Another Take on Religious Conversion

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I believe its time for people of faith to focus on converting people to love and compassion, not to a particular faith or denomination. People are hurting. Converting hurting people to Christianity, Islam, or any other sect may give them a new identity, but it won’t take away the hurt. The path to alleviating the hurt, pain, and anger that exists in people’s hearts and soul is through showing and conveying love.

As a Unitarian Universalist pastor, I definitely want new people to join my congregation and grow in the faith, but I’m more with people experiencing a radical form of welcoming when they enter the church and as they mingle with parishioners. I believe the radical welcoming can convert a hurting and anxious soul more than converting them to a Unitarian Universalist.

I can recall when I transferred my clergy credentials from United Methodism to Unitarian Universalism. As a UMC pastor, I’d go to clergy meetings and the group would spend most of the hour or two arguing and disagreeing with one another. I’d leave the meetings feeling mostly anguish and regret for having wasted good time with little to show for it.

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But, when I began meeting UU colleagues in the Dallas area, I began sensing a different form of welcome and collegiality. I’d meet and discuss ministry in meaningful ways over a meal or coffee. Afterward, I feel a connection of spirits and belonging. I soon realized there was a different way to be in the world that was radically different than what I’d grown accustomed to.

Over time, my UU colleagues did convert me to the UU ministry. But, it was sense of love and belonging that was the formative conversion that really made a difference. I also experienced the conversion that results from being accepted.

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There are many conversion stories in the history of religion. Most traditions, whether Buddhist, Jewish, Christian, or what not, have a narrative of a person experiencing an epiphany that changes them from ordinary to extraordinary. They typically have a transformation from one way of believing and seeing to another that is life-changing.

We usually describe that experience as conversion.

Religions then take on as their mission the conversion of all others to the religious “truths” that the founder came to understand as the saving message. The world becomes their mission field and the individuals working on conversion become missionaries.

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I am of the mind right now that people of faith will be better off if we concentrate on converting everyone we encounter to loving and compassionate being. We’d do this by simply treating people that we encounter with the same dignity and respect that we show our best friends; our BFFs. (I won’t say family because I realize that families are often the source of great pain and trauma.)

Conversion by conveying love may sound like pie in the sky, or rubbish, to others. Yet, it was the foundation for the Civil Rights Movement led by Dr. King and by many other human rights movements through recorded history. It’s a way of making the expression “kill ‘em with kindness” come alive.