Dear Abby: I’m writing to support “Feeling Coerced in San Diego” (Feb. 14), who is uncomfortable attending church with her husband. I understand her feelings because I, too, am an atheist in a relationship with a religious man.
There is another option besides abstaining from church or attending only on major holidays, and that would be for “Coerced” and her husband to try a different church. One religion that embraces atheist church members is Unitarian Universalism.
UU congregations are often made up of people from different backgrounds — Christian, Jewish, atheist and more. The focus of the sermons is on living a good life, treating other people and our planet with respect, and following one’s own path to spiritual enlightenment. It’s likely that “Coerced” and her husband could both feel at home in such a congregation.
Dear Chelsea: Thank you for your suggestion — it’s one that was echoed by many other readers. I have mentioned the Unitarian Universalist denomination and its website (uua.org) before in my column. Readers’ comments were enlightening:
Dear Abby: I, too, am in a “mixed marriage.” I’m religious and my husband is an atheist. We agree to disagree on the matter. Religion (or lack of it) is a very personal thing, and however we feel, we owe each other respect for our different views.
“Coerced” is great for trying to accommodate her husband, but now that they see it didn’t work, he should stop pressuring her. She can refrain from going to services, but should consider attending the church’s social events. This solution worked well for us. My husband and my church friends get along well.
Of course, this depends on the nature of the church. Mine happens to be one of the more progressive. It’s worth a try.
In Ottawa, Canada
Dear Abby: I knew my husband was atheist when we married. Our spiritual journeys are different, and we’re not going to change each other.
We agreed I would raise our kids Catholic. I never expect him to be at church with us on Sundays, but on important sacraments (baptism, first communion, confirmation), he is there with the whole family because he realizes these events are important for his kids and me. He has become friendly with some of my clergy and fellow congregants, who accept him for the wonderful person he is.
Maybe in the future “Coerced” could attend an event like a church spaghetti dinner, something outside of services, and get to know the people her husband spends time with on Sunday. And he could spend a weekend doing a silent hiking retreat with his wife and her friends.
Respecting each other’s spiritual path is a first step toward appreciating each other’s differences and growing together.
Dear Abby: “Coerced” is lucky to have a man who attends church and wants her to go, too. She might consider helping in the nursery. That way, she’s there with him but doesn’t have to listen to the message. Churches are always looking for help so parents can actually attend the service.
Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Write Dear Abby at www.DearAbby.com or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.