Monday, May 10, 2010

Should We Convert the Ones We Love?

Question: I am dating a non-Christian. I didn’t expect to fall in love with her, but I have. Now I’m concerned that our difference in religious outlook might become a problem. I grew up believing that Christians had the only true path to God. I don’t want to insult my girlfriend, but I feel like I should try to convert her too. What would you suggest?

Answer: Let’s consider the Golden Rule (treating others the way we would like to be treated). What if your girlfriend decided she needed to convert you to whatever her faith tradition is? Would you appreciate that? What if someone who claimed to love you had prejudged your entire faith experience as insufficient and tried to take it from you? You probably wouldn’t respond warmly to that.

Sometimes in our insecurity, we try to convince ourselves that we know all there is to know about the infinite, universal, eternal Principle of life (often referred to as “God”). We make ourselves feel better by pretending we are “in the club” and only people who agree with us can be in the club, too. This imaginary, exclusive club makes us feel “safe” or important or even superior to those who have different experiences and beliefs. We even find a proof-text or two from our scriptures (usually horribly out of context) to justify our “Christians are in and everyone else is out” attitudes. But the result is that those who don’t share our experience and views find us to be judgmental, unkind, arrogant, and sometimes even mean. Can that be the best way to honor the God that our tradition says is Love?

God, being omnipresent, is surely able to embrace us all. Our humanly constructed religions can help us feel and trust this closeness to the divine Reality, but the grace of God cannot be limited to our human understandings, scriptures, traditions, vocabularies, motives, or experiences. I would suggest that you continue being Christian because Christianity is the path that helped you believe in yourself and experience the goodness of God in your life; and allow your partner the joy of celebrating her tradition which has offered her the same gifts. And maybe, on occasion, you can even worship together…not as a way of changing the other, but as a way of sharing something important to someone you love.

Q&A with Pastor Durrell is a column in Sunshine Cathedral's newsletter, The Sun Burst.


Tommeltj said...

Dear Durrell,
I suppose my one beef with this is as follows: my most conservative, proseletyzing Southern Baptist friends would insist that they aren't out to convert anyone out of insecurity or fear, but because of love. An oft-used analogy in these quarters is as follows: if you're on a sinking ship, is it loving to let people keep on dancing? Shouldn't you shout, "everyone to the lifeboats!" Would this be an example of insecurity? Rather, the brethren of these who are insecure seem the ones who simply have no non-Christian friends (or dates) and who never leave the holy huddle of Evangelical sub-culture. The most outspoken evangelistic types may be insensitive, arrogant or judgmental, but "insecure" just doesn't seem to fit.

Durrell said...

The false security we feel by believing "our" way is the only way is just makes us feel safe ("saved") if we have the answers. I'm sure a lot of people are motivated by decent enough motives to try to save those they perceive to be in danger, but the original idea that what "we" have been taught is the absolute matrix of reality is what I find foundationally problematic. My being "saved" is a matter of trying to "save" you may be very kind from my viewpoint, but from what did I need to be saved to begin with? It does all seem to start with the issue of personal security. It's a world view that I've never been able to share somehow.