Does does religious conversion affect family members?

Has anyone had a family member that has converted to a different religion? Or maybe a family member that changed to his or her spouse’s religion?

There’s plenty of information about religious converts, but I’m interested in how family members feel and respond to another family member’s conversion. Has anyone gone through this and how did you respond?

My sister went from being nothing in particular to being born again Christian. The other members of the family let her know that we were glad if it met her needs but that we weren’t interested in being converted. Also that we are happy to listen to a limited amount of general discussion about how she feels after this change (very happy, FYI), as long as it doesn’t go on too long at the exclusion of other topics.

So, not a lot in our case. Fortunately, she has not adopted any of the political views that seem to so often go with that particular orientation, which would have made this level of interaction much more difficult.

On the other hand, after 20 years or more she has finally worn down her husband and he has joined the same congregation and espouses the same level of happiness with his transformation as she did with hers. I’m not sure how much of that is going along to get along, or how much is genuine.

I am the convert in our family, and it’s been mostly “eh…”

Mom wanted to be sure it wasn’t a cult. She came to one of our things and concluded it was a whole lot like church for something held in a storefront, and while it wasn’t for her, no one tried to make her join or prevented me from having a relationship with people outside the group, so she decided it wasn’t a cult and that was that. We’ve had a few discussions about what I do and don’t believe, and she’s a bit annoyed that I have 8 holidays I’m committed to which to her seem either random or deliberately designed to conflict with family dinners. I’m a bit annoyed that we all have to dress up and show up and wish each other Happy Easter even though none of us is Christian (not me or my family, not Mom, Grandma only nominally, but she’s so demented these days she has no idea when Easter is), so it all evens out.

Back when I began my Path, Grandma was a little more with it, and she talked to me about it once, and said that as long as I remained a good person, she was fine with it.

It’s been pretty much a non-deal in our family, in other words. But I’m not evangelical in the slightest, which I think helps.

We have quite a lot of conversions spanning the gamut of Christian faiths (with me as the lone neopagan). No issues, except for strife between the Jehovah’s Witnesses and everybody else. Those, on the other hand, are effectively a civil war.

My mother being born again certainly had an impact on the rest of us. I was in junior high at the time. Following her religious experience, all sorts of things suddenly became forbidden to my brother and me because they were evil or Satanic. Daily Bible readings became a part of life. She is still a deeply religious woman today, but she admits that for a long time she made many mistakes that are common among “baby Christians.”
I’ve never talked with my dad about it, but my brother and I definitely resented some of her mistakes back then. Dad now has a bad case of Aging Catholic Syndrome and has, once more, brought religion as an irritant into our lives.

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Hi All -

Thanks to everyone who’s responded so far. I appreciate your insights. I have more questions…

Did you participate and support them through the process? Or did your family member pursue their new-found religions on their own?

Also, did they tell you why they wanted to convert? What did the new religion offer them that made them want to make the change?

Oh, my family hates it when I sing an Orphic hymn: conversion certainly can-can.

Everyone did it on their own, and nobody really said why. Again, with the exception of the JWs: the world not ending in 1975 was a big one.

The few other reasons that have been expressed aren’t really plausible. I suspect, for the Christians, it comes down to social reasons: finding a religious community that is a good fit. For me, it was a matter of finding a name for a system that made sense to me.

This was exactly it for me, as well. And I hear this a lot from neopagans, so I think it’s pretty common for us. I had these ideas about the universe, and I searched and searched throughout high school for some religious group that believed what I believed. Finally found it in neopaganism during college (pointed in the right direction, ironically enough, by a Jesuit seminary drop out).

No, I wasn’t positive or supportive when mom found Jesus or now that dad is counting his beads and thumbing through his Catholic Saints trading cards. In both cases, the believer found it a necessary component of their beliefs to force those beliefs on me. Mom got to do more actual forcing because I was just a kid and a pretty obedient one at that. Dad has to content himself with carping phone calls on Sundays ("I’m surprised you’re at home; I thought you’d be in church) and passive-aggressive sniping when he says grace at holiday dinners.
I’ve mentioned to them that they don’t need to worry about my salvation. It’s generally accepted, and has the Papal seal of approval, that when they are in Heaven experiencing perfect happiness, they won’t miss me.

I was raised Catholic and am one of six children. Of those six, only two still self-identify as Catholic; I’m agnostic, one sister followed a guru, one is a stone atheist, one brother joined the Ernest Angely ministry to the great consternation of my parents. Dad cut him out of his will, but after Dad died, Mom put him back in hers before she died. That brother was basically estranged from the family for about 30 years. That’s about the extent of it.

Since RCC is still pretty much the default religion in Spain, most of the “conversions” I know personally are more a matter of sliding up and down the scale that’s between “goes to Mass if there’s a wedding” and “goes to Mass so much the priests are worried”. There’s also a few declarations of atheism. The only cases I know which caused serious problems involved the JW (both people my parents’ age becoming JW and people mine leaving the JW). I also know a few cases of mixed-denomination marriages which have to do some serious dancing to arrange holiday feasts, but as one of them put it “same as any other family, really, only we don’t just decide who to eat with but also who to pray with”. The mixed marriages where one is a Christian (even if nominal) and the other one belongs to a completely different religion, the issue gets dealt with before the wedding.

Just because I know there are other pedants who will appreciate the distinction: a convertis someone who transitions from one religion to another religion. A person who moves from one denomination to another within the same religion (say, a Lutheran becomes a Methodist) has reaffiliated, not converted. A person who stops believing or stops identifying with a religion but doesn’t get another is an apostate.

Carry on.

My mother re-affiliated from Lutheran to super-intense Jews-For-Jesus, Pentacostal-Snake-Handling, Prosperity-Gospel, Evangelical Christian when I was a very young girl. We’re talking Jesus Camp levels here.
According to friends and family, the change was pretty dramatic and unexpected and caused a lot of tensions because she insisted on trying to get everyone else on board with this. My father eventually just faked it to get her off his case, and the rest of the extended family drifted away. I grew up not knowing any differently, and it was still pretty damn intense.

I am now a strong atheist, married to an animist agnostic, with friends who are all either lapsed garden-variety Christian or varying from agnostic to even more passionately atheist than I am. My mom has relaxed a bit from her… fervent conversion attempts, but I don’t think she’s changed her beliefs any, just her energy levels.

She does not know that I am an atheist. I haven’t got the intestinal fortitude to deal with that.

I’m the other way round, and I’m the one in my family that converted. (Apostated?)

I come from an evangelical, Southern Baptist, hard core background. I went to a SB university. My grandfather is a minister, my grandmother a minister’s daughter. Church three, four times a week, you know the drill. I became an atheist. I lived away from home, saw no reason to share with my family (particularly my much-loved Grandaddy) and that should have been that. I didn’t hide it, but I didn’t share. He was aware I wasn’t going to church, and that’s all.

My dad did some super web-sleuthing (he friended me on FB and Googled my name) :rolleyes: and discovered my atheism. Oh, sorry, discovered the “lies and deceits” I’d been perpetrating on my family lo these many years. And he discussed them with me. Oh, wait, no, he didn’t do that either, he e-mailed my entire extended family to explain in great detail the above and why he couldn’t talk to me any more.

So there’s that.

In my large extended Jewish family, I’m the only atheist. Basically, they leave me alone about it. In spite of the fact that I’ve been an atheist for over 50 years, many of them think it’s an adolescent phase that I’ll grow out of someday.

The only family member who may have been affected was my mother, who, while living with me in her 80s, admitted to being an agnostic.

In my family everyone started out as a casual Catholic and sort of ended up as nothing, so no big deal there.

But my best friend’s parents suddenly because born-again Southern Baptists awhile back. It’s not a family-breaking deal - they get along well enough - but it’s definitely a source of some friction, as they’re the real deal, whatever-the-rich-minister-tells-us type who think Harry Potter books are Satanic manuals.

It was high stress for awhile as they tried to convert my buddy on the sly but he finally made it clear it’s not his bag. Stresses continue, though. The folks aren’t well off and are poor money managers and yet give gobs of money to their superchurch, then lean on my buddy for help in little ways, which drives him bananas. They’re appallingly closed-minded, so he’s learned not to talk with them about anything remotely controversial. Still, they’re nice, kind people, and for the most part everyone gets along.

Thanks to all who have posted; your comments are so helpful.

For those of you who have converted, what did you hope for from family members? What reaction did you think you’d get or hope you’d get versus what happened?

What is the best way a family member could respond to your conversion?

Well, I wouldn’t have minded genuine interest. Both family and people who have met me since my conversion (i.e. my spouse) are utterly disinterested in my religion. Since it’s an important aspect of me as a person, I’d like SOME interest, and I’m actually quite interested in their religious beliefs and practices, but it’s not a conversation I want to force.