People are meeting and falling in love with others outside of their own communities like never before. But sometimes, being part of someone else’s life and family means adopting their religion. Here’s what it’s like to convert in the name of love.
Brian, Portland — Converted Catholic
When I met my future wife, it was pretty obvious right away how Catholic she was. I was very aware of it. Her family was very Catholic — it’s a big Catholic clan — and were really involved in their church community. She’d gone to a Catholic law school. I wasn’t Catholic myself, and although it wasn’t important to her that I be Catholic, necessarily, it was clearly an important part of her life.
I remember early on in our relationship that I’d drop her off at church on Sunday mornings, then go home and watch football. But as we got more serious, one of the bigger things we talked about was kids. She definitely wanted them to be raised Catholic, so a big factor for me was wanting to be part of that with my kids and not being the one family member who wasn’t a part of that.
I wasn’t raised in a churchgoing environment at all, and not being part of any organized religion growing up, I thought it might be a good thing for me personally as well. I didn’t know too much about Catholicism, but I guess I looked on it relatively favorably — it seemed relatively mainstream, it wasn’t like a weird, extremist branch of Christianity or anything like that, so I didn’t have reservations about converting.
Also, I’d been married before, so as far as receiving the sacrament of marriage, it made that more feasible if I became Catholic too. She never pressured me to become Catholic or anything, it was more of a mutual discussion. Also, as far as weddings, if one person is Catholic and the other isn’t, they may not do a mass, or even have it at the church.
You go through what’s called R.C.I.A., rite of Christian initiation, as an adult. Every parish of any size has a program where people who want to convert can go through that. Usually it starts in the fall and goes through Easter, and you end up getting baptized if you haven’t been, and confirmed, and having your first communion at Easter vigil, the night before Easter. You go to weekly classes, and you’re supposed to go to mass on weekends. It was an interesting group — there were other people there who were getting married to a Catholic, like I was, which was probably the most common scenario.
It wasn’t so much bible study as it was about understanding pretty basic things and core beliefs. You don’t get too into the actual text of the bible or anything like that — that would be more advanced — but you learn more about the rituals and the sacraments and how the liturgy is done the way it is, the process, what you’re supposed to do and when, all that stuff.
My own family didn’t really offer up any thoughts. I think they were fine with it. My in-laws and wife all came to the ceremony, Easter vigil, which is pretty long: Probably three hours, on a Saturday night, and is done by the archbishop of the diocese. It’s kind of a big deal. We all went to dinner afterward, as a celebratory event. The family didn’t do anything formal, but there were a lot of congratulations, hugs, that kind of thing.
I haven’t had a spiritual moment or anything like that, but I think bringing that aspect into my life certainly could be a good thing in terms of looking at things from a bigger-picture perspective, or trying to be more thankful. I never plan to be one of those people who converts and then is super extreme about it. I’m not saying you can pick and choose what you’re going to follow, but you can kind of make it your own a little bit.
Rob, Ohio — Converted Muslim
My wife and I actually met through a car website — we both had the same model of car, and were both part of an online community for them — and started talking through there. I knew she was Muslim: Her last name, then I found out her actual non-Western name.
We became a serious couple, and religion was something that we had a lot of talks about. My actual introduction to the faith came from a rapper named Brother Ali, who is himself a convert, and so through his music and message I kind of got the idea about Islam. It was important to my wife, but even if it was something I didn’t believe in, we still would have moved forward from there.
I grew up a Southern Baptist — my grandmother was very religious, but my family, not so much. Growing up, I probably set foot in a church four times. I wasn’t the most faith-driven person, so the decision for me was considering the following questions: What is our purpose, and what are we doing here?
I had deliberated the idea of converting for a few months. When I decided to do it, that’s when my wife let her parents know that I was considering converting. That kind of let the cat out of the bag about us, because her culture waits to introduce the boyfriend until we’re serious about getting married. When her dad heard I’d read and thought about Islam, and that I actually wanted to do it, he immediately offered to take me up and do the conversion.
My own family definitely thought, “Are you sure?” Some of my family understood a lot more about things, so they were like, “Hey, it’s your choice, there’s nothing wrong with it,” while others were hesitant based on what they see in the news. They had to be taught a little bit, because it’s not something they’re exposed to day in, day out. I don’t know any Muslim families off the top of my head where they live. I know there’s a community, but in my neighborhood, not many at all. So they didn’t know anything more about it besides what they saw in the news. When my wife came in, it opened up a lot of doors, and my family was able to learn to grow in that way. But it did take that introduction.
The conversion process was me reading the Koran, reading different things people were doing in the community, getting a feel for the actual people involved, and to be honest, listening to Brother Ali describe his conversion.
Where we live now, the mosque will support anybody. The one where we used to live would do the whole program and they’d be like, “Unfortunately our brother does not understand Urdu,” so they’d go through it all again in English so I’d get caught up. They were definitely accommodating of me. The ceremony was small and private. It was my wife’s dad, brother, uncle and a doctor who also officiated our wedding, and is the imam of that mosque. It was really nice and quite beautiful. It’s about the hand of the prophet to the imam to you — the touch of one human to another, passing down the knowledge of the faith.
My in-laws were super happy about it. There were lots of congratulations, and that aspect of, not only am I now part of the family but also the community — that was a big thing, and quite nice as well. When it was over, we went straight to my wife’s cousin’s house because it was their son’s birthday. So I was immediately in the thick of it.
I don’t hear much negativity about being Muslim myself. My wife sees more of it because people look at her and see a brown girl and whatnot, so appearance gives you some luxury in that regard, because they really don’t know I’m Muslim unless they see me leaving the mosque. But you can see the aspects of misinformation. People find pieces of information that validate the way they feel. You could say the same thing about a Flat Earther: They’re not interested in being proven wrong, they’re interested in finding the one piece of information that proves them right. You find that a lot regarding Islam. But Muslims just want the exact same things as everyone else.
Peter, Los Angeles — Converted to Judaism (or at least, he would have, if her family had believed in it)
I didn’t actually become Jewish — my wife (whose family is Jewish) and I fell in love, but it never came up for discussion. They always regarded it as something you’re born into, like, it’s a birthright. In other words, for them, I could never become Jewish. It’s a total philosophical difference from me: I think religion is a choice. If they felt differently about their religion, and required me to convert, I might have.
What we did instead, before we got married, was simply meet with the rabbi a few times at the synagogue. He was nice — there wasn’t that much talk about religion. He mostly talked to us as a couple, and about living together, and got to know us better, and asked us questions about our relationship and offered up some advice. He mostly wanted to get to know us better before he married us. That was really all that was required of me.
We had a Jewish ceremony, which I was happy to go along with. I was raised Catholic myself, but none of those distinctions matter to me, like they do for other people. Some people are only focused on what they believe and what they’ve been told. But to me, no matter what path you go down, at the end of the road, we all end up at the same place.