When friends and family heard that my faith had shifted from committed evangelical to something resembling a liberal amoeba, invariably the next question would be, "But what about Jon? What does he say about it?" I used to take offense to the question. It felt paternalistic, like I needed his approval to change my beliefs or that if he had known, he could have prevented the changes. Looking back now, I don't think those were the reasons people asked about Jon. Some worried about how my revised beliefs would impact our marriage, others wondered if Jon's beliefs had changed too, and perhaps some who knew us best hoped Jon would at least protect the kids from my theological wanderings.
Jon, to his credit, has always resisted answering for me when asked what I believe. He has never defended me or criticized me to others, even when he himself worried about where I was headed. Honestly, the one thing I never anticipated when we married was the possibility that one of us would lose our orthodox Christian beliefs.
Back in 1984, our marriage vows stated that we would "reach the Berbers (indigenous Moroccans) for Jesus Christ" until death do us part. Yep. In our vows. So naturally the idea of walking away from the evangelical version of faith never dawned on either of us, let alone the idea that one would and one wouldn't. You may as well have asked us if we thought it possible that one of us might go through a sex change operation at some point in the future. Unimaginable. (And honestly, now on this side of 40, I think I'd ask young engaged couples to really scan the horizon for what change might mean - in sickness and in health is one thing, but changed religious beliefs and gender are not outside the realm of possibility any more.)
Lucky for us, our marriage was tested long before I reevaluated my faith. Put two dysfunctional people (adult child of alcoholic parents - Jon - and adult child of divorce - me) in a new marriage on the mission field among Muslims without any team members or other Americans in the town... well, you do the math. We left the field within two years and landed in therapy for two more.
Our faith commitment definitely helped us. We knew divorce was not an option. We believed in the power of prayer and love and 60 minutes a week with Jane, the therapist. We saved our marriage and went back to the mission field for another year. During that year, I went through a major shift in faith (I became an enthusiastic pray-er ala Mike Bickle and the Kansas City Fellowship). Jon had to deal with a shift in my theology even then. I quit our missionary team and devoted myself to prayer.
Together, we revised our thoughts about missions and Muslims, and returned to California to be in the Vineyard where we'd learn more about the gifts of the Holy Spirit. By year 15, we had a stable marriage and family. Then we moved to Ohio.
Coincidentally, the Internet became my lifeline to friends and relationships after that move. As I've shared elsewhere, I began examining my beliefs because I couldn't get a majority rules on any one important doctrine (particularly salvation). Jon knew that for me, the idea of hell had been the chief force behind my theology and evangelical drive. So it didn't surprise him too much to see me checking out books about reformed theology, openness theology (Clark Pinnock) and those emergent ones by Brian McLaren. When I came home with Hans Kung, though, he raised an eyebrow.
I began sharing some of the challenges to traditional faith that these writers raised for me. Jon listened openly, though less interested in theology than I was. He hung with me until I started talking Jesus Seminar, revised morality and loss of faith in the bodily resurrection of Christ. This was when I noticed him start to show signs of concern. I remember one particular conversation where Jon said, "It's all fine unless you lose Jesus. If you lose Jesus, you lose everything." I knew I had hurt him. That's when I determined that I had better stop sharing my thoughts so openly with him and used the Internet for deeper exploration of the questions I had.
Those next couple of years were very interesting and deserve more time than this one post can give it. I want to turn this discussion into a series as it is too much to condense seven years into one blog post.
I will leave you with this for now. It is impossible for the beliefs of one married partner not to impact the thinking and beliefs of the other. Whether those beliefs have to do with organic vegetables, politics, gun ownership, education of children, parenting or theology, marriage partners talk to each other so much that it is inevitable that the discussions will lead to shared conclusions and/or deeper understanding and sympathy toward formerly rejected viewpoints. If this doesn't occur, it is very very difficult to stay married or intimate. I have friends who have lost their marriages during these kinds of reevaluations... The tension became insurmountable.
So what I'd like to share in the next installment are a few examples of challenges we faced, how Jon and I did contribute to each other's changes in belief and what we did about the kids in the meantime.