How do I break up with my church community while maintaining friendships?


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Hatley, QC
By: arminniusCC BY 2.0
I've been debating converting to Judaism for about seven years now, and I've finally decided to go for it.

Up until recently, I participated in church communities in the Christian faith tradition I'd been raised in, because I'm disabled and I needed a reason to get out of the house. But I no longer feel the need to pay lip service to a faith I've known for years wasn't a good theological fit for me, just so I feel like I have a place to go.

However, I'm pretty heavily involved — I sing in the choir, I lector, I donate to the building fund monthly, and I've made friends that I'd like to keep even if we're not going to church together anymore. Since it's a liberal denomination, I'm pretty confident I can maintain these friendships even if I tell them I want to be Jewish. But how do I nicely explain that I'm not a Christian and I'm looking to get my spiritual fix elsewhere?Aurora

  1. What makes you feel as though you must explain to anyone that you are not a Christian? I suspect when you tell your church friends you want to be Jewish, they will know you are not a Christian, no explanation will be necessary!
    But I would be interested to know what it is about Christianity that you believe is not a "good theological fit" for you? And what is it about Judaism do you believe will fit you better?

  2. I don't know if there's a whole lot you can do, beyond explaining that you're leaving the congregation (and maybe "why" if they're close enough friends that it's their business) and that you still want to see them, and so "maybe we could grab coffee next week?"

    Some people may take it personally and be offended by what they perceive as a rejection of their closely-held beliefs, others will probably be like "Oh okay! We'll miss ya, but let's hang out soon!" Hopefully more of the latter, but it probably will depend on the person and how secure they feel in their own beliefs/their willingness to be friends with people with differing opinions.

  3. I understand you've been contemplating this for 7 years, but it sounds like your friends aren't aware that you've been seeking elsewhere. Maybe instead of just dropping out of the church community all at once, you could take a few more months. Maybe begin cutting back on church activities but at the same time, increasing your contact with these friends outside of the church setting. In a different setting, it might be easier to talk about your spiritual journey, how you became interested in Judaism and where it is taking you. It would take more work – many conversations with different people rather than a big announcement all at once. Hopefully, your friends will be open minded and really want to know why and how you are changing and who you are becoming. If not, it may be difficult, but hopefully, your new community will embrace you and help make it easier. Best of luck & God Bless.

  4. Dear Aurora,
    1) Mazel Tov! You have taken a big step in your heart to match what you know to be right for you. That takes courage. 

    2) As a former convert to Judaism from Christianity, I can say that there will be those who will be happy for you. There also will be those who wonder at the sincerity of your new religious convictions simply because you were so deeply involved with the choir, being a lector, contributing financially on a regular basis, and living a communal church life. 

    Although I eventually left Judaism after 20 years (not to return to Christianity but a different path where I remain currently) ,during that time even my most loving family members still sent Christmas cards saying "Jesus is the reason for the season" or occasionally had to ask about basic food practices as I had converted to Orthodox Judaism.  

    Some started to send Jewish holiday cards for Rosh Hashanah or Passover, but most still sent Christian holiday cards or just nothing at all.   Some friends who came to my conversion celebration from my previous congregation drifted away. 

    3) There is not a 'nice' way to explain that you are not a Christian other than to simply say that your heart and soul have chosen a different path.  That may satisfy some, but it seems like what you are craving is the promise that the friendships, so wrapped up in a certain religious life will survive. Some will. Some will not. 

    4) Remember, one of the basic tenets of Christianity includes proselytizing, which Judaism does not do. During my conversion classes, we discussed one of the reasons (including the Spainish Inquisition), and the basic belief that if you want to be a Jew and to join the tribe that you should do so of your own accord and know that it is hard.  I remember my own Bet Din (the tribunal that examines and then certifies a conversion for you) reminding me of this.  

    5) So you may have folks, even in a liberal denomination, who will feel hurt and will take it personally that you are choosing to leave a church where you are so heavily involved. You may find that some of your friends will need to see that you are happier in your new chosen faith than you were in the church that you are leaving. 

    You may find that you are explaining (especially if you are going the Orthodox or Conservative route) why you no longer eat bacon, observe certain holidays, have two (or more) sets of dishes (one milk, one meat), don’t drive (or restrict driving to services only)  on certain days, build an outdoor shelter and eat in it (Sukkot) at a certain time of the year, or why you do not consider Jesus to be your "Lord and Savior". 

    You may find that because your friendship is religiously based, you might not spend as much time with them as you used to do because you no longer go to that church and belong to that community, or (most important) choose to spend your time as a Christian.   

    6) Remember: your former social life was a religious one with these friends. They will still continue with choir practice and church meetings, but without your presence. You will need to build a new set of experiences with friends who knew you as a Christian. During this time, your faith as a Jew will be tested by those who may not even know that they are doing it.  You will be an ambassador of teaching about Judaism and why you made the decision you did. 

    7) Again, the “nice” way to explain that you are no longer a Christian and that you are embracing Judaism is to be truthful – and then stand out of the way as the true colors of those whom you have considered friends show. 
    Blessings to you on your journey and your decision.

    May you find peace and comfort in both. 


    I've been debating converting to Judaism for about seven years now, and I've finally decided to go for it. Up until recently, I participated in church communities in the Christian faith tradition I'd been raised in, because I'm disabled and I needed a reason to get out of the house. But I no longer feel the need to pay lip service to a faith I've known for years wasn't a good theological fit for me, just so I feel like I have a place to go. However, I'm pretty heavily involved — I sing in the choir, I lector, I donate to the building fund monthly, and I've made friends that I'd like to keep even if we're not going to church together anymore. Since it's a liberal denomination, I'm pretty confident I can maintain these friendships even if I tell them I want to be Jewish. But how do I nicely explain that I'm not a Christian and I'm looking to get my spiritual fix elsewhere? –Aurora

  5. I am a Christian and if a friend of mine from church were to tell me that they needed to seek a better fit elsewhere I would be proud that they recognize that they are not spiritually fulfilled and know where they can be. I would not see it as a reason to drop their friendship. As far as your participation in the activities of the church, that depends on whether or not you enjoy them and want to continue. You might also find that you become involved in the activities of your new faith community. I don't think your Christian friends will harbor you an ill will, if they do they are not the real ones. I choose to look at faiths as different colored panes of glass all surrounding one huge candle, God.

    I hope this helps.

    Carole

    • "I choose to look at faiths as different colored panes of glass all surrounding one huge candle, God."

      So beautifully written. I hope you don't mind being quoted. I would like to be able to use that phrase in the future.

      • Please feel free Sarah B, I am Presbyterian but I do not follow the tenet that my way is the only way to our Creator. I know that he loves all of his children no matter where they live and no matter how they choose to celebrate him.

    • Love this! I think of different faiths as many paths up the mountain, but all striving for the same thing. My path works for me (Roman Catholic), but I'm happy for everyone to choose the path (or no path at all) that makes them happy.

  6. I love the advice that has been given – I have recently (2 years ago) joined a UU congregation, after being agnostic and anti-religion for many years (still agnostic, but less angry about Christianity 🙂 ). It still doesn't feel like a perfect fit, though, and I complicated things by accepting a job with the church, which takes away a lot of the spiritual fulfillment. I worry about getting burnt out on the position and needing a break (in the future) and how that would affect my friendships, especially when so many of my friends are UU.
    So no answers from me, just an appreciation that this is being addressed on Offbeat!

  7. Carla-Elaine has some amazing advice and I think she's spot-on. When your friendship with someone begins in a single place (like church or work or school) and doesn't evolve beyond that place, then it's unlikely that that relationship will continue when you leave that place. It's an incredibly painful truth, but having the expectation that these relationships are likely to be only a season in your life may help with the pain. If there are relationships you want to maintain, start putting effort into taking them out of the church. Text your friends during the week, ask them to spend time with you socially outside of church, call them just to talk and try to avoid talking about church. See if those relationships are actually based on more than shared experience.

    You may want to do some soul-searching on how much you tell people. Because you are in an active and public position in the church (singing in the choir, lectoring), people may feel betrayed if you tell them that you've been paying lip service to their faith in order to keep their friendships. It's one thing to sit in a pew and come to events; it's another to stand up and tell people (even through someone else's words) how to live their faith.

  8. Frankly, part of being a Jew in the US involves well-meaning Christians saying insensitive things. (Why do Christians insist on telling me I should celebrate Christmas because it's a secular holiday, why, why??) What I mean is, probably your best source of support for how to have these kind of awkward conversations with your Christian friends is going to be your Jewish community.

  9. I'm not religious so I'm afraid I don't have any advice for you. But I would love to read a follow-up post on this subject! After you convert, maybe you'd like to share how the "break-up" went?

  10. Any Christian who tells you that Christmas is secular is not a Christian. For non believing Christians (people who don't practice the faith in a sacred fashion), Christmas and Easter are holidays that only have to do with good will and gift giving. I don't think they mean to be insensitive, they are just ignorant of the tenets of your faith and that suggesting you celebrate Christmas is a slap in your face. But on behalf of true Christians I consider it to be a slap in my face when someone tells me that hanging a Merry Christmas banner or displaying a Christmas tree is insulting to a Jew. We all share the same planet and we all need to be respectful and mindful that we all have different ways of honoring our faiths and traditions, and to do so should not be seen as insults to each other. We must learn how to be respectful and tolerant of differences and we can do that by exercising nonjudgmental curiosity. The more we know about each other, then the less we will be fearful of each other's different ways. We also have to remember that while we can believe our way is the right way, we must also acknowledge that the right way for me is not necessarily the right way for another and I wish to be allowed to follow my chosen path and at that same time allow others to follow what is right for them.

  11. Hi, Aurora,
    Those who have responded so far have tactfully raised valid points. You don't say how far along you are in your formal conversion process, but two of the first things my sponsoring Rabbi wanted to know were, "So, what about Jesus?" and "Are you still a church member?" When I expressed surprise at the second question, he explained he now asked that of his potential converts much earlier in their process, since he'd had several get right up to the week before their Beit Din before asking him, "So, is now the point where we resign from membership in our church?"

    So, in the spirit of "earlier is probably the better time" to both resign your church membership and tell your closest friends among the congregation why — start now. Be prepared for your friends' bewilderment. You've been contemplating a significant change in your beliefs for years, and this is the first they've heard of it. They may feel hurt, as one of my best friends did, that you did not trust them enough to confide in them your doubts that Christianity was still a viable spiritual path for you.

    I have found that, by and large, people don't mean to be hurtful. They are not informed about Jewish practice in general, which leads them to make remarks like, "Well, Chanukah is the Jewish Christmas, right?" And since our sages warn against embarrassing people, you will want to have practiced giving quick, thoughtful replies with a light touch. Explaining the distinct and profound differences between the Jewish and Christian faiths may entail a more difficult series of conversations that you are presently — or maybe ever — prepared to undertake, and that's OK. Keep your initial conversations on the short and sweet "Let's go out for coffee" model. And Cassie has a great point — now is the chance to enlarge your friendships and see if you can possibly take them beyond the we-share-religion comfort zone. For those of your friends who can weather this sea-change — not every one will likely be able to — as you become more comfortable in your practice, consider inviting them to come Friday night for Shabbos, or hosting a Chanukah party along with going together to see congenial movies or concerts or other activities your town affords.

    I wish you and your friends well on your parallel journeys of faith. Shalom!

  12. As a Christian, I don't see why anyone from your church would have a problem with your conversion – you're going to the faith of our spiritual forefathers and there's nothing wrong with that! In fact, Paul writes a lot about the faith of Abraham. So if I was one of your church friends, I'd still be good with your new faith!

    Your friends at this church will probably always love you and greet you fondly when they see you, but you might notice that the friendship part dies out. That won't be because of your conversion but more about not being in close proximity with each other anymore. I've noticed that after I left a church to go to one closer to my house after I moved. If your interactions with your friends were all at church events, y'all will have to work to keep in touch since you won't be at those weekly events. But that doesn't mean that the love and history won't still be there!

    To me it's the same as my co-worker friends after one of us leaves the company. The friendship and love that we had was based on the mutual convenience of seeing each other 5 days a week. After someone leaves, the convenience is gone and the friendship suffers. But when we manage to call for a chat or for a lunch together, we pick up where we left off and it's always a blast!

    So it will take more work but it's still doable. In time, too, you'll develop friendships at your synagogue, and those will be warm and wonderful.

    I'll leave you with this – a beautiful blessing from scripture that is a part of your old faith and your new faith because it's the same God… 🙂

    The Lord bless you and keep you;
    the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you;
    the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.
    Numbers 6:24-26

  13. No real advice, but kudos to you for converting! I was also raised in a Christian church, but feel that Judaism is a much better fit for me personally. It just resonates with what I believe to be true in a way that Christianity hasn't for quite some time

  14. So I'm commenting late and this may not be read, but have you talked to the church Pastor about it? Presumably, as involved as you are, you have a good familiarity with him (or her). It's strange how many people aren't comfortable actually sitting down and talking to their religious leaders about their spirituality and relationship with G-d. If your church isn't providing you with the fulfillment you're looking for, talk to him about that. Talk about how Judaism feels like a better fit. Talk about why. Talk about whether what you're looking for in Judaism can be found in your current church (there is a rule in Judaism that you aren't allowed to convert out of the faith until you have studied every text; the expectation being that as you study all it's nuances you will find what you thought it lacked).

    Presumably your desire to convert to Judaism has been accompanied by talking to Rabbis (certainly any actual attempt to do so will be). Give your current church the same chance. If your heart still says you're a Jew, then you will be able to honestly tell your Christian friends "You know, I've been talking to Pastor _____ for a few months now about how I'm feeling spiritually disconnected. After really exploring it, I think Judaism is a better fit for me." There's a sort of appeal to authority there that's hard to argue with (even if the Pastor doesn't agree with your decision, just knowing that you've already discussed it with the highest authority and he couldn't provide what you were looking for can legitimize your argument that you need to look elsewhere).

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