One of the things I’ve left by the wayside in my wanderings back into religion is the conversion obsession.
Of all the things I’ve left behind from my very religious childhood, this is one that has evolved in particularly interesting ways. I return to religion now with the understanding that a conservative and fear-based reading of Christianity is just that: a reading. Not the reading or even a great reading – just one of many.
I spoke with an old acquaintance this week, one that has never failed in the past to invite me to Bible studies with her family. “God and… your interests… aren’t mutually exclusive,” she mumbled, in response to my excitement about joining a seminary in the fall.
It is the most either of us will verbally acknowledge how I approach my personal Christianity. I can also tell that it takes a good amount of pain to get the sentence out.
Immediately, I feel an uncomfortably familiar urge – I want, against all common sense, to argue with her. To bring her to see my reason, the easy and familiar ways Jesus falls into liberal concerns like basic human decency and leaving social bigotry by the wayside.
I never felt properly safe with fellow Christians growing up, but I’ve always felt safe around fellow queer people. No one will ever quite make me feel the same rush of safety and understanding that being around other queer people will. God gave me a new self-understanding and a new way to relate to others when She made me queer, and there has never been anything holier to me than the safe spaces I have with people like me.
It makes me sad in the way I think I was trained to feel sad towards people who weren’t Christian. Between church and private schools, I barely interacted with people who weren’t at least half-heartedly, culturally Christian. I was always primed, however, to be on the lookout. Those who aren’t Christian miss out on so much, old religious leaders always told me. You need to be the light in their life.
Honestly, I only remember trying to convert someone to Christianity once. I was probably between five and seven years old, and I was talking to another kid. One of us brought up death, and I guess the conversation rolled downhill into Have You Heard About Jesus territory.
The conversation ended pretty quickly, neither of us eager to discuss the particulars. He said no, he hadn’t when I introduced Jesus. I’m pretty sure my response was cheesy – it’s one of those moments of embarrassment I’m sure I’ll never forget.
I never want to convert people religiously anymore. If you’re interested in Christianity, I’d be willing to share my perspective, but that’s about all I’ll do. I don’t think it is my place to judge how anyone else does or doesn’t relate to any religion.
Purposefully ignoring that aspect of my childhood indoctrination is fairly easy on the surface.
It’s much more complicated, though. Returning to the moment with my acquaintance – the moment wherein her words sparked a response in me. I wished she knew more than what she’d been brought up to think. I wished she could fathom the holiness I am certain of, the sheer blessings I have found in this different space of religion.
Looking back, I realize that I do want to convert her. Not into a new Christianity, necessarily, but into a new mindset about people. About what constitutes good and bad, and what even is our responsibility in this world?
In my opinion, our ultimate responsibility is to learn and grow, constantly, towards a newer appreciation for other humans and the world around us. And this is something I wish I could convert other people into. I think this is something many of us want to spread to others.
So much kindness and compassion these days just feels like common sense, and it is upsetting to find that there is not a mirrored awareness in others. That, often, people will not match up to the standards you like to think you hold yourself to.
So, I now stop and think. I wonder whether this conversion streak needs to be nipped in the bud, or whether it can grow into something healthy. I’m not sure at the moment that this impulse in me is entirely pure. Sometimes, I just wish this was more of a concern to other people, the care and keeping of others.
I know now that the conversion streak has mutated into something different but similar. Perhaps, it is just the innate human desire to be understood, to share a common ground.
At the most superficial, the conversion urge is an interesting example of how much Christianity permeates our culture.