The Boat Incident: The Day My Faith Was Questioned

The Boat Incident: The Day My Faith Was Questioned December 11, 2019

This post is a guest post submitted to me by Lauren Smith about how she finally gave herself permission to doubt. If you would like to be a guest blogger for me, drop me a line at mommy@godlessmom.com.

At the time of the incident, my faith had already begun to stray. I had too many questions and doubts that had been explained insufficiently by fellow Christians whose answers always differed but offered the same “just have faith” solutions. These discrepancies caused my praying to become more and more infrequent. My faith had reached a juncture where I could not decide whether to blindly follow what I had always believed or uncomfortably challenge my faith, which I feared would endanger my salvation.

Maintaining God’s favor had become a mentality that plagued my every waking moment. I stressed constantly about my decisions and the consequences or rewards that followed them but bound myself to the authority of the Bible and its word to ensure God’s approval. I wanted to remain obedient but this seemed to contradict greatly with my “sinful” human desires, especially in the case of my desires towards my boyfriend.

We had made the decision to ‘wait until marriage’, an illustrious phrase that Christians sometimes seemed to exalt higher than God himself. We proudly proclaimed our decision to fellow Christians, who would in turn enthusiastically applaud our declaration with sanctimonious boasts of their own. “We’re waiting too” they’d tell us, and we’d cheerfully consort about the difficulty of waiting but consequent honor we’d all be receiving for our faithfulness to God’s will, “Our marriages will be so blessed!”

I felt guilt over our decision. I felt guilty because we struggled ceaselessly to keep our hands off one another. We attempted to remedy this by establishing rules, unnatural rules that lead to unsatisfying and mechanical expressions of love. This, of course, resulted in spontaneous spurts of passion that we’d cherish temporarily before we would remind each other of our sacred vows. We’d then chastise ourselves for our deliberate defiance of God’s will then reinforce our rules by adding more boundaries to ensure we’d keep to ourselves. Even though we felt so much guilt, we hadn’t actually ‘lain’ with on another, but the ‘everything but’ we occasionally engaged in lead to a maddening cycle of desire, guilt, and shame that left us dreading alone time with one another.

I sought advice from seasoned Christians to discover the secret to surrendering ‘all’ to God. How could we stop ourselves from ‘wanting’ each other? Much to my astonishment, (and subsequent relief), the majority of the Christians I asked had not waited until marriage at all. They had either started their relationship with sex and later agreed to stop until they were married, justified their occasional derelictions (claiming it did not happen frequently enough to be considered sin), or waited until they were engaged. They claimed, however, that they regretted it, for reasons they parroted from a pastor and insisted that my boyfriend and I should wait. We should wait, they asserted, because sex before marriage is a sin and God has a greater plan that we cannot comprehend. This plan, for some reason, could only be revealed and appreciated if we wait, and if we choose not to, we’d miss out on our greater ‘blessing’…

I was frustrated. If we loved each other, why was expressing that love so reprehensible? Why was God so overly concerned with whether my boyfriend and I had sex? Weren’t there homeless people to feed? Wars to end? Cancers to cure? It didn’t make sense that sex before marriage was seemingly at the top of God’s list of indefensible sins. What about two consenting, responsible adults engaged having sex in a loving and faithful relationship, was so wrong?

I was in the midst of making sense of my beliefs when I was invited onto the boat of my boyfriend’s parents, former Pastor Ben and his wife Natalie. Their and my relationship was not exactly harmonious. Upon my first few interactions with them, I had been drilled unceremoniously with rapid-fire questions. They wanted to know about my affairs; what college am I going to, who is my family, what career am I pursuing, etc. These questions were fair, as I knew they were only curious about the young lady with whom their son was involved, but they conducted these sessions with the cold deftness of a business meeting, leaving me feeling anxious and unwelcomed.

His parents were not impressed with me and made their disapproval known through the sly look they exchanged with one another when they thought I wasn’t looking. They masked this intermittently with smiles and backhanded compliments but I’d later hear the unbridled truth of their disapproval through Joseph, who’d later told me that they found me to be too “clingy” and “shy”, felt I was not “trying hard enough to get to know them”. These remarks annoyed me as I knew I was not clingy or shy, just uncomfortable. I wanted so badly for them to like me and was confused by their immediate dismissal of me. My parents were convinced that racism had something to do with it, and that was not a theory I ignored, but I wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt. They had raised Joseph after all.

During my visit to their boat, I felt as though I were invisible. The family went about their day as if I weren’t even visiting. I attempted to make small talk with Joseph’s father who at best, seemed to be tolerating me. I then attempted to strike up a conversation with Joseph’s sister, Leah, who couldn’t even pretend to care. I finally made my way down the boat to where Joseph’s brother, Christopher and stepmom were chatting and waited for an opening, but they never acknowledged me. So, I just sat there awkwardly waiting to be seen while my boyfriend cluelessly looked on, smiling, happy to see me “bonding” with his family.

I felt myself zoning, leaving my body as I waited for the outing to end. I focused on the sound of the water and the warmth of the sun. I was about ready to fall asleep when suddenly I heard a word that brought me back down: “gay”. Gay? What were they talking about? I quickly turned back into my surroundings. In front of me , Christopher and stepmom were engaged in a passionate discussion about the ruling of the Obergefell vs Hodges case.

“They won’t take my flag away!” his stepmom griped indignantly. She was referring to the American flag and was somehow convinced that gay people were planning on supplanting the flag with the gay pride flag.
“Ridiculous” Christopher chimed in, “have you heard about people also wanting to remove the confederate flag?”
“ I have” his stepmother scoffed, “are they serious, it’s just a flag, people have the right to fly it wherever they want.”
I listened in disbelief as the two unabashedly spoke out about their opinions, completely unaware (or possibly not caring) that I was there.
“Those people are so sensitive” his stepmom sneered.
Those people?
“ These are the same kind of people who depend on the government and don’t pay their taxes, makes me sick”.

Even though I hadn’t spoken, I felt myself clamming up. How could they speak so thoughtlessly about people who didn’t share their beliefs? They spoke so generally, not exploring the history, motivations, or feelings that might drive people to speak out against the confederate flag. Their arguments were shallow and to them, it was clear that anyone who opposed them was wrong. Wrong and stupid. I knew then, sitting alone, that I would never fit in.

For dinner, we docked at a wharf where they served pizza. There was a grassy area with picnic tables where we all settled together and decided on what toppings we wanted on our pizzas. I sat with them silently, my mind reeling; stirring with the fear that Joseph’s family might be racist or at least intolerant to opposing viewpoints. Their rhetoric about ‘others’ was so cold and unforgiving. I couldn’t help but feel as though they wanted me to hear their opinions like they wanted to make me feel small. Once we had decided on our pizza toppings, Joseph’s dad left to order. In his absence, his wife continued her tirade against gay people.

“We need to fight against the gays” she sputtered. “We as Christians need to fight against them and their sinful ways.”

My eyes got large and my heartbeat shot up as I froze in disbelief yet again. It’s one thing to speak privately about your homophobic opinions, but in public, in front of me, I just could stand to be a part of it.

“Why” I heard myself saying.
“Excuse me?”
I steadied my voice “why should we fight the gays?”.
Now Joseph’s stepmom’s eyes grew wide, Christopher left the table.
“What do you mean why?” she spat “ Aren’t you a Christian, don’t you believe in the truth of the bible?
“I do but-”
“No, you cannot possibly be a Christian or believe in the truth of the bible because in the bible it clearly states that being gay is a sin, do you believe that?”
“I just don’t think that’s true-”
“-but it says it in the bible and you’re a Christian, right? You have to believe it then.” she had her finger in my face.

In high school, I used to approach the topic of homosexuality with the blanket statement:“love the sinner not the sin”. I knew that that was something I was supposed to say as a Christian but I never truly looked into it and I honestly didn’t care. It wasn’t until a few of my close friends came out to me that I was forced to confront my actual beliefs on the matter and found that without hesitation, I accepted my friends and their sexuality. As I grew more knowledgeable about the church’s intolerant stance against homosexuality, I became disillusioned by the false facade of love the church perpetuated and saw what the damaging phrase I once casually spouted was actually asking me to do. The church wanted me to discriminate. They wanted me to deny, discredit, and denounce my friends and their “lifestyle”. I wasn’t yet an atheist but I knew my God, the God that made sense to me, wouldn’t want me to discriminate. To me, God transcended the words in the Bible, so hearing from a fellow Christian that God wanted me to fight against my friends didn’t align with my current picture of God.

“I’m still learning” I relented, “but maybe the verses are misinterpreted, I don’t know, I just don’t think being gay is wrong and I don’t believe God does either”

“Don’t get me wrong,” his stepmom retorted, “I love my gay friends, I have lots of gay friends, but I am grieved for their souls and the lack of relationship they have with Jesus. As Christians, we need to show them the right way back to God, and not encourage them to engage in unnatural behaviors.”

“I just don’t believe that” I stammered (I am not a debater). “That’s just not what I believe God wants us to do.”

“Do you have values, Lauren?” she pivoted, “because I don’t believe you do, I bet you don’t even know what values are. In my family” she stood over me motioning to her arms to her silent children, “we have values and we protect those values. We are a strong Christian family and we value the truth of the Bible and trust in the word of god.” she smugly raised an eyebrow and then turned to my boyfriend with her finger pointing to me “nice pick, son”.

My boyfriend, rendered speechless in pure fear and disbelief, decided it was time for him to speak up. He adjusted himself and opened his mouth”

“Shut up” his stepmom interjected before he could get a word out. “This is between Lauren and me”. He cowered.

I texted my parents under the table. I wanted to go home. It was clear I was not welcomed in this family and I had no business spending any more time with them.

“Who wants pizza!” Joseph’s dad sang. He had finally returned with the pizza. His wife’s demeanor immediately softened in his presence. “I’m so hungry, thank you sweetie” she kissed him and began to dole out the plates, napkins, and slices, “which pizza do you want, Lauren?” I didn’t answer. Joseph’s dad quickly caught onto the awkward energy. No one was talking, no one was happy. “Just a little disagreement” his wife assured him, “nothing to worry about” he winced. “What happened..?”. Leah filled him in.

To be honest, this is where I zoned back out again. His father sat down and assumed his past role as a pastor and shared with me what the Bible says about homosexuality. He relented that some Christians have different interpretations of the bible but that that was not the interpretation they believed and agreed with his wife that God had perfect design and how homosexuality does not fit that perfect design. You know, the pieces just don’t fit and all that. All the while, his wife nodded to every word he said, staring at me haughtily as if to say “are you listening to this, we’re right, you’re wrong”. There was a moment where Leah attempted to defend me. She moved to sit beside me and stated her case for tolerance, but not confidently. She was quickly dismissed and sent slinking back to her seat. I was all alone.

I went back home that day with a new take on Christianity. Never in my life had I ever had an interaction that hostile with fellow a Christian. What stayed with me though, and repeatedly rang loud like a shrieking alarm was being told that I am not a Christian. Not a Christian? I had never been told that before. Could I not be a Christian? Up until that point I had always been praised for my unwavering faith in God. I had made it my life’s mission to bring people to Christ, even though my doubts I proudly stood tall as God’s daughter, but not a Christian? I began to analyze my beliefs, my thought’s on homosexuality, sex before marriage, Hell etc. Much to my dismay, I found that every hot topic that the church had spoken out for or against, I didn’t agree. I came to realize that my version of Christianity was of my own fabrication, only made out of the truths and laws that I agreed with and made sense to me. Maybe I wasn’t a Christian, I allowed myself to think. Maybe I don’t believe. It was from then on that I finally gave myself permission to doubt.

This post is a guest post submitted to me by Lauren Smith. If you would like to be a guest blogger for me, drop me a line at mommy@godlessmom.com.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Sharon Dee

    Sounds to me like you were the good sort of Christian that the church can’t stand to lose if they want to remain relevant. Too bad for them. But great for you! Now you can base your morality on things that really matter and that make sense to you.

  • Jim Jones

    Way OT except that it’s Xmas and gifts for kids are a thing.

    My book list.

    Maybe Yes, Maybe No by Dan Barker

    In today’s media-flooded world, there is no way to control all of the information, claims, and enticements that reach young people. The best thing to do is arm them with the sword of critical thinking.
    Maybe Yes, Maybe No is a charming introduction to self-confidence and self-reliance. The book’s ten-year-old heroine, Andrea, is always asking questions because she knows “you should prove the truth of a strange story before you believe it.”
    “Check it out. Repeat the experiment. Try to prove it wrong. It has to make sense.” writes Barker, as he assures young readers that they are fully capable of figuring out what to believe, and of knowing when there just isn’t enough information to decide. “You can do it your own way. If you are a good skeptic you will know how to think for yourself.”

    Another book is “Me & Dog” by Gene Weingarten.
    And Born With a Bang: The Universe Tells Our Cosmic Story : Books 1, 2, 3
    Here Comes Science CD + DVD
    The Magic of Reality by Richard Dawkins
    Bang! How We Came to Be by Michael Rubino.
    Grandmother Fish: A Child’s First Book of Evolution
    Grandmother Fish, more information.
    Also:
    Greek Myths – by Marcia Williams
    Ancient Egypt: Tales of Gods and Pharaohs – by Marcia Williams
    God and His Creations – by Marcia Williams
    I Wonder by Annaka Harris
    From Stardust to You: An Illustrated Guide to The Big Bang by Luciano Reni
    Meet Bacteria! by Rebecca Bielawski
    See also Highlights for Children – this has materials for younger children.
    Atheism books for children by Courtney Lynn
    “It Is Ok To Be A Godless Me”, “I’m An Atheist and That’s Ok”, “I’m a Freethinker”, “Please Don’t Bully Me” and “I’m a Little Thinker” etc.
    (Courtney Lynn has a couple more for grown ups as well.)
    Augie and the Green Knight by Zach Weinersmith
    — See other books by by Zach Weinersmith as well.
    15 Holiday Gift Ideas for Secular Families
    Bedtime Bible Stories by Joey Lee Kirkman – for mature teens only
    Sophie’s World: A Novel About the History of Philosophy by Jostein Gaarder

    TINY THINKERS is a series of books introducing popular scientists to children, by telling their stories as if the scientists themselves were kids!

  • Jim Jones

    When I have a moral question I ask myself, “What for Fred Rogers do (or say)?” That has never failed me. I may not do what he would say to do, but at least I know what is the right choice.

  • HematitePersuasion

    And this is where that insipid text of C. S. Lewis (“Mere Christianity”) shows its disconnect from reality.

  • “Do you have values, Lauren?”

    This vile person was too blinded to see that you not only had values, you had superior ones. Kindness, compassion, humility, generosity of the heart.

    What were her values? Puffed-up pride? Disdain for the poor, dehumanization of “sinners,” righteous indignation?

    You’re a better person than she could even conceive of being.

    I am sure it hurt at the time, but I am very glad that you escaped that situation. People like that are monsters.

  • Jesus never talked about same-sex relationships, but he did say that if you divorced your spouse for reasons other than adultery and remarried, your new marriage was adulterous. I wonder why the pastor divorced his first wife! If Jesus went to all the trouble to call it a sin, it must be more important than the ones he never talked about, right?

    Another case of “your god thinks like you” on the part of these people.

  • Ann Kah

    Unfortunately none of us think fast enough in such a situation. This was a missed opportunity for you to say (loudly and publicly) “Is this your kind of Christianity? Sorry, mine didn’t tell me I had to hate anybody”.

  • PeterCumbria

    Well done Lauren! For speaking up for humanity and goodness and decency.
    I would really like to know how you are getting on now. Wishing you all the very best.

  • Jim Jones

    > Jesus never talked about same-sex relationships,

    Google (centurion pais)

  • Connie Beane

    “I came to realize that my version of Christianity was of my own fabrication, only made out of the truths and laws that I agreed with and made sense to me.”

    It’s good that you had this revelation, Lauren, but perhaps you should extend it a bit. I would say that your almost-in-laws operate on the same wavelength: their version of Christianity is of their own fabrication, made out of the truths and laws they agree with. Essentially, this is the truth at the heart of every religion. People come to their own decisions about what is “truth” and then pretend it came from God in order to give it greater authority.

  • Interesting!

  • Brian Curtis

    I hope she also recognized how little help Joseph would be in sticking up for her own values in the face of his family’s overwhelming hate and bigotry.

  • Jim Jones

    Yep. Also Google “lyings of a woman”