with a young man. It’s too easy for spiritual openness to slip into premature emotional intimacy and dependence.
This in turn can tempt you to think you have already found your soulmate for life. This can cause you and your friend to jump the gun.
Experience sometimes shows that this kind of emotional and spiritual intimacy, if unchecked, can even lead (unexpectedly) to physical intimacy. It can happen to anyone, even “good Christians.”
But let’s try to state all this positively: Healthy courtships take time. You don’t want to open yourself up too quickly. Good relationships, good friendships between a young woman and a young man need time to develop. It takes time to build trust.
You mention that you are less worried about your religious differences. It might be worth pausing on this point.
For one thing, your friend will likely have a shorter Bible (Protestants don’t recognize the seven deuterocanonical books), and he will likely interpret things much differently than you will (for instance, the Bread of Life discourse in John 6).
Catholicism depends on Sacred Tradition (the teachings of Christ and the apostles that were passed down orally) to help interpret the Bible, while Protestantism tends to embrace sola Scriptura (Scripture alone). Suffice it to say that it caused rifts at the Protestant Reformation, and it still causes rifts today.
That your friend is interested in doing a Bible study indicates that he is probably serious about his faith. Which means that he might have some firmly set ideas. Some of those ideas won’t be compatible with Catholic teachings. It wouldn’t be surprising if he tries to win you over to the Protestant way of seeing things.
And this leads to a related, longer-term issue. The Church doesn’t encourage mixed marriages. Experience has shown that religious differences can cause lots of tensions in a household.
Children can grow up confused about religion. And it’s not uncommon for couples to avoid fights over faith by adopting a kind of indifferentism. A Catholic could be tempted to water down the faith or stop talking about it altogether, for the sake of “domestic peace.”
Now, obviously I don’t know much about you or your friend. He might be the nicest guy in the world, and sincere about his faith.
Even so, differences in religion could complicate things sooner than later. You might want to see what the Catechism says about mixed marriages.
In the meantime, it would be good for you to maintain a solid prayer life and a regular sacramental life.
It might help, too, if you could find a spiritual director. This could be a regular confessor or consecrated woman or even an older Catholic laywoman who is solid in the faith. A director could help you stay prudent – and ensure that God will truly be at the center of any relationship.
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