My girlfriend, Rebecca Pratt, wrote this today and posted it as a status on her Facebook wall. I asked her permission to share it here because it so beautifully addresses a core part of my past year and answers one of the main questions that people ask about us and our relationship. (Note: for over a year I have tolerated a lot of mean and sometimes inappropriate comments because I didn’t mind it that much. However, I will delete comments that are disrespectful to Rebecca. Let’s keep it kind and thoughtful. Thanks!)
One question that Ryan and I have been asked since his public decision has been, “Do you have enough common ground to make it work?” Though some people were shocked and surprised by his announcement, Ryan and I have been in continuous discussion about our beliefs the entire year. His decision was not a surprise to me. In some ways I knew it before he did.
Ryan likes to call me an apatheist, mainly because the existence of God is not as meaningful or important to me as the work that I do that is motivated by my belief, life experiences, and Christian tradition. I consider myself a Christian, though not in the traditional sense. My and Ryan’s relationship is not built around our faith, or non-faith, in the unseen. It is built around shared passions, a deep connection, and a partnership. I joked with a friend once, “I’m more concerned about how we support and love each other in the relationship than about his faith. Are we compatible? Can we communicate? Does he respect me? Does he do the dishes? Dishes can start some serious fights, and Jesus doesn’t do the dishes.”
People’s beliefs and ideas change throughout their lives, but rarely do their personalities. I quickly fell in love with the man that is Ryan Bell. Though I respect his intellect, it is the deeper parts of him, the core of who he is, that I love and respect the most. His compassion and his tenderness. The way he encourages and supports myself and others. The amazing father that he has been, even through this hard transition. I have seen and experienced parts of Ryan’s journey that no one has seen. He is a man, an incredible man, but just a man. A person like you and me who decided to challenge his beliefs and let the world watch.
One of the most rewarding experiences during this year has been to watch people who had harsh critiques and hostility towards Ryan meet him for the first time and, after a few minutes, become big supporters of his, some even close friends. That’s what I think has caught the world’s attention. We can see ourselves in his struggle for truth, regardless of his outcome.
This journey is meant to inspire conversation, get us to dig down deep and ask ourselves the hard questions. Why do I believe what I believe? It is not necessarily meant to deconvert people. If that happens, that is not Ryan’s direct doing. That is just a person making a decision for themselves that has probably been in the works for a while. When someone reads his blog, Ryan does not reach through the computer, grab them by the collar and threaten them that they better start being atheists or else! I have read all his posts, been there at many of his speaking engagements, and though I have been challenged and stretched (and sometimes uncomfortable), I have not felt pressure to agree with/accept everything. Ryan will be the first to tell you that I will chime in, “Not all [insert: Christians, Muslims, Atheists, Agnostics, Americans, martians] are like that!”
I am on my own path. My own journey. My own timeline. I told Ryan from the beginning, “This isn’t my year. I don’t have a deadline on my decision.” While I work through my own beliefs and ideas, I am going to keep being true to who I am and where I am at.
Just to answer some of the commenters that have made accusations about Ryan: No, he has never tried to talk me out of my faith. That is not to say that we don’t have heated discussions into the night about religion. However, he has been a huge supporter of me and the faith based organization that I work for. He sees the work that me and my team are doing in Belgium and is inspired by our desire to help all people, regardless of their gender, race, creed or sexuality. He is not anti-religion. He is against sexism, racism, ignorance, hate… all the things that damage our world and our lives.
This stuck out to me from Ryan’s recent CNN piece (although I hate the title—it was supposed to be “Making meaning in a world without God.”): “Free from false expectations we are free to create purpose, share love, and enjoy the endless beauty of our world. We are the fortunate ones. There is no need for fear to have the last word.”
Though this year has not been easy on either of us, we have both grown tremendously. I know I speak for Ryan when I say that if all that happened was people were challenged/encouraged to make their own decisions for their own lives that they felt were being true to their own beliefs, and not the beliefs that society/family/culture have forced on them, then this was all worth it.