By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country
The many parallels between the political profiles of Barack Obama and Bobby Jindal—who will participate in a face-off of sorts this evening—have been well documented. Both represent generational shifts for their parties. Both belong to racial minorities. Both claim Ivy League credentials and meteoric political ascents.
Another striking commonality: Both came to Christianity from other traditions and have written eloquently and at length about their long and painful come-to-Jesus experiences. Such public introspection about personal faith is unusual for politicians. Obama came up in a secularist household, with a tacitly Muslim dad (who was almost completely absent from his life) and stepfather. Jindal was born to Hindu parents.
For Obama, his coming to Christianity in his 20s makes for some of the most personal and moving passages in Dreams from My Father and The Audacity of Hope. Jindal chronicles his own conversion in prose that's as compelling, if much more widely dispersed, encompassing articles written for a handful of periodicals throughout the 1990s. Here's an example, from a 1993 essay he penned for the Jesuit magazine America:
My journey from Hinduism to Christianity was a gradual and painful one. I was touched by the love and simplicity of a Christian girl who dreamt of becoming a Supreme Court justice so she could stop her country from "killing unborn babies." I was also angered by the arrogance of my Southern Baptist friend who claimed his faith was the one true path to God. He seemed to deny the experiences of billions of people who have never seen a copy of the Bible.
I began reading the Bible to disprove the Christian faith I was learning both to admire and despise. I cannot begin to describe my feelings when I first read the New Testament texts. I saw myself in many of the parables and felt as if the Bible had been written especially for me. After reading every book I could find on the historical accuracy of the Bible and Christianity, I was convinced that the Bible had remained unaltered throughout the centuries and that circumstances surrounding Christ's death led to the conversions of thousands. However, my perspective remained intellectual and not spiritual...
It would require many hours of discussion with a pastor before I was ready to take that leap of faith and accept Christ into my life. It would take another two years for me to be baptized into the Catholic Church. My parents were infuriated by my conversion and have yet fully to forgive me. I tried to prepare myself for the worst; though I was ready when they ended their financial support, I was not as prepared for the emotional battles. My parents went through different phases of anger and disappointment. They blamed themselves for being bad parents, blamed me for being a bad son and blamed evangelists for spreading dissension. There were heated discussions, many of them invoking family loyalty and national identity. My parents have never truly accepted my conversion and still see my faith as a negative that overshadows my accomplishments. They were hurt and felt I was rejecting them by accepting Christianity. I long for the day when my parents understand, respect and possibly accept my faith. For now, I am satisfied that they accept me...