I married into a very conservative Christian family earlier this year. My wife calls herself a Christian, but she’s much more liberal in her beliefs. I’m an atheist. We don’t spend much time discussing religion, and so our beliefs rarely conflict.
However, her mother, father, and two siblings attend a large, fundamentalist church every Sunday, and they expect the entire family, including me, to attend Easter services this weekend.
I probably wouldn’t be opposed to attending a liberal church one day a year with the family, but I’m very uncomfortable spending even a minute at the church my in-laws attend. They don’t know I’m an atheist, as that would certainly cause them to lose respect for me as their son-in-law, so we’ve stayed mum about that.
But now that I’m expected to go against my values in attending an evangelical church this Sunday, I’m considering “coming out” and refusing to go. My wife has advised against this. she would prefer that I join her family in the pew. Should I follow my heart or suck it up and pretend to praise Jesus?
— Anxious Atheist
If I were forced at attend a Christian church (which I do not), I would certainly choose one of the more open-minded, gay-affirming churches like First Congo or Holy Trinity. Like you, I also would be opposed to waking up early on Easter morning to hear the sermon of a right-leaning, evangelical minister. But if I had to do so for the sake of family, I think I’d suck it up and don an Easter dress -- but probably a black one to go against the grain.
In all seriousness, one day in church won’t kill you. You certainly don’t have to bow your head and participate in singing hymns. But at some point, you really ought to remain true to your beliefs and let your in-laws know that you’re an atheist. Staying in the closet -- whether it’s a gay closet, a religious closet, or whatever -- is never good for one’s soul.
As a compromise (and to keep them from freaking out), you can offer to attend Easter services with them. That should make them feel a little better, since evangelicals believe they’re supposed to be spreading the gospel. Whether you believe the stuff the pastor is saying or not, you’ll only have to deal with him for an hour or so. Then maybe the in-laws will take the family out for Easter brunch, and you can forget all that religious talk over a big stack of pancakes.
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