“Why Don’t You Just Convert?” The Story Of My Interfaith Family

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“Oh Paul, why don’t you just convert to Judaism?”

This invitation was extended to me after a book talk in Washington D.C. and I have to admit it took me by surprise. First, I had always heard that Jews aren’t supposed to proselytize. Second, I’m not just a blank slate; I’m a Christian minister by profession, and the book talk I had just given was about a Christian book. And the third reason for my surprise is that two people who posed the question were my cousins.

Let me back up a bit and tell you how I arrived at this moment. I’m from an interfaith family. My side of the family is Christian, and my cousins are Jewish. The reason my family went to church at all was because of my mother, Marylu Raushenbush. Every Sunday she would wake up her four resentful children by snapping up the rolled shades and greeting us with a pointedly bright voice, “Good morning!” This was not a casual “good morning,” this good morning meant that if you were not up in five minutes the next greeting would be much less pleasant. So up we would go from our Frank Lloyd Wright inspired home to our Frank Lloyd Wright inspired church–complete with the wide open sanctuary space, and stain glass that served as a great distraction during the services.

My father, Walter Raushenbush, was a deacon in the Presbyterian Church, which is surprising to people who know his background. Dad’s mother, Elizabeth, was the daughter of Jewish Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis. So, according to Jewish law, my dad was Jewish. However, my dad’s father, Paul, was the son of the social gospel pastor, Walter Rauschenbusch, and my grandfather was raised Christian.

While my grandparents’ professions were influenced by the prophetic and justice elements of their respective traditions, neither felt strongly about their religion. So, like many such couples, they briefly tried to raise my dad as a Unitarian, which also failed to stick. I once asked my dad, who is judicious and agnostic by nature, if he had ever had what he would describe as a “religious experience.” He told me that the only moment he might be tempted to describe as religious was the first time he saw my mother and, in his words, “I immediately knew I wanted to spend my life with her.” Which is exactly what he has done.

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  1. Interesting interfaith story. No doubt this age is information technology age.It is the time to open the mind and research about different religions in the world. We are in a global village.Especially the Unity of thoughts and Unity of interests and Unity of Human-beings and interfaith harmony urged us to think about the UNITY OF GOD ( The Creator of the Universe)

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