Because of pieces I’ve lately posted, such as Christian Marrying a Non-Christian? Marriage: FAIL, and Letter From an Atheist Married to a Christian, I’ve received emails asking what my marriage was like during the two years between when I, at thirty-eight, converted to Christianity, and when, two years later, my wife Catherine had her baptism into the faith.
It was fine. It was great. There wasn’t a moment of stress between Cat and me relative to my new perspective on God. She was glad I’d become a Christian, because she could see how happy it made me. She was also deeply amazed by my transformation, because I had always had a very distinct dislike of Christianity, especially insofar as believers used it as a tool to increase their sheer obnoxiousness.
As soon as I became a Christian, Cat started accompanying me to church, because … well, because she likes hanging out with me.
It was at church that our troubles began. Or, rather, hers did. It wasn’t until months into it that Cat shared with me what she had been going through at our church. In a word, my fellow believers were treating her with exactly the kind of smug, condescending, judgmental, self-righteous mean-spiritedness that, I’m sorry to say, non-Christians all too often suffer at the hands of Christians.
She didn’t tell me that that was happening to her, because she knew that I liked going to the church I’d chosen—a large, urban, mainstream, long-established church—and she didn’t want to interfere with my whole new Christian thing.
But one Sunday, after a service at the church we’d by then been attending for three months, I could see how upset she was. I asked her what was wrong—and it all poured out. She told me that people at our church had been treating her as if she were bad for me, as if she were an obstacle to my relationship with Christ. They had been very clear about the idea that I belonged to them now, and that if she wasn’t going to get on board and become a Christian, but soon, then there would be no natural place for her in my life.
She told me a lot of terrible things that a lot of the people at our church had been saying to her. They all boiled down to about the same sentiment: She had to get out of my way, not interfere with my progress as a Christian, convert ASAP. I had a new life now, they told her, and if she wanted to be part of it, fine. But if not–if she persisted in not being a Christian–then my life and hers wouldn’t be a good fit anymore.
And it wasn’t just a handful of people saying such things. It was happening across the congregation. Deacons. Board people. Ministry leaders. Lay people.
Though I hasten to add that it wasn’t everyone. Our dearest friends to this day are a couple we met at that church, people our parents’ age who continue to model for us everything that should be best about people who claim to follow God.
But there were enough people at our church saying those awful things to her—and, by then, we’d all our lives known enough Christians—for us to know that going to another church wouldn’t change what was happening at that one. Besides, we loved our church’s pastor. So we decided to stick it out there.
The things my fellow Christians said to her in that church were so appalling just remembering them makes me want to punch somebody out. Insane stuff. And they bullied her. Little groups of three or four women would sort of get her in a corner, and in low tones just start hissing at her about how wonderful it was that I had converted, and how clearly she, a nonbeliever, was bound to hinder my development as a Christian. They never, ever said anything to her like when I was around. Only when they had her alone.
But, there it is. That’s what happened. We went to that church for six years. Once Cat became a Christian, the nasty bile people had been spitting at her dried right up, and everyone was just as pleasant and loving to her as they could be.
But that’s too often how we are, isn’t it? Once someone believes what we do, we love them. But before then? God help them.
Related post o’ mine: How My Unbelieving Wife Took the News Of My Suddenly Becoming a Christian.