The Token Converts

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Years ago I had a nemesis. My counterpart positioned himself as a white knight type of character and was basically there to harass anyone too fond of the religious tribe I was born into. He knew the group, he had been a convert and was now an ex-member, who classified us as “an ethnic church” dismissing what we said about our conversion experience.

Now that I’ve left the group there is no reason to continue to guard the ideas left behind and that includes the notion that my own participation had been completely a choice. There are doctrinal reasons for this denial of the obvious. I mean, if you believe that conversion is a personal choice, a rational and unbiased conclusion, then it really gets under your skin when someone says that you’re more or less a product of a religious culture.

We were, in our own eyes, a sort of remnant church. And then also had to deal with the awkward reality that many, like us, were so inbred that they had distinct genetic disorders. And, unlike our radical forbearers, we had no cultural relevance besides being the quaint old fashioned people who dressed like it was the 1800s and called this non-conformity to the world. So, obviously, the fact that everyone who shared our views happened to be genetically related was the source of cognitive dissonance.

It is for this reason that converts, the more exotic the better, were clung to and even given special treatment. We would say it was out of Christian love and yet some of this had to do with our own insecurities. They were our validation. They were the proof that we were more than just an ethnic cloister, more than a bunch of cousins of a particular European heritage claiming that our own brand of religion represented something universal and relevant to the times.

Those who come into this group, visibly from the outside, are often treated both with mistrust and also with a special adoration as well. They can never be fully accepted, they’re always both more and less than equal, coddled or spared normal rebuke from some to keep them from leaving, and yet also can sense that they’re just the tokens being used to prove a point rather than being treated as people. Sure, they may form real friendships with some, but they themselves are often misfits from whence they came and still remain stuck in no man’s land.

Now that I’m in a church that both spans continents and is mostly converts locally, I don’t have as strong an urge to collect tokens or evidence that I’m not just a product of my ethnocultural roots. I mean, sure, I still want to be right. But the pressure to bring the Gospel to all people is off my shoulders. The Church didn’t take long to spread into Asia or Africa, early Christians didn’t dress like Europeans from a generation ago either, there may be some times to chase down Ethiopian eunuchs in their chariots, and yet there’s also a time to acknowledge that the fullness of the faith has never left Africa.

Evangelicals, of all stripes, have this desperation for relevance. They think that they will win more converts by being more cosmopolitan, and by painting a picture of superficial diversity and inclusion, but Jesus said that his message would make the world hate us and even divide families. If we have the truth, if we know the truth, we are no longer bound to ethnic quotas and, instead, simply love people, especially of the household of faith, as we are commanded. Jesus preached to his own tribe first, his converts were mostly other Jews, like him, and that was perfectly fine.