Two for One: Growing Up in a Two-Faith Home Extended Version

Two for One: Growing Up in a Two-Faith Home Extended Version

John Gonzalez
Master of Divinity, first year student



Can you describe your family? Your parents, your siblings and your home-situation?
I have two sisters (one younger and one older) and then an older brother. I have a mother and father who are still married, but on the religious side, my mom is an Adventist and my dad is Pentecostal; my brother is atheist, my older sister is agnostic and my younger sister is Adventist but slowly leaving the church.


Interesting, with that many beliefs in your home, how do you or how have you identified theologically? Why that instead of something else?
I consider myself an Adventist. Growing up, I think it’s an interesting dynamic, since my parents grew up Catholic but transitioned into Pentecostalism when I was born. My dad became a preacher which pretty much meant a pastor; my youth consisted of going to a lot of churches and seeing the different styles and people in each church.

           My dad also had a very sovereign concept of God...that God, to me, was a dictator; there was no personal aspect to Him and I hated that. I remember growing up and not really connecting with what my dad was offering theologically. There was no practicality of developing a relationship with God so I grew up mostly agnostic. When I met Adventists, though, they showed me a theology that centered around a loving Christ and from there I fell in love. For me, it was the personal and loving aspect of Christ that wasn’t emphasized before that led me to where I am today.


How long has it been since you’ve been Adventist?
I got baptized in March of my senior year in high school, so it really hasn’t been that long. My younger sister, actually, had met some Adventists who connected with her and later (connected with) me. From there, my mom saw our interests and started getting Bible studies too. Eventually, my mom, my aunt, my sister and I all got baptized together.  


How did that change the dynamics in your home now that it has become more spiritually and theologically diverse?
It is extremely tough. My dad accepts the Sabbath, but he sees it as something symbolic; basically, he has seen Adventism, for a long time, as a cult. It was a battle, especially during the first year I re-dedicated my heart to Christ. I kept trying to debate with my dad before realizing that it starts off by building a relationship with him and emphasizing the need for truth. At the end of the day, I believe Adventists are closest to the truth, if at any point I start to see that they are missing the truth, then I would stop classifying myself as such; it was during my search for truth that I found this church.

           My dad pretty much lost his mind when I initially felt the calling to become a pastor. He expressed that if I continued on this path that he would not give me any money, wouldn’t sign any papers, and that I wasn’t his son anymore. He held his beliefs so dear that for me to become a pastor of another denomination was almost unthinkable for him. Currently, however, that’s changed and he’s become more supportive of me.


At any point was there any other kinds of tension in your family because of your different religious beliefs?
For me and my parents, yes. There are a lot of fundamental truths that we didn’t and still don’t agree on—for example, rebaptism and hell. It was his early encounters with Adventists that really affected his views on the church; they gave him pamphlets and pretty much debated truth with him rather than building up a relationship. Ever since then he’s been stubborn on Adventists in general, and for me to become one really made it hard for both of us. For the first couple months after my conversion my dad and I barely talked. After I heard the call to be a pastor, my dad and I didn’t talk at all that entire summer. My mom and dad surprisingly stayed good with each other. As for me and my siblings, two of us share the same love and beliefs about Christ. My older brother and older sister are still atheist and agnostic, respectively, but that dynamic really taught me and my younger sister how to better relate to them especially when it came to God.


You said your siblings ended up taking different spiritual paths, why did you decide to choose Adventism?
I was about ten years old when my mom was diagnosed with cancer—we all got the sense that God didn’t care. At the time, my dad, as a preacher, would tell us that God had a plan for this—that God was good. For us, however, we couldn’t believe that anymore, because if He was as good as they said, if He was in control and if He really had a plan then why would He let this happen to us? That entire ordeal shook our faith to the point where my brother became atheist, losing belief in God altogether, my sister became agnostic, unsure if God really cared enough about the world and about people, my younger sister went agnostic and I became straight atheist; I would make fun of and cuss out Christians and God.

    When I met people who preached Jesus from a personal and loving perspective though, that really intrigued me and my sister and that’s what drove us to Adventism; they didn’t preach the church to me. They preached Jesus. When I fell in love with Jesus, that’s when I felt the need to fall in love with the church. For me, even if we, as a church, argue about small things like what to wear or what kind of music to play in the sanctuary (things that would make any person want to leave), because I fell in love with Jesus and the people who taught me to love Jesus, I continue to choose to stay even when almost all the people who got baptized with me are beginning to leave.


Do you continue to feel a compulsion to minister and bring the rest of your family to see this side of Jesus? As a person studying to be a pastor do you feel it as an even more pressing need?
I go to all these places preaching and teaching about Jesus and I always wonder, “But what about my family?” I guess what comforts me is the reminder that Jesus’s own family was against Him. With me it’s a struggle to realize that Bible-bashing them won’t work. I‘ve tried it and it didn’t work. I tried giving them pamphlets and it didn’t work. I tried everything that you’re supposed to do, but none of it ever worked. It got to the point where actively trying made me tired so I just started praying for them and decided to stop talking about religion with them and just be a person who cared about their needs.

Being around them more and being intentional has really made a difference too. My brother asks me questions regarding religion—things like my thoughts on Muslim-Christian interactions after my mission trip to Lebanon. My consistent presence in their lives has really opened up conversations now that not only challenge my faith but help me learn how to tackle difficult relationships and issues relevant to our church mission.  All these things have helped me realize that it’s about making these connections - about learning how to shut up and just listen. For me, my biggest dream is that one day I get to baptize my dad. It’s a rough ride when you never really see the fruits of your labor though. There have been days when I get angry at God, but it’s those moments when they show interest in the God I believe in that keep motivating me to keep trying.


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Do you think that coming to Andrews, being far away from home, for example, and being surrounded by majority Adventists has left you in a bubble or has it opened up your ability to connect with your family and people who may not believe the same exact things that you do?Frankly, before coming to Andrews I was ignorant. When I first got involved with the church I saw Adventism as one fixed strand, but coming here I was exposed to the various aspects of the religion. I came from a traditional, Hispanic, conservative and maybe even close-minded kind of Adventist background. When I came here and I saw how culture plays a part in their worship experience and that opened my mind to see that Adventism isn’t just one strand but  multiple strings intertwined. Coming here definitely taught me to understand a person before I comment or judge why they do what they do; that has translated to how I generally interact with people and my family—you have to get to know the person before you start preaching to them.


What do you think about the stigma of unequally yoked? Do you feel there is legitimacy to that opinion?
Seeing that in my family now, it has made me want a partner that is “equally yoked.” It’s really tough dealing with people that don’t believe what you believe and I’ve seen it firsthand. I’ve seen my mom and dad fighting about the Sabbath all the time; I see the tension that is there.

    But I do think that equally and unequally yoked can be misconstrued for what it is. For me, at least, we are all unequally yoked in some aspects. At the end of the day, I think it matters if you’ll be there for the other person and support them; at that point, unequally yoked doesn’t matter. Now there are 28 fundamental beliefs for Adventism, but not every Adventist believes the same exact thing. I think we end up individually defining what unequally yoked is to us and with our partner. For me it is: One, do you love God? Two, are you willing to go to church and be a part of that walk in my life? And three, are you willing to help me grow in my relationship with Christ? Those are the standards I set and if we don’t share that then we become unequally yoked. So yes there is some validity to the idea of the negatives of being unequally yoked but I think it’s pretty much subjective.

Two Sides to a Coin: Growing Up Biracial Extended Version

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Mohammed Alharbi

Mohammed Alharbi