Monday, May 28, 2001

ARLINGTON, Texas — When Rick Weintraub moved from New York City to Texas, he met people of a mysterious faith he knew little about: Christianity.
Forty-two years later, Mr. Weintraub is a Christian, too.
Mr. Weintraub, born and raised in a Jewish neighborhood, was sent to Waco as a second lieutenant in the Air Force in 1959. It was his first exposure to Christians.
As a Jew, Mr. Weintraub was already schooled in what his new acquaintances called the Old Testament, so he studied the New Testament in an attempt to understand the men and women who were serving with him at James Connolly Air Force Base.
“I became convinced that Jesus is the Messiah,” said Mr. Weintraub, now an active member of Fielder Road Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas.
Clergy of a variety of faiths say some of their congregations most devout members are people who did not grow up in the faith — the converts.
“Anybody that chooses an expression of faith, rather than simply inheriting a faith given to them, is more intentional about it and brings a greater commitment,” said the Rev. Paul Thompson, pastor of Emanuel Presbyterian Church in Bedford, Texas.
“People that come to faith in adulthood tend to really throw themselves in wholly,” said Rabbi Ralph Mecklenburger of Beth-El Congregation in Fort Worth, Texas.
So what brings people to the decision to change religions?
Flavil Yeakley, a professor at Harding University in Searcy, Ariz., who has studied converts, said a variety of things prompt conversion: a spiritual crisis that couldnt be relieved by the persons original faith, or a major life change such as marriage, retirement or even moving to a new area as Mr. Weintraub did.
But Mr. Yeakley said most converts are lured to their new faith by someone they are close to.
“The research Ive done suggests that at least 95 percent became members after they had a close personal relationship with a friend or relative who was already a member,” Mr. Yeakley said. “Conversion is not just an intellectual matter; it happens in the context of interpersonal relations.”
Personal relationships were what drew Mike Richard to Catholicism and Leah Rosenberg to Judaism; both were exposed to their new faiths by their future spouses.
“I started going [to church] a little over a year ago and basically fell in love with it,” said Mr. Richard, who was baptized into the Catholic faith at St. Maria Goretti Catholic Church in Arlington on April 14.
“It was the most wonderful day of my life, from the standpoint of my faith,” he said. “I felt absolutely comfortable in knowing that my decision had been right.”
Miss Rosenberg, a resident of a Fort Worth suburb, said her conversion to Judaism was emotional too — but she lost a friend over it.
“She just says, ‘Ive got my own life now,” Miss Rosenberg said, explaining that her friend went with her to a Living Judaism class and appeared unnerved when the Jewish holidays were explained.
“It was after that day Ive never seen her again, and communication was nil,” Miss Rosenberg said.
Mr. Weintraub said he never detects discrimination or hard feelings from the religion he left.
Neither does Muhsin H. Shaheed, a Fort Worth resident who converted from the Baptist faith to Islam almost 27 years ago.
In the tumultuous 1960s, Mr. Shaheed was attracted to Elijah Muhammads Nation of Islam for its social reform movement. When Elijah Muhammad died in 1975, his son, Wallace Muhammad, took over and made the Nation of Islam focus more on the Koran, Islams holy book.
“When I began to read the Koran, it just had this universal appeal to my reason and logic where I was able to embrace all of humanity,” Mr. Shaheed said. “That was probably the most enjoyable experience of my entire life.”
Like Miss Rosenberg, who was raised as a Lutheran, Mr. Shaheed said he had had problems reconciling the churchs message that Jesus was God, man and the son of God. He said he found Islam to be more logical.
Despite some theological disagreement, these four said coming from a different religion actually gave them a better understanding of their new faith.
Mr. Weintraub said he saw Jesus story as the fulfillment of the Hebrew prophesies he had been studying his whole life.
Mr. Shaheed said being raised a Christian and becoming a Muslim gave him “the best of both worlds.”

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