I posted in the forums about how my older son discovered the truth about the Bible after he decided he really needed to study more. He had managed to come out of the closet and, he thought, not destroy his relationships. Well, it turned out to be more complicated than that, and it got really complicated for me, as well.
My son and his wife had a baby. They live in another town, and his in-laws live there, as well. So we went to see meet new granddaughter. They weren't at church that Sunday, and in fact left the hospital for home about the time of the evening service. My wife and I went to church. We noticed my son's father-in-law looking what we thought was his usual odd self. We didn't really want to talk to him because even though our son was accepted as a "visitor" and "former member" by the church, his father-in-law is one of the "church discipline" types who thinks you can't have anything at all to do with any Christian who is "living in sin," and that being a Christian who has rejected God is "living in sin." (In other words, there's no such thing as an "ex-Christian." If you leave, you're an "erring Christian.")
So when it was over we answered a few questions about the baby for the people who were asking and congratulating us, and then we made our way to the car. We planned to pick up dinner and take it to our son's house. But father-in-law went out a side door and intersected our path! As he approached, making a bee-line for me, my wife congratulated him on the new granddaughter, which interrupted his train of thought. He turned to her and shook her and and said "you -- congratulations!" Then he turned to me, refusing my hand, and said "and you... I KNOW YOUR SECRET." I replied "ohhhh kay?" and we proceeded to the car.
Boy, was my wife mad. I was shocked. How in hell did he know I was an atheist? It was a tough night, but I didn't really know that anything would come of it. Our son already had a chilly relationship with him.
The following Wednesday night I went to Bible class, and as usual, afterwards took our older granddaughter outside to play. But a little while later one of the elders came out and found me, and asked if they could speak with me. I took my granddaughter to our other son and told him the elders wanted to see me, then I went to the room they were meeting in. Only two of the three were there. One of them said to me, quite sheepishly, really, that they had been told I had a blog called "The Closet Atheist." Well, of course, that was true, but in my shock I was able to act shocked enough to deny it and, I thought, seem believable. I asked what it was, and he started to explain to me what a blog was. When I said, no, I understood that, he told me how there were pages and pages of posts dating back several years. After attempting to deny it, they said that they weren't inclined to believe it, but that they felt they had to ask.
I wandered out in a daze and went home. My wife hadn't gone that night and I didn't say anything to her. She was unaware of the blog.
So, I need to back up a bit. When my son first indicated that he was doubting, he also implied that his wife was kind-of on board with him. That was wishful thinking. In an effort to be supportive (and, frankly, because I was so happy for him) I told him about the blog, and even said he could tell his wife about it. I wanted her to know that even if they didn't agree, that didn't mean he wasn't the person she married, and it didn't mean their marriage was over. The baby's birth was four month's away at this point, and it really seemed important that she not suffer any undue stress. In reality, the realization that there are no such things as gods shouldn't cause anything but joy in one's life, but when you have fundamentalist family, it isn't simple at all. I wanted to help.
But his wife really still believed, and she's not one to keep secrets, so when conversing and seeking advice from her parents, she mentioned my blog.
Later in the week the elders emailed me wanting to meet again. I had to tell her now, and she yelled at me about how naive I had been. She's never been more right. I trust people. My daughter-in-law loves me. She wasn't trying to sabotage me or betray me, yet that's exactly what she did. My honesty plus hers combined to start an avalanche.
I didn't know whether to be relieved or scared to death. My younger son and his family were moving... that Wednesday was to be the last one at this church, and they were headed on a vacation/journey to a new home on the West Coast. They left before I could talk to him. Right here -- this is it. The ONLY reason I cared whether anyone knew I was an atheist is because I was afraid it would affect my relationship with this younger son, and that he wouldn't want his daughter to be around me much. That's it. That's the only real negative that could happen in my life. And if that happened, my wife would never forgive me. Literally, not metaphorically, never forgive me.
The blog was somewhat cryptic, in the sense that if someone had stumbled across it they wouldn't have suspected it was mine. Yet there was enough information in there that if someone said it was mine, and someone else read it, I wouldn't be able to deny it, so before my meeting with the elders I decided I'd better come clean. I admitted it was mine, and I said that I would go before the congregation and ask for forgiveness. I took the blog down before sending the email. I also said that I would begin a Bible study via email with a preacher who was well educated, but a member of a "mainline" church rather than one of the non-institutional groups. (My thinking was that this would keep the rumor mill quiet. I didn't have to tell that preacher what was behind it, and he wouldn't have any discussions with "our" preachers.)
The next Wednesday night I showed up early (along with my wife, who went into the auditorium to both suffer embarrassment and to be comforted by the other ladies who were there early. I went into the office to meet with the three elders, and the preacher was there, too. He didn't know much about what was going on except for what the elders had told him in a few minutes, and he had not seen the blog (which was gone by this time). He was aware of my older son's deconversion and had actually had a number of discussions with him about it. Again, I made my promise to study, and I indicated that I wished to continue to be a member of the church. I was to go forward to offer public confession after the "invitation" was offered ("invitation" is Church-of-Christ speak for "altar call") and "acknowledge my sin." One of the elders remarked that most people in my situation would just say "I'm outta here!" and he wondered why I didn't respond that way. My honest reply was that there was simply no advantage to it, and that it would cause too many problems within my own family. They accepted this reasoning.
So then there was the confession: This was tough. I told about the blog, and explained that I needed to confess because that was public and required public "repentance." I apologized to my wife and thanked her for putting up with me. Then one of the elders got up and made a few comments. I interrupted to ask that nobody call my younger son, who was on his way to his new home, because I hadn't talked to him yet and he didn't know what was going on. Then they prayed for me.
Afterward, people offered all sorts of words of encouragement. Several people wanted to talk way too much, and in the next couple of week some brought me reading material.
I called my son the next day and left a message. He eventually called me back. He was upset, but he said he wasn't surprised. I talked to him about how Moses apparently believed that there was more than one god, and he said he knew that already! (So why is he still a believer.) I didn't tell him everything, but at the end he asked me to please say that I still believed that Jesus was the son of God, so I lied and said "yes." Since then, he hasn't said a word about it and I really think he doesn't want to know any more.
And since that time, I quit leading singing. One of the elders did ask several months later if I was going to start leading singing again, and I indicated that I was pretty happy to be retired from that. I may get that uncomfortable question again, but I can easily dismiss it if my wife isn't around. (When she's around it's harder to just dismiss, because it embarrasses her and she doesn't go to bat for me -- she takes the side of the person who's bugging me. I end up having to try to justify my decision. It's a pain, especially because she knows I'm an atheist!)
Occasionally, one of the other elders asks me how I'm doing, meaning "spiritually," and I say "pretty well." That's all there is to that conversation.
And that's it at this point! I show up most Sunday mornings by myself and use the time to read, and I go other times when my wife makes it, but not usually by myself. Nobody really expects much of me any more, and that's quite a relief.
I hope that some day my younger son won't be able to avoid the truth, and we can just be done with it. My older son surprised me when he figured it out, so it could happen.
I may decide to write a book someday. I wrote this post because I had never written this stuff down. It's kind of hurried, so there may be typos and awkward wording, but if I wait any longer I'll forget things.