The Humanist Dilemma: Filtering Out the Scriptural Spam

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Free To Be Me, Church-Free: I just stumbled upon your website after doing a Google search on how to deal with family tensions regarding differing spiritual beliefs, and I think maybe you all can help.

I grew up in a very conservative Southern Baptist home, attended church services and events very often, and also attended a private Christian school from kindergarten through twelfth grade, and continued my Christian education into college as well. (Whew! I’m even exhausted after typing it all out.) After graduation, I moved out of state to a bigger city to pursue my career goals. I had a lot of pressure on me, from my mother especially, to “find a church home,” and to “get plugged in.” Well, at that point, I had been so exhausted from the whole thing I didn’t want to go to a new church. I visited a few, but more and more realized it just wasn’t for me. My mom and I kept butting heads until finally I was fully honest with her and told her that I was not attending church services anymore, and probably wouldn’t again. Of course, this has been met with a fear for my salvation and my future children’s salvation (I don’t even know if I want kids). Are you following all of this craziness?

Anyways, we seemed to have come to some sort of consensus, but my grandfather, who is a retired minister, started sending me daily emails that are filled with “quiet time devotionals,” along with other Bible verses. I honestly wouldn’t mind if it was a forward he was sending to several people. But I know he’s sending it out directly to me to make sure I’m keeping in line. I find this hurtful, offensive, and intrusive. My boyfriend thinks I should create a new email account, redirect his emails there, and never read them. Good thought, but I think that’s a temporary solution. I have no idea what to do long term. I receive these emails daily, and they’re a constant reminder of how my family doesn’t approve of certain aspects of my life and is always praying for me and worried about me. It feels like a lot of pressure, and I feel very trapped. They would love it if I started going to church, but I really don’t want to. I want to be free to explore my own spirituality in a way that’s true for me. Can you help? What should I do?

—Spam Gramps?

Dear Spam,

Congratulations on getting out of your Southern Baptist quagmire! That’s a major achievement, and I’m sure it wasn’t easy. But you may not have fully realized that you made the break, which is why you’re still susceptible to the guilt trip your relatives are laying on you. At this point the problem is really just them trying (and, unfortunately, succeeding) in getting under your skin. All you need to do is reaffirm your position, to yourself as well as to them.

I don’t see any value in creating an email account just to divert your grandfather’s messages and then attempt to ignore them. Without knowing your grandfather’s age or health, I suggest cutting him a little slack. He’s spent his entire life literally preaching something you reject. You can’t really expect him to simply agree to disagree or to have an epiphany that you are right and he’s been wrong all this time. Same, to a lesser degree, with your mother.

Have you tried really talking with your grandfather, mother, and any other family members who won’t lay off (and maybe with more supportive members who might be able to intercede to get Grandpa and Mom to cool it)? I know you told them about your decision to abandon church, but did you say any of the other things in your letter, about wanting to be free to explore your own spirituality? If not, do so, nicely and calmly, as the independent adult that you are.

If that doesn’t help, inform your grandfather and anyone else to whom it applies that you will not be reading or responding to their messages about returning to the fold and that conversations will end when the nagging begins. Then keep your word. Yes, it may be uncomfortable to shut down your well-meaning loved ones, but you need to be firm. You have stated your position, and it’s not up for debate. They don’t have to agree with your views—they just need to respect you. Do your best to maintain other dimensions of your relationships with your family, reminding yourself that they care about you and this is an unfortunate aspect of how they show it. If they act like they don’t hear you, act like you don’t hear them. Under no circumstances should you resume going to church if you don’t want to.