The first part of this series can be found here.
As I said in the last post, once we told my parents and my wife’s parents that we no longer believed the Bible or Christianity, the pressure really began to mount. While everyone had been worried and concerned all along, they now knew that we were quickly marching toward apostasy, which would change the entire nature of our relationships with family and friends, as I’ve written about here. In early October of 2010, my Dad called and said that both sets of our parents wanted to meet with us to discuss the issues. I could take 30 minutes to present my points, and then he’d take 30 minutes to present his. I thought that was a great idea.
I think it was the following Saturday evening that they came over. My wife worked until that afternoon, and I remember sitting at the dining room table for a couple of hours combing carefully through all the points I wanted to make. You know those easel-sized sticky notes that people sometimes use in meetings? I drew some diagrams onto a few of those to help illustrate some of my points. In fact, I’ve recreated one of them in Excel that illustrates the differences among the various genealogies attributed to Jesus. You can see it here, if you like. I also had one that tried to diagram the various routes Joseph and Mary would have had to travel in order to fit Jesus’ two birth narratives into one cohesive whole. And the last one had 4 separate timelines (one for each gospel) listing each event in the resurrection narratives. But in the end, those visual aids didn’t accomplish much. I couldn’t have handled that meeting more poorly. I tried to cram way too much into my 30 minutes, and I made the mistake of starting with small things. I wanted to build a crescendo that would climax in things like the failed prophecy of Tyre and the crazy discrepancies in things like the death of Judas and the genealogy of Jesus.
But I started small. I started with clues that indicate Genesis through Deuteronomy could not have been written by Moses because of references in those books that relate to events much later in Israel’s history. But to people who are certain that the Bible is perfect, they can attribute those things to prophecy, even if it makes no sense to prophesy things like the name of a city, etc. And even though my 30 minutes were supposed to go uninterrupted, they weren’t able let some of my points go unchallenged. This only helped ensure that I couldn’t cover everything I wanted to in such a short period of time. So I tried to cram in the big issues right at the end, but tensions were too high by that point for anyone to be receptive. I went over my 30 minutes — I’m not sure by how much. So when it was my Dad’s turn to speak, I was guilty of interrupting him too. I had lost my composure, knowing that the entire process had been a disaster. So he became frustrated and didn’t even finish what he was going to say.
Everyone left after that. And while I don’t remember exactly what was said, it was obvious that things were moving to withdrawal. In fact, we figured that we might be withdrawn from the very next day, if my wife’s parents (who attended the same congregation we did) were able to meet with our brethren by then. My wife and I really had no idea what to do. We had always been so close to our families, and we were so happy that our kids were close to their grandparents, as I had been to mine. A close family had always been the most important thing to us (aside from our faith), and we were about to lose it.
That Sunday, we didn’t go to church, because we weren’t sure what would happen if we did. I called one of my friends from church that day and asked what was going on. We weren’t being withdrawn from yet, but it was imminent. That afternoon, my wife and I could think of little else, and we agonized over our few options repeatedly. In the end, the prospect of losing our families and ruining the relationships between our kids and their grandparents was just too much, and we decided to make one last desperate attempt to save it all. I typed up a letter saying that we wanted to repent of our doubts and rededicate ourselves to the Lord, but that we’d also begin worshiping at another congregation. I sent it to a couple of people and asked them to read it at services that night. Instead, they asked if I would meet with them the following afternoon.
There were four of us in the meeting (my wife wasn’t there — it was just me and 3 other men from our congregation). Because they were not morons, they found our sudden repentance a bit dubious. Who could blame them? However, I knew that they would ultimately accept it, since Jesus had told Peter that you always forgive those who ask it (or if not always, at least 490 times). Still, they were surprised by our sudden turn around, and they wanted to meet with me to talk through the situation. They asked what caused the sudden change of heart, and I told them that we still had questions about the discrepancies in the Bible, but we had decided to put those things aside and focus on growing our faith through the aspects of Christianity we could be certain of. One of the men asked, “So you’re just not bothered anymore by all the problems in the Bible?” I replied, “Well, do they bother you? Because if they don’t bother you, I don’t see why they should bother me.” After that, there wasn’t much else to say. If they thought the problems I had brought up were substantial, then why weren’t they also bothered by them? And if they thought the problems were inconsequential, why should they be surprised that I no longer found them problematic? So they thanked me for my time and expressed how happy they were that we were making things right.
Two of our children got sick that week, so on Wednesday, October 20, 2010, I left the rest of the family at home and went to church alone. At the end of each service, we always offered an “invitation” — an opportunity for anyone to come forward and make their lives right with God, whether it was for the first time, or to correct an area in which they had regressed. So during the invitation song, I came forward and waited at the first pew. When the song was over, I went to the podium, faced the congregation, and told them that I needed to make an announcement. This is what I said:
For most of this year, [my wife] and I have been involved in a study of Christian evidences. During this period, our faith has gotten steadily weaker due to some doubts that have slipped in. We are not happy with this situation, and we feel that it has jeopardized our relationships with God, our families, and the congregation here. We have asked God to forgive us for allowing our faith to be shaken. And we would like to ask for your prayers of support and forgiveness so we can right the situation.
Due to the circumstances, we also feel that it is best for us if we start worshiping with another congregation for a while. We love everyone here, and we don’t take this decision lightly. But we do feel that it is best for us at this time.
Thank you so much for all we’ve shared over the years.
And with that, I stepped down. We had a closing prayer, and that was it. Many people came up and hugged me afterward, sympathizing with our situation, and sorrowing that we were leaving the congregation. I thanked everyone and smiled, but I was very uncomfortable. I really loved everyone there — still do, in fact. But I hadn’t meant the things I said. I didn’t believe in the same God they believed in. I didn’t believe Jesus was divine. I believed that their inspired text was hopelessly flawed. But my wife and I had decided to set honesty and conviction aside for the sake of family. We felt that if we went to other congregations, then we could keep our children out of Bible classes without the scrutiny they would have faced within our own congregation, while also keeping a relationship with our parents and siblings.
Of course, as with most fantasies, this balancing act was doomed to failure. But we did attempt it. It wasn’t easy, and I’m not especially proud of it, but we were desperate. In the next post, I’ll describe how the house of cards finally collapsed.
9 thoughts on “How It Happened: My Deconversion Part 9”
I met your wife after I delivered my 8th child and we talked for a long time before I was discharged. I invited her and you to visit my church, Unitarian Universalist. You are all welcome to come with any belief or disbelief….
Nate I have no words except to say how sorry I am for all this. I know you well enough to know how difficult it must have been to pretend, and I would have hated that too. But I respect the reasons why you tried.
Thanks for commenting! Yes, my wife was very excited after meeting you at the hospital. We actually did attend one of the services at the UU church here in town (I think in July), and we enjoyed it. We’ve been talking about coming back soon, so we’ll hopefully see you there before long.
Thanks for your words of support. They truly mean a lot to me. Things have gotten better for us over the last two years — our family situations are still very strained, but we’ve formed new friendships and created new family traditions that have helped us move on a bit. So luckily, we’re in a much better place now than where we were two years ago. 🙂
In any serious and emotional post, I appreciate levity, no matter if it is intentional or unintentional, and this exchange made me chuckle:
One of the men asked, “So you’re just not bothered anymore by all the problems in the Bible?” I replied, “Well, do they bother you? Because if they don’t bother you, I don’t see why they should bother me.”
Nate, I can identify with your journey because mine was and is not all that dissimilar.
If, to please others you must suppress yourself, an unworkable stratagem has been implemented.
Nate, I just want to share that there is often deep faith to be found when we cut away the structure that has held us up and seek to know only the truth. You and your wife are seekers of truth, Jesus is the truth, He will find you. cheers Graeme
Thanks for the comment, Graeme. I honestly appreciate it.
Exrelalyman and Persto — thanks for your comments as well!
Waiting to see how the situation with family and friends turns out…