On the last Sunday of November 2008, my wife and I attended a Christian worship service for the last time. Over the months prior to this, Polly and I spent numerous hours talking about what we believed about God, Jesus, and the Bible. We also spent numerous hours talking about the vapid emptiness of churches and how they were little more than social clubs. Our leftward move politically — we had just voted for Barack Obama — caused us to see Christianity in a different light. While we certainly knew of a handful of churches that were committed to liberal and progressive ideals, these kind of churches were nowhere to be found in rural Northwest Ohio — not that it would have mattered had we found such a church. By November 2008, our political and religious views were such that we believed Christianity was bankrupt and had become a corrosive, dangerous force in American life.
Our decision to stop attending church brought a sense of relief, but it also brought a deep sense of loss. Relief because we no longer had to play the church game, and loss because we were walking away from that which had dominated our entire adult lives. While we knew what we were leaving behind, we had no idea what the future would hold. Six months later, I wrote my infamous letter, Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners. I sent this letter to our family, close friends, and a handful of colleagues in the ministry. I did not mention Polly in the letter. I wanted the disagreement and vitriol that was sure to come to be directed at me, not her. Unfortunately, doing so led people to wrongly conclude that Polly and I were not on the same page about matters of faith. This resulted in me being accused of leading Polly and our children astray, a subtle implication that they could not think for themselves. While Polly certainly processes things in a manner different from the way I do, and our reasons for deconverting were/are not exactly the same, we agreed on one thing: we had no interest in ever attending church again. And eight years later, we still have no desire to attend church. Outside of attending several funerals, weddings, and concerts, we have not darkened the doors of a church. Freed from bondage, oppression, and intellectual superficiality, we have no intention of ever returning.
In future posts in this series, I plan to detail how things have changed for us since our divorce from Jesus and organized Christianity. Before writing about what has changed for us, I want to detail what hasn’t changed. Character-wise, Polly and I are pretty much the same people we were eight years ago. We now enjoy drinking alcohol and using bawdy, colorful language, but outside of that — lifestyle-wise — we are still very much the same people we were when I pastored churches. What has changed is our worldview and how we view other people. I will write more about this in a future post.
Another thing that hasn’t changed is our relationship with Polly’s parents. Outside of telling Polly they are praying for us, Mom and Dad had not said one word about me leaving the ministry and our subsequent deconversion from Christianity. Not one word. Early on, Polly’s mom would invite her to events at the Newark Baptist Temple — their church home for forty years — but Polly’s terse no thank yous quickly put an end to such invitations. It’s been years since Mom has invited us to anything church-related. When we visit them, we make sure that there is no church event going on. We travel three hours one way to their home to tarriance with them, not to be reminded of the intellectual and moral emptiness of Evangelical Christianity. So the obese pink elephant of our relationship with Polly’s parents remains. I highly doubt that its presence will be addressed this side of eternity. And that’s fine. We don’t need them to “understand” as much as we need for them to respect our decision to live our lives sans God, Jesus, the Bible, and Christianity.
Polly and I must also respect her parents’ decisions too, even when they cause deep hurt. Fifteen months ago, Polly’s dad had ill-advised hip replacement surgery. The surgery was a miserable failure, resulting in Dad spending almost a year in the nursing home. Unable to walk for more than a short distance, Mom and Dad were forced to sell their two-story house they had lived in for almost 40 years. Polly suggested to her mom that they could move up here so we could help take care of them. Polly’s mom replied, we could never do that, our church is here. Ouch. Such is the insidious nature of Evangelical Christianity, especially the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) variety. The church “family” is Mom and Dad’s “real” family, even though this real family of theirs has largely ignored them during Dad’s recovery from hip surgery (and some of this is due to their unwillingness to ask for help, a fault that Polly and I suffer from too), Polly’s mom has wounded her with words many times over the years, but telling her we could never do that, our church is here was a step above the other in-Christian-love verbal assaults. This one caused a deep emotional wound that has yet to heal. When I suggest that we go visit her parents, I am often met with a frown, a look that says, Why bother. They have their church “family.”
In the next post in this series, I will begin to detail some of the things that have changed for us since we exited stage left from Christianity. Stay tuned.