This complex issue has recently been the subject of debate in my life. I can’t pretend to have a real answer, but I’m sharing my thought process:
Let’s define Christian, shall we? Because I recognize that my personal definition is shy of the definition most would use. When someone asks me if I am Christian, I usually caveat it to be clear: “Well that depends… What does Christian mean to you?” or “I would characterize myself as holding many Christian beliefs.” For me, “Christian” ONLY means they accept Christ as their savior, that at a bare minimum, a Christian believes Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God and died on the cross as the ultimate sacrifice and demonstration of God’s Grace. It’s just the belief to me, no action required and I’m actually not really all that concerned if a person who calls themselves a Christian doesn’t subscribe to the full array of Christian doctrine.
Now theoretically, if a person really believes that one main idea, like from the heart, it should have a pretty major impact on his or her values and behavior. I’m certain there are hundreds of people you know who call themselves Christian, but don’t act with integrity, in line with what they believe or say they believe. I’m as disinterested in them as a life partner as I would be in an atheist who believes/says one thing and acts otherwise, unless he is taking accountability and putting the sweat in to realign himself… nobody’s gonna get it perfect but amen to the man in the arena, ya get me?
As someone prone to (over)analysis, and having walked in agnostic shoes ’til the soles were bare, I can at least see why many of the things described by the Bible are doubtful and unbelievable, to the point that I would not go so far as to stake my life on declaring the truth of some of these things… Without my personal experiences of the Lord, I’d still be rowing the agnostic boat, but in all honesty, I view the Bible as the witness of God, not necessarily the word of God… that there’s much to be learned from it, even as a history of how God has tried to coach humanity along the way, but that it is not the end of God’s messages to us or inclusive of all of His messages, which I believe we are ALL free to receive daily through our own personal relationships with Him and each other, Christian or otherwise. I believe an awful lot of God’s messaging might be subject to interpretation by the lens of the recipient at the time, the lens of the author recording the oral tradition, the lens of the translator, and the lens of the reader. As much I love it and cherish it and read it and learn from it, I don’t stake my life on the “historical” truth of the Bible in its entirety I can’t say I would expect my partner to either.
What my heart knows is that Jesus (and others, to be fair) had (and still has) a very very important Divine message to deliver re: how we were Designed to live. It was delivered at a time people were living so far from that ideal (and we still are) that transmission of His message was mission critical. I summarize that as 1) God’s Grace, 2) Others above the self, 3) Love above all else.
I personally at a very deep level recognize Christ as The Savior (of me, of those who believe, AND those who don’t), if not by bearing the burden of our sins as a sacrificial lamb but at least by bearing the burden of bringing us the very most important message the world could receive (why God didn’t wait until Al Gore invented the internet is anyone’s guess). I personally believe the resurrection is the validation of Jesus’ message and divinity as being the real deal… and I feel there is enough “evidence” in the “for” argument to combat the “against” argument… enough that I can bridge the gap with faith, nudged along by my personal relationship with and experience of Him. Other things are less straightforward to me. The point is, I have made peace with the stuff of “what I don’t ‘know’ to be super-for-suresies true” enough to determine how I live my life EVEN if archeologists were to discover a grave of Mary, Jesus, apostles, etc with confessional letters and proved by some crazy state of the art DNA testing that Jesus of Nazareth was not the Son (which some Christians would STILL find a way to argue!).
Getting back to the question, and not to sound sacrilegious, some of the behavioral specifics of Jesus’ “message” are arguable… but how that plays out behaviorally for me has to be at least respected if not shared, celebrated, and echoed by a person with whom I would share my life… What’s far more important to me is that my partner has the integrity to choose the boundaries and guidelines of his behaviors in full exercise of heart and mind and ideally in communication with God if he’s so inclined, but most importantly live and behave in line with those beliefs. To arrive at one’s boundaries while setting aside one’s appetites and inconveniences is no easy task… and I expect to have my conclusions on boundaries tested as he should expect me to test his. At the end of the day, we’re not going to agree on all of these boundaries, but some we’ll simply respect out of love/respect for the other and in choosing that partner, some probably won’t be negotiable.
For example, I can’t imagine myself with anyone who does not value charitable giving or hospitality or doesn’t recognize and appreciate my daughter as a significant piece of who I am. Much the same could be said about a guy who is not supportive and respectful of my resistance to label people or write them off for the mistakes they’ve made, care for the environment, full frontal honesty, relative distaste for materialism, and desire to go to church fairly regularly.
Additionally, to use a friend of a friend’s analogy, Jesus lives IN my house… not in my garage or my closet or on the shelf, not at church, not in my alone/reflection time. The Holy Spirit is part of me… and in many ways foundational to how I live, love, approach conflict, nurture, etc… so I imagine it would be pretty tough (maybe not impossible, but definitely tough) to get to common ground without some of those foundational views that many Christians describe as “Jesus being central to their marriage”… if your partner’s not buyin’ what you’re sellin’ there, that could easily become a big issue and create major gridlock.
I guess the bottom line here is that the root or basis of my partner’s ideally active support of my values (and how they play out in my behaviors and choices) is immaterial in comparison to whether or not he lives and behaves with integrity AND in a way that fits/complements mine… but shared subscription to a certain few beliefs and values would sure make it one heck of a lot more likely that our two lives could effectively and authentically be knit to one.