Tell Me About It: Friends keep pushing church

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Question: I have asked this question in a lot of different forums, and no advice columnist seems to want to touch it.

My husband and I are non-Christians living in a small town in the Bible Belt. We have made some friends (it took a while) who are fun people and share most of our values, except religion. I don't have a problem being friends with people of different religions; I consider it none of my business what other people believe, and just wish they would extend me the same courtesy.

These friends are evangelical Christians and invite us to church almost every time we see them. At first I thought they were just being friendly. After the 1,000th time, I feel like it's really obnoxious and disrespectful. I've always just smiled and politely declined, but they keep bringing it up. Is there a way to salvage the friendship while putting my foot down?

Answer: That's up to them, and it would be even if your differences involved a topic less loaded than religion. For example, say you renounced the exchange of material gifts unless it was food or vintage, out of concern for the environment - and you refused to use gift wrap. And let's say you made a friend who felt it was rude to come to your home without bringing some mass-produced trinket all wrapped up, tied, and glittered.

Or, you've finally gotten control of your weight, and your friend is a cupcake pusher. Or you think money is a private matter and your friend regularly asks you how much something cost.

Back to the initial question: "Is there a way to salvage the friendship while putting my foot down?" It still applies without the slightest tweak to its phrasing or import.

What you have is a friend who does something that annoys you, and who (experience tells you) has a low likelihood of stopping it, might be offended when you ask, and has just as much of a right as you do to act on her core beliefs.

The answer in that situation has to come from your (im)patience with the status quo. Which is more important to you: this friendship, or the freedom to draw what you regard as a reasonable line? At a certain point, it stops being about the nuisance itself and becomes about feeling pressured to bite your tongue lest you implode the friendship.

If you decide that being able to say something is your priority, then be as kind and respectful to them as you would like them to be to you: "I appreciate that you're trying to be kind by inviting me to church, but I would also appreciate it if you stopped asking." Church, cupcakes, it's the same thing: Don't tiptoe around trying not to be who you are.

Keep in mind, another issue on which you differ: You "consider it none of my business what other people believe," and your friends consider your beliefs their business - likely an obligation. Try steering your conversation toward understanding each other instead of just one of you getting your way in perpetuity: "You feel you must draw me in. It's pushing me away. How can we serve both principle and friendship?"


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