The Washington Post

Bobby Jindal: Parents were ‘very, very concerned’ by his conversion to Christianity

During a commencement speech at Liberty University last weekend, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) talked about his personal journey from Hinduism to Christianity and his belief that religious freedom is under attack by the Obama administration and its liberal allies in the entertainment industry and elsewhere.

While Jindal presented strong views on cultural issues, as described in a Washington Post story Tuesday, he also called for greater tolerance among people with differing beliefs.

The Post caught up with him after his graduation address to ask how his parents, both Hindu, viewed his conversion; how he approached the controversy around gay marriage; and about his view of Pope Francis, who has criticized capitalism and called for an end to such culture wars.

Q. What was your parents reaction when you told them you were becoming a Christian?

A. “At first, they were very, very concerned. . . . I’m a parent and I put myself in their shoes: ‘Your teenage son comes home and says he is changing his religion. At first your reaction is — ‘Is this just a fad? Is he doing it for a girl? Will it wear off?’ Second, you wonder, ‘Is he joining a cult?’ Third you wonder, ‘Is he rejecting us?’ . . . I think they finally got to acceptance. . . . It’s kind of hard for a parent to be angry at a child who is embracing a faith that teaches me to be honest and respect my parents and other people. It wasn’t as though I came back and said, ‘I am embracing a religion that says ‘it’s okay to go out and party all day’. . . . So by the time they attended our wedding and our kids’ baptisms, they are very proud to be there. But still they are actively Hindu.”

Q. What led you to join the Catholic Church while a student at Brown University?

A. “There were a couple of things that drew me to Catholicism. One was the sacraments, and I felt a hunger for the sacraments. The other was the history and tradition of the church. . . . I got baptized in Providence (without family present) out of respect for my parents. I didn’t want to cause them any more heartache than I had already caused. It wasn’t easy. I can talk about it now that they have accepted it and we are very close. “

Q. Given the controversies that emerged around Phil Robertson, the star of “Duck Dynasty,” and the Benham Brothers after they were critical of gay unions and how polarized this subject has become, do you think there is room for compromise around the issue of gay marriage?”

A. “I do. . . . I think there is a way to find common ground to say ‘we don’t have to agree with the content of each other’s beliefs, but we do stand up for the rights of each other to have those beliefs.’ What I think is dangerous is this idea that we are going to try to silence those we don’t agree with, to say ‘we don’t want them to be on TV shows; we don’t want them to run their businesses. . . .’ I believe in the traditional definition of marriage. I don’t condone discrimination. l think again here that tone matters. . . . I think it is important that at the same time that we articulate our deeply held religious beliefs I think it is also important to communicate a tone that says ‘we don’t accept discrimination’ and we understand that there will be those who disagree with us.”

Q. Are you an admirer of Pope Francis?

A. “I am. I think he brings a great charisma and energy. . . . I think we have to be more outward looking, more evangelistic. I think he is reaching out to touch people and their lives, grabbing their attention in ways that they haven’t been touched recently.”

Q. Are you comfortable with the pope’s criticism of capitalism?

A. “Sure. I am a free-market conservative Republican. I think that a growing economy is better for people. But I also think we have a responsibility for those who are the least of us. . . . Even in a strong economy I think there is a role to play for churches and for government and nonprofit institutions to help those in need. . . . I think that he is right to point out we have responsibilities to each other and to point out that Christ had some pretty radical things to say about this.”

Tom Hamburger covers the intersection of money and politics for The Washington Post.

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