I recently had a “coming out” conversation with my brother. I’ve never yet broached the topic of my transition out of Christianity with anyone in my family. I wanted to see what he thought since he tends to be a bit more flexible and open-minded than others in the family.
It was a difficult conversation at best. I approached the topic in what I thought was a non-threatening way, saying that I had been feeling a lot of distance from the family, and I was not sure what to do about that.
You’re in for a rough time, he said. And I can see a lot of conflict ahead.
I was especially thinking about a large reunion coming up next summer, when I will bring my non-believing family. I asked him how he thought it would go, whether they would fit in.
He reacted defensively.
I would think that if I were attending a reunion that was Christian and I was not, I would expect to be respectful and adapt, rather than expecting everyone to change. Maybe you need to think about what your goals really are—what are you trying to accomplish with the family and your involvement in Unitarianism?
He immediately assumed I was trying to go after a “goal” of converting everyone to UU, even though I told him I was not trying to change anyone’s mind. He also assumed my family (including my wife of two years, a second marriage for me, and her two kids which he has not met) would approach the reunion aggressively or disrespectfully.
There is a history here. My family of origin tends to regard me with suspicion whenever my passions get going and I start speaking with enthusiasm about something. They can easily mistake my energy for trying to sell them something. But in this conversation I realized that it is also a matter of low trust.
It hurts to know my family doesn’t trust me. That is a result of my separation and divorce several years ago, as well as my leaving the Lutheran ministry. I have “zoomed out” and recognized many other ways of dealing with belief. They took it very personally. In many ways I was on a pedestal, in an awkward unspoken way, and when got off of the pedestal, everyone felt betrayed.
There is a great deal of fear involved, he said. I don’t want to let go of the Jesus narrative.
I do appreciate that my brother was honest, and that he acknowledged his fear. Despite that fear he was willing to talk to me. It was the first conversation of its kind I have ever had with any family member.
Take a GoodMinute:
How do we get past fear and have a meaningful dialogue with family when we have drifted apart in worldview?