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The Struggles of Being in an Inter-faith Relationship

It’s hard for me to put into words what it’s like to be in an inter-faith relationship. In some respects it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done and in other ways it’s completely natural. If you had asked me 6 years ago if I would ever consider dating a non-Christian guy, I definitely would have said no, but it seems that Cupid has no knowledge of these things when he takes aim at unsuspecting passersby.

In college, I was the very devoted good girl. I didn’t drink, I didn’t party, and I went to church. In fact, I went to an Evangelical school where I was completely surrounded by good girls and boys who influenced me greatly to believe that there was only one kind of person I could marry: a Christian man. Of course, we were all obsessed with falling in love, but especially the girls who often came to my school just to get married. In fact, at one floor meeting led by our resident assistant, we were instructed to put together a list of things we want in a future husband, separated into three columns of needs, wants, and likes, and then we were encouraged to keep that list stored in a safe place. I kept mine on a bulletin board above my desk. Number one in the needs column: “A man who loves God.”

Well, things didn’t turn out as I planned. After graduation, I left the U.S. and moved overseas to learn about the world and its people, and then I met Jeremy. I was already a fairly liberal Christian whose faith was waning, but I could never have anticipated how radically my life was about to change.

At the start of our relationship, I was really upfront about my faith–in fact, I think I asked him outright what church he went to on our first date! At the time, as a noob to dating and a religious Christian American, I didn’t think there was anything wrong with that. He kind of laughed nervously and said he was an Agnostic-Jew; I laughed nervously and tried to deflect attention from my cultural insensitivity by quickly changing topics. Thankfully, that wasn’t the end of our first date. We actually got on really well together and by the end of the night, I really wanted to see him again. “I’ll just see where this goes,” I told myself.

Well, it went far–really far, four-years far–and in that time we’ve had to overcome a few things, the first being our pre-conceived ideas and our negative past experiences (this was mostly his struggle). For him, growing up as a religious minority in Australia was hard. He was always discriminated against at school and one of his ex-girlfriends had even tried to convert him. A lot of his previous experiences with Christians had been negative and my forwardness about faith had kind of put him on the defensive. Thankfully he liked me because it took about a year before he really believed that I wouldn’t one day wake up and want to convert him as well.

I was mostly okay with him being an Agnostic-Jew in the beginning (Jesus was a Jew, right?). I had never met any Jews before and I was already starting to question my faith so it seemed fine to me that he was too and that he came from a different background. What I didn’t anticipate though was people questioning me.

I knew it wouldn’t be easy to tell my family and friends, and once they found out I was seeing someone (I hid it for three months out of fear), the questions soon followed. At first it was innocuous stuff like one friend who excitedly exclaimed over the phone, “He sounds so great! And does he love Jesus?” “Um, that’s an interesting topic…” I replied. Yep, that’s how they found out. When I just came out and said it, there were a lot of “oh”s and then silence. A couple of my friends assured me that they trusted my judgment but many others considered my eternal soul to be in peril and it wasn’t long before the emails started.

Having people I loved tell me I was going to hell and that obviously my faith was not real was incredibly hard to hear. It broke my heart that people whom I had shared my most vulnerable moments with and trusted infinitely could then so brutally wound me. People would say things like, “I thought you knew better,” and, “Where are your morals?” The worst were emails that threatened to announce my “falleness” to the larger community because it was scripturally advisable that people were no longer duped by my “false faith.” This stuff continued for two years–two whole years of fearing what I would find in my inbox when I logged on in the mornings. Two years of crying under the covers and on bathroom floors, broken hearted and in complete distress over my ruined reputation and loss of community. I had been abandoned because I loved someone, not because I said something mean or did something illegal or hurt someone; it was all because I found someone, a best friend who filled my life with joy but didn’t measure up to that early list of needs.

This was quite horrifying for Jeremy, who as an Agnostic really struggled to see the value of a community that caused so much pain. He did everything he knew to cheer me up (this essentially means he made many solo, late night trips to the grocery store to buy me chocolate) and when nothing worked, he would hold me while I cried. When the emails became too much to bear, he started deleting them for me. When the emails didn’t stop, he blocked people for me (I asked him to). Like a good partner, when I didn’t have the strength left to defend myself or take action, he came to my aid and carried my sorrow for me.

Surprisingly, people kind of started giving up on me after two years. Emails started dropping off, Facebook friends started disappearing, and loneliness settled in. For the next year, Jeremy and I would really start getting to know each other and this is where the bulk of our religious understandings of each other were built. We started making a conscious effort to create space for each other’s traditions in our home; I cooked matzah balls for Passover and he put my Bible up on the shelf next to his Torah. I offered to attend service at the synagogue (which he politely declined because while he is culturally Jewish, he doesn’t feel a religious affiliation) and he agreed to attend church with me if I asked him to.

We started asking questions about each other’s theology and we both accepted that perhaps some of our ideas had not been as well-tested as we originally thought. We spent hours laughing about our stereotypes (I conducted a mock tele-evangelist program while cooking dinner; he suggested we ask people at the synagogue for advice on where to buy diamonds) and similar hours correcting each other on our unknowing insensitivity (his remark that the nativity scene is kitschy; my numerous comments on his big Jewish nose). Like any other couple, we worked through our differences with a dash of research, two cups of humor, and a pound of communication. Our third year was all about being a normal couple.

Our fourth year, we started talking about the future. By then we had decided to get married and we started talking about how this could work. I had long abandoned my religious affiliation–both out of disgust and also because I decided the title wasn’t fitting so well anymore–but my family and friends hadn’t. I asked a pastor friend of mine if he would marry us and I got the response I should have expected: “Kortney, I love you very much but what you are doing is a sin and I can’t support this decision. Maybe I could speak with Jeremy and ask him about his faith and his reasons for believing so…” Crossed that name off! By then it no longer hurt to be labeled. We talked with some people about being married by a rabbi–no dice. We’re not quite at the wedding stage yet (maybe this year?) but we’ve decided to keep it a fairly non-religious affair with maybe a chuppah and ketuba because I think they are awesome but no symbols, no officiants, no controversy. If we decide to invite people, we want everyone to feel welcomed without calling attention to our differences.

We’ve also started talking about children. People actually ask us about this a lot and they always seem surprised when I say, “Why can’t they be both?” I remembered a sweet professor I had in college who was Mennonite and married to a Catholic man–we were all so fascinated by how their marriage worked even though they largely fell under the same religious umbrella! I had onced asked this prof what they had agreed to with their kids and she said they rotated services every Sunday so the kids could experience both. That seems like a fine idea to me! We want our kids to get their bar/bat mitzvahs and learn Hebrew. We also want them to go to vacation Bible school and enjoy youth groups if they want. We don’t want to teach our children to believe one way, but we want to give them a safe environment to explore their options and grow to be caring, tolerant people. Do parents really want anything more than that?

A man and woman hug with long grass in the background.
Celebrating our fourth anniversary!

We just passed our fourth anniversary and we’re now in our fifth year together. A few weeks ago, I caught up with an old college friend who warned me that people back home were talking about me and that people say I’m no longer a Christian. For the first time, it honestly didn’t bother me. I kind of laughed about it and said, “Well, it’s too bad these people don’t have the balls to just come and ask me about it but I don’t care. Let them believe what they want. My true friends know who I am.” My old friend smiled–it seems there are a few of us Christian rebels out there!

I’m done trying to convince people to change their views. At one point, when I was in the thick of it and desperate for validation, I was seeking out forums where I could argue my views. I usually walked away defeated, my emotions rendering me incapable of arguing persuasively, my victors empowered by their zealous faith. These days, I find myself comfortable in my more private faith and public relationship, and I’ve found myself as a kind of go-to encourager for people in similar situations. In the last two years, I’ve been approached by several fringe-friends and close friends from college who’ve been looking for advice and support in their similar lifestyle changes. It feels good to have turned my very public shame into a safe harbor for other people in the storm.

As I said, I don’t want to convince people anymore, but I do want to show people that their words have the power to kill a person’s spirit. I felt dead for those two years. I gained a ton of weight from eating my emotions, my blood pressure went through the roof whenever I received an unwanted email, I was depressed and needed to see a therapist, I couldn’t keep up with birth control, I couldn’t hold a job, and our relationship was strained. I was so unbelievably unhappy and depressed, stripped of my dignity by the hands of people who acted in God’s name. So many days I was just a walking shell of a human, completely empty inside, and other people did that to me.

If this is you, if you are in the storm and need a place to hide, I suggest you do a few things: first, remove any negative influences from your life. I don’t care if it’s your mom or your friend, it’s immeasurably harder to survive depression if your aggressors have such easy access to you. My quality of life was radically improved when we started deleting emails, blocking people, and removing friends from Facebook. Second, I would encourage you to find help and support somewhere. This is hard when your go-to support group is now attacking you, but don’t give up! Find a counselor, talk to your doctor, take comfort in books and spend some time outside. If a dog or a cat will make you happy, don’t think: buy one! Nothing makes me feel more loved than the unconditional love of a pet. Honestly, who else will wet themselves because they are just so happy to see you?! And finally, stay the hell away from happy-ending chick flicks and any other movie about families splitting up. Basically, I watched nothing but action movies for two or three years because I couldn’t handle seeing fictional happiness, with the exception of District 9 which I couldn’t finish because I was crying so much when the alien family got split up (I had to find out the ending through Wikipedia–still haven’t finished the movie).

Let haters be haters. Take care of yourself first.

By Thelma

Thelma is a photographer and traveler currently residing in Sydney, Australia. In her free time she can be found with her nose behind a camera or obsessing over koalas.

58 replies on “The Struggles of Being in an Inter-faith Relationship”

Thank you for sharing your story, Kortney. It gives me hope that things aren’t so black and white, as I dated a strongly religious man who decided to split up with me due to the fact that I didn’t subscribe to the same faith as he does (I’m still figuring it out, but I would currently describe myself as an agnostic theist). It’s complicated, as perhaps a lot of our fundamental values may (or may not, we didn’t really have the time to discuss them all) have been different, but it also made me feel like he was embarrassed to be seen with me around his Christian friends, and that once he knew I wasn’t strongly Christian, he put up a wall that he didn’t try very hard to bring down. In a sense, though, I can understand, since I think the way he views the world is so very different from mine, but it also made me wonder how often inter-faith relationships work, and if ours was doomed from the beginning or if there were more things wrong than that. It really was, at the time, the main reason we stopped seeing each other.

Great article! I am sorry you had to go through all of that… I have a similar challenge with my fiancé R, but sort of the converse problem. I’m an atheist and he is a semi-lapsed Christian (Lutheran). Sometimes I do think it would be easier if I could “convert” R, but that is obviously not a good way to approach a relationship.

This is one of the things we struggle to communicate fruitfully about. I think one of his problems is reconciling the teachings of the Bible and the actions of many Christians with his personal feelings on many issues. (He’s socially liberal and was fairly involved in church activities until he was put off by the expressed stance against homosexuality.) Since he is not entirely confident in his own convictions, he becomes defensive when I try to discuss religion.

One of my problems is that I can come off as somewhat condescending in debates. I try not to and it’s something I’ve worked on, but it can be hard to not show how I think he’s wrong. It’s a subject I’ve thought a lot about, and I try to make rational arguments, so I end up acting like a know-it-all. Emotionally, I understand the appeal of religion, but intellectually, I find it unappealing and I’m not entirely sure how to express this in a non-offensive way.

So when I’ve tried to get my thoughts on the subject across, maybe by referring to Ricky Gervais’s article (http://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2010/12/19/a-holiday-message-from-ricky-gervais-why-im-an-atheist/), R tells me that I am being condescending. When I ask questions about his beliefs, such as “Doesn’t your religion teach you that someone like me is going to hell and what do you think about that?” he gets upset. I don’t think that he has told his parents yet about my atheism and I am a bit worried about their reaction (his mom was already expressing her wishes that we marry in a church to him). We’ve both tried to address our own faults here, but I still sometimes feel a bit of a disconnect.

I struggle with this as well – not so much with my boyfriend, who is pagan-spiritual but also very scientific, but with some of his family and friends, who are the former without being the latter. I have to bite my tongue every time they mention Mercury in retrograde or what the dream they had last night really means, or how “the energies” feel today etc etc. They are lovely, wonderful people, and in practical terms we don’t have many ethical clashes, which is of course the main thing, but it is… odd. I can’t really join in on a conversation that centres around stuff like that .

I recommend this to everybody, because in addition to being non-condescending, it is actually full of love and respect and wonder at the world: Stephen Jay Gould’s “Rocks of Ages.”  Also? Barely 200 pages – so not a pamphlet I’d hand out en masse to strangers on the street, but also not some super-intimidating tome to read yourself and maybe pass onto a loved one.

I really hope it works out for you! It gives me scared chills to read that he’s not comfortable dealing with the “do you believe I’m going to hell?” question right now, but if he’s already figured out the homophobia issue, even without support, hey. Smart man!

Thanks for the suggestion. I’ve added it to my list!

Yeah, in his heart, I don’t think he believes I’m going to hell. But, he’s still confused about many things re: his religion. It’s hard to give up ideas drilled into you since you were a kid and to form a new belief system.

Wow — great article, and thanks for sharing your story!

My “aunt” B and Uncle R (life partners, and that’s what they encouraged us to call them as kids) have just started struggling with this — after 25 years of being together.  “Aunt” B has re-immersed himself in his Catholic church, pretty fervently, while Uncle R remains a non-practicing Jew.  Uncle R’s biggest problem with B going back to church is the Catholic stance on homosexuality, which seems like a legitimate concern.  B doesn’t see it as a problem at all.  So they’ve just started snarking at one another, and while I feel sure they’ll work things out, it’s nice to see a story like this — makes their situation feel less singular.

Unfortunately I’ve been at work all day and unable to keep up with comments as they rolled in but what a surprise to return home and find such an out pouring of love, support and encouragement–another testament of why Persephone is such an awesome place. I really enjoyed reading everyone’s stories.

When I was going through hell, I really could have used a place and an article like this to encourage me to persevere.Now that I’m through it, I really want to encourage other people to not give up, to believe in their love, and to know that it will get better. I also really want people who feel concerned about their “wandering” friends to be careful about the things they choose to say and do. There are more than a couple meanings for that old adage, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” People thought they were doing a good thing but it was harassment and it was damaging both physically and mentally (and I don’t say that lightly). If you want to “save” your friend, don’t give them a reason to never speak to you again. Instead of lecturing them, listen, watch, and comment when asked to. Show your friend that you believe in the goodness of their heart and that you will always support them in good and bad times, and surrender your doubts, concerns and fears to your god instead. Don’t make your friend bear that for you.

So thanks again, for your kindness. I was really nervous about writing this article but now I’m really glad I did. I feel like this is part of the healing process for me and I hope that speaking out about the struggles I endured will ultimately help me own my story rather than feel like a victim of it.

I’m not sure what the Jewish community in Australia is like but if you’re able to find a Humanist Jewish synagogue you may be able to find a rabbi who would be more than happy to marry you and even incorporate some Christian readings / sentiments into the ceremony. 

When I (lapsed Lutheran with religious mother) married my dude (agnostic Jew with mostly reform family save a few conservative almost orthodox members) back in Michigan we found a rabbi who claimed to have the same allergy to God as my husband.  He gave us some suggestions and ended up helping us prepare a really amazing service that reflected both of us and managed to avoid any wars over religion (my blue dress and the fact that I didn’t change my name caused far more tutting than the fact that I’m a shiksa).  He did a reading from the beatitudes, and also from theTorah.  Our final vows were said in Hebrew, and we both broke a glass together (actually lightbulbs, they break more easily and make a better sound, top tip!). 

As someone who felt alienated from her own religion (for a variety of reasons) while still wanting to honour those traditions it was really nice to find an organization that was willing to respect and honour where I was coming from and make that part of the day for us.

Thank you for writing this! It really spoke to my experiences too. My first “serious” boyfriend (who I dated in the 4th year of my undergrad and first year of my MA)  was an atheist. And as someone who grew up in a conservative community and who was on the leadership committee for a christian campus organization, I heard a lot of these sorts of things from people who supposedly were friends who cared for and supported me. I had never experienced that sort of thing before and really had no idea that people who shared my faith could behave in such an appalling way.People I only sort of knew from school (I went to music school so everyone does know everyone’s business) would pull me aside and tell me I was sinning.  It  was truly an awful time for me which almost cost me my faith (and I think in part is why I still struggle- I was angry for a long long time) and contributed to a fairly significant depressive episode (I ended up on a much higher dose of medication and in therapy). We eventually broke up, mainly, we fell out of love with eachother, but the hurt I felt around my faith and the ruin of a lot of those friendships remained. Following this, I briefly dated a Christian man, who didn’t really believe men and women were equal and balked at my pro-choice, feminist views (as had been my experience with many men I’d known growing up). Eventually I met my partner, who is agnostic and one of the most thoughtful and supportive men I’ve ever known. Anyways, my point in all this blathering, is I would rather have someone who values and supports me, who shares chores, and has similar values than someone who shares my faith but believes in his heart of hearts that we are not equals. While I know this cannot be true of everyone’s situation,  I feel like at times the choice for Christian women seems to be between someone who believes the same thing as them, and someone who values them and loves them as an equal.

I would rather have someone who values and supports me, who shares chores, and has similar values than someone who shares my faith but believes in his heart of hearts that we are not equals. While I know this cannot be true of everyone’s situation,  I feel like at times the choice for Christian women seems to be between someone who believes the same thing as them, and someone who values them and loves them as an equal.

Exactly! I’m so sorry that you had to go through it too. I never fell for any of the Christian guys at my school for exactly that reason–they mostly believed a woman’s role was to bake cookies for church meetings and run Sunday morning Power Point. Jeremy was literally the best man I had ever met. How can people be so hateful of that? Like you, I would rather spend my life with someone of another faith who makes me feel loved than feel like I settled.

Out of curiosity, how did things go when you broke up? Was everything forgiven or did people still feel the need to evangelize to you?

Yes, that was exactly the reason I never met anyone at church or in my christian campus groups too. I was always a fairly liberal Christian (even when I was a member of a conservative denomination) and I always really wanted to work when I grew up instead of being at home. I think my parents have come around too (which is so fortunate) they really like my partner and get that he supports my career (academia) which would quite possibly not be the situation with a more devout man.

In terms of how people from my faith community reacted when I broke up with the first man I dated who was an atheist, a lot of them had already exited my life quite noisily long before we broke up. I am sure that it was a blessing they were no longer my friends, because I think it would have been the source of a lot of smug and self satisfied speeches. I do still get some of those anyways, particularly people referring to the time we were together as a dark time in my life, but I try to quash that and remind people that while he was not the person for me we are still friends. The people I am close to see (like I do) that other parts of the relationship were problematic and leave his atheism out of it.

I feel sad for the people who turned against you; their worldview is so narrow and for people who believe in a religion that talks about love and understanding (this is my assumption, I mean Christianity DOES mention these things, right?) they aren’t doing a very good job of practicing it.

I’m glad you’re doing what works for you and your guy; that’s the only thing that matters and the people in your life should be respectful of that.

But yeah … and people wonder why Jews would be hesitant to interact with more conservative/vocal Christians. I’ve had some encounters like the people you described (since I am Jewish myself) but thankfully very few.

Yes, they are really bad at executing their faith. Jeremy still feels quite nervous around Christians and I can’t blame him after he saw what I went through. I recently took him home for the first time and I was careful to only let people who had shown me kindness meet him, but still, he was nervous. Would they openly question him? Would they hate him? Would they say rude things to me? If they did, what should he do? Thankfully everyone was beyond amazing and so exceptionally kind to him (he is after all my perfect match) which did some good to improve the overall image of Christians. Honestly, I think that people just need more exposure to other cultures and faith systems. Even I was a little impolite when we first met. I like to think that if every Christian had the opportunity to make friends with a Muslim or a Jew then there might be a little less hate in the world (and vice versa).

Oh Kortney, it breaks my heart to read this because I know every word is true and that people did say these things to you. What’s worse, they did it when you were on the other side of the world in an unfamiliar place and in the most need of support.

I know I’m a good deal more religiously conservative, so maybe it just doesn’t mean as much coming from me, but I really think our community does itself a disservice when it penalizes those who speak up, ask questions, express doubt, and make choices as life presents them. I have no doubt that you and Jeremy are due for a long life of happiness; having seen you two together, I can say that the love, compassion, and respect is palpable.

I’d say that I wish the naysayers could have seen that love for themselves, but in truth, I hope you never have to talk to, look at, or otherwise deal with those people ever again.

Thanks Michelle. It does mean something to me that you among others see the faults in our faith community and the very real need for compassion. Thank you for your encouragement and for loving Jeremy as well (even though I know you were dogsick that night!). I’m with you–a part of me wished I could prove all those assholes wrong but then again, I’m really glad I never have to see them again either. It’s a mix of emotions but I’m just happy to finally be moving on. I think writing this article is helping me do that.

Oh man. I can’t say I exactly understand, but I partly do. My dad was raised Orthodox/Conservative Jewish, and my mom was raised in Church of Latter-day Saints. They married each other. Also, one of my dad’s cousin’s who we are very close to married a Catholic guy. So my grandparent’s generation and my family (on both sides) have all had time to get used to the idea, and they never said anything to me or my brother. But when my mom and dad were meeting each other’s families, apparently there was some opposition. Oh well.

Now, my boyfriend is from Irish Catholic and Italian Catholic families. His parents haven’t said anything to me, nor really him. His mom sometimes asks me questions about Judaism (which is what I chose), but that’s about it. However, his aunts have called up his mother, and asked her about why he was doing that, how she was letting him, and if I was a practicing Jew or not. I haven’t met his aunts yet. When I met his great-aunt, though, I was told not to tell her I was Jewish, or dating him. She was very old, and had a form of dementia, so I didn’t, and she just assumed that I was friends with his younger sister, because all three of us go to the same school. I am nervous about meeting my boyfriend’s aunts, though.

What I know, though, is that my boyfriend doesn’t care what religion I am. I’m sure your boyfriend feels the same way about you, just as you feel that way about him. Everyone else will just have to get used to the idea, and they will. I’m sorry people were so mean to you. I don’t understand why people (especially in this day and age) can discriminate on religion like that, and I’m even more shocked that they turned their backs on you. Thank you for sharing. I hope you have nothing but happiness from here on.

Thank you so much for your kind encouragement. Things are a lot better these days and they continue to get better. I’m really proud of how tolerant and supportive my guy has been. After the reaction I got from my side, I was really nervous to meet his family. Turns out none of them care!

I hope that your introduction to his aunts goes well. When I met his family, Jeremy reminded me that I was marrying him and not them–he ultimately didn’t give a crap what they thought. Keep that knowledge with you. And if they do ask you inappropriate questions, just magnify their insensitivity by saying something like, “That’s a very private and personal question!” and leave them hanging. I think it’ll get the point across!

Good luck!

Thank you so much for sharing your story! I am so sorry for the pain people have caused you.

I grew up Christian and fairly conservatively though I always leaned a bit more to the liberal side. I still identify as Christian though I’m sure many people “back home” might disagree on account of my views on things like evolution, reproductive rights, the Bible itself, etc. For people “back home” or people I used to go to school with, PossibleMrPevensie would be a “nonChristian”. but I hate that term. a little while before we met I stopped hoping to meet a “strong Christian man” and instead decided that I would like my future partner to be someone who is on a spiritual journey similar to mine, whatever that would mean for him. because all the “strong Christian men” I know tend to be very patriarchal and anti-woman. my ex-fiance was a “strong Christian man” and he was an abusive ass. PossibleMrPevensie believes in social justice, in spiritual communities doing tangible good for the people around them, and in not marginalizing other people because they don’t fit a certain idea of what a “Christian” is. if we ever had kids they would be intelligent and inquisitive just like he is, which I would much prefer than children who just spout what Mum and Dad tell them is right, and I would much prefer children who see by example that how to be a Christian (if that’s what they want to be) is to be compassionate to the people around them, and to have a broad, not narrow concept of spiritual journeys and love and partnership.
Your story is beautiful, and you are a very courageous woman!

Thank you for your kind compliments. I agree with you–I want someone I can relate to. The guys I met in college? We had nothing in common. Jeremy? He inspires me. As for what is “Christian,” most of them would have thought he was one if they had never been told he wasn’t. Many Christians believe they have a monopoly on morality and that people of all other faiths (except maybe Judaism) are fundamentally immoral because they didn’t have the early commandments of God to guide them. What crock!! One friend once asked me a ton of questions about Jeremy;s character and then justified them by saying, “I have to ask these to know if he’s a good person or not, because, you know, he’s not a Christian.” Riiiiiiight. Like only Christians can be good people. I hate religious supremacy. This is largely part of why I don’t identify myself as a constituent of any faith.

Kortney, this is a great story. Thanks for sharing. My husband and I come from a VERY conservative, overwhelmingly Christian part of the country. I had always struggled with religious questions that could not be answered to my satisfaction, and the more I voiced my concerns, the more my then boyfriend, now husband questioned things too. But I missed having a faith community, so we would try out different churches, different denominations only to find that they all used the same book. :-P A few years ago, we finally found a tiny church full of wonderful liberal intellectuals who thrived on questioning and debating EVERYTHING and reading tons of books. It was a Unitarian Universalist church that welcomed people of any and all faiths, even if that meant they had no faith at all. We had Jews sitting next to Christians beside Pagans across from Buddhists and Humanists. I knew that we were home when the congregation sang The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine instead of a hymn the first time we attended. We have recently moved to a community that is about an hour away from the nearest UU church. I miss having that community of like-minded people so much. Anyway, I created an account today just to let you know about the Unitarian Universalist church so that you might be able to research it for yourself. Good luck to you and your partner, and try to see what you have been through for the true blessing that it is. You now know who really cares for you as you are, and you have a stronger relationship after facing these challenges together. Thanks for sharing your story.

Thank you so much for your encouragement and I’m really glad you commented! I have heard of UU churches before and I even found one in my area though I didn’t attend. I talked with Jeremy about it and he wasn’t interested (I think because “church” was associated with it) but I should go sometime. I had completely forgotten about it until I read your comment today (the last time it came up in conversation was more than a year ago). Any church that sings Beatles songs is a church I want to be a part of! :)

I went to a very religious university, and that was part of what (secretly, didn’t want to be expelled!) pushed me from agnostic to atheist after growing up in a mixed-faith indifferent-to-church household. My friends were apparently Quite Concerned to find out I was dating and later marrying a Jewish guy (also atheist, but they didn’t know that), but at least they just talked behind my back instead of telling me I was going to hell. Inexcusable! I’m sorry they put you through that, and I’m glad you didn’t let them dissuade you from sticking with him; he sounds like a great guy!

Funny about that–I think my university pushed me away from religion more than it roped me in. About 80% of my close friends feel the same way too. I’m really glad you and your guy didn’t have to face a public inquisition! After all of that, I think I would rather have people talk about me behind my back! The good part is that people have grown tired of trying to “save” me and I’ve been able to finally work on our relationship in peace. Eventually they will all give up. I think people are already starting to see that me with Jeremy vs. me alone is not very different at all.

The bit where you mention people asking about what religion you’ll raise your kids with made me chuckle because I remembered a personal story of my own. I’m an atheist and my boyfriend is Jewish, and the one time we were asked the question, it was because said person was suddenly concerned about the idea that if we had kids (which I do NOT want EVER), they would be godless heathens.

But I haven’t gotten it otherwise. I wonder if it’s because he’s not terribly religious, so he doesn’t have people from a Jewish side bugging him…and since I’m not Christian, most people figure they’d be crazy heathens anyway.

Oh, sweet! I’ll probably have to check that out.

I remember being in tears once when I was like 13 or 14, because every single damn time I mentioned I didn’t want kids, my mom/grandmother was always like “you’ll change your mind!”

I ended up turning to my piano teacher, who was practically family, and she was the first person in my life who ever told me that feeling that way was okay.

She was a wonderful person.

I’m amazed at how many people thought we hadn’t some very important and basic conversations before deciding to get married. How many people said to me “Have you even thought about the kids?” in a condescending tone. It made me so angry.

On the plus side, you should have heard the unearthly sound of shock and horror that escaped my grandmother’s throat when I calmly explained that the children would indeed be allowed to go to the mosque with my husband if that’s what he wanted. It was hilarious, although I managed to save the laughter for later.

I describe myself as an agnostic Jew, too! I thought I made it up and it made no sense, but I’m glad to see it in use elsewhere. I’m in an interfaith marriage of sorts. I’m Jewish, husband is atheist (raised Catholic). We don’t really get shit about it, since the only religious members of each of our families (grandparents) have mostly passed away. I do get the occasional, “Why couldn’t you find a nice Jewish boy to marry?” but that’s only from people who barely know me. Almost every marriage in my family, in my generation and in my parents’, is interfaith. I can’t imagine how much more difficult it would be if either of us were from a more religious background.

I have every reason to believe you’ll have your happily ever after.

Thank you! I think we’ll last too.

His family had a great laugh when he introduced me as his shiksa! Thankfully they have never cared much. I guess you could tell those people that you couldn’t find a good yenta to hook you up! Hopefully it’ll at least make them chuckle. I think that’s part of the beauty of Judaism. I love how fundamentally tolerant it is.

That fifth paragraph, ouch. I found out the hard way, well into an already lengthy relationship, that he damned well was just waiting to convert me. That the whole relationship had been built on a lie and a fundamental absence of respect.

Getting back stabbed by friends, family, and your entire religious community is some heartless bullshit, for sure. When it turns out that the person with whom you’re trying to have said relationship is the one with these issues? Well, obviously: that can’t get worked out. I felt like a stinking bigot for a good long while for saying “nope, never again!” but I imagine I’m not the only one to reach that conclusion.

I would imagine it’s probably somewhat easier in a situation where both parties share a similar level of faith/questioning as well as a somewhat similar background?

That is so sad. What a rotten thing to go through. While I was writing this article, Jeremy and I had a discussion about whether it was possible to truly have a healthy relationship and simultaneously believe your partner is going to hell, and we both decided no, it’s not. Nothing is more hurtful and damaging to the heart than to hear someone you love tell you that even though they think you are an excellent human being, you will go to hell unless you say the magic words. It cheapens their faith, it damages your relationship, and it reveals how very little respect they ultimately have for you. I don’t think I could trust my partner if that’s what he believed. I’m so glad you got out of that relationship.

I would love to give you a hug. My husband is Muslim and my family are fundamental Baptists. Yeah. Add the general intolerance of an inter-faith relationship in and then spread a nice even layer of Islamaphobia on top. When I announced to the family that I was engaged my brother called me and asked me how I could marry a man who would spend eternity in hell and how could I make such a horrible, sinful decision?

My in-laws are such great people and sometimes it was really depressing the horrible stuff that was asked about them. I was luckier than you in some ways because my crisis of faith came about much earlier and I had abandoned the dogma of my youth almost a decade before I started dating the mister. I was more prepared mentally for the onslaught, although that was because I’d already lived through it. I was already a lost case to most of the people I grew up with.  I found that interesting because I don’t think that I’d be a lost case to Christ no matter what, but I digress. The heartache of dealing with both the loss of a community and “family”, along with a crisis of faith, is overwhelming. The fact that you and Jeremy made it through that is a testament to the solidity of your love. Thank you for sharing.

Oh, man, I have immense respect for you. I have a friend who used to be a pastor and is now engaged to a Muslim man from Pakistan–the things I’ve seen said to her! Wow. I just cannot. It is really heartbreaking to hear the ugly things that come out of people’s mouths when their hearts are filled with fear. I can see how blazing the trail before you met would make it easier but I’m sure it was still hard.

“The loss of a community and “family” along with a crisis of faith”… I don’t think I’ve ever been able to put it so succinctly into words. I didn’t even touch in the article what this had done to my faith which was very much in crisis. Overwhelming doesn’t even begin to cover it. I was also simultaneously living in a new country and going through immigration which basically left be so, so, so, very much alone and vulnerable. In those times, any kind word at all meant everything to me. I guess that’s what I ultimately want people to get out of reading this article; I want them to know that no measure of kindness is ever wasted.

Thank you so much for sharing your story as well.

I think most religious people spend their whole lives protecting themselves from that crisis and that’s why they lash out. It is a frightening thing to question everything that you feel defines you. We know! It’s a frightening thing to have others question in it themselves around you. They react to that fear with anger.  We know that, too! It’s not just in Christianity I don’t think, although that is our experience.

I think I’m a stronger person and more loving, Christ-like person (I hope!) because of that horrible time in my life when everything that defined me came crashing down. I’m free of the fear of the questions. I’ve been through the worst of it and come out on the other side wiser, braver, and more intellectually and spiritually curious. I’ve paid a price, though – I’ve lost the comfort of the faith, but I believe that I gained more than I lost.

Quoting something I read just a few minutes ago :

 The wideness of the tent be it the church or society, should only concern me insofar as it points to the great mercy and love of a God who welcomes us all as friends. And of Jesus who welcomes all to his table. You think I like that?  You think I want to sit at the heavenly banquet next to Ann Coulter?  Not so much. But that’s what I’m stuck with because I’m in the Jesus business.  And in the Jesus business there is not male or female, jew or greek, slave or free, gay or straight, there is only one category of people: children of God. Which means nobody gets to be special and everybody gets to be loved.”

I’m sorry about your family and friends being… well, like that. This agnostic doesn’t get it, but you and Jeremy sound like an extremely awesome couple.

Her tag says “Emerging church ala Luther” I was very interested in the idea of the Emerging Church for quite a few years. I’ve since waned on the concept, mostly because it still requires an essential faith in the infallibility of the New Testament. (I’m a true heretic.) But I have never met a follower of the movement that I didn’t think was a pretty decent person – a person trying to do right. Some of my oldest friends (read: ex-fundies like me) have joined the movement. Thanks for the link.

I have many feelings about this sort of thing, but most of them are not fit for polite conversation. Suffice it to say, your courage is amazing and I think the naysayers need to be reminded that God loves you just as much as everybody else and He just wants you to be happy.

Ha! I have many impolite things to say too but I won’t publish them either! But yes, people need to know that this is about more than just “concern” for your friends, it’s harassment and this kind of harassment to this degree has the potential to cause lasting physical and mental harm to people. It’s a dangerous game to play. Our words can inflict so much more pain than our actions.

Thank you Kortney, for such a thoughtful and moving piece. I’m glad that you have found happiness with your partner!

As an atheist, this makes me incredibly angry and sad. I don’t understand how anyone, ANYONE, who claims to love a family member/friend can turn on them so easily. How someone could be so cruel to a loved one, so hateful, and then turn around and accuse others of a lack of moral ground because they do not share the same faith.

If you are so consumed with caring about what happens to you after you die that you would sacrifice love and friendship today, you are completely missing the point of life.

If this is offensive to people, I do apologize, but hearing how Kortney (who sounds like an absolutely lovely person) was so torn up about losing her family, who is supposed to love her no matter what, just makes me angry.

This is similar to want I wanted to say.

For some religion-followers it’s only ‘God is love’ when it’s freaking convenient and not when real life clashes with their ideas. How can you rip relationships apart over someone finding love? Yes, if that someone is a mass murderer with a sad mustache I could understand, but not this complete happiness of ordinariness (using ordinariness as a compliment here, Kortney).

If you are so consumed with caring about what happens to you after you die that you would sacrifice love and friendship today, you are completely missing the point of life.

If you are so hung up on proclaiming your faith that you would turn your back on a fellow human being, you’ve missed the point of Christianity. J. the C. was pretty clear about thou shall be nice to people even when you don’t agree with them. This crap pisses me off too.

(I also completely fail to understand how loving and respecting a non-Christian makes you not a Christian anymore. This shit raises my blood pressure like no other.)

They’re able to say they love them and then appear to turn on them because they genuinely believe that that person is going to go to hell if they don’t do X thing; and no cruelty that they can inflict could possibly compare to what hell would be like. So its an act of love, really.

And there are an awful lot of folks who think this way. I think for some it’s just that they’re mean an ugly and if it weren’t Christianity they were twisting into their justification it’d just be something else. But… for some it’s genuine.

I can almost understand this, but it seems so easy to overthrow this sort of ideology with “Judge not, lest you be judged, (which is also the splinter in your brother’s eye, plank of wood in your own verse)” or “Let you who is without sin cast the first stone.” Jesus was pretty clear on the “Take care of your own problems, and even if you think someone is doing something wrong, don’t throw rocks at them, because how would you like it if someone threw rocks at you every time you screwed up.” This isn’t something that you even need a close reading or an examination of original language text to get at.

(of course, I don’t think there is any scriptural basis for hell either, but that is a far more long winded explanation and goes into “the word used in the original Greek is…”  territory.)

It’s true that a lot of people think this way. A lot of my friends said the exact same thing to me over emails and phone calls, that it was because “they loved me” and “they didn’t want to see me get hurt.” Never mind that the most horrifying emotional pain I’ve ever experienced was because of these people and their good intentions. Some of them had the gall to tell me that it hurt them to tell me that–ha! It hurt them! As if I should feel sorry for them in their self appointed position of authority over my life! I have zero respect for these kinds of self-righteous people now.

I second many of Lilydancing, freckle, and Opifex’s thoughts.

Overall, this story strikes very close to home.  I left  Christianity before my present relationship, but I have been told I’m going to hell and questioned over and over on why I don’t seem concerned about my eternal damnation.  This from my closest family members.  It is terrible and you kind of start to feel crazy, even though you know you aren’t.  I believe in living in love and compassion and that we should take care to do no harm.    What I experienced was not love or compassion and it was harmful to my mental health and well-being.  :(  I am sad for others who have experienced something similar.

As I was reading your story, there were moments that I wanted to cry and others where I became enraged, and yet still feelings of happiness for you and your partner, and mixed feelings surrounding the courage it took for you to be yourself  in spite  of so much pressure from those who were your entire support network.  Thank you for sharing your story, Kortney and bless you for your courage!

Allyson, it took so much courage. I still have a hard time wrapping my head around the idea that persevering in this relationship was a brave thing to do. I too felt crazy. I felt crazy for continuing to try, crazy because of the religious manipulation I was being subjected to, crazy for needing therapy, crazy because I couldn’t talk about it with anyone, crazy because my friends were abandoning me, crazy because I started to wonder if maybe I was a bad person, crazy, crazy, crazy. The worst part though was the shame I had to bear in silence. That was absofuckinglutely awful. I didn’t find any relief until I started going to therapy and even then, it was still hard.

I am so, so sorry to hear you are going through this or have been through this. That’s largely why I wanted to write this article because when I was in the thick of it, I looked all over the internet and found very little support anywhere. Massive hugs to you. If you ever need some encouragement, please message me! I really want to be there for other people going through this.

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