I had it easy. Mom had long since left her Pentecostal religion behind her, and for all I knew, was apathetic towards religious belief. Dad had fully given his life over to the
, and only occasionally
talked to me about his religious beliefs.
They had both divorced decades earlier, and although there was no
animosity, they rarely had need to speak to each other. I was 42 years old, so my parents had long
ago lost any influence over my personal religious beliefs. Both lived over one hundred miles from us,
and Rosemary’s parents lived over 8000 miles from us, so they were not involved
with our daily activities. Rosemary and
I had both moved to Mormon
Church El Paso to find
employment, and had spent only a few years investing in local friendships and
commitments. Despite our activities in
both La Puerta del Cielo
Baptist Church and St
Michael the Archangel Catholic Church, we had not formally joined
either church as members. Probably most
importantly, Rosemary and I had no children to drag through the confusion I
felt after losing my Faith in Jesus. I
have since read countless, heartbreaking stories by former believers who,
because of concerns over children, parents, an overbearing church involvement
or religious culture, cannot completely make the break from the religion they
no longer have Faith in. The only person
I felt accountable to was my wife. My
Baptist church? Since I was not a
member, I simply stopped attending on Sunday mornings. I figured that I did not owe anybody there an
explanation. Cowardly? Perhaps.
But since I liked Pastor Alvarez, and did not object to his more tepid
form of Baptist preaching, I just did not want to raise trouble where I thought
trouble would not be welcome. My Catholic
church? Since I never said anything to
anybody at that church, outside of the rote, ‘peace be with you’, nobody there
knew or cared about my personal religious beliefs – or even non-beliefs. I bet half the people in that church were
heretics of one kind or another, but people in that place rarely talked about
Without any societal commitments, my departure from Faith was relatively easy. Not that it was painless.
Rosemary knew that my beliefs were changing. She could see the books that I had been reading, and she was troubled by some of the conversations that I was starting with her. I was honest and open with her throughout the entire transition away from Faith. I have read some stories of apostate husbands who must break the news to their wives that they no longer believe God exists. Such stories have always astounded me. Had I done this to Rosemary, had I hid all my books, inner thoughts and secret doubts from her, then just slammed her with the news from out of the blue, she would not have understood anything. It definitely would not have ended well. But since I never hid anything from her, nothing took her by surprise. We had our share of difficult conversations, but at least I shared everything with her, honestly, and from the beginning.
Rosemary once asked me bluntly if I still believed in God. Did all that reading and skepticism destroy my Faith? I said it did. But, of course I still believed in God! I was not sure who or what He was, and I was struggling to figure all that out. But my Faith in God was pretty much gone, and I was still trying to discover what I could have Faith in! Rosemary was relieved. I did not have Faith, but I was a ‘Searcher’. I would eventually find my way. I did my best to explain that I had come to believe that the Bible, along with other Holy Books of the world, were just man's attempt to find God. God was out there, and he gave us what we needed, but He was also leaving it up to His faithful to find him with the tools He made available. Somehow, I also must find my way to God, in my own way, and with my own kind of Faith.
Rosemary then asked me about our marriage. If I no longer believed in God as I had once understood Him, what about the marriage vows that we had taken in His name? Did I feel that our marriage was still valid? Would I ever feel justified in leaving her in this unequally yoked marriage if I felt I did not have to answer to God? Was marriage no longer a sacrament? I think this was the most painful question that I had to answer upon leaving Faith. My own wife was frightened about her unbelieving husband. I did my best to help her understand that not only did I did make a vow before God during our marriage ceremony, but I made the same vow to her. I made the vows before her family, my family, all our friends, and even Pastor Alvarez who officiated. I may no longer hold God to be sacred, but I did hold everybody else high enough to honor them with my marriage vows. It took her some time to understand, but eventually she did. A couple of years later, her mother asked me the same thing. Needless to say, this devout Catholic woman was not too thrilled with a sudden Heathen as a husband for her daughter. Over time though, and after a concerted avoidance to speak about religion to her, I think I have earned her trust.
I had only shared the mildest of doubts with the believers in my small home Bible study group. Pastor Dave Shultz, the usual leader of our group, had no warning when I suddenly announced that I would no longer be able to host the Bible study in my home. I tried to avoid trouble by giving no real reason, other than I was not feeling convicted to host the Bible study any longer. Pastor Dave, suspecting that I was up to something fishy, told me that he would like to schedule a time where we could discuss my conviction privately.
I was nervous when the appointed day came. I had hoped that he would visit, that I would give some lame excuse about not feeling led by the Lord any longer, and that would be the end of it. But when I tried that lame tactic, Dave’s pastoral discernment told him that I was hiding something. While our wives spent time making deserts in the kitchen, Dave interrogated me until I confessed. And confess I did. I figured that if I was going to make a clean break from my religious beliefs, and if he was going to be insistent enough to get me to confess all my grievances against the god of our beliefs, then I would give it to him with both barrels. So I let Pastor Dave have it. The years of pent up doubts. The frustration with praying to a silent god and resting all our hopes on an indifferent deity. The realization that the Almighty was thoroughly impotent without the Faith of His followers. The admission that I could not honestly reconcile what I understood about science, particularly theories of our origins and evolution, with my Biblical understanding of the origins of the universe, our world, and Original Sin. Finally, the years and years of psychological torture that I endured with the superstition called Eternal Life. My confessions gushed forth like bitter water from an untapped well. Pastor Dave tried to answer with simple and unconvincing apologetic responses that I was already both familiar and disgusted with. There was no reasoning with me. I was given over to a reprobate mind.
Meanwhile, Kate and Rosemary were preparing deserts in the kitchen. Rosemary admitted that she was still a believer in God and always would be. Kate was relieved that the wife remained in the fold, even if the husband had given himself over to a life of apostasy and sin. Knowing that Rosemary still believed in God, Kate thought that she could confide in her:
“Joe is losing his faith? Is he still a believer?”
“I don’t know,” said my wife. “He is searching.”
“His spirit never seemed to stay at rest. He was always questioning. Questioning is OK! God welcomes questions! But at some point he has to rest on Faith.”
Rosemary was already uneasy with the direction Kate was taking the conversation. Rosemary was particularly shocked when Kate said,
“We might not be able to let you watch Henry anymore,” referring to her autistic son that we sometimes enjoyed taking out for pizza and miniature golf, “I don’t know that we can trust Joe.”
“Why won’t you trust him?”
“Because we don’t understand him anymore. We cannot relate to him. It is going to be very difficult for us to love him.”
Rosemary became very upset at the willingness of her friend to completely dismiss us, based not on my actions, not on my morality, but simply because I had unacceptable and offensive beliefs. I had offended her simply by not agreeing with her beliefs. Rosemary was finally coming to understand how conditional our Christian friendships really were. Rosemary was open and accepting of the beliefs of others, but was always skeptical about accepting Baptists and their beliefs for herself. She had resisted joining their church. Kate had assumed that Rosemary held more devotion to her church than to her husband. Kate had assumed that Rosemary, as a believer, was willing to hate her father and mother, her brother and sister, and even her husband for His sake. Under the same circumstances, I know that many women would think of ending their unequally yoked marriage. But even this unbeliever was lucky to have such an understanding and faithful wife.
After Pastor Dave Schultz had the full confession that he had come for, he and Kate left our house. Rosemary and I never returned to La Puerta del Cielo Baptist Church. I figured that my confession of nonbelief to Pastor Dave officially made me out as an apostate to that Church, and I had no desire to return to explain myself. I saw Kate briefly in the airport some years later, but other than that chance encounter we never again saw them. Rosemary could not believe that Kate had confessed that they were going to have a hard time loving me, when I was trying to be as honest as I could. Apparently God welcomed questions and doubts, but at the end of the day I had damn sure better get the right answers. God cannot tolerate wrong answers from honest questions, and neither can His followers.
Rosemary and I still talk about how we miss their son Henry.