Edited version (see here) originally published by Newsweek.com on 1/4/07.
On the way back from our first lunch as a married couple with members of my family from Massachusetts, one of them said derisively that she "didn't know how anyone intelligent could be a creationist." Before meeting my husband, I would have laughed and agreed. Instead, I glanced at my husband, inwardly sighed, and wondered how he'd respond. He calmly stated, "Well, I'm a Creationist." She quickly changed the topic.
Four years ago when Rob and I met, I had no idea that he was a Creationist. He warned me that his parents were fundamentalist Christians, but he was silent about his own beliefs. It was only months into our relationship that he broke the news to me, while I was wondering aloud how different shapes of noses evolved. He calmly told me, "Well, I don't believe in evolution. I'm a Creationist." I looked at him and asked if he was joking. He said no.
Before Rob, I hadn't known any Creationists. I assumed that they were people who believed in the Bible more than in scientific data, probably out of stupidity. Whenever I imagined what a Creationist might look like, he or she was always standing up on a podium, passing judgment on all Evolutionists, condemning them as non-believers, and scorning them with hateful words. I wasn't sure where these people lived, but I figured it was probably down South somewhere, or in the Midwest. Surely I'd never have to interact with any of them.
But falling in love with Rob changed everything. Though he was a Creationist, he didn't condemn me for not being one. On the contrary, he accepted my beliefs as legitimate and never tried to convert me. In my mind, it was hard for me to accept that my image of Creationists could have been wrong. Even knowing Rob didn't fit my idea of what a Creationist was like, I made an exception for him instead of changing my prejudiced image. But after a year of dating, the time came for me to finally meet his family.
At the first family dinner I attended, I was terrified. Rob had been really hesitant to let me meet his family, mainly over fear that I wouldn't approve of them or that they wouldn't approve of me. I wasn't going to a Christian college; I was a liberal Democrat; and, perhaps worst of all, I was an evolutionist. The first family dinner I attended was held at the home of Rob's aunt and uncle. From the moment I walked in, I felt uncomfortable. The background music was Christian pop. Could these people ever accept me for who I was? Rob's father did his best to engage me in conversation and make me feel comfortable. When the dinner ended, Rob and I stayed to play a couple rounds of dominos. I ended up having fun, and even had moments where I forgot that they were all creationists and I, an evolutionist.
After that, things between Rob's family and me got both easier and more complicated. I'd received a unanimous thumbs-up from his family, which mostly made things easier for me; but topics that were avoided for my first dinner weren't avoided as well for following ones. They talked about the churches they were attending, but they never asked Rob or me which church we were attending. I uncomfortably listened through conversations about Rob's aunt and mother's quest to find a good gynecologist who didn't perform abortions. I coerced Rob into attending his sister's college graduation with me, without knowing that she was graduating from Liberty University.
My parents, who had divorced when I was young, had their first chance to meet Rob's parents at my graduation from St. John's College in Annapolis. Along with my mother and father were my stepfather, sister, and my future stepmother. The families were remarkably different from each other. My father, an Armenian who immigrated from Beirut with his family at 14, his fiancée, and my sister were Roman Catholics; my mother and stepfather were liberal Protestants; and Rob's parents and sister were fundamentalist Christians. Their ability to get along at this first meeting was an impressive display both of their tolerance and love for me.
Shortly after my graduation, Rob and I were married in a private ceremony at the local courthouse with two friends as witnesses. As Rob's wife, I was accepted as part of their family. As time passed, I learned that there was more to each member of his family than being a creationist. The more time I spent with his family, the more comfortable I became around them. I came to realize how kind and loving they were and the image in my mind of the hateful, unintelligent creationist slowly began to fade.
It has now been more than 2 years since Rob and I were married. Though I'll never be a creationist, they accept me for who I am. I now realize that I was the one passing judgment on the creationists instead of them passing judgment on me. Without their love and acceptance, the image of my own prejudice would still be painted on the face of a Creationist.