I’ve lived in New Mexico for almost a decade now and I have had people trying to convert me to their personal religion or to attend their favorite church from the moment my feet touched down on the sandy, desert terrain. I haven’t minded so much until now. I’ve been tolerant, empathic, respectful and good natured, until now.
I was polite when people came to the door hoping to be invited inside to talk about their faith. I was patient with the man that literally put his foot in the door as I tried to say goodbye with a smile on my face. I was gracious to the man and woman that had my dog backed into a corner as they tried to open my front door and let themselves in (I was amazed at their courage as they stood defiantly in front of a snarling, scared golden retriever determined not to let strangers into his home).
I went along with the prayers that were performed before meetings at work even though in the back of my mind I didn’t think such overt religious practices should be part of the work day. I listened as my boss told me she annointed the doors and windows of our office building with special oils to keep the devil out. I accepted prayer cards, pins, and other religious gifts from a coworker who thought I was a witch because I didn’t share her exact religious beliefs.
I comforted my husband who was told by one coworker that his religion wasn’t a “real” religion and offered him support when he described the daily behavior of this women as she tried to convince him to attend her church. This all took place in a school and in front of the children he worked with. At the same time another co-worker wanted my husband to attend his church (a different church than the woman I just mentioned wanted my husband to attend) and would often pray for my husband’s soul. My husband was called a heathen, a fornicator, and a sinner (he was told he had the devil in his soul) by this man on an almost weekly basis simply because he did not attend this man’s church. My husband was raised a Catholic, but he isn’t a practicing one. All he wanted to do was go to work and help children with their speech problems.
All of this was annoying at times, but we understood that some people are compelled to convert others to their religion based on their religious beliefs or interpretations of biblical scripture. We tried to let it all go. We both believe in religious freedom and the right to go to work and to live without having to convert to another person’s belief system. We both grew up thinking religion was a private matter and that people of various faiths could live, work and play together. We both grew up with a healthy dose of respect for other people.
Here I am, searching for playmates for my toddler. I am reaching out to people with small children and asking for friendship and what do I encounter? I encounter more people trying to convert me and my family to their religion. I get people telling me if I want my daughter to be allowed to play with their child I should attend their bible study on Wednesday nights. I am told to go to their church on Sunday so I can meet other people with children my daughter’s age. The problem is I cannot convert to every religion in town just to find friends for my daughter to play with and nor would I want to. Why can’t our religious beliefs be respected? Why is religion used to exclude people? Why is the thinking so black and white on these matters? What happened to love, kindness, and respecting differences? When did religious affiliation become the only way to define a human being? As a child I don’t remember ever asking my friends what religion they were or what church they went to. We just played together. It was a pretty simple and inclusive method for forming friendships.
I am asking as politely as I can: Please stop trying to convert me to your religion. I am quite capable of choosing and practicing my own religious faith. I ask you to please respect me as much as I respect you and to allow me to choose my own path. Don’t use your religion to exclude people, especially children. Don’t make religion more about who you hate than about who you love.