Hello and welcome back! Years ago, I started a long blog series called The Unequally Yoked Club. It aimed to help Christian couples deal with a spouse’s deconversion at a time when the available advice sucked beyond all logical measure. Today, we’ll see that Christians’ marriage advice to the unequally-yoked has gotten worse in recent years.
(All quotes come from Christians. I don’t use scare quotes without declaring them as such.)
The History of the Unequally Yoked Club.
Christians generally define an unequally-yoked couple as one wherein participants practice different religions or hold differing opinions about the supernatural. The more authoritarian the Christian group, the more they frown upon these couples.
When I began writing the Unequally Yoked Club (UYC) series, Christians found themselves in a singularly new situation. At the time, they were only just barely starting to realize they faced a serious decline in membership. A lot of the people deconverting were married to fellow Christians. So others leaped to offer those remaining Christians advice about how to deal with their deconverted spouses.
Some of my ex-Christian friends faced the fallout of that bad advice. They jokingly called themselves The Unequally Yoked Club. So naturally, I borrowed the name when I began writing the series.
As the years passed, Christianity’s decline only accelerated. But for unequally-yoked couples, it seemed like they had reached a better headspace. Also, the advice aimed at them wasn’t quite as bad as it had been.
The Cult of Family in Toxic Christianity.
But a funny thing happens to authoritarians when they start getting desperate to regain dominance. They start drilling down even harder on their worst ideas. Their followers become more and more polarized–and more and more divorced from reality.
In these more-authoritarian flavors of Christianity, the folks I call toxic Christians elevated marriage and parenthood to cult-idol levels of worship. Even in the best of times, they’re more of a totalitarian political movement cloaked in religious jargon than an actual spiritual group.
Predictably, many Christians fell right into line with this new rhetoric, with this new push for ideological purity.
And I saw Christians’ advice to mixed-faith couples take another nose-dive.
On that note…
Everyone, Meet Kimberly Penrod Pelletier.
Kimberly Penrod Pelletier is a Christian blogger trying to make a living as a motivational speaker and writer.
She’s a standard-issue example of the type: pretty, young-ish, and charmingly self-effacing.
On her official site, we learn that she calls herself a “trained Spiritual Director.” We’ll talk more about that next time — for now, I’ll leave it at Jesus-flavored counseling. It’s one of Christianity’s new cottage industries. Even on her own official site, she never mentions where she got her training or what form it took or when it happened.
In August 2017, she participated in a Christian women’s convention. The convention included her as one of two self-identified “Spiritual Directors.” Ramelia Williams, the other one, identifies exactly where she earned her degrees and certification. But Kimberly Penrod Pelletier simply describes herself as “a trained spiritual director.”
So I have no idea where she got her training or if she possesses any formal certification. It’s entirely possible she began a program, then dropped out. Whatever the case, we know that by late-summer 2017 she used this job title and insinuated that she was formally and professionally fully-trained to do it.
She also claimed in that convention writeup to work for “The Mansio Center” as their “Director of Soul Care.” This center offers “holistic” counseling and therapy. The stuff they do sounds like pure woo to me. Either way, she isn’t listed on their employee page now, and their “Spiritual Direction” page doesn’t mention her either–so I’m guessing they parted ways since then. This may be the “chaplain” job she refers to in the post we’re covering today, but I don’t know. There’s no sign she’s held a job anywhere else.
I’m going somewhere with all this. Trust me. I want you to know who’s giving this advice.
A Timeline Begins to Form.
Kimberly Penrod Pelletier also keeps a haphazard blog on her official site. She generally publishes 1 or 2 entries a month, but at times a month or two goes by without her publishing anything. None of her blog posts seem to garner any engagement at all, probably because she refuses to keep a set schedule.
Nor do I see much engagement at her sporadic publishing elsewhere, notably a writers’ group called Redbud Writers and a self-marketing attempts in January 2018 at Christianity Today (CT) (including CT’s offshoot, smallgroups.com).
Still, her blog’s most recent radio silence stands out as remarkable. We have a couple of April 2017 entries, one in May 2017, and then nothing till December 2017. And nothing since then on her official site (and precious little anywhere else).
The December 2017 post caught my eye. It’s called “On Why I Have Been Silent Here.” She sanctimoniously informs us why she needed a seven-month hiatus:
You may have noticed the world is, well, a bit noisy. I mean, forget our closets and garages…there is so much internet clutter. I fear what this is doing to our brains, our souls, and our connection with God. And to be one who writes on the internet…it’s even more sneaky clutter. The constant wondering what people think and if there’s enough “traffic” and “likes” and “hits” and all of it is enough to lose one’s own soul…which is well, ironic given that big logo up in the corner says “Reclaim Your Soul.” I can’t exactly do that when I’m swimming in internet clutter, let alone internal clutter. So I am going silent. A lot.
Ah. But she’s not being entirely honest here.
(What a nice slam she made, too, at her fellow Christian writers who do manage to publish regularly. How very Christian mommy-blogger of her.)
The Real Reason For Her Silence.
Kimberly Penrod Pelletier presents her long hiatus as just her wanting to concentrate on her faith, but that’s not really what happened.
We don’t find out what really happened until this week–and not even from her personal blog.
On February 14, 2020, CT published her article “My Husband Is Deconstructing His Faith. How Do I Journey with Him?” (Subtitle: “This Valentine’s Day, some of us are called to love unbelieving wives and husbands.”)
There, we learn that her husband–a minister, probably in paid ministry to boot–deconverted from Christianity in the fall of 2017.
That’s actually why she went silent.
The Inevitable Listicle.
After describing in detail how beyond-devastated she felt at her husband’s defection from the tribe, she offers a listicle for how to treat a beloved husband like life’s little consolation prize:
Day by day, I’m learning how to love my husband in the midst of change.
Yikes. This is something she must learn to do.
As I shared the news with some close friends and pastors, I felt plagued with questions: How do I tell the kids? What does this mean for their spiritual formation? How do we connect? How do I like him again? . . . Why didn’t he tell me earlier? Will we still go to church together? Will we ever feel normal again?
But her listicle drives home just how ignorant she is of real love. Worse, it reveals what a good situation she really has with her husband–and how she stomps all over it constantly for Jesus reasons.
Sidebar: What She Has.
Like a lot of deconverted spouses, Kimberly Penrod Pelletier’s husband goes to great lengths to make her feel more comfortable with their new normal. He respects her space, avoiding topics she finds painful and even “appalling” and “disgusting” — like how he deconverted in the first place. (She doesn’t tell us why he deconverted, but it sounds like he’s good and truly done with the religion.)
He even lies about still believing to make her feel better, telling their children he’s “working things out with God right now.” He’s saying this about a god he doesn’t even believe exists anymore. There’s nothing to “work out” with this imaginary being.
But if he’s not telling her he believes again, his efforts don’t matter.
She’ll always consider the two of them “misaligned,” not differently-aligned. In her eyes, he’s always going to be wrong, and she’s always going to be right.
This sounds like a recipe for absolute marital disaster.
So without further ado, here’s a Christian listicle advising readers how to alienate themselves from good and loving spouses to earn extra Jesus points with their tribe.
One: Refuse to Allow the Deconverted Person to Frame Their Own Deconversion Experience.
This post sounds like typical Christian warbling, but there’s a darker side to it. She writes:
The work of the Holy Spirit is ever-present in my husband’s life, and I can trust that reality.
She calls this step “Trust the work of the Holy Spirit,” but it sounds like a slap in the face to the deconverted spouse to me. Indeed, she tells us her beloved husband’s ex-timony made her feel “appalled and disgusted.”
Those are some mighty big words indicating contempt and anger. I don’t even use them often in discussing fundagelicals’ antics. They’re powerful trigger words. But she comes right out of the gate with them. Whammo! And about her husband no less!
I am hard-pressed to imagine anything my husband could possibly say that’d make me use words like that in response. He’d have to confess to carnal relations with animals or children for me to go there. Simply describing a change of beliefs sure wouldn’t do it.
And I know that already about myself! See, years ago I found myself on the receiving end of a partner’s secret conversion. It involved a religion I didn’t like or respect at the time. Even so, I didn’t feel appalled and disgusted. Rather, I felt anguished and deeply concerned that my boyfriend-at-the-time hadn’t felt safe confiding in me about something hugely important to him.
I didn’t reframe my then-boyfriend’s experiences as PROOF YES PROOF that my own beliefs were true. The idea didn’t even occur to me. Instead, I respected how he framed them.
Two: Find Other Ways to Play Christian Pretendy Games.
With a partner’s deconversion, the remaining believer can start feeling “lonely” without any pretendy play time partners. In other words, the believer’s faith pool empties faster than it can be refilled. So to keep water flowing into the pool, the remaining believer must seek out new play partners.
To refill her faith pool, our “trained Spiritual Director” sought out out a “Spiritual Director” of her own to talk to. She also found more friends to practice devotions with, and consumed more religious books and other such materials.
Not bad advice, but she still considers her home “lonely” now that it only contains a loving husband instead of a loving Christian husband. A few million divorced single moms would probably like to share a few strong words with her.
Three: Downsizing Amidst the Ruins.
Kimberly Penrod Pelletier describes this step as “slow[ing] down your life,” but most of us would just call it downsizing to meet our current incomes. Her husband was, remember, a minister. So when he deconverted, he probably lost his job. She tells us that after his deconversion she found a job as a chaplain, but soon quit:
It became clear to me that I was trying to escape my pain. Leaving that job was a repentance of sorts, not because a woman shouldn’t work or leave her child with a sitter (which I had to do) but rather because I was running from myself, from my husband, and from God. I had to stop the frenzy. I had to reckon with my body and my emotions, and I needed therapy to support the process.
It doesn’t sound like she’s had a regular job since then. If her husband is like most deconverted ministers, he’s probably having a whale of a problem translating his experience and training to secular employment. So yes, they absolutely had to economize in ways they likely hadn’t had to do since their early days as a couple.
She frames the downsizing as giving her “more time to pray,” which sounds far nicer than conceding that she flat refused to keep a job to help pay their bills, forcing them to move and economize. And that’s even before we look at the December 2017 post she wrote about reducing “internet clutter” for that very reason.
She comes off as dishonest. And she doesn’t need to be. There’s nothing wrong with reducing stress by downsizing. She doesn’t have to insinuate that one can’t have a job and also find adequate time to think hard at the ceiling.
Four: Reducing Your Spouse to a “Neighbor” and Love to “Hospitality.”
Gosh, when Jesus said to “love your neighbor,” who’d’a thunk he also meant the guy she “share[s] a bed with.” She interprets this command as one demanding her “hospitality” toward him:
When we allow ourselves to come as we are, that deep, honest well within brings forth genuine prayers and a closer connection with God.
If she’d been able to do that before her husband’s deconversion, it wouldn’t have taken her by total surprise. She’d have been in on the process from his first unanswerable doubts. But he didn’t bring them to her, any more than my ex brought his two-year-long dive into British Traditionalist Wicca to me.
This part rankled me too:
Although your spouse may be uninterested in Jesus in the formal sense, they’re unlikely to refuse genuine hospitality that comes in the spirit of Christ.
I hope she doesn’t phrase it like that out loud. It makes her husband sound like a project, and kindness to him like a duty she performs in order to call herself a TRUE CHRISTIAN™.
Why not act from her deep love and respect for him? It’s like she’s forcing herself to find reasons to be kind to the husband who loves her.
Five: Be Consistently Inconsistent.
She advises Christians in the Unequally Yoked Club to avoid apologetics arguments. Chiefly she thinks they “suffocate the wooing power of the Holy Spirit.” (Yuck.) See, they create arguments and “resistance,” which stops Christians from feeling curiosity about their spouses’ experiences. Avoiding those conversations, she thinks, allows Christians to feel “grounded when our differences feel insurmountable.”
In reality, Christians should steer clear of apologetics arguments because they are simply not persuasive to anyone who can spot their irrational and manipulative underpinnings.
Apologetics authors aim their material at Christians, not non-Christians. Their arguments only work on Christians who already firmly believe–but maybe want to feel like they have good reasons to believe in sheer nonsense. For everyone else, these arguments fail and they fail hard.
And she sounds like the last person to be making suggestions about how to “remain curious about [deconverted spouses’] experiences.” As we’ll see soon, she often actively avoids talking about religion with her own husband, and seems steadfastly incurious about and even hostile to discussion of how he came to his conclusions about her imaginary friend.
But yes, Christians in the UYC should definitely avoid apologetics arguments. Her reason why is mostly wrong, but the suggestion itself is all right.
Six: Constantly Insult The Deconverted Spouse.
This one grossed me out. She calls it “Remember their truest identity (and yours).”
Your spouse was made by Love and for Love, and there’s nothing you or they can do to change that truth.
When fear threatens to overtake me, I consistently rest my mind in this reality of God’s affection. My husband is loved far more than I can comprehend.
He doesn’t believe in her god anymore. So this suggestion comes off as her going “Neener neener, you can’t help it, you’re still totally part of my imaginary friend’s big plan, and there’s nothing you can do to change that!” It’s a sneering jab at his self-image now as someone free of religious shackles.
I got this same sneering jab often when my Christian ex Biff finally realized I’d deconverted. It always felt like an insult, like I was just being all silly and resisting DA TROOF. It’s gaslighting, pure and simple.
Seven: Avoid Difficult Topics.
She calls this one “Create space for them (and you) to process,” but really she means “Avoid talking about stuff that challenges my faith.”
Two steps ago she was telling us to always be
closing curious, but now she tells us:
At one point, I had to place a conversational moratorium on philosophical and theological debate. I simply couldn’t carry the discussion while holding in my own heartache.
But she’s always glad to evangelize him! If he asks–of course!
During those times, I’ve told him that I need a break from intense conversation but will gladly offer personal stories of my own faith journey if he asked. I’ve also learned to listen without judgment when he wants to share his own experiences.
But is she really listening without judgment? I’ve spotted countless slams against him in this post already. She thinks of him as being wrong while she’s right. She’s aligned, and he’s misaligned. His honest truth about deconversion made her feel “appalled and disgusted.”
This one sounds like an antiprocess defense. She thinks of herself as a good listener–in fact, it’s why she calls herself a “trained Spiritual Director.” But she can’t listen to the man she loves talk about his deconversion. To protect her beliefs, she gets upset and declares topics off-limits.
If avoidance is the best someone can do, then fine, but it doesn’t bring couples closer together.
Eight: Find New Shared Interests.
This one also isn’t too bad. She suggests that a mixed-faith couple should cultivate new shared activities. Fine, yes. But to her, “develop[ing] a deeper friendship” is very much the consolation prize:
Enjoying the pleasure of his company is a fulfilling way to live into the glory and beauty of God, and it also eases the sting of knowing that we no longer share faith between us.
If he told her he believed again, that he’d reconverted, those new shared activities would likely drop away as if they’d never started. All they are now is stopgaps and placeholders in a life she never wanted.
She even inserts her imaginary friend into these new shared activities as a third wheel. Her husband must just love the fact that she’s framing their new activities in her mind as expressions of religious devotion.
Biff did that to me too–he’d go out places with me, but he always made clear that this was a second-best activity at best to him. It wasn’t what he really wanted us to be doing together. He made that clear.
Nine: Lie to the Kids.
This got to me. Obviously unequally-yoked couples who have children need to come to an understanding about raising them. One partner wants them to be indoctrinated; the other probably wishes they didn’t have to be taught lies.
This is what an amazing guy her husband is: he’s willing to let her indoctrinate his children — to teach them to fear imaginary threats and to bust their brains to seek imaginary relationships with imaginary wizards in the sky — simply because they agreed long ago that she could indoctrinate them. And he’s content to lie to those children by saying that he doesn’t take communion at church because he’s “working things out with God right now.” (She’s very vague about whether or not he attends church at all. It’s possible he doesn’t. But many ex-Christians do, to maintain appearances.)
I can’t imagine the strength it takes to lie about one’s beliefs. I couldn’t do it, though Biff would have loved it if I had. He constantly expressed his desire that I at least attend church with him again so he could feel like things were still normal (for him), but the idea made my skin crawl.
She’s quite nervous about what will happen the day he decides to be honest with their children. And she should be. Children nowadays reject religion in overwhelming numbers, and he probably has a lot of good reasons for rejecting it himself.
Ten: Get Affirmation From Your Similarly-Deluded Friends.
This just repeats Step 2. She already suggested Christians find other people to play Christian Pretendy Games with her.
As I lean into my believing friendships and learn from my spiritual director and others, I gain the courage and wisdom that I need to cultivate a more loving family rather than a divided one.
And I just wanted to note this:
Her family doesn’t have to be divided. That’s on her. She’s the one driving that division with her terror of and inability to cope with change, not her husband.
Christianity creates division. That’s what it does, and what it’s always done. This division creates a coercive social force that believers gleefully exert on non-believers. Way too many Christians see themselves as a tribe in the sociological sense: as a polarized, us-vs-them group that designates everybody in the world as a tribemate, an exploitable resource, or a dire enemy.
And she’s letting her religion’s divisive power create division in her very own family, in her very own marriage.
The Big Summary.
Our “trained Spiritual Director” finds herself in the middle of a common Christian situation these days: her spouse has deconverted. This deconversion up-ended her life and destroyed her shot at having a Happy Christian Family.
She’s still nowhere near being over the deconversion. But as we often encounter in toxic Christianity, that sure doesn’t stop her from presenting herself as someone qualified to dispense advice to others in that situation.
I hope nobody in Christian-land listens to her advice. It won’t help them find equilibrium in the new normal of the UYC. Her ill-advised post definitely won’t tell anybody how to maintain a loving relationship in the midst of religious differences.
All it’ll do is widen the rift between believers and non-believers.
On Cold Lonely Nights.
I’m sure that fomenting division is perfectly fine with the masters of this broken system. They don’t care what their appalling and disgusting teachings do to the lives of their followers. Still, I wish their followers weren’t so fine with disrupting their marriages and breaking their spouses’ hearts to meet their tribe’s demands for ideological purity.
Y’all, ideological purity sounds to me like very cold comfort on lonely winter nights. I’d rather have a real person by my side–one who loves me and can weather changes with me.
And I hope one day this gal realizes what a treasure she has in her spouse, and learns to love him for himself in his entirety rather than for his performance in the Happy Christian Family Illusion.
It comes to this: The Gospels’ writers have Jesus predicting that people would know his followers by their “love.” Man alive, that’s likely the only thing ever attributed to him that ever actually came true–just not in the way those ghostwriters intended.
NEXT UP: WTF is a “Spiritual Director?” I wondered too. Turns out that’s a thing! In fact, it’s a growing cottage industry in Christianity. We’ll check it out next time. See you soon. <3
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(Important note, 3/3/2020: The husband of Kimberly Pelletier has contacted me. He didn’t agree with some of the details in this post, and doesn’t feel that I captured the reality of his relationship with Ms. Pelletier. I appreciate him contacting me and am happy to include this objection from him in the post in a prominent place. I stand by the conclusions I drew from his wife’s post. As well, I stand by my objections to her suggestions to once-Christian couples facing a deconversion/deconstruction.)