What is the effect of a church leader with an Atheist Spouse?


If any reader has an practical experience on this subject, or even if you have an opinion on this, I would very much welcome your comments.

Since the great coming out a couple of years ago (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2011/12/12/the-coming-out-begins/) my wife has continued her involvement with the local church and we’ve had many conversations on the matter. Things have changed slightly from the initial desires discussed. I don’t attend church any more, though I do attend some of the more social aspects and we continue to be good friends with the Pastor and his family and one other family in the church. These are friendships that are important to us both. I am, however, the sole atheist and there is no one outside the church whom we socialise with.

My wife has gradually increased her involvement in the church and regularly leads worship (along with the other couple mentioned above). She has even supported another local Baptist church by preaching there a couple of times. She is liked by that congregation and has been invited back to preach again. I’m not at all surprised by that. My wife preaches and leads sensitively and makes her points concisely and clearly. She is humble in her presentation and when I was a believer I enjoyed hearing her preach.

Since the big breakup of last year (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2013/01/28/its-all-gone-to-shit/) church life has become much calmer and happier. Those who left are doing their own thing and the church that remains has attracted new people and by all accounts and a much better place to be. So much so that I understand there is a very good chance that the women in leadership rule (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2012/06/18/on-women-in-the-church/) will be put to a vote and removed. This is a bit speculative on my part and I am very likely jumping the gun, but I am also very confident that this is the current state of the church membership.

This will have a significant effect on my wife because she would be given the chance to preach on occasion and she’ll be doing so with the explicit support of the Pastor and other in the leadership.


But what about the Atheist Spouse?

This does have an effect on me too and I swing constantly in my attitude on the subject (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2013/04/23/and-so-the-pendulum-swings/). Should I challenge my wife on things that I consider untrue about Christianity? I do the same with friends and family when faux medical benefits such and acupuncture or homeopathy, why should religion be treated differently?

Or do I leave her to it and treat it like a hobby, much like my photography? Except I can’t do that because they are not comparable as hobbies; plus it also involves my daughter and she is important to me and I should have a say. So I continue to struggle on the subject.


Interesting chats

Over the past year or more my wife and I have had multiple conversations on Christianity, mostly they have been amicable with only a very few ending badly. It is a constant learning and challenging experience for us both. If only all people of our respective views could have this many conversations with someone of the opposite position.


But what about the subject of this post?

This isn’t specific about my situation. It is more of a general thought process, however I think it does need considering for my wife and what she does.

In my Christian days I would have considered a church leader who has an atheist spouse as compromised. Compromised because their home life clearly isn’t always focused on the church and a spouse of a church leader is expected to be there is presence, a visible support and someone to go to when the leader themselves is not available. As a couple they are expected to be a united team. If the spouse is an atheist then they are clearly in opposition to the leader and so the leader is not fully effective as a Christian and they could even compromise their message so as to accommodate the position of their spouse.

I am fairly sure that there are many Christians about the world who would feel similar now. Some people in our church (yes I still refer to it as our church even if it really isn’t my church) know of my atheism, even if it is not publically announced. It is one thing for my wife to preach at another local church, which knows nothing of our situation. Having her preach at the church where we are known so much better raises a new set of questions which we’ve not fully addressed.

There is no doubt that when the time comes for her to preach there, it will be with the full support of the pastor and others in the leadership, but as recent events have shown, that is not a guarantee of the full support of the wider church family.

6 thoughts on “What is the effect of a church leader with an Atheist Spouse?

  1. Belief or lack thereof is such an important part of what makes up a person, especially for the believer. I think, and take this for what it’s worth as I am not in this situation, that a discussion about how these beliefs are presented to the children of parents of mixed faith marriages needs to be had. On the one hand, when you married you were both believers, you are the person who changed. At the point you were both believers you probably had a consensus of how your child would be brought up in belief. Now things have changed. Some people might suggest that since that is so you really shouldn’t interject since you agreed beforehand. I do think, though, that a new discussion and a new agreement should occur. We are ever changing even in mutual belief. This is important – to you both – and to your child. It sounds as though you have amicable discussions about this sort of thing and it would not be out of turn for you to broach the subject.

    As for the preaching – the Methodist Church in my hometown had a pastor whose wife never attended service. I don’t know the reason, but it wasn’t because of any ailment. She was quite young and she dined out and went to non-church events with her husband. I suspect they had some agreement about that. My opinion is that you should support your wife in her endeavors though I don’t think that necessarily means you attending every service or even any service, especially if you feel your non-belief would be a distraction.

  2. Should I challenge my wife on things that I consider untrue about Christianity?

    Based on reading this blog, I’d say that you are doing fine. You should openly discuss your view with your wife, and you probably have done so. But don’t make it a challenge. Don’t put her under pressure to choose between you and her religion.

    As we sometimes say, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

    As for your daughter — no, you should not have a say. And nor should your wife. It should be your daughter’s decision. But, of course, you should be talking to her about your views. She cannot make a decision without learning what is involved.

    Well, that’s my opinion.

  3. Great questions never have easy answers …. But, I think you are more balanced than most former Christians, and you come across as less angry than most atheists.

    And I agree with Neil, let your daughter find her way ….


  4. Thanks all for the compliments. The question I really want answered is what does the person in the pew think of the leader at the front when their spouse is an atheist?

    • The question I really want answered is what does the person in the pew think of the leader at the front when their spouse is an atheist?

      That’s going to vary with different people. Some will think it a problem. Other’s won’t.

      My guess is that most are not bothered that the spouse is a non-believer. It’s the “A” word that bothers them. Perhaps you should downplay use of the “A” word.

    • Like Neil, I think this will boil down to individuals. And, of course, how fundamentalist the individuals are. It sounds as though your wife and yourself have a good reputation and rapport with the church members. Here’s the thing: it is easy to dehumanize groups of people we can’t put a face on. They know you, though I don’t know how well. It is harder to look down on someone whose actions and behavior are without reproach no matter what they verbally assent to.

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