I was raised in a fundamentalist evangelical church. I have never not believed in the Christian God, never failed to celebrate Christmas or Easter, and am presently scheming to raise up little Christian children. I went to vacation bible school in the summers, and still remember when I realized that I was there for the last time: The first night was a pizza party and very little doctrine, and all us kids were handed little boy scoutsy handbooks that would be filled out with biblical answers instead of, e.g., different kinds of knots. I sat down in a corner and filled the thing out from memory—still my head is full of these things, many of them lists—the fruits of the spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control. God is a spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchanging in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth. Stuff like that. Now many members of my extended family no longer consider me Christian, since I converted to Catholicism at the age of seventeen; I like to think that the experience of conversion gives me a bit of perspective on my privilege, but who knows.
There were a few years when I didn’t consider myself a Christian. I never stopped believing in the central doctrines, but a combination of things drove me away from the church, the chief two being a really ham-handed explanation of predestination by a well-meaning youth pastor and the incredibly misogyny of my parents’ church: the practical end to my attendance came when I walked out during a prayer after the Elder asked God to give the men of the congregation the wisdom to know how to vote (Republican, of course) and the strength to lead their wives to vote correctly. (My parents grounded me for two weeks as a result of the walkout, but I remain convinced that I did the right [somewhat melodramatic] thing.) I was never willing to evangelize, and I declined to become a member of that church even after all my younger siblings had. From the time I was in grade school, my friends were rarely Christians—most were atheists, one was Ba’hai—and I was self-conscious about the difference between us. My atheist friends were mostly of the variety who use terms like “sky wizard”—hey, we were in high school—and I was acutely aware that they thought of my beliefs as faerie tales for idiots. At the same time, my church was full of tales of “This one kid was praying in the lunchroom and he got suspended!” and “A boy who took a biology test answered the question of how life came to be by quoting Genesis and the teacher failed him!” Even as a very young teen I thought it pretty unlikely that you’d fail a test for getting one question wrong (or should that be “wrong”?). At one point in high school, my English teacher made us all give presentations on a topic of our choice, and one girl talked about her faith: my friend Thomas wrote her feedback (required by the instructor), saying “Very nice, but what will you do when science disproves God?” I was fourteen years old, and I still remember it word for word. I think that these experiences gave me a bit of perspective too, I hope—I learned to be careful, to say “I’m thinking of you” instead of “I’m praying for you” unless I can be pretty sure that the latter won’t bother the person I’m talking to. I tend to wish people happy holidays unless they’ve led off with “Merry Christmas!”
I enjoy certain privileges as a Christian: the federal government recognizes some of the holidays I celebrate; when I bought children’s books for my son, I was able to add a few lovely religious ones without looking hard; there are dozens of little ways that belonging to the majority faith smoothes my way. The ugliest part of my Christian privilege is my desire to avoid Cricket’s birthday parties because they are also Hanukkah parties; the unpleasantly outsidery feeling I get from imagining myself there is a rare one, because I am generally surrounded by Christian assumptions rather than Jewish (or Ba’hai, or Muslim) ones. At the same time, as a Catholic, I’m a little off to the side—besides having to explain to my mother every couple of years that no, Catholics do not worship saints, I am able to baffle door-to-door evangelizers by answering “Have you heard the good news/Are you saved?” type questions with “Yes, I’m a Catholic” and then escaping under cover of their uncertainty. Most Protestants seem willing to extend me partial credit.
I’ve been talking to a social worker at Catholic Charities whom I really like, and the CC in my town is committed to open adoption in a way I haven’t seen from any other agency—their placement rates are quite low, and that thrills them—I’ve heard workers there proudly telling stories of PAPs telling expectant mums that the PAPS think the mums can and should parent. This social worker longs to mediate our adoption, and has asked several times whether Ruth and Nora might be willing to meet with her, and I have pointed out that they would be unlikely to want to come to a Catholic organization. She’s Catholic, I’m Catholic, but I have some sense of how being a Jewish lesbian might make me awfully wary at a Catholic Charities office; heck, I have some level of discomfort with the Vineyard et al. myself, and while I can see important differences between the two, I imagine they rather blend together when viewed from farther away.
The fact of the matter is that if Joey decides to pray in the lunchroom at school, he won’t be suspended; he won’t likely face the scrutiny that a classmate of a different faith would if visibly practicing at school. If he wears his Noah’s ark onesie, it won’t be a statement in the same way that Cricket’s onesies with Hebrew letters on them were. To be Christian, unless you exist on Christianity’s fringes, is to have a sort of warm invisibility most of the time—there is no “Ooo, you’re Jewish?” equivalent for us, I don’t think—it would be like “Ooo, you’re right-handed?” Of course you’re right-handed.