Q. Catholics and Baptists

Q. My girlfriend is a Baptist.  I’ve gone to services with her a few times, but she asked me not to tell her parents I’m Catholic. I can see that her family is very happy in their faith and they do a lot for their church and the community, but it really doesn’t feel anything like Mass when I’m at her church. And they’ve said some things that just don’t line up with our faith. We’ve haven’t really talked about our future, so maybe it doesn’t matter. But I feel like we should be upfront with her parents about my church. How can I convince her it’s important to me and then bring it up to her family?

A. It sounds like you sense a certain urgency in addressing this with your girlfriend and her family. If that’s what you’re sensing then I want to strongly encourage you to address this sooner rather than later. It may be far more important than you realize. Let me explain.

Baptists and Catholics certainly do share a common faith in Jesus as our Savior. We both believe the Bible is God’s inspired Word (though we do approach the Scriptures differently), we believe in the Holy Trinity, and we share many other similar beliefs. But we also do have some very clear differences that could make it difficult for you to actively practice your Catholic faith and her to actively practice her Baptist faith under the same roof if, one day, you were to marry.

First of all, if you were to marry one day you would need to do that in a Catholic Church or at least obtain what’s called a “dispensation from canonical form.” Otherwise, we believe that any attempt at marriage outside the Catholic Church as a Catholic would literally be invalid and not a marriage at all. This is extremely important to understand. Furthermore, in marrying someone of another Christian faith you would have to make a promise to continue the practice of your faith and to raise any children God blesses you with in the Catholic faith. Without that honest promise you would not be able to receive a valid marriage.

I’ve met many Baptists in my day and found that they are very good people and very committed to their faith. This is good. However, I believe that many of them do have serious doubts about our Catholic faith and we do have some serious differences with them on certain matters of faith. Therefore, I do wonder what her parents would think about her dating a Catholic. And I wonder what they would say if, in the future, you were to marry in a Catholic Church and raise children in the Catholic faith.

I realize that talking about marriage may seem very premature right now. But I think that it is a good practice to only date someone that you believe you could be compatible with for the rest of your life. If you discover a clear obstacle it should probably be talked about right away.

Here are two practical suggestions: First, I’d invite your girlfriend to attend Mass with you. Hopefully she is open to this. Secondly, I would ask her to tell her parents you are Catholic and that she is attending Mass with you. If all of this goes over well then this is a good sign that your faith will not be an obstacle to your relationship. If, however, this causes serious problems, it’s better to know that now rather than in a couple of years from now. The worse thing that could happen is for you to be put in a position where you have to choose between her and your Catholic faith one day. God would not want you to be in that position so I’d test those waters right away before you find yourself in that very difficult situation.