Stuck between Rev and a hard place
July 7, 2008 6:00 PM   Subscribe

Again, my childhood reverend is trying to convince me to be religious. How do I deal with him?

Religion is a very tender subject in my family since my temporary estrangement from them regarding my non-belief in God. Only after coming out as a non-religious adult, a few painful years of not talking and then a gradual return to normalcy have we gotten along, and during all that time, I refused to let religion become a topic of conversation because I know how much it hurts them that I'm not Christian. As a sign of deference and respect toward my parents, I attend church with them when I am home, but I do not take communion or otherwise participate in the service.

Ever since they found out about my nonbelief, I get an impassioned phone call every year or so from my toolbox of a childhood reverend encouraging me to come back to God, reminding me that if I were to die in a car accident, "there are only two outcomes". This time around, I told him that I won't, in fact, go to hell, because hell does not exist and a back and forth about my lack of faith ensued, in which I finally told him in so many words that I don't believe in God, most likely won't believe in God in the future, and because of this, am not comfortable returning to church. I know I shouldn't have engaged him, but I can't stand his repeated verbal assault and blatant disrespect of my privacy and life choices and it feels like honesty is the only way to get him to listen and stop. I am grown, married, and live away from home, and he still won't lay off. Every time, he will tattle to my parents about the nature of our conversations; this time, I'm very afraid that it will result in another estrangement period. It's killing me--I can't lie, but I can't bend over and take it every time he feels the need to remind me of my supposed fiery future.

What do I say to this guy? What do I say to my parents? In case it's relevant, I was raised in a very conservative Lutheran church.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (33 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I get an impassioned phone call every year or so from my toolbox of a childhood reverend...

Hang up. A grown person is acting like a child and refusing to try to make rational arguments to you, and then trying to make a power play by going to your parents. This is not something you'd put up with from anyone else, and not something you should put up with from the supposed emissary of a god that you don't believe in.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 6:04 PM on July 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

Don't engage him. You don't have to be rude, but simply state that you aren't going to talk to him about your faith (or lack thereof), and by continuing to push the matter he is being disrespectful to you. You are an adult, not a child, and he must treat you as such. I've had to deal with this from some of my childhood friends. Once I put my foot down, they stopped with this nonsense and we are still able to have friendly relationships.
posted by kimdog at 6:08 PM on July 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

i'm sorry the reverend is so rude, but it takes two people to have a conversation—tell him you don't want to talk to him anymore and to stop calling. and then, seriously, don't talk to him ever again—if he calls you again, repeat the request and then put the phone down. also: stop going to church with your parents, it probably gives them false hope that you will come around one day.

really, all you can do in situations like this is say, "i'm not going to discuss this with you anymore. i'm sorry you feel however you feel, but we are not going to talk about it." and then the hard part: DON'T TALK ABOUT IT. you can't change anyone else's mind, but you can change how you respond to them, and if you're lucky the change in your own behavior may get them to change theirs.
posted by lia at 6:12 PM on July 7, 2008 [2 favorites]

yes, when you engage him, it tells him you are open to persuasion. you have to say, calmly, "thanks for your concern, but my beliefs have not changed. have a nice day." and hang up.
posted by thinkingwoman at 6:15 PM on July 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

Tell him as politely as possible at the start of the call that while you are happy to talk to him should he want to have a general catch up with you you will not discuss your beliefs or lack thereof. Tell him that if he opens that topic of conversation you will hang up. And do it.
posted by Laura_J at 6:16 PM on July 7, 2008

Ignore him? Block his number? Get caller id and don't answer? Hang up? Say politely that your religion is non of his business, goodbye, have a nice day (then hang up)? Tell him that you reject Christ as your personal savior, and reject his divinity, etc, etc?
posted by beerbajay at 6:18 PM on July 7, 2008

Yup. Hang up, treat him as you would a telemarketer. If you have caller ID, don't answer when it's his number.

If you do attend his church for purely familial reasons when at home and he tries to engage you, tell him that you're there to spend an extra X hours with your parents. Leave it at that.

Not to provoke anything between you and your parents, but are you sure the reverend is acting on his own behalf? How did he get your number in the first place?
posted by CKmtl at 6:18 PM on July 7, 2008

My first reaction was "a restraining order will drive the point home" but that does seem a bit extreme now that I think of it a bit. Now that I've read others in the thread, thinkingwoman nails the hell out of it, and there's nothing more I can add.
posted by deadmessenger at 6:22 PM on July 7, 2008

"I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours."

Followed by, "please don't call me again."
posted by hades at 6:23 PM on July 7, 2008 [16 favorites]

Go the extra mile. Tell him to shove his religion up his ass and stop calling you.
posted by kldickson at 6:25 PM on July 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

I see this as two problems for the price of one.

First, we have the reverend who won't leave you alone about your choices. As has been said already, you can politely end the conversation. And you should.

Equally as important, we have a reverend who doesn't know how to keep his mouth shut. That's just bad form on his part. It might be time to go above him complain about that behavior. Normally I would recommend telling the truth, but I'm thinking that adding a story about how you're sort of thinking about coming back to the church (which is true, but you can leave out the part where you've been sort of thinking about how it will never happen), but you don't feel comfortable with this reverend since he can't keep your conversations private.
posted by theichibun at 6:25 PM on July 7, 2008

By the way, if you're ever nervous about hanging up on someone, hang up while you're talking. If they call back, do it again. And again. Very amusing.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 6:26 PM on July 7, 2008 [10 favorites]

"In case it's relevant, I was raised in a very conservative Lutheran church."

Then henceforth make your complete conversation -- afterwards leave or hang up the phone -- with Reverend God-botherer be: "Hier stehe ich. Ich kann nicht anders."
I do not accept the authority of the popes pastors and councils, for they have contradicted each other... I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe.... Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise.
posted by orthogonality at 6:29 PM on July 7, 2008 [2 favorites]

I don't know you, your family, or what sounds like the very repressive religious atmosphere you grew up in. So please take my advice with a grain of salt if it won't work for you.

If I were in your shoes, i would love to give him a long list of hypocritical and immoral behavior you observed growing up in his church. However, i don't think that would be productive.

Ask him if he would be behaving this way if you had converted to Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, or any other major religion. If he says no, then tell him that he should give your choices as an adult the same respect he would give those choices. If he says yes, then he feels the need to keep a tally of his supposed successes, and this badgering is about his ego. I don't think either statement will stop him, but you may have the pleasure of hearing him stammer and hem and haw for a minute.

Then tell him politely and calmly that you consider his calls harassment, and that you will consider legal recourse if he continues to harass you. (He is a man of the cloth, but is not completely above the law. Religious leaders only have as much power as we allow them.) Then say goodnight and hang up.

Call your family and tell them about the conversation, tell them that you want no further harassment from them, from the pastor, or from anyone else on this subject. If they want to cut themselves off from you and from their grandchildren because of your choice, then you will accept that.

This situation sounds frustrating and heartbreaking. I think you're in the right. Good luck.
posted by Cranialtorque at 6:30 PM on July 7, 2008

Every time, he will tattle to my parents about the nature of our conversations; this time, I'm very afraid that it will result in another estrangement period

Based on this, I'm guessing that this isn't so much about telling the Rev to fuck off, but being able to tell him to fuck off in a nice way, so it doesn't cause estrangement from your parents. That may not be possible. More than likely, your parents are asking him to have a word with you or he's telling them he will talk to you, with their blessing. So talk to your parents and ask them to ask the priest to lay off, with the explanation that he is not helping and is in fact hurting the relationship between you two.

If that doesn't work, you just might have to ignore him. After all, you're grown, married and live away from home. This man has no power over you and what power your parents choose to let him have over them is their business, nothing you can do about it. Keep to non-religious topics.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:30 PM on July 7, 2008

You've already mentioned some of the key words you need to use. "Privacy", "adult", "married", "disrespect", "choices", "family".

I would contact him, thank him for being concerned about your soul to be a bit diplomatic. Then just make sure you use all those key words above. They mostly fall together pretty naturally. Emphasize two points. First, that you're an adult, it's your life, your choices, and you feel he's overstepping his bounds. Second, that you consider the exact details of any conversations you've had with him to be confidential. I think it's reasonable to let him tell your parents that he had a word with you, and that as usual he was unsuccessful in converting you. But tell him that if he gets into any details, you fear it could cause a lot of damage to your relationship with your family. As a minister he should understand this, and not want to cause such problems (there are of course some really extreme ministers out there who will stop at nothing to "save" a few souls though). Obviously, you know that there's little chance that your family will convert you whether you're talking or not, but you might throw in something about flies and vinegar. If he sours your relationship with your family, there's absolutely no chance they can convert you if you're barely talking.

End by saying that in the future, you would appreciate him treating you as an adult, and letting you live your own life, and staying out of your business for the same reasons given before.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 6:38 PM on July 7, 2008

Restraining order.
posted by mds35 at 6:44 PM on July 7, 2008

Okay, here is what you do.

Tell him if he cares about your soul that he needs to spend time praying for it instead of talking to you. Because the Bible clearly states that no one comes to Jesus unless the Father draws other words, your conversion is up to God.

And from THIS Christian's point of view, that is a win-win situation. Because even I know that badgering you about it WILL NOT CHANGE ANYTHING.
posted by konolia at 6:46 PM on July 7, 2008 [15 favorites]

The phone book is full of non-christians who need saving.
If he keeps calling you, it is probably because parents keep asking him to.
Maybe 'tell my mom I love her, but'.

Don't run the words together, though:)
posted by hexatron at 7:10 PM on July 7, 2008

it feels like honesty is the only way to get him to listen and stop.

Nope, because he doesn't really want to convert you.* He just wants to be right, and he wants to be in the position where he knows What's Best For You, and he wants his pastoral authority back. If he can get you riled up, he knows he's still reaching you. Your parents are probably adding to this ego trip by requesting this or thanking him for it. Stop letting him get you riled up. You can stand his verbal assault because what he's saying is ridiculous, and you are free to hang up on him. Reasoning with him just gives him ammo to go back to your parents with. You need to make a choice not to give him an inch.

*Christians who actually wish to convert you will get to know you and meet you where you're at instead of deliberately antagonizing you.
posted by heatherann at 7:11 PM on July 7, 2008 [5 favorites]

The man's conduct is absurd.

Hang up.
posted by jayder at 7:35 PM on July 7, 2008

"Bob I appreciate your concern, but I just don't share your faith anymore, and I don't feel like you listen to a word I say. I am asking you not to call me anymore, OK? Goodbye."
posted by LarryC at 7:41 PM on July 7, 2008

I wonder if going to church with your parents is not such a good idea, although I understand that it may be providing some support to your strained relationship. I wonder though if it is providing them with false hope about your potential reconciliation with the church. If your parents are active in the church (as I imagine they are), it seems likely that your disbelief is the subject of an ongoing conversation with this pastor, it's possible they are encouraging these conversations or even asking him to continue them. In any event if they are listening to a rundown from him of what transpired between you, they are tacitly approving of his actions: obviously they're not telling him to stop. Attending services may encourage this dynamic, and honestly, it's a pointless activity on your part. What I mean is, either your parents can learn to live with your atheism or they can't. Maybe you need to get down to that question without any pseudo-religious activities giving a false impression that your position is not final and absolute.

With respect to the pastor, I think all the clever or theological responses are a waste of time. He's not going to listen to them, and as others have said engaging about the topic even negatively is likely seen by him as a sign that the topic is open to discussion. I think LarryC's response is along the right track: I would even say engage less than that. As in, "I'm really not interested in discussing my beliefs with you." By all means ask him not to call any more, and by all means if he will not end the call politely say "like I said, I'm not interested in discussing this with you so I'm going to go now. Goodbye." Hang up.
posted by nanojath at 8:28 PM on July 7, 2008

Give him one more shot very clearly: seriously, do not call me, ever. I don't want to hear from you, at all, about anything, no matter how important you think it is.

It probably won't work. My experience is that the gentle approach is not effective with religious zealots. Even rudeness doesn't get through (such as my "NO JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES" sign, with a crude caricature of the Witless who kept showing up to bother me - they took the sign and kept coming back). They're in some kind of loop wherein normal feedback from people they're hassling just doesn't feed into the system. Only shock tactics can work with bullies like this.

Basically, you say, "Reverend, every time you call me, I'm going to go to the homeless shelter with a stackful of pamphlets from the Church of Satan (I doubt they make any, but would he know?) and get some wino to sell his soul to me, and thence to the Dark One, for a bottle of Maddog. And there will be takers amongst the desperate alkies. I've got printouts of the contract right here and a quill sharp enough to draw blood. HAIL SATAN!"

Yeah, it's crude, but it'll be cathartic and fun. I've done a few variants on this one. Enjoy yourself and be lurid. When your parents confront you, tell them you have absolutely no idea what he's talking about. Look concerned for his well-being and mental health.

Perhaps a less drastic/fun measure would be to change your phone number to something unlisted and have your parents sign a contract and swear on a Bible (the family Bible, if your family has one) that they will not hand it over to anyone, including the reverend, the church, and any affiliates or parties who might provide him with that number. Should you receive a call from him again, you'll be changing your number one more time, and they don't get it. They can always send mail. This is their problem, not yours, and they should be left to wrestle with it and with the consequences of breaking their promise to you and their oath to the God they visit on Sundays.
posted by adipocere at 8:32 PM on July 7, 2008

"Thank you for your concern. However I as much interest in changing my belifs to match yours as you do to match mine. If I ever change my mind I will contact you. Until that time I would greatly appreciate no hearing from you again. Ever. Thank you for your kind understanding." *click*

If he ever calls again: "Last time I told you never to call me. Any future attempts to contact me will be construed as harassment, and make me think even more poorly of your chosen path." *click*

Yeah, this guy is a whole Home Depo full of tools, and frankly a bit loopy to call someone so far removed from his own (local) flock. But don't engage him. They have been trained well and spent their life refuting claims from people like you.

I wonder if your parents are putting him up to this since religion is verboten in your house.

I personally wouldn't go agro on the guy. It would simply reaffirm to him what most religious people think of Atheists.
posted by Ookseer at 8:35 PM on July 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

The fact that you actually asked this question anonymously -- on MetaFilter, of all places! -- indicates (to me, anyway) that you still feel some sense of shame about your atheism. You should work on getting over that; it will help your resolve when talking to your former reverend.
posted by Asparagirl at 10:14 PM on July 7, 2008

If it were me (raised Lutheran, but thankfully by relaxed and groovy parents who supported my desire to break from the church as a pre-teen) I would probably say something like this:

"Ultimately, the issue of my faith, or lack of it, is something I'm going to need to work out for myself over the course of my lifetime. I don't think you realize that when you call me and confront me, you drive me a little further away from the church each and every time. I know you mean well, but you're not serving your cause properly; you're actually contributing to my unwillingness to embrace religion. If you truly want me to be saved and come back, you'll have to hold your breath, sit on your hands and have faith that I'll ultimately do the right thing -- otherwise you run the risk of being a party to my own downfall. I can't let you do that to yourself, and so I'm no longer going to take your phone calls on this subject. But I very much appreciate and understand your concern, and I wish you and yours nothing but the best."

Worst case, it's a very diplomatic way to brush him off; best case, he actually reports this conversation back to your parents, they interpret it as a sign that you might come around if he lays off, and they tell him to stop calling you.

And anyway, it's true, isn't it? Presumably you made the decisions you've made for your own reasons, and if you're going to change your mind it isn't going to be catalyzed by the very same people that drove you away in the first place. If he were smart and thoughtful, he'd realize that and council your parents accordingly, but he's obviously more of a grandstanding fool.
posted by davejay at 10:24 PM on July 7, 2008 [2 favorites]

note: my advice above assumes that you are an open-minded person who is staying away from the church for reasons you have given a lot of thought to; to the poster and anyone else reading this with a similar problem, if your current position is one of fear or the desire to be rebellious or because it's your first year of college or something like that, YMMV.
posted by davejay at 10:26 PM on July 7, 2008

Yup. Hang up, treat him as you would a telemarketer.

Or a stalker. To be honest, in your place, I'd get a restraining order.

You say this guy's a "toolbox" and he certainly sounds like one. Therefore this isn't a matter, unlike those concerning your family, in which you need to worry about jeopardizing a relationship. Block his number and/or use caller ID to avoid getting into any conversation at all with him. Enlist your spouse's help in this. Then all he can say to your parents is, "I tried to call your son/daughter and I couldn't get through."
posted by orange swan at 1:24 AM on July 8, 2008

What is all this talk about restraining orders? We're talking about one phone call "every year or so" here, from someone the poster has a previous acquaintance with. That's hardly a pattern of harassment-- and trying to get a restraining order would just waste everyone's time, and probably offend the parents far more than any other suggestion.

I'd just hang up on him. Or use Caller ID and never answer the phone. Or keep changing the subject to soccer scores.

Based on your "hell does not exist" discussion, I'd guess you're probably hoping there's a way to "win". But this isn't a battle you can win. You can't fight passion with rationality. The only way to win is not to play. Just hang up.
posted by mmoncur at 3:27 AM on July 8, 2008

Disclosure: I'm a Christian.

I think your best bet is to ask him, plainly and politely, to please stop calling you.

If you suspect your parents of putting him up to it, ask them to plase stop having him call you. I would even go so far as to say something like this:

"If I'm going to be saved, it's not up to you and it's not up to Reverend Calls-A-Lot. It's up to God, and you can't accelerate his timetable."
posted by DWRoelands at 6:15 AM on July 8, 2008

Non-religious person here. I think you should take what you feel are the best points from the previous answers and put it in a firm but respectful letter telling him to stop with the "come back" calls. Also point out that him reporting back to your parents about the contents of your conversations is unacceptable and his actions are jeopardizing an already strained relationship. If Rev. Badger persists, then hang up on him. Quit attending church with your parents, it just tortures all of you.
posted by Daddy-O at 7:51 AM on July 8, 2008

By the way, if you're ever nervous about hanging up on someone, hang up while you're talking. If they call back, do it again. And again. Very amusing.

And if you leave the phone off the hook, then they think you think you're still talking to them...
posted by Robert Angelo at 12:45 PM on July 8, 2008

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