At the time of my deconversion, I was active, both in leadership roles, and as a participant in a local church. Since I could no longer maintain the beliefs required for membership, I resigned my positions. It was clear the questions I now faced, and the study that I had done far surpassed anything that a teacher or leader was prepared to respond, I retreated to not participating.
This dramatic change in my personality was noticeable. I heard whispers of rumors as to why, but did not pursue it any further. Due to my frustration at being unable to join in what was once such an important part of my life, I asked my wife if we could change churches. She agreed, and we began attending a church at a greater distance, where friends attended.
At this new church, with a fresh start, I was candid with the leadership as to who I am, and that I would like to participate in some way, shape or form. After quite a few discussions, that gradually became more and more uncomfortable for the leaders as they tried to politely explain I did not fit in and I was not welcome to participate, it sunk in my thick skull that church is not a place for a deconvert. Oh, it is fine for us to attend and sit in the pew. But to be an active part of the church?—that is too difficult and contrary to the design of the intention of a local congregation.
To my wife’s relief, as well as my own—I stopped attending. It was too stressful on both of us. “All’s well that ends well”—right? A new wrinkle appeared; our friends are moving, and they will no longer be attending that church. As near as I can tell, she has not developed any other friendships or connections in that church. I feel as if I set my wife on an island and then abandoned her!
The solution is simple, of course--go back to the local church. But I suspect why she wouldn’t--Embarrassment.
It would be embarrassing to have a husband who became an atheist. To explain it. To have the sideways looks, and questions, and “prayer requests” and knowing glances. I was far too immersed into Christianity to be ignorant of how effective a local congregation can be in embarrassing a person who does not belong. “Birds of a feather MUST flock together and make sure no other Birds are allowed in the flock”…or something like that.
It wasn’t that long ago that being divorced was a reason for exclusion. I grew up in a conservative Baptist environment. The thought of a Divorcee holding a position as a deacon or deaconess or trustee or Sunday School teacher or nursery worker or…well! The thought was unthinkable. When one got a divorce, the proper thing to do was either resign yourself to never being charge of even the flannel graph board in the Second Grade Sunday School class OR (and the far more preferable choice) move elsewhere. Go elsewhere. Be a church attendee elsewhere.
Of course, since those days divorces have become more and more and more common, and such an exclusionary policy, even in practice if not in precept, is far rarer.
What changed? It is still a divorce. We still use the same Bible. God didn’t reveal “Matthew Version 2.0” that updated Jesus’ position on divorce. Society has changed, and with that change, Christianity has changed as well.
Thirty years ago, if my wife returned to this particular local church, with a certificate of divorce from me, that would have been equally embarrassing. An anathema. A person that should “go away.” Now, it would be pitied, but not a reason for rejection. Many in the church are now divorced—to reject another member for that would be unheard of.
But the idea of a husband who deconverted? That is NOT acceptable. There must be something wrong with him! Maybe there is something wrong with her? Maybe they have some deep, dark, secret sin, and THAT is why there is a deconversion in the works. How humorous! If my wife divorced me for being a non-Christian—that would be acceptable. But to remain married to a deconvert? Well—those birds just don’t flock together, if you know what I mean!
As a young child, my parents took me to Bill Gaither’s Basic Youth Seminar. (If you have ever attended, this is proof enough of my conservative background.) At one of the first meetings, Mr. Gaither asked the group to stand and sing a song. To my young mind’s astonishment, somebody had let in some crazy Pentecostals! I had never seen anyone raise their arms when they sing! We were transfixed. We even hoped to have more singing, just to see those arms go up! We could not have been more fascinated if they had put on gorilla suits and started jumping around.
Believe me, had any of those Charismatic appeared in OUR church, and dared raise their hands during “Amazing Grace” a few well-placed glances, the very, VERY stiff arms firmly pointed down where they are supposed to be during songs, and the obligatory “cough, cough” would set them straight. They would understand that Birds which raise their wings when chirping most certainly do NOT flock here!
And over time, as more people integrate with others, the raising of hands has become less and less dramatic. With the advent of “Community Churches” rather than denominational demarcations, people of various worship styles find themselves in the same pew, and think less of it.
Hymn books are out; words on a PowerPoint are in. Pianos and organs are out; bands with drums and guitars are in. Suits, ties and dresses: out. Khakis, Slacks and Polo’s: in.
Have you contemplated the changes of what was “acceptable” in 1977, as compared to what is “acceptable” in 2007? What changed? Did the Bible change? Did God change? Or have people’s perceptions in society change? Was it JUST as acceptable to welcome a Divorcee in 1977 as it is now? Was it wrong to not do so?
All that being said, a deconvert is still out. We are apostates. Speakers of heresy. We are non-Christians not interested in becoming Christians and often better informed than most Christians sitting in the pews. I understand it. I get it. In fact, many places on the ‘net you can find arguments as to all the rudeness and discourtesy that can be justifiably leveled against us heathens, by virtue of our deconversion. That we should be clearly and specifically informed how our feathers are NOT welcome in the flock. No way. No shape. No form.
That being said—why must my wife get caught in the fray? Why should it be embarrassing to her for having a deconvert husband? She is truly an innocent victim in all this.
Yet she is. It would be.
I can’t help wonder, with the changes we have seen in the past 30 years—what will be acceptable in 2037 that is not now? Will deconverted spouses become as common as divorced?
It will be fascinating to see how Christianity will deal with the shift in society caused by increasing numbers of deconverts. The question that will amuse me during this change is this: “Is your god changing; or are you?”