Tolerance Strained: Loving My Evangelical Sister

Tolerance Strained: Loving My Evangelical Sister July 29, 2010

I am a Modern Pagan. A champion of tolerance, acceptance and religious freedom. To paraphrase Voltaire: though I may disapprove of your faith I will die for your right to practice it. Sure, somewhere down in my pea-pickin’ heart I’m sure I feel very smug and superior in my tolerance. Until the assumptions and context of that attitude was shattered.

Like many Pagans, my extended family is multi-faith. I have a cousin who is a Southern Baptist minister going for his PhD, a gospel-recording great-aunt, relatives who are devoted to their Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran and non-denominational churches and a few who don’t get why all the rest of us are all hung up on religion. I love all of them, even the prickly ones, and I thought I understood how hard my faith must be for them. I’m not certain if it’s harder for them now that I’m writing under my real name. We haven’t spoken about it. I thought I understood what it was like for them to see me leave their faith for one that’s a difficult minority path until this week.

I have a sister who’s an evangelical teacher, very actively involved in her church. Which is cool. Not my thing but I’m glad it makes her happy. I occasionally scratch my head over how conservative she has become as she gets older but I love her anyway. Yeah, I was cool with it and proud of myself for being cool with it. Until she said she was moving to Indonesia.

At first I thought it was a joke. She couldn’t seriously be considering moving my nieces and nephews to a foreign country for four years. I am known for having a lot of crazy ideas so I chalked it up to the familial insanity and forgot about it for awhile. My sister was serious, though. She feels it is the calling of her and her husband to teach at a Christian school in West Java, and at this moment she is in the air somewhere between Alaska and Indonesia, en route to become a minority in a Muslim country.

Am I still blithely embracing tolerance and wishing her well on her path? With my lips but not my heart. I’m angry. I’m worried. I’ve been breaking out into desperate, hurtful sobs all morning. The internet is not relieving my mind as I find old stories of violence and discrimination against Christians in areas of Indonesia.

Why? Why must she be different? Why must she take her faith so far? Why must she place herself and her family in a situation where they will be treated as different and misunderstood? Where acts of violence might be perpetrated upon them for their faith? Why must she be so obstinate? Why can’t she be happy living where she is accepted for her faith? WHY?

The irony of these words coming from the lips of a public Witch in a small town in the South does not escape me, but it doesn’t keep them at bay, either. Such anguish fills my heart. Such anger. Such helpless worry. Why can she not be a tame Christian? Why must she push the boundaries?

Despite all our differences, I love my sister. I am doing my best to support her despite every bone in my body feeling this is wrong and dangerous. Despite the pain of knowing I won’t see her or her children for four years. I can only imagine that the difficulty I am having with embracing her path is similar to the difficulty she and the rest of my family have with embracing mine. All I know is this has strained the limits of my capacity for tolerance and acceptance. I’m trying. I’m struggling, but oh Gods, it’s so very hard.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Give me Evangelical/Pentecostal Christianity any day over mealy-mouthed namby pamby Quakers and UU’s.

    “These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God; I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.” Revelation 3:14-16

  • But when it comes to missionaries, the phrase that always comes to my mind is “the other white meat.”

  • Well said, better to burn with passion than drift aimlessly.

  • Not that I think that Quakers or UU’s are any less than Evengelicals, but I think pusuing something with your whole heart is worthwhile, whatever your faith.

    I’m proud of my sister. Even though it hurts.

  • mary

    The freedom to follow a particular path does not include the right to boondoggle practitioners of other pagan paths into converting. I make a distinction between proselytizing pagan paths and other monotheistic ones. I include Hindu, Buddhist, African, Indian, and First Peoples’ paths in the pagan category.

    In a way the sects of christianists and islamists deserve each other! Each is so intolerant of the possibility of a truth other than their own, as surely and unerringly carved in their own variation of a single book.

    And like the author, I have evangelical Catholic relatives whose children are out proselytizing.

  • Mary,

    I don’t really have an issue with my sister’s prosetylizing. It’s part of her faith path and she’s fairly polite about it. She says she’s praying for me, I say I’m praying for her and we love each other regardless.

  • I pray that your sister and her family are safe in Indonesia. But I also pray that she, and all Christian missionaries, meet with failure after failure in their efforts to propagate Christianity. Their’s is a zero-sum game: the spread of Christianity necessarily entails the eradication of all other religions.

  • Why? Because that is what her Lord and Savior did. The tough reality here is that the primary purpose and of life is not to feel happy (which is what your sister apparently understands) but to glorify the One who Created us and loved us enough to send His only begotten Son to die for our sins.

    I praise God that there are some, like your sister, who apparently “get it” and are willing to act on their beliefs.

  • Wes,

    This is the Pagan portal blog so understand that I don’t agree with you, or my sister, on the primary purpose of life.

    That said, I do admire my sister’s commitment to her faith.

  • Laura Patsouris

    Star,
    It must be so hard o watch your sister go off…even as you are proud of her dedication and faith. It’s a beautiful gift, your unconditional love for your family. Tolerance is indeed givng the ones we love the freedom to make choices that are vastly different than ours…and it is a quality in short supply on our planet. I wish your sister and her children a safe 4 years…and I do hope that her experiences as a minority give her insight into all that you have had to sacrifice in order to be true to your own path.
    Laura

  • I am a recent convert to the Mormon church and going off on a two year mission in a week to the utter shock of my family. Thank you for writing this post as it helps me relate to what they are going through.