Soon after the engagement, Catherine and Rachel came to visit my room and see the bird, and Phil was there. I think someone asked about our religious differences, and when I nonchalantly said I wasn’t converting, Phil said,
“That would make it hard for us to get married.”
(Despite the fact that plenty of Protestants and Catholics get married to each other without either one converting. I didn’t know that priests can bless such marriages, just that they were legal. If I’d known that a priest can bless such marriages, and if Phil had said so, we could have settled the argument easily.)
Rachel and Catherine left, a bit uncomfortable about “starting an argument” between us. Later that day, Catherine made a comment or two to me; I believe she said I should be sure and I didn’t have to go through with marrying him if I wasn’t. Though I didn’t catch this at the time, she was trying to warn me not to marry Phil.
I couldn’t convert. Protestant beliefs and ideals were too deeply ingrained in me.
After reading in World Civ about how long and hard Protestants had worked to separate themselves from Catholicism, and how each denomination, branch, and major theologian took one step farther away, and how churches such as mine were the pinnacle of this separation–how could I turn my back on all that and go Catholic?
I thought I could never go to confession or drink wine at Mass. I believed that priests should marry. I didn’t believe that the bread and wine turned into Christ’s body and blood. I was proud to be Nazarene. I loved my Holiness heritage.
It would take many, many years before I even considered the notion that Protestantism had many doctrinal problems of its own. And being forced into this notion would never work; force only inspires defensiveness.
On the other hand, patience, tolerance and acceptance have often been known to inspire conversion as the Holy Spirit is allowed to work.
I would never force Phil to change his beliefs, but I wanted the same consideration, and my dad stated over the summer that he refused to pay for a Catholic wedding.
I did not agree that Catholics were part of a cult or not really Christian, but as a Nazarene I had serious problems with Catholic doctrine, and did not want to convert.
I forget how the argument played out, but it seems that we agreed that nobody had to convert to anything. When, over the summer, I told Phil my dad refused to pay for a Catholic wedding, he was upset, of course. But the official engagement and the future planning went on as normal.
We did keep getting into arguments over doctrines; I acknowledged my own fault in that, because with my friends I was usually tolerant of different doctrines, but with serious boyfriends I kept falling into the trap of arguing. (Cugan says that “You’re not getting married to your friends.”)
I recall with a shudder that I once pulled out one of my dad’s books to show him why I didn’t want to convert; it was published in 1969 and called, Why I Am A Nazarene / and not a / Mormon / Roman Catholic / Jehovah’s Witness / Christian Scientist / Seventh-Day Adventist.
(To my surprise, there are references to this book on the Internet, and you can still buy it–for quite a bit of money–here.)
In those days, I didn’t realize how biased the book was against Catholicism or how arrogant the title was. I remember Phil being (rightly) offended by it; I believe he even refuted some of the things it said.
It bugged me that I wasn’t as tolerant as I wanted to be, and I kept trying to correct that. But it wasn’t just me; Phil gave Nazarene doctrines no more tolerance than I gave Catholic ones.
He argued that the Catholic church was right because it was the historical church; I countered that going Catholic would mean turning my back on all the changes made by Protestants, things which I believed returned Christianity to the truth of the Bible after the many changes made by Catholicism in the Middle Ages.
At first, as I noted in the February 1994 chapter, he didn’t want to continue going to my church; over the summer, when we stayed at my home, he refused to go with me to Sunday School.
I saw this as stubbornness and a refusal to compromise; going to my church and visiting my Sunday School class would not force him into conversion. We just sat around and talked about dealing with modern issues and faith. I loved visiting his church, and would not have minded going to his Sunday School class (except that I don’t believe he had one).
(Cugan tells me I’ve never pressured him to convert, and that I’ve never treated him like he wasn’t a Christian for not having had a “born-again experience.”)
Also, because he refused to go, I was unable to go myself because he drove me to the services.
Over the months of our public engagement (and private marriage), I had conflicting feelings:
1) feeling that I did not have to convert, we would marry anyway in my church because it was free, and
2) feeling pressured to give up my own beliefs when I felt they’d be replaced with unbiblical ones.
You can agree or disagree with the concept of Catholic beliefs being biblical, but you can’t deny that a radical conversion should be neither forced nor rushed.
I’m not sure why I felt both ways. Maybe Phil allowed me to continue in my “heresy,” but secretly still expected me to convert.
I hoped he would convert, too, but rather than trying to change his mind about Catholicism, I believe I mostly wanted to convince him that I wasn’t a “heretic.”
He, however, when I piece together memories, seems to have been trying to push me into converting without actually saying so. He once made an analogy to switching an “old reliable” car for a new car and ending up by the side of the road–what could happen if he became Nazarene.
But he didn’t recognize that the same analogy applied to me becoming Catholic.
Basically, he resisted anything he saw as trying to convert him to Protestantism, even just going to Sunday School classes with me during the summer, but tried to guilt me into converting to Catholicism.
He publicly went along with the wedding plans my parents were making, of having the wedding in their church, since they were the parents of the bride and would be paying for it.
But he secretly expected me to convert to Catholicism to marry him, tried to push me into it, and even one of his friends tried to scold me into converting, in September.
Little things he said here and there, and his friend scolding me, tell me this was the case, that while he openly did not object to the wedding being at my parents’ church, he actually intended to force me into conversion, without coming out and expressly saying that the wedding would be called off if I did not become Catholic.
The strangest part is his admission, in 2007, that the religious difference was never a problem for him. So–why did he pressure me like this? Why did he say in April that it would be hard to get married? Why did he include it as points against me? Why did his friend scold me? It was a huge mindscrew.
After all these years, there are three main things I want to point out:
- While I no longer have the views about Catholicism which I grew up with, still, one should never be forced to change religions. So I do not believe I erred in refusing to be forced to convert, especially so quickly.
- DO NOT refuse to attend church/Sunday School with your significant other, even if his/her church has serious doctrinal problems, because this can be seen as controlling, i.e. “my religion or the highway.” You can respectfully say why you have problems with the church, but keep going if it means much to your significant other–as long as he/she keeps going to your church as well. In time, perhaps he/she will see things the way you do. However, if for some reason your church will excommunicate you if you go to his/her church, then say so, so it will be seen as the mandate of the church, not your stubborn refusal.
- DO NOT force conversion, but allow the Holy Spirit to speak, because belittling and forced conversion, or forcing your spouse to raise the children in a faith he/she hasn’t agreed to, is spiritual abuse. Look for ways your church might allow marriage between you without forcing him/her to convert, rather than digging in your heels and demanding conversion or nothing. A Christian is a Christian, no matter what the denomination, but if a mixed marriage truly bothers you, then don’t date/get engaged to someone of another denomination in the first place.
Eventually, Phil made it clear that during our marriage, if I used birth control, he wouldn’t sleep with me because it would cause me to “sin.” Now as a Protestant, I had absolutely no moral qualms about birth control, and it did bug me that I would have to give it up. But I agreed to use natural family planning because he wanted it, and because it might even be fun.
You know how Catholic churches in medieval days used to demand tithes? Well, apparently this practice has been completely abandoned.
Once while I worked in the library with James, Phil found me setting aside my tithe from my latest paycheck, rolling it into the check stub like I always did during that year. I explained what it was, that when I went home I would put it in the offering plate at church.
Phil said that after we married, he wouldn’t tithe at all. I thought Catholic churches were big on tithing, but he said he’d never even heard of it.
I said it was very important, even on a smaller income, and he’d find we had more money in the end if we tithed our small income while he tried to make it as an actor.
(I took this from the “law of returns,” or receiving more than you give, which Pat Robertson described on The 700 Club. I no longer agree with this, but it was so drilled into my head by church and The 700 Club that I believed it then, and that it was God’s Requirement, that to flaunt it was Sin.)
Somehow it turned into an argument, and he made disparaging comments about tithing. He said he’d take over our finances when we got married–though I could tithe my own money.
He said the Catholic church didn’t need tithes, because so many people and organizations made donations to it. He said the Church didn’t need his money.
He didn’t understand that Protestant churches are usually nowhere near as rich as the Catholic church, and need tithes to keep going, yet don’t require them.
But to keep my church going and respond to God’s call to tithe, I wanted to tithe regularly, and not be made to feel like I was wasting money.
“Would you talk about this somewhere else?” James cried to Phil. “I’m trying to study here.”
Phil left. I was still ticked off at him. (Phil was also a terrible manager of money, so I shudder to think what our finances would have been like if he did take them over.)
James said to me, “I’m sorry, but he was really starting to annoy me.” So he saw Phil, not me, as the bad guy in this argument. I felt persecuted by Phil, myself.
A few minutes later, Phil called, sounding tearful. He kept saying he was sorry. We patched things up a bit. He said, “Tell that guy I’m sorry.” So I told James.
Cast of Characters (Work in Progress)
Table of Contents
December 1991: Ride the Greyhound
January 1992: Dealing with a Breakup with Probable NVLD
March 1992: Shawn: Just Friends or Dating?
April 1992: Pledging, Prayer Group–and Peter’s Smear Campaign
October 1992–Shawn’s Exasperating Ambivalence:
Summer 1993: Music, Storm and Prophetic Dreams
June 1994–Bits of Abuse Here and There:
July & August 1994: