An Atheist, a Christian and a Marriage

Mel & Jelly at their wedding
Mel & Jelly at their wedding
Mel & Jelly at their wedding

Mel & Jelly at their wedding

I go to church sometimes. Voluntarily. And I don’t mind (much). But I’m not a signed-up member of any religion, and I don’t plan on joining.

When I met my husband, Jelly, three and a half years ago, I hardly knew anyone my age who was serious about religion. Other than the compulsory Christianity most of us get in Anglo Australia (weddings, funerals, scripture classes), my childhood had been pretty secular. My attitude was that church was all a bit silly and anachronistic. Where I did have a Christian friend I avoided discussing it or whispered about it (‘they’re churchy, but don’t worry, they’re really nice’). Religion, especially the modern, evangelical, Hillsong style, appeared to me a weird cult full of people who hated gays, women and intellectualism. And I love all those things.

I was okay with the idea of a deity, but I’d long questioned how anyone had any certainty that the holy texts we had were any kind of accurate description of said deity. I happily identified as an atheist, but it wasn’t an issue that had any bearing on my day-to-day life.

When Kevin Rudd came onto the scene in 2006 focusing on the social justice aspects of Christianity, I was so impressed I went to work for him. Not long after the 2007 election, I left the Rudd office and went back to having a life. I soon got involved with the campaign for civil unions for GLBT couples here in the Australian Capital Territory. One of the great disappointments of working for Mr Rudd was having to look my friends in the eye after hearing him talk about his opposition to marriage equality. My conscience was eased by helping out the campaign and attending rallies, and at the same time I was discovering the feminist internet and finally put words to the thoughts that had always been there.

In the middle of 2009, I was in a bit of a funk. I was sitting at home with the television and the cat every night and it was Not Healthy. I needed something to get me out of the house and the opportunity came up to audition for a re-imagined version of Romeo and Juliet. Only catch was, the theatre group was affiliated with one of those Hillsong-type churches. I sucked it up and went for it because, at 27, this was definitely my last chance to play Juliet, and I knew I was good at Shakespeare. That exuberant overconfidence got me the role and I was thrown into the kind of intense madness that is unique to a theatre production. Even though the director was a church-goer, there was nothing churchy about the production, and I relaxed a bit and made friends. And it soon became clear that there was something between me and the dark-eyed boy with the silly nickname playing Paris.


Mel & Jelly at Disneyland

Mel & Jelly at Disneyland

He dressed like a hoodlum and drove like one too. He smelled good. He was taller than me (Romeo wasn’t, oh the horror!). He had the longest eyelashes I’d ever seen. I very much wanted to get into his pants. But he was a Christian. He was probably going to make me WAIT. Oh gawd, this was a terrible idea. I made excuses to be near him. We started following one another on twitter and flirting. One day I took the opportunity offered by his fortuitous car troubles to offer him a lift to work and very soon after tumbled headlong into a relationship.

We fought all the time. I still don’t dare say anything to him about creationism, because it will start a fight that will rage for days, and I will call him stupid and he will think I don’t respect him, because on this issue, I don’t. The first time he told me that creationists believe that dinosaurs and humans lived on Earth at the same time, I laughed for ten solid minutes, and he shouted at me ‘Were you there? How do you know the techniques scientists use to date them are accurate? You’re not a scientist.’ And I’m not. But I’d always recognised the creation story as figurative rather than literal, and I thought modern Christians took the view that God created the heavens and the Earth while Moses took some dramatic licence. Apparently there are many people who want the creation story in the Bible to be literally true so badly they spend their whole careers making the evidence about the origins of the Earth fit into their worldview. And these are the people Jelly was encouraged to read throughout his education.

Somehow, we never broke up. Maybe we enjoyed the conflict, or maybe we just wanted to be together more than we cared about the origins of life, the universe and everything. Every time we had a big fight about religion, I wanted to go back to my happy life with people who thought like I did and didn’t know that the New Testament was written in Greek. But I ploughed on and I started educating myself. I read scripture. I read apologetics. I went online and looked for other faith/non-faith couples and how they made it work.

And one day, we went to a wedding and the pastor said ‘the husband is the head of the wife’. Afterwards I raged to Jelly that it was the most atrocious thing I’d ever heard in my life, in this day and age, it’s not the middle ages! It was a genuine quote from the Bible (Ephesians 5:23).


Seriously? I was a feminist. There was no way I was ever going to submit to anyone, least of all the person who was closest to me in the whole world. I was angry for a solid week. I’m angry every time I think about it. It makes me angry now that anyone thinks preaching submission is acceptable. But now I’ve read everything I can lay my hands on about this topic, and I can back up my initial gut reaction with scriptures.

Which is the silver lining to this particular cloud. I discovered there were Christian feminists. I found a movement of people who were all about practicing grace and love ahead of following rules (you know, as preached by the long-haired hippy dude who is the star of the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). Thank God!

And their ideas matched my lived experience with Jelly. He is infinitely patient with me. He taught me what it meant to love someone unconditionally, what it’s like to step back and stop judging people and what it means to make a promise and keep it. I have never heard him say cruel things about anyone; he’s so sweet he doesn’t even understand sarcasm. He has made my life gentler, kinder and more loving.

I am not going to pretend that these arguments are resolved. I think we’ve learned to shut our mouths about certain things. I know that neither of us want a relationship where one person is the ‘head’ and we both have a broadly liberal (small l) political view. I know that once we have children, these things are going to come up again. Some things I’m willing to go along with (I’m happy for them to go to church, if they want to) and other things that I just can’t see happening (Christian schooling, me not laughing uproariously upon hearing creationist theories about dinosaurs). Somehow we’re still here, and I love it.

Is there a difference of religion in your relationship? How did you deal with it? 

  • Tamsin Howse

    I love this piece. There are a lot of Christians I know who could do with following the love and grace ahead of rules mentality, as preached by the long haired hippy dude. It’s my understanding there is actually sections in the New Testament basically saying the Old Testament is there for context and beyond the 10 Commandments you don’t really need to worry.

  • Wendy

    Love you Mel no matter your opinions are. You are a beautiful lady and we are proud to have you as our daughter. You really are a princess. Yes, we are Christians and to us relationship with Jesus is what is important to us. We don’t believe in submission the way it is often preached. Pat & I are submitted to each other and even though life has had difficult moments, we still love and cherish each other. Love is the greatest, that s unconditional love. Love you so much Princess. Xxx

    • Melissa Savage

      Aww, thanks Wendy :)

      This is my MIL, in case that wasn’t obvious.

      • Monique Fischle

        I love this MIL and DIL relationship. LOVE! And the piece too, you’re a great writer Mel :)

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