There’s a longer post coming, but here’s a little sneaky-peek to get the party going, so you know where my headspace is when I talk about the Unequally Yoked Club.
I’d been out of church for a while. I guess I was 24 or so. This was in Portland, after we’d gone to Japan and crashed and burned and had to return with our tails between our legs. Biff had gone to Basic Training, having no other ideas for how to make money, and in his absence I blossomed like a flower. I joined a gym, lost some weight and got toned, bought a new wardrobe, chopped off my stringy uncut hair and got a perm, and fell back in love with makeup and all that girlie stuff I’d rejected years earlier. I was still terrified of driving, but I was slowly inching past that fear. I’d discovered MUDs, too–those online text games (sorta like MMOs but with all text)–and had quickly discovered an unexpected flair for creating content for those games.
Biff had just come back for two weeks over the holidays that year. When I went to the airport to fetch him, I went in a smokin’ hot red velvet minidress which I’ve since noticed actresses in porno movies favoring, with a rented Rolls-Royce antique limo (and yes, the driver said he always carried a little wooden box holding a pot of Grey Poupon and a little silver butterknife for spreading it, since people asked him all the time if he had any–this was the 90s, roll with it). The businessmen walking past me at the airport were impressed (one said, “Hot damn! Welcome to Portland!” to his friend when he thought I was out of earshot, which was one of the first compliments I’d ever been paid, even in such a manner, in my adult life). In retrospect I think most husbands would be delighted, if not completely thrilled, to see such a change in their loved ones under those same circumstances, but Biff was horrified. His modest, demure little wife had, uh, changed somewhat in his absence, and clearly was not the timid little creature she’d been when he’d left.
Control freaks aren’t thrilled about stuff like that. It makes them nervous when someone discovers his or her voice like I had. Just think of how the Old Testament god reacted when his ant farm decided to build the Tower of Babel, or when his first two pets had decided to eat from that tree he’d stuck in the middle of the garden with a neon sign over it saying “don’t eat this.” Well, Biff reacted about the same way.
Within a few days he began attempting to reassert his dominance over me again. But this time there was a new, hard edge to his attempts. He’d always been so goofy and loveable before that nobody could possibly think too poorly of him when he lied or acted out or threatened to bomb abortion clinics. His feet all but flopped when he walked; he tended to cock his head to one side like a dog when he got confused or perplexed, which was distressingly often. He had no social graces whatsoever and was proud of being a social doofus. Our home resembled the TV show “The Romper Room,” with a decor centering around Legos and other childish things. But he’d always been fairly benign. Now, I was beginning to perceive a certain amount of forcefulness there that hadn’t been there before.
One night I was goofing around online on a MUD and mentioned offhandedly in chat with a friend there that Biff had just walked up to me, told me he’d found my drawer of makeup, and thrown it all away “for me.” I barely even registered what had happened.
My friend, however, was aghast. “He did what?” he asked. “He took your stuff and threw it away? Did he ask you first?”
That startled me. No, he hadn’t, I slowly, dimly realized. No, he hadn’t asked me at all before deciding to take stuff I had bought and had put in that drawer, then taking it upon himself to throw it in the garbage without so much as a by-your-leave. I briefly answered the friend in the chat. His next words lit a fire under me that never died: “And you’re totally okay with him treating you that way?”
At first my impulse was to respond with Well, he’s my husband, and that’s how marriage works, and husbands are the head of the family, after all, but then I realized that the only reason I thought that was because of Pentecostalism. I wasn’t Pentecostal anymore, and I didn’t have to put up with being treated like a toddler. Biff knew that I wasn’t Pentecostal anymore; it wasn’t some big mystery. But clearly he’d always thought I was just “questioning” and would be back at some point. We’d been quietly bickering and arguing about it for about six months, I guess, at that point, maybe a year, with the conflict never coming to a head. I realized that what Biff had done was the mark of someone who is losing control and doesn’t like it. What he’d done, this hugely disrespectful way he’d treated me, was all due to his fear that I had left Christianity for good and that nothing he could do would get me back into that ghastly, toxic religion. He was finally figuring out that I was not just a “prodigal son” but an actual, honest-to-goodness apostate.
I got up, got my stuff out of the trash can, and advised him very coolly that he was not to do anything with my stuff again without asking first. We had one of our first big post-deconversion arguments that night, and you can probably guess very easily that the argument centered around his helplessness around the subject, his inability to force me–I’m not kidding, I wrote “force” and I meant “force” there–back into the fold. He’d tried trickery and word games; he’d tried making me read apologetics books in the hopes that one of those authors would be able to make sense of things where he clearly hadn’t been able to do so; he’d tried strong-arming me and threatening me with Hell. He’d tried to play upon my sympathy for poor widdle him, having to go to church alone and endure all the people there asking where I was. He’d tried to sting my pride by implying that our facade as the happy Pentecostal couple, the high-school sweethearts whose engagement had been so breathlessly followed the whole time up to the wedding, was fading.
None of it had worked, needless to say, but those were tactics that, in retrospect, would likely have worked on someone merely questioning or doubting a little. I was completely, 100% over Christianity in any flavor or form by that point. I completely did not agree with or see evidence for a single one of its essential doctrines. I knew that barring evidence of a nature this world hadn’t (and indeed hasn’t) yet unearthed, there was nothing getting me back into that religion. It had done nothing but harm me and oppress me and disappoint me over and over again. I wanted not a single part of it anymore. But Biff had always thought this was a temporary situation despite every one of my statements to the contrary, just like he’d always thought I’d change my mind about wanting kids.
I finally saw that Biff had only just then realized I was serious. Up until that very moment, I’d always assumed that our religious difference was something we could work around or get past somehow. Up until that very moment, I’d thought that sooner or later he’d realize it and we’d get to work on figuring out how to be a married couple who weren’t centered on a deity. Looking back at it all, I’m just thunderstruck by how naive, how hopelessly optimistic, I’d been.
But right then, as I looked at him across the room, I realized that he now considered us “unequally yoked.” We were now, officially in his mind, a mixed-religion marriage.
His response was not surprising: he declared that he was going to go to war–in a spiritual sense, I guessed (not entirely correctly)–for the soul of his “sweet Christian wife.” In his mind, the battle lines had been drawn. This silliness in me was just demons at work, and he’d find the right magical spell and ritual to drive out the demons and get his submissive, docile Christian wife back. He’d turn the clock back–he’d erase all my rebellion and Jezebel spirit nonsense and it’d be this wonderful story he’d be able to tell the folks at church and the children he was still somehow convinced we were going to have because Jesus had told him we would–how he’d rescued his wife from the jaws of Hell.
I realized, right then, that I had become a member of a club I didn’t even have a name for yet. I’d joined a vast brotherhood that existed only in the shadows at that point. I didn’t know there were many others like me in this situation. I certainly didn’t know anybody else in the club. I was navigating by myself, from scratch, in waters that were perilous and choppy, with a crewman who was actively trying to wreck us.
The next year was going to be quite a ride.
I’m hoping that the next posts are going to perhaps be illuminating for Christians who are married to de-converts, and maybe for de-converts who are with Christians as well. My situation isn’t exactly like everybody else’s–as the saying goes, while happy families are all pretty similar, unhappy ones are all unhappy in different ways–but even 20 years later, I don’t see a lot of stuff written for people who are now in the situation I found myself in that wintry night.
If you’re a Christian, especially a Christian woman, and you find yourself married to an ex-Christian, resources abound–even if they are largely useless and worthless at best, and completely offensive if not outright abusive at worst.
But if you’re the ex-Christian in the equation, there’s not much at all out there for you. We need to change that. More and more people are leaving Christianity. There’ll be more people finding themselves in the Unequally Yoked Club. I was just the vanguard, the first trickle of what would eventually become a tidal wave.