One’s ideological journey is never entirely their own; that’s what I’ve learned over the last few months. In an almost hyper-individualistic society it is easy to forget the truth behind the butterfly effect: seemingly insignificant actions can have monumental consequences on people you don’t know and circumstances you couldn’t have foreseen. More directly speaking, the decisions you make about your own life will affect those who love and care for you. The most obviously impactful decision I’ve made recently is my decision to come out of the doubter’s closet and admit to my friends and family that I no longer identify myself with the religion I was raised in.
I ‘came out’ as it were to my parents on a Saturday, after Sabbath dinner. The phrase ‘came out’ makes the whole thing sound more planned and intentional than it really was—like an episode of ‘Intervention,’ when really the whole thing just sort of slipped out. But that slip led to a conversation that forced me to articulate more frankly than ever the scope of my doubt and the reasons for my retreat. The dinner conversation was awkward, perhaps strained, but not harsh.
After dinner my parents decided to drive up to a nearby lake for the afternoon. I went with them. My brother Anthony is home from college. He’s staying with our parents and I wanted to spend time with him. There was a moment, as we sat on a bench overlooking the shore, gazing into the mountains in the distance, when it hit me: I’m out.
I said, “Oh god, what did I do? I’m out,” and dropped my head into my hands as I tried to comprehend my life as a new kind of ‘other.’ It sounds dramatic, but I live in a county with a highly concentrated Christian population. The private schools, the grocery stores, even the local real-estate agencies are owned by Christians. The small community I live in is so saturated by Adventists that our post office closes before sundown on Fridays. And suddenly, even though I’ll still probably attend one of the (eight) local SDA churches, I realized that my little declaration had separated me from my family, some of my friends, and the entire culture in which I was raised. I wasn’t upset, just amazed…and apprehensive about the true, realistic impact of my decision.
Labels mean a lot to people. They are how we identify our friends, foes, kindred, and fellows. Though my core beliefs may not have changed, rejecting a label says, “I am no longer in this group,” which is often understood as “I am no longer on your side.” Navigating this distinction has been a difficult task, primarily as it relates to close friends and family. The people who have a stake in the decisions I make, either selfishly, or from the depth of mutual love that sanctions occasional interference, have been the hardest people for me to communicate with. Thus, my professor knew before my friends knew; my friends knew before my boyfriend’s family knew, and my boyfriend’s family knew before my own. People may say I approached this backwards—that I should have told these people in reverse order, starting with those I most love and care for; but I struggled to fathom the appropriate way to tell those I love and care for words they may interpret as, “I’m not on your side.”