Man alive! If there’s one thing ex-Christians in the Unequally Yoked Club know, it’s that our Christian spouses get the worst ever advice about how to handle our deconversions. Of course, the advice they get before then is bad too. It’s really all terrible, and worst of all, it can be easily turned toward abuse. Today, I’ll show you the three worst pieces of advice my Christian then-husband received–and how it backfired dramatically on him.
A quick note: I’m well aware that my ex is a dumpster fire of a human being. He fits every single bullet point on checklists for narcissism! Be assured: there’s a happy ending to this tale. Also, I use words like “apparently” a lot here because I don’t 100% know what people were telling him to do. A lot of this came out during arguments, sometimes well after the fact. This post reflects my suspicions.
Disastrous Situation #1: A Mismatch in Desires for Parenthood.
I met Biff at 17, shortly after leaving Pentecostalism. Later that year, he converted to the same denomination and church I’d left, then talked me into re-joining it with him. We hadn’t been dating very long before he went full-throttle fundamentalist. Even then, I’d almost ended the relationship a few times over his weirdly abusive and self-centered behavior. What I didn’t realize was that he’d been seeking advice about both how to reconvert me and to keep me as a girlfriend–and then, once he’d gotten me reeled back in, how to get me to marry him.
I’d made my positions clear on a number of topics about marriage with Biff. Chief among these was that I refused to have children. I had made no secret of this fact from the very beginning of our relationship.
Biff didn’t like that decision at all, especially after his conversion. See, he had this vision dancing in his head of the Happy Christian Family Illusion. That illusion included children.
But I held firm. If he wanted me as a wife, then he would not be having children. If he wanted children, he’d need to find another woman to marry.
Tactic #1: Buy Time By Lying.
With surprising alacrity, Biff somehow reconciled himself with my boundary.
Consequently, I agreed to the wedding. I took it for evidence that our god had put us together. Instead, I should have felt deeply suspicious.
Biff phrased it as having “put that desire on the altar.” That Christianese means that a Christian has consciously given up the desire. If their god wishes to grant them the desire at some future point, fine, but they will resolve to live without it forever–unless and until that day comes.
It’s grade-A bull patties, of course. It’s bull patties when any Christian says it.
Years later, in an argument about his endless pestering about children, I reminded him–again–of this promise.
He replied very sullenly that our sweet, elderly first pastor had advised him to say that to get me to marry him.
See, women always felt skittish (the pastor said) about kids right after the wedding. Therefore, Biff should buy time by lying to me. Within a year or so, maybe even during the honeymoon, the pastor promised I’d be pestering him to become a father. He just needed to buy time till I changed my mind.
When I didn’t change my mind, Biff got extremely petulant.
The pastor had promised. All the other men at church had said. I was the one not getting with the program!
Backfire #1: I Took Extra Pains to Protect My Own Interests.
If Biff had been trying to convince me to deeply distrust any changes of heart he claimed to have had, he couldn’t have managed the trick more effectively than that.
Shortly after that argument, when Biff offered to get a vasectomy (thus freeing me from dealing with contraception), I was astonished. But this time, I didn’t even consider taking his offer at face value.
I refused to stop using my preferred contraception until I saw the printed follow-up report confirming our safety. Biff never made his follow-up appointment or provided me with that evidence. Instead, he weirdly insisted that I should just trust that the procedure had done its job. Though we weren’t having a lot of sex by then, I refused to do that.
Years later, I found out about contraception sabotage.
Very quickly, I realized that sure sounded like what had happened.
I’d always wondered why we’d never received any bills or statements from the doctor he claimed had performed the procedure. Even his preparatory pre-procedure paperwork was blank! He hadn’t even allowed me to accompany him to any of the appointments he’d made.
I strongly suspect that Biff tried to entrap me a second time by lying. The first attempt had worked, after all. Maybe he thought I was a slow learner.
Disastrous Situation #2: Deconversion.
I was midway through deconversion by the time Biff floated the idea of a vasectomy. All of this happened around the time we headed for Japan, toward the end of our time in Houston.
It’d take some time yet to process things, though. Deconversion can be really messy and uneven, involving as it does reconstructing one’s entire worldview. Some stuff happens quickly; other stuff takes a year or two or more to settle out. That’s all normal.
Meanwhile, Biff didn’t fully accept my deconversion for probably a year. Any attempt I made to raise the topic was met with horror on his part, if not outright silencing. So I stopped raising it and simply refused to attend church. Since we never performed devotions together at home anyway (the rest of the tribe couldn’t see him swanning around there), my refusal effectively meant I was free of the religion as a whole. All I had to do was cease my own private Bible studies and prayer, and I was done with Christianity. Eventually he’d get used to things.
At least, that’s how I thought this thing would go.
Man, was I ever a sweet summer child!
Tactic #2: Reconversion As the Primary Goal.
As long as Biff thought I was still at least peripherally involved with the Happy Pretendy Fun Time Game he played, he restricted himself to wheedling pleas–and increasingly strident demands–that I start attending church again.
Once he realized that I was not simply a lapsed Christian but an actual ex-Christian, he swung into action.
Instead of trying to forge a new normal with me, however, he made his entire life revolve around reconverting me.
Later, I learned that this was the primary advice that Christians give to other Christians who find themselves in the Unequally Yoked Club.
The entire relationship becomes eclipsed by this primary goal of reconversion. The lists of advice I saw online always began and ended with advising Christians to earnestly pray that their spouses reconvert. And I’m pretty sure this is what Biff got counseled to do, because he threw himself into that campaign.
That campaign became my reality for about six months, before the marriage finally imploded. Biff would make half hearted pretenses at doing stuff with me that I enjoyed, but always with a hangdog, mournful expression. Sometimes he’d look at me, wincing in “pain,” eyebrows knitted together pathetically, then sniffle and whimper haltingly, “You actually like this?”
Hey. I’ll take Counting Crows and a bottle of Shiner Bock over a church service any day.
The lead singer looks exactly like I expected.
Biff also took to praying SUPER DUPER MEGA LOUDLY at home, bawling his eyes out over his apostate wife. I’m sure our neighbors were thrilled.
Backfire #2: Some Uncomfortable Truths, Revealed.
Like the first tactic, this one had, after all, worked once before on me. But that first time, I’d been a teenager who didn’t understand a lot of stuff.
This time, I stood my ground. I knew Christianity’s claims weren’t true. I’d made my roll to disbelieve. He could wail and moan and cry all he wished. His histrionics didn’t make those false claims more true.
Something else was happening, though.
As Biff concentrated on reconverting me, he began to neglect one of his most important irons in the fire: ensuring his narcissistic supply.
Narcissists don’t have relationships like regular people do. Instead, they see people as gratification tools for their use. These people give them the attention and admiration they desperately need to prop up their self-image. This attention and admiration is called the narcissist’s supply.
But most people don’t tend to like being used like that. The narcissist must keep them reeled in through manipulation, to prevent them from leaving and taking the supply with them.
Biff forgot to maintain his supply. I finally got a little breathing room–which I used to re-evaluate our marriage from a more objective vantage point.
When he started whining about listening to my music or the presence of makeup or women’s jeans in our shared home, I reminded him that this was my house too. When he bawled his eyes out in those pious frauds of prayers, I coolly left the house for a long bike ride or a trip to the library.
I didn’t know the words for this stuff yet. But I understood what he was trying to do.
Disastrous Situation #3: Loss of Male Privilege.
By far the worst and scariest situation I went through with Biff involved his reaction to his loss of gender-based dominance over me.
I genuinely believe that one reason he glommed so quickly onto fundamentalism was that it finally gave him the power he craved over others. People didn’t tend to respect Biff very much, out in the world. They knew him for a liar and schemer–good-looking, a fun guy to hang out with, just don’t let him borrow your car or tell him any secrets.
But Pentecostalism told Biff that no less than a god had marked him out for something very special. And it told him that he deserved, through right of birth, total power over entire groups of people, starting with his wife.
When I began refusing to attend church, Biff didn’t feel distress because of the state of my supposed immortal soul. Rather, he knew people at church judged his success as a Pentecostal man by how firm his control looked over his family. If I wasn’t attending church, it meant I was not obeying him.
My refusal impacted not only his social standing at church, but also his potential future career as a Pentecostal minister. Our denomination insisted that ministers conform the Happy Christian Family Illusion. They dropped preachers or pastors whose families did not conform to their ideals.
Biff realized that I would no longer obey him simply because he was male and I was female. Consequently, he would hint later, he sought help from his male friends to bring me back into line.
Tactic #3: Throw Your Weight Around.
Nobody’s more manly-man than the military, to a fundagelical. And Biff was, right then, serving active duty on a military base. He had plenty of men to talk to–including, I’d learn, a chaplain on base–about how he might regain control over me. Over time, I’d learn that they were apparently advising “tough love” to bring me around.
As with other two situations, he’d done something vaguely similar when we were first married, “pulling rank” on me. And it’d worked for a while because at the time, I’d believed that our god had commanded me to obey him. So he tried it a second time–just amped up, like his other re-attempts. But he didn’t possess the backup authority of pastors or threats of Hell–not anymore.
A light-switch flipped. The sad-sack act disappeared. Instead, Biff suddenly acted really tough. We’re talking like out of character tough, like weirdly bossy. Then he threatened to hurt me. A day later, he called the base MPs to come talk to him before he beat up his wife. The MPs came immediately, made sure I was safe, and then carted him off for a week-long psych hold. He seemed just flabbergasted by this turn of events.
As for that chaplain, Biff asked me to talk to him when I fetched our checkbook from him at the psych hospital a few days later. I was already on-base, so I swung by the guy’s office.
He’s bound by confidentiality and impartiality, Biff had told me. But during our brief meeting, the chaplain made it crystal-clear that he fully sympathized with Biff’s version of events. Worse, he had apparently been advising Biff in his efforts to “save the marriage.”
I had hoped to enlist his help in making Biff accept that the marriage was over. Instead, I felt like I was in a horror movie when I realized, slowly, that the chaplain was pushing hard for our reconciliation. I cut the meeting short.
Later, Biff repeated back to me almost everything I’d said during that confidential, impartial meeting.
Backfire #3: I Realized the Marriage Was Over.
Before Biff could come home from the hospital, I fled to Canada.
Like nothing else could have, his threats made me recognize that our marriage was dead–indeed, that it had never been truly alive.
Biff stalked me for over a year as our divorce finalized. Several times he mentioned that his military friends had suggested a long buddy trip to “drag me back by the hair” and, of course, to murder the people I was living with. Alas, he lamented to me, I’d run away too far for it to be a feasible multi-person road trip. (I’ll leave it to you to consider why this travel method might have been so important.)
I’d deconverted with the full expectation that we’d work things out eventually. It hadn’t occurred to me that we wouldn’t.
My faith had been completely misplaced. As he strove to terrorize me back to his side, that point became as plain as day.
There’s a happy ending.
Finally, I thought to call his base’s commanding officers to ask for their aid. They seemed quite helpful!
The stalking toned down till Biff finished his service, then picked up again.
Then I received a wedding invitation, right as our divorce finalized. It was from his next wife-to-be with her home address on it, which told me where he’d relocated and that he’d apparently been courting her while stalking me. I threatened to call every single person in his new hometown if I had to, including the town’s sheriff and his fiancee and her parents, to let them know what he had been doing for the last 18 months. Oh, and I’d be pressing charges.
The stalking stopped–instantly.
It was like being on the weird boat ride in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.
Biff made one more email attempt a few months later, just after his wedding, to test the boundaries of his onetime narcissistic supply. I coolly reminded him of my threat and never heard another word out of him.
I was finally free.
The Real Danger of Religion.
Biff’s faith had been misplaced too, in a weird way.
Like so many Christians do, he had always sought out advice that flattered him and reassured him of his existing worldview. He didn’t want advice that challenged him in any way or got in the way of what he truly wanted to do. Christianity–the flavor that’d resonated with him–told him he was already perfect the way he was. For a narcissist, there ain’t much that is sweeter to hear.
My religious leaders and peers could do nothing to rein him in or to protect me. If anything, they only encouraged him–and egged him on to worse and worse behavior. Their advice centered around protecting their dominance and power, not around maturely resolving serious problems. Gang, they left nothing to chance here. Even if Biff hadn’t been narcissistic, their advice would have failed and backfired. And in the hands of a narcissist, their advice became downright potentially dangerous.
Yeah, I feel like the lived reality of just why Christian advice can be so damned dangerous.
Worse yet, Christians can’t even identify predators like Biff. It’s so easy for someone like him to fool them. And once a predator has successfully fooled the sheep into thinking he’s one of them, it’s just about impossible to dislodge him from their affections.
Their inability to parse predators is part of why Christianity is dying–and why it deserves to die.
STILL NO 2018 ANNUAL REPORT. WTF! But it’s fine, it’s all fine. This week, we’ve got another busy dance card. Be looking for a book review, a look at a spectacularly goofy evangelism campaign from the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), and a blast from the past about the power of questions. THE ANNUAL REPORT IS TOTALLY OUT NOW. We’re gonna look at it next time. See you soon!
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