Sometime around 1992 or 1993, my older brother came out of the closet and told me that he’s gay. I was the last member of our family he came out to, and that was because we had always been very close. Thus, the risk of my rejection carried the extra weight of losing our strong fraternal bond. In hindsight, I’m surprised that I never put two and two together, but it was a different era: homosexuality was not a subject which had yet entered the mainstream, and the general understanding of it was dim at best. Far from rejecting him, I was actually relieved, because I had thought he suffered from a shyness with women which would result in a life of loneliness and solitude. (The irony, of course, is that he’s been in a committed relationship for over 20 years, while I’m the one who has lived in solitude. But that’s another story for another day.)
Fast-forward almost twenty years and the tables turned. Now I was the one coming out to my brother, not as gay, but as Christian. Aside from that one minor difference, the parallel was perfect: fearing his reaction, he was the last person in my family that I “came out” to. I think he was caught off guard, probably a little disconcerted at first, and, given the unfortunate tenor of much of conservative Christianity toward the gay community, wary. In the intervening months, however, I have (I hope and believe) made it clear to him that I’m not in the business of bashing gay people, that my left-leaning politics are largely intact, that I do not reject the findings of science, and that, in short, my faith, while very strong and committed, is not of an extremist variety.
My brother, of course, wasn’t the only one who raised an eyebrow. As an inveterate, free-thinking, ultra-liberal nonconformist, many of the people I had grown up with suspected that I had turned my back on the convictions of my youth. That, of course, would imply some sort of “process of maturity” at work, an accusation which I vehemently deny. Yes, it is true, some of my views have shifted, but I’d liken it to the sort of evolution which many people — believers and non-believers alike — go through as they get older. I am a little less adamantly left-wing than I once was, but I still lean left of center. I still encourage open, critical thought, although no longer subscribe to the wide-ranging relativism which I was once invested in. Perhaps the biggest change has been in my moral values: I look at some of my writing from just a few years back and shudder to acknowledge it as mine.
Then there’s the issue of my background. I was raised in a Jewish family. I was Bar Mitzvahed at the age of 13. And if there’s one thing a nice Jewish boy is never supposed to do, it is to acknowledge his Messiah. That, above all, is strictly verboten. But the reality is that I walked away from Judaism at the age of 13. Allowed to choose for myself whether or not I would continue to pursue the religion I was born into, I chose to become an agnostic theist, although it was many years before I learned that there was a name for that. Judaism is a funny heritage to be born into, though. I have often joked that I’m Jewish to the extent that Nazis would kill me. And no rejection of Judaism, no conversion to another religion, will fully eradicate my Jewishness, no matter how hard I’ve tried to distance myself from it. To this day there are still people who ask: “Can you eat bacon?” (Yes, I can. But I rarely do so, because it’s so terribly unhealthy.)
The question which I’m sure many of the people in my life are really wondering is: Why Christianity? What was so bad about agnosticism? Why not Buddhism? Why not atheism? Or a return to Judaism? Why not Scientology, for that matter? This is a question worth answering, but, again, it’s a topic for another day. My purpose here is simply to make it clear to those in my life, as well as any general readers who might be curious, what it has been like for an agnostic Jew to “come out Christian.” And I’m happy to report that, despite some initial brow-furrowing, once the dust settled, nearly everyone whose relationship I value has been supportive and accepting. That enough is reason to thank God.