By the Fall of 2010, I no longer considered myself a Christian, even though I hadn’t admitted that to anyone other than my wife and one or two others. We still attended every church service, but that was beginning to wear on us more and more. At this point, my wife had as many doubts about Christianity as I did, but that still wasn’t common knowledge. We both still believed in a god, even though we didn’t believe in Christianity. We considered ourselves agnostic deists.
We were rapidly approaching a crossroads, and we didn’t know how to proceed. One option was to simply tell everyone that we no longer believed and leave the church. But because of the church’s doctrine of withdrawal, we knew that leaving the church would make us outcasts as far as our families were concerned. We really wanted to avoid that.
Another option was to just fake it. Stay in the church and act like everything was just fine. Of course, that had its problems too. My wife and I have three children. At the time, their ages were 7, almost 5, and 11⁄2. Continuing to raise them as Christians when my wife and I no longer believed was a horrible prospect. I mean, we could take them to church 3 times a week and just tell them that we don’t actually believe any of it. But anyone who is familiar with children knows that kids can’t keep secrets like that. There would have been countless opportunities for one of my children to tell a Bible class teacher “Daddy says that didn’t really happen,” which would completely circumvent our whole reason for faking it. Or we could actually raise them as Christians, never telling them that we don’t believe it. But not only did that seem cruel, it also ran a very real risk of our own kids deciding they also needed to withdraw themselves from us whenever they found out about our unbelief.
In the end, our only real option was to be honest with everyone and pull our children out of the church. If you’re religious, you might wonder why we would be so against raising our children as Christians. If we don’t believe it’s real, why should we really care if they believe it or not? That’s a very good and understandable question. Most of our reasoning came from what our kids would be taught about God. The Old Testament teaches that God killed all the Egyptian first born. It teaches that he destroyed all but 8 people in a global flood, regardless of age. It teaches that he had Moses and the Israelites slaughter all the Midianites, except for the virgin girls, whom they could “keep for [them]selves” (Numbers 31). At the time, we still kind of believed in God, and as Thomas Paine said, attributing such horrible atrocities to God is the ultimate blasphemy. We just couldn’t stomach having our children learn that God, if he exists, would do such despicable things.
In fact, while all this was going on, my oldest daughter was in kindergarten. At the time, she didn’t know about the doubts my wife and I were experiencing. But one day on the way to school, she asked my wife if God really killed all the Egyptian firstborn in the last plague. My wife wasn’t really sure how to respond, so she just turned the question back around and asked my daughter what she thought about it. “I don’t think he did,” my daughter replied. “Because the Egyptians were his children too.” That really struck my wife and I as an insightful statement. Our daughter had seen something quickly and clearly that we hadn’t been able to see because of our prior upbringing.
So we felt like we had one last shot at avoiding the familial consequences that withdrawal would bring. One night, we had my wife’s parents come over, and we laid everything out on the line. We told them that our doubts had solidified into disbelief. We no longer considered ourselves Christians. It was an emotional conversation, and it didn’t go very well. We told them that we knew their stance on withdrawal, but we wanted them to reconsider and restudy the issue. One of the purposes of withdrawal is to bring the “erring” person back to the faith. We very plainly told them that that wouldn’t work with us. We weren’t leaving Christianity out of belligerence, but because we simply no longer believed it. Since the practice of withdrawal offered no evidence for Christianity, there was no way it could make us believe it again. At most, the separation from our families would make us claim to be repentant, which would do no one any good. So we asked them not to rush to any action, but to study the problems in the Bible with us, or at the very least rethink their stance on withdrawal.
Of course, they didn’t feel like they could do that. In fact, I think they believed that if they could encourage the congregation to withdraw from us as soon as possible, it might bring us back sooner. I’ll relay more about that in the next post.